HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc457-75

Amendment made: In page 28, line 14, leave out "it thinks," and insert "they think."—[Mr. G. Brown.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. G. Brown.]

7.20 p.m.

Mr. D. Marshall

Before this Bill receives its Third Reading, I wish to make one or two observations, as I was not fortunate enough to catch your eye during the Second Reading debate, Mr. Speaker. I shall be extremely brief. I feel that we should all be completely and absolutely aware of the point that however many Bills we pass in this House, and however good we may think this Bill is, what has in fact happened is that we have given powers to an Authority, and it is that Authority which will have to make the Bill into a practical instrument to help the fishing industry.

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) spoke of the greatness of this Bill and of how exceptional it was to find a Bill connected with the sea fish industry being dealt with in this House. Apart from the number of Acts we have had during the last five years, I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that it was quite a usual circumstance for such Measures to be brought forward many hundreds of years ago. One can go back to the days of Queen Elizabeth for an example, when an Act was passed in this House making it necessary to export clapboard for casks in exchange for casks imported in order that we should have sufficient casks to barrel our fish, such as pilchards or other forms of fish, for export from this country.

The practical point I wish to make is that although the Authority will no doubt do everything in its power to make the fishing industry as healthy as possible, we must not expect it, in view of the great difficulties that confront the industry and which have existed for years, to solve all those problems overnight. Therefore, I sincerely trust that both the fishing industry and Members of this House will realise that the Authority has an extremely difficult job before it which is of great national interest. I feel that there is no more fitting moment than the present for this Bill to go through this House. We are all conscious of the great struggle that lies before us, and I feel it to be of supreme importance that we should realise that the fishing industry is part and parcel of the national defence and security of our land.

From time to time during the Committee stage of the Bill remarks have been made, which I do not challenge, about the percentage of the catch represented by the landings of the inshore fishing side of the industry. I do not feel that we should always approach that aspect as a matter of a percentage. The value to defence of the inshore fishing industry and the national interest which it serves are far greater than the actual percentage of fish landed. It is for that reason that from time to time various Acts have been passed because it has been recognised in this House and elsewhere in the country that the inshore fishing industry is of vital importance. I feel that the Minister will concur with regard to this point.

In relation to that point, we questioned the Minister during the passage of this Bill through the House as to whether there was sufficient power for the Authority not only to apply its mind to the question of what might be termed white fish in the larger sense in relation to the inshore fishing industry but whether power was equally provided in respect of shell fish. The Minister confirmed that the Authority had that power. I sincerely trust that the Authority will recognise that the shell fish industry is having an extremely difficult time. That is one of the points to which the Authority should apply its mind at once.

Another point which I hope the Authority will bear very much in mind, with respect to the power given to it in this Bill, is in regard to the question of defence. The question of stockpiling is involved. The harvest of the sea should play an extremely important part. Let the Authority see whether or not the question of stockpiling can be considered in relation to the sea fish industry of the country. Advantage could be taken of the industry again and again by storing some of its products away as part of our security and defence. I am not only thinking of one type of fish, but, in passing, nothing could be better in terms of nutriment and proteins than the product of the pilchard industry of Cornwall. I do not overlook herring. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) has always spoken with feeling about that great dish, and the herring also should serve as part of our security and stockpile.

The whole House wishes the fishing industry well. Our discussions upon it have been rather pleasant from the start of the Second Reading. I sincerely trust that the Authority will have good fortune, that it will work as hard as it possibly can, and in spite of dealing with the great difficulties that confronts it, will do its best to see to it that by practical methods the great fishing industry of the United Kingdom shall flourish.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

I suppose that during the earlier part of our discussions on this Bill I was the most sceptical Member of the House about its provisions. I now wish to say one or two things about the future of this Authority. It has a very difficult task indeed. Its purpose is two-fold, as the Minister has told us. We should be quite clear in our minds about how difficult that two-fold task is. First, it has so to regulate the industry that there will be an ample supply of good white fish at prices which the consumer can afford to pay. One of its objects is to protect the interests of the consumer, to see that the fish is of good quality, in plentiful supply, and if possible at a reduced price. That is a very important factor. I wish, for the sake of the housewives of this country, that the Authority may be amply successful.

