§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is, of course, a United Kingdom Measure and is of great importance to the whole Kingdom. It is also of particular importance to Scotland, and, as I happen to represent a constituency where the fishing industry is of considerable importance, I am glad to have this opportunity of commending the Bill to the House and of asking the House to give it a Second Reading.
The Bill, as its title indicates, deals with both the white fish industry and the herring industry. It cannot be described as a major Measure. Its purpose is to make the necessary financial arrangements in order to continue what was done for the industry by the late Government under the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951. That is really the root of the Bill, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will be able to give this Measure the same support as we on this side of the House, when in opposition, gave to the 1951 Bill.
In the main, the Bill does three things. First, it proposes to implement the undertaking which I gave in this House on 31st July last to provide grants for building and equipping vessels not exceeding 140 feet in length; secondly, it deals with the white fish subsidy and makes further provision for grants to the Herring Industry Board, and thirdly, it deals with certain very small incidental matters.
I may say, in passing, that it makes no provision for dealing with coelacanth fishing. I do not think the coelacanth inhabits the North Sea, and from what I have read it would appear to be an animal which is dealt with by rod and line. It would certainly be a very distant-water fleet which would have to be sent out in its pursuit, and we are not dealing with distant-water fleets here.
The need for extensive new building for the near and middle-water fleets is well known. Indeed, as far back as 1936 52 the Sea Fish Commission, in the Report known as the Duncan Report, drew attention to the age and obsolescence of the fleets, and since then, of course, due to inability to build during the war years, this problem has naturally increased.
Hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies will recollect the Neven Spence Committee of 1945, of which the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) was a member, and the Report which it issued. Again, in July, 1952, the White fish Authority set out in its first Report the facts concerning Great Britain as a whole.
In 1952, 637 of the 817 near and middle-water trawlers between 70 and 140 feet in length had been built before 1921; that means to say they were over 30 years old. Only 74 of the vessels had been built since 1940, and, therefore, only that number could be claimed to be reasonably modern. Twenty were on the stocks during 1952. I regret to say that at this rate of building it would take over 40 years to replace the 637 vessels which are over 30 years old.
In these circumstances, it was felt imperative to take action in an endeavour to speed up the rate of rebuilding of the fleets because, as the White Fish Authority's report pointed out, if things were allowed to continue as at present large numbers of vessels would be unable in the course of time to put to sea. That Report also referred to the bad accommodation on board these old vessels and stated that this was one of the factors which was preventing young men from entering the fishing industry. The Report also drew attention to the high cost of building and said that it necessitated special measures of assistance.
During 1952, 59 vessels were either scrapped or sold abroad, six were lost at sea and only 10 new vessels were brought into commission. I think it will be agreed that these figures prove the gravity of the situation, because it appears that, unless steps are taken to arrest it, that decline will continue.
As I have said, the costs of building have greatly increased. Indeed, I regret to say that costs have gone up from four to six times compared with pre-war. Catches have also been falling and under present conditions the earnings of the boats do not cover their costs. For that reason, as the House knows, the then 53 Prime Minister, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, announced in July, 1950, the white fish subsidy. That subsidy was intended to be a temporary measure, but has been continued ever since. This Bill deals with that subsidy, and I shall be referring to the matter later in my speech.
One of the problems of the industry is the over-fishing in the North Sea. There is no doubt about that. As the House knows, an Over-fishing Convention was signed in 1946 by all those countries operating in the North Sea, with the exception of Germany for very obvious reasons. But I believe that the Federal Republic of Western Germany have informed us that it is their intention to come into this arrangement as soon as they are able to get the necessary legislation passed. That Convention will come into operation two months after it has been ratified by all the Powers concerned.
I shall not go into details but, as I think most hon. Members interested in the fishing industry will know, it contains certain specific measures, such as an increase in the minimum size of fish which may be landed in any country and an increase in the mesh of the nets in order to avoid the destruction of very small fish. It is also the intention to set up a permanent international commission to keep the situation under review and to advise on other measures to help avoid this continued over-fishing. I hope that that will come into being and that there will be no undue delay.
But to revert to the industry at the present time, without adequate rebuilding and with scrapping going on, the future of the fleets is obviously in grave danger. They must not be allowed to sink to too low a level. The inshore, near and middle-water men provide the best quality and greatest variety of our fish, and these cannot be replaced by imports. If we are to have the best quality fish for human consumption in this country, we must retain our inshore and near and middle-water fleets. I am afraid that at present prices capital is not forthcoming for the rebuilding of these fleets. At the present time it is going into the building of distant-water vessels. They do not bring in fish of the same quality but, of course, they bring in large quantities and I suppose that from the economic point of view it appears to be a better business. 54 But I think that the House will agree that the fish they bring in is not the best fish, and we want to obtain as much of the best fish as we can.
I hope that the House will agree generally with these views. We have been delayed rather in starting this debate, and I do not want to take up too much of the available time, but there are certain points with which I should like to deal briefly. I believe that it is here that, for the reasons I have given, this rebuilding policy must be assisted from public funds. The Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951, made a start with loans for rebuilding to be made by the White Fish Authority, and last May the White Fish Authority published the terms on which these loans would be given, up to 60 per cent. of the cost of rebuilding. I am sorry to say that the response to this offer has not been good, because capital appears to be going to the distant-water vessels.
The only conclusion to which the Government were able to come as a result of that situation was to offer grants sufficient to make it worth the owners' while to, scrap old boats and put new boats to sea. Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill provide 20 per cent. grants for this purpose. These grants will be accompanied by loans under the 1951 Act. The combined scheme of grants and loans will be operated by the White Fish Authority. I should like to make it quite clear that for this purpose we shall require to provide rather more than £8 million for the grants and to increase the power of the Authority to finance the loans by borrowing a further £10 million over the next 10 years. This is done in Clause 3.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of what the rate of interest is to be, in order that we shall be able to apply ourselves to that point when we come to discuss this matter?
§ Mr. Stuart
This Bill deals with grants. As I said, the loans will be operated in conjunction by the White Fish Authority, and the loans were dealt with in the 1951 Act.
Mr. Hector McNeil (Greenock)
With great respect, I presume that we cannot operate the loans until the financial provisions contained in this Bill become 55 operative, and surely my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) is not only in order but very apposite in his question.
§ Mr. Stuart
It is true that this Bill will provide the money out of which the loans will be made. The conditions will have to be worked out by the White Fish Authority in conjunction with the Ministers, but actually this Bill is providing the funds which will make these things possible.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
So that we may get this point quite clear, is it in fact true that the White Fish Authority up to now have had no authority to make loans and have not yet published the terms on which loans were available and the rates of interest according to the length of time? Surely all that has been published and that is why, as the Minister says, the response is disappointing. How could he say that if the loans had not been available?
§ Mr. Stuart
The loans have been operating at 4½ per cent., but fresh provision has to be made to continue them.
§ Mr. Stuart
That is correct.
I have referred to the two great merits of the inshore fleet. I have referred to the excellent quality of the fish which they provide and to the fact that the fleet is of the greatest importance to the North-East and North of Scotland and to many parts of the Scottish coast. The men engaged in this branch of the industry are some of the best types in the country, and it is in the national interest that we should do all that we can to assist in maintaining this industry in a sound financial and economic position.
These inshore men have received assistance for the building of new vessels since 1945 under the Inshore Fishing Industry Act of that date. I am glad to say that about 300 vessels have been built since then, but the Act expired last December and we estimate that