The second objective of the Authority is set out in the Bill—to protect the interests of all concerned in the industry. I think that by that is meant that cheap fish shall not be available to the public at the expense of the fishermen or those otherwise engaged in the industry. Hon. Members opposite often say to us, I think with great justice, that we had cheap and ample coal in pre-war days at the price of the sweat and blood of the miner. That is a perfectly sound point to make. The same consideration now applies to the fisherman. When the Authority is trying to ensure that fish is produced for the housewife at a cheap price, the interests of the men engaged in the Indus try— all grades and sections—will have to be safeguarded; they must not be sacrificed. The Authority will have a very difficult task in reconciling those two opposing aims.

Last Friday I met about 40 members of the Skippers' Guild in Grimsby. They requested me to raise three points on Third Reading, which I should like the Minister to answer if he can do so. They asked me to raise a matter in connection with Clause 5, where it is stated that the Authority will regulate the quality and quantity of all fish landed. That will, of course, include the fish landed from abroad. The men to whom I was speaking on Friday said, as the Minister well knows, that the key to the whole position lies in the quantity and quality of foreign fish landed. The Minister will recall that during the Second Reading I asked if the Authority could restrict to a quota the amount of foreign-caught fish landed in this country. The answer was that it depended upon negotiations with O.E.E.C. Under Clause 5, will this Authority have power to go direct to O.E.E.C., or will it have to go to the Minister and ask him to make the approach for it? The skippers feel very strongly that unless this question is faced, there is not much hope of this Authority doing the work which is being set before it.

The second question I was asked to put to the Minister also arises from Clause 5. Under that Clause the Authority can control landings at its absolute discretion. The skippers asked me to inquire whether the Authority can impose upon foreign fishing vessels which land fish here, with its permission, the same regulations for catching that fish as it imposes upon British trawlers. This is a matter of great importance. The skippers showed me on Friday the two-and-a-half-inch mesh which they have to use on British trawlers in the North Sea. Against that, foreigners use only a one-inch mesh. That is not only destroying the breeding grounds in the North Sea, but is putting the British trawler at a great disadvantage. The skippers say that it is most unfair. They want to know whether, under Clause 5, the Authority can insist that the foreign trawler which lands fish here, with its permission, shall be compelled to use the same mesh as that which must be used by the British trawler.

The last question I was asked to put was about Clause 1 (1). There it says that the Authority shall have the power of regulating the white fish industry. Does that mean that the Authority will have power to make protests on behalf of the British fishing industry where foreign Powers restrict the fishing grounds of British trawlers? On 5th October of this year there will come into operation a new law affecting fishing grounds north of Iceland. That will take from the British trawlers something like 2,600 square miles of the best fishing grounds in the northern waters. I was told on Friday that that would put out of business many of our men, if it was allowed to go through by default. I was also asked—

Mr. T. Williams

Before we proceed further with the various questions which the hon. Member is raising, I should like to point out that the last one is not connected with this Bill. Therefore, if I attempted to venture any reply, I should be out of order. I hope that the hon. Member will not raise points which are outside the Bill.

Mr. Osborne

I was merely asking the Minister whether, as the Authority has power to regulate this industry, it will have the power to protect the rights of this country under international law. Surely that will be the duty of the Authority. I think that it is reasonable. It is one of the functions which the skippers are expecting the Authority to carry out. It is one of the protections which they hope to receive. My final point is that the skippers feel that if that restriction on the northern fishing grounds by Iceland is allowed to go by default, then both the southern and the western shores may be cut off from them, and many of the best fishing grounds now open to the trawler men of Hull and Grimsby will be closed.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not want to put him off, but really he is straying many many miles beyond the confines of this Bill. I certainly could not attempt to venture any reply upon what may or may not happen as a result of action taken by the Government of Iceland or any other Government. I can only reply to any questions concerning what is embodied in the Bill, and not to questions about these problems which may or may not mature.

Mr. Osborne

I will not pursue that matter further. In the powers we are granting to the Authority, will there be one enabling them to pursue the matters I am now putting before the Minister?

Mr. Williams indicated dissent.

Mr. Osborne

Then I have nothing more to say.

7.36 p.m.

Commander Pursey (Hull, East)

Unfortunately, I was not able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on Second Reading, but I have no intention of trying to make a Second Reading speech on the Third Reading of this Bill. As one who has been connected with this industry for 50 years, I want to place on record that it has been left to a Labour Government to produce for the first time a satisfactory scheme for dealing with our fishing industry. In spite of the fact that the Opposition party were in power for year after year, they were never willing to deal with this industry in a proper manner, nor were they capable of doing so. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for one of the Scottish divisions wants to quack, I recommend to him the advice offered from his side of the House in a previous debate, that he should go out into St. James's Park and "quack, quack" to the ducks.

During the Second Reading debate we had a flamboyant speech from one Member of the Opposition, who shall be nameless, in which he said that unless we made drastic alterations to this Bill they could not agree to it. Where has been the drastic opposition? Where has been the drastic alteration? Is it not the fact that, throughout all the stages of this Bill, there has been no really substantial criticism of the Measure as a whole and very little of it in detail?

Therefore, from the first, it has been a perfectly good first-class Bill. No one, except the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), has been sceptical about it to any extent. I should like him to take it from me that from the first, I, and other hon. Members on this side of the House, have never had an anxious moment. We knew that this was one of the best Bills that has been produced in this House to deal with an important industry, not only from the point of view of the industry, but also from the point of view of the consumer and the housewife.

I now come to the question of the Authority. One of the points I raised in Committee which I want to register again tonight, is that I hope that the Authority will ensure that they receive copies of all signals which pass between owners and skippers about their instructions. In the past we have had cases of trawlers being delayed, not for the sake of getting more fish, not for the advantage of the housewife, but simply in order to create scarcity and to keep up an artificially high price to the detriment of the consumer.

Then comes the question of the relationship of the various parts of the industry. This will be the first time that the various parts of the industry will have been related and working as a whole. There is no question at all that this is a very real effort on behalf of the present Government to tackle one of the most difficult industries of the country not only in the interests of the industry itself but also in the interests of the consumer. Representing one of the divisions of Hull, which is the largest fishing port in the country and has the largest trawler fleet in the world, I most heartily welcome and support this Bill on behalf of everybody concerned, which means everybody in the country.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I had not intended to intervene, even for a short time, in this debate today until I received a very urgent and tragic letter from the secretary of one of the branches of the West Cornwall Fisherman's Council. I want to ask the Minister this question: Can he tell us how soon the White Fish Authority will be in active operation? That question is particularly urgent in the case of these shell fishermen, who have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), because of the fact that they do not receive the subsidy which is at present available to other fishermen, and also because the costs of road and rail transport are very high, owing to the distance, in many cases, of the smaller harbours from rail head.

I ask the Minister for an assurance which I can take back to these men, some of whom I saw during the Easter Recess, that their case will be considered very quickly. Otherwise I fear that the consequences will be as forecast in this letter which I have received, and from which I would quote the following extract: Finally, I would remind you of the urgency of this matter. I think at our meeting it was shown to be quite a desperate position as far as Coverack fishermen are concerned. There is little doubt that many other villages must be in the same plight, if not worse, and I would say that as each month passes, it takes with it yet another ruined fisherman. Time is a vital factor. It is for those reasons that I have intervened in the debate to ask the Minister if he can give some assurance that the case of these men will be considered as one of great urgency.

7.42 p.m.

Squadron Leader Kinghorn (Yarmouth)

Like all other hon. Members who are interested in the fishing industry, I regard this Bill as a great step forward, and I know that our constituents will welcome the Third Reading just as much as we do. It is true that, as has been said, this is probably the most difficult industry to organise on the lines on which we are now trying to work, and I realise that the White Fish Authority will have an extremely difficult job to do.

Much was said during the Committee stage on this point. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), and I hope that some satisfactory arrangement will be made in another place, when the promise of the Government for reconsideration will be fulfilled. As an ordinary member of the public and as a person interested in the welfare of the fishing industry, I also hope that the Advisory Council will become a really efficient part of the new set-up of this industry.

I do not think that hon. Members perhaps realise sufficiently how important it has been to include in Clause 19 the words in brackets in the last line, which state: (including the business of a fish fryer.) In the north of England, the fish frying business has played a very important part in the economic life of our people, and sometimes has taken 60 per cent. of the total catch. Although we have often seen this industry as the subject of music-hall jokes, the fact is that it has been a very important part of the economic set-up, especially in the north of England, and I suppose in other parts of the country, in that women bringing up families have been saved a great deal of labour in preparing meals, especially at mid-day. I therefore hope that the new organisation will take a lively interest in this important industry and give guidance where it is needed, so that the best possible value may be obtained from the fried fish, which is sold in such vast quantities.

In addition, I would also like to see on the Advisory Council somebody like, say, the owner of a very famous restaurant in London, whose name I will not mention but to whose restaurant one goes if one wants a good fish meal.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Mme. Prunier.

Squadron Leader Kinghorn

I did not want to give the name, because I hold the lady in high esteem, I believe that someone of that calibre, who can cook fish to the same standard as it is cooked in France, is the sort of person who might be considered as one of the members of the Advisory Council. We wish to raise higher and higher the standard of the cooking of fish in this country, which leaves much to be desired when compared with that of France or other countries, where so many wonderful dishes can be prepared from the local products of the fishing industry.

My next point is this. I have always been certain that our fishing industry, both white fishing and herring fishing, could form a good basis for an export trade if the trade were properly handled. Yesterday, along with other hon. Members from both sides of the House, I returned from a visit to the Gold Coast. While we were there last week, we went to the local market to see what sort of food the ordinary people of the Gold Coast were getting. I was surprised to find that, while there was a certain amount of fish, the price was very high, so that very little fish indeed was eaten by the people. What they lack is protein value in their food, and there is a market for exporting fish there, if it can be done at a reasonable price.

We welcome this Bill, and we assure the White Fish Authority now set up that we shall support it wherever we can in the future, and that those hon. Members who come from the fishing ports in this country will follow its activities keenly and will no doubt criticise it. We hope that we shall not have the need to criticise it too much, but, on the contrary, we look forward to the Authority making a success of its job and so improving the lives of our constituents.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

I support the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn) concerning Mme. Prunier. I think that is a very good idea, and I support it. I am very glad to have been the instrument of eliciting the lady's name, because I think it is a very good name. I think the people of this country ought to know more about how to cook fish. I would also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) for the few kind words he said about herrings. I am always grateful for any reference to the most delectable of all fish.

Commander Pursey

This Bill has nothing to do with herrings.

Mr. Boothby

No, but my hon. Friend said something nice about herrings, and there is no reason why I should not thank him for it.

Commander Pursey

The hon. Member is only harrying.

Mr. Boothby

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will soon find out that there is a great deal of difference between harrying and herring.

I welcome this Bill, and I am pleased to see that the Secretary of State for Scotland is present, because the reason why I think this Bill is so good is that it does give the new Authority adequate power. There is another board which I think has not got adequate power, and, although I would be out of order in discussing it, I think the right hon. Gentleman knows what I mean. The late Mr. Lloyd George had a habit, sometimes, of arriving at simple but blinding truths.

Commander Pursey

Which Lloyd George?

Mr. Boothby

The late David Lloyd George, once Prime Minister of this country. He once said to me that it is no good taking two leaps to get over an abyss, that one was obliged to come clean and either had to do it in one or not at all. This Bill has jumped the abyss. We have had some nibbles at other industries in which I am interested, but I like this Bill because it has given this Authority adequate powers to do a very difficult job. I really think this Bill inaugurates a new era in the white fishing industry of this country and I am delighted that it should be so.

I said it gave adequate powers to the Authority. I do not think it gave quite all the powers that my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) suggested. If it did give it all those powers the Authority would need to have its headquarters at Strasbourg, but I do not think we have any right to complain that it has not given these foreign powers. At the same time the Authority has great and extensive powers and I do not think anybody on any side of the House will have any doubt that they will not be exercised wisely and well. This is a very hazardous industry. I think this Bill will take some of the hazard out of it, and therefore it should be very much welcomed on that account. I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon introducing it and seeing it pass through successfully.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans

In saying farewell to this Bill which has had such a pleasant passage right through all its stages, we on this side of the House who are in our fisheries group feel very proud of the result of the agitation in which we have taken part for many years past, and in which hon. Members opposite co-operated, to set up the body to which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) referred. We are glad to see the hon. Member here on the Third Reading—we missed him so badly on Second Reading.

Mr. Boothby

I was here on Second Reading, and listened to every one of the very numerous and rather boring speeches hon. Members made.

Mr. Evans

We want to give this Bill a good send-off when it goes to another place. There is still a feeling of great anxiety in the country about the fishing industry. There is no question at all that there is in the minds of the consumers and housewives a feeling that fish is too dear. The costs of the fishing industry have been mounting steadily. I am glad the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire hoped the hazards of the industry would be lessened, because on the Committee stage he was glorying in the fact that the industry was a gamble, and he did not want to take the gamble out of it. We hope that the gamble in the fishing industry as regards rewards will be reduced as a result of the setting up of the White Fish Authority.

I should like to stress strongly the necessity of going into the question of marketing fish and the related questions of storage and disposal of gluts, and the allocation of fish to fish fryers and to the factories. That lies at the core of an adequate cheap supply to the housewife. It is essential that the rewards of the industry should go to the right people, to the fishermen who run the risks and brave the dangers of the sea. It is also essential that those who eat the fish should get it in good quality, in good variety and at a reasonable price.

I feel we cannot expect spectacular changes too soon. It is gratifying to know that the Authority have taken steps to acquaint themselves not only with the technical aspects of the industry but with those people who actually work the industry. We cannot expect dramatic results, but I am sure that in due course we shall see a gradual and real improvement both in the status of the fishermen and in the adequacy and cheapness of supplies to the housewife. I wish the Authority every success and I congratulate the Minister upon presenting the Bill. Those of us who were members of the committee of which I had the honour to be chairman and all of us on this side of the House, take a great deal of pride in the fact that this Bill has come from this Government.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. W. R. A. Hudson (Hull, North)

During the early stages of the passage of this Bill, I took a point of view somewhat different from that of the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House and for that reason I think that my view has been a little unpopular. But at this stage I want to join with hon. Members on both sides who have expressed good wishes for the future operations of the Authority.

The distant water section of the industry have not expected to receive any great benefit from the provisions of the Bill, but they will work it with loyalty and co-operation, though doubts remain in their minds.

Commander Pursey

They will get security.

Mr. Hudson

I do not want to go over the arguments put forward on Second Reading and during the Committee stage, but there are doubts, and I should like to refer briefly to the one about the practicability of timing landings. The powers to regulate landings remain in the Bill exactly as they were stated to be when the Bill was introduced. They have not been altered at all. There must have been quite unanimous agreement that the timing of landing is necessary, desirable and practicable, but I do not think it is as practicable as many hon. Members believe.

Before the Bill leaves this House for another place, I am anxious that we should take full note of the practical difficulties that will arise. It was said on the Committee stage that owners already time landings; but there is a difference between owners on the spot, practical men who know their job and are in hour-to-hour touch with their vessels, timing landings, and an Authority which would be remote and could not hope to be in such close touch timing them. It will be quite impossible for them to act with such promptitude. If the owner of a fishing vessel on any occasion finds the market is short of fish, he can quite easily and properly urge his skippers to hasten to the market, and in doing that he is doing a public service. It is quite easy for the owner to do so, but with the best intentions in the world an Authority in Harrogate, let us say, cannot take such effective action so promptly.

Commander Pursey

As there is a difference of opinion about this, may I ask how the hon. Member can deny that an Authority in Harrogate can make use of wires, not directly but through the telephone system quite as efficiently and as accurately as an owner? Of course they can do so, even if the vessel is away at sea.

Mr. Hudson

If the hon. and gallant Member had been listening at all, he would have realised that I did not say any such thing as he suggests. I said there was a difference between a body of men sitting in a remote place taking action of this kind and an owner on the spot taking action. I was not talking about wires or anything of that kind. Only last week two sister ships under the same management arrived from the same fishing grounds with the same quantity of fish. One of them had been away for 22 days but the other had been away for only 17 days. These are by no means exceptional cases, and the boat which is away 17 days will have had to remain at sea for another five days if the sort of timing to which some hon. Members have referred can take place.

Commander Pursey


Mr. Hudson

That is a practical difficulty, and it is to those practical difficulties that I want to draw the attention of the House before this Bill leaves for another place. I hope the Minister will explain how these difficulties can be overcome. I conclude by adding my good wishes to the Authority in their future operations.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I want to make two points, the first in reply to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans). He claimed some satisfaction and pride in this Bill because of the part that he and some of his hon. Friends had played. I would not wish to detract from that pride and pleasure, but I would point out, since I am one of the few in the House at the moment who were here before the war, that some of us also worked on this matter, and we, too, are entitled to a little satisfaction.

If I may strike a personal note in a modest way, I would say that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) may recollect that in the first few days of my coming to the House in 1932, I happened to be lucky in the ballot and I moved a Motion dealing with the fishing industry. I do not say that was the reason for everything that followed, but it happened that following upon that Motion there was a series of Acts of Parliament, including two Sea Fish Industry Acts. The Herring Industry Board was set up then, long before the war. I am only saying that this is a process of evolution in which we can all have some measure of satisfaction and pride.

We find that the Herring Industry Board has not so far achieved all that we then hoped, but we are beginning to see why it has failed, and I hope we have filled up the gaps in creating this new Authority. I trust that the new Authority will not suffer from the weaknessess from which we find the Herring Industry Board now suffers. I hope that the work of this new Authority will persuade the Minister to give the Herring Industry Board the added powers for which we on this side have so long asked. If that were to be so, the whole industry—not only herring but white fish and so on, because it is really one concern—would move forward.

Although in Acts of Parliament we talk about the white fish industry and the herring industry, those of us who represent fishing ports know that the industry cannot be divided in that way. The people whom I represent are today fishing for herring, and perhaps next week or next month the same boats and the same crews will go out for other kinds of fish. One hopes that we have all gained from the experience of the past, and, having all made our contributions—we on this side having made by far the greater contribution—we feel that the Authority will be a success.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Grimond

As I was fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on the Second Reading, I should like now to mention only two points which I think should be mentioned in this Third Reading debate. I refer first to the question of transport, not only to the question of freight charges, but also to the necessity for better refrigerated transport, both by ship and train.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The hon. Member may only refer to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Grimond

With respect, there are certain passages in the Bill which can be construed as referring to the powers of the Authority with reference to transport.

I will pass from that to emphasise the possibilities of the authority developing the shell fish industry in the north of Scotland. There has not been much mention of that matter in the debates on this Bill. I believe there is a great possibility of expanding lobster fishing in other places as has been done in the Hebrides. I will conclude by joining the many hon. Members who have congratulated the Minister on this Bill, and by wishing every success to the Authority. I should like to say how glad I am that adequate powers are given to the Authority, and to express the hope that they will use those powers with firmness to deal with the questions of costs and marketing and the general organisation of this industry.

8.5 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

Before the Bill goes to another place I should like, on behalf of my hon. Friends, to express a message of good wishes to the personnel of the White Fish Authority in their efforts to help the sea fish industry. We have always held the view that, by and large, this Bill is a machinery Bill. We hope that in our labours we have set up a machine with sufficient powers to do the job, and yet with not too wide powers to frighten the industry, for without the co-operation of the fishermen the White Fish Authority will not do their job. If we have achieved our purpose of creating a balanced instrument in the White Fish Authority, then I think we have performed a useful task in our debates.

During our debates it has been quite clear that political considerations of a party nature have not entered into our discussions, except in very isolated cases. We have found that where differences have occurred they have been between the various sections of the fishing industry because of the different conditions attaching to the various ports in the country and the different conditions relating to inshore fishing and fishing in near waters, middle waters and far waters. I am satisfied, as I hope my hon. Friends and the Government are satisfied, that our debates have been well worth while and that they will be useful to the Authority now that it sets out in its difficult task of helping the industry and the nation. On behalf of my hon. Friends, I should like to send them a message of good wishes and also to offer congratulations to the Government on having introduced this Bill.

8.7 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

I had not intended to say a word but for the fact that so many questions have been put to me. I feel that it would be lacking in courtesy if I failed to reply to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) who, like me, has sacrificed his dinner so far so that he could be here to listen to my reply. The hon. Member quite properly asked me about foreign quotas and asked to what extent the Authority would have power to deal with that kind of thing. I am afraid that only Governments could negotiate quotas of foreign landings, either here or, indeed, in any other country in Europe.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me what power the Authority have over the size of mesh. Here the Authority will have no power whatsoever. That is a question for an international convention such as the one which the Government promoted in 1946, but which unfortunately two, three or four other Governments have failed to approve. I think it is tragic that there are still Governments who fail to see the law of diminishing returns operating, who fail to see the cost of fish going up and up because catches are diminishing; and I hope that the Powers referred to will feel that the time has now arrived when they ought to do their duty to themselves, to their fishermen and to all other fish catching or consuming countries.

The hon. Member for Louth also asked me a question—or, at least, he went halfway to asking a question—which had to do with territorial waters. That again is a matter which can only be dealt with internationally. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby), was quite right when he suggested that if the Authority had the powers of which the hon. Member for Louth spoke they would have to be exercised at Strasbourg or by some other international bureau.

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) asked me whether the Authority had power to do this and that. I believe that the Authority have all the power that he personally seeks for them; but we have not only given them all the power we think they require to do the job effectively and proficiently; we have given them power in Clause 6 to come back and ask for more power if they think their efforts are restricted.

Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Could my right hon. Friend say at this stage whether the Authority will have power to regulate prices, particularly prices of first sale—production prices?

Mr. Williams

That is not one of the powers we give to the Authority—to regulate prices. They have, however, the power to recommend to the Government anything relating to prices of either one kind of fish or another; but they have no direct power that they can exercise in fixing the prices of fish.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) asked me whether the Authority would be quick to go into action because of the urgency of the problem in Cornwall, and I can assure the House that the Authority have already been operating as an Authority-designate for many months. Their power, however, is limited until this Bill is passed; but I can assure the House that the members of the Authority have made themselves acquainted with many of the diverse problems affecting the industry, and when the power is really theirs they will not hesitate to exercise it at once.

I think we have all said enough about one small Bill, but I should like to express my gratitude and that of the Secretary of State for Scotland for the reception which the Bill has received and for the help we have received from all parts of the House at all stages. We were really quite a tea party in Committee, and on the Report stage, equally, we have been a happy party—

Mr. Boothby


Mr. Williams

Unfortunately, I have had no tea either, and I am bringing my remarks to a very sudden close because, doubtless like several other hon. Members, I should like, after these hours of discussion of fish, to go to taste some. I should like to conclude by expressing my gratitude to all hon. Members who have taken part in the deliberations on this Bill, and by saying that I wish the Authority well. I feel we have chosen our representatives well. I am perfectly certain of their enthusiasm in the job that they have undertaken, and we hope for their sakes, for the sake of those who catch fish—a very dangerous occupation—and for the sake of the millions who consume fish, and also for the sake of this House of Commons, that the Authority will be able to make a job of the industry.

Mr. Robertson

Before my right hon. Friend sits down—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But this is a very important point. I want him to make it quite clear that he is standing by the assurance he gave me on Committee stage of the Bill that the Authority will have the power to regulate prices of first sale, if necessary. That was the understanding we all had, and I think that it would be well if my right hon. Friend gave that assurance now.

Mr. Williams

No, I do not think I ever gave my hon. Friend that assurance. What I did say—if my recollection serves me well—was that the Authority could recommend any type or kind of scheme to the Government that they wished, but they had not direct power to fix the prices of any fish. I hope I have not misled my hon. Friend. I certainly had no desire to do so.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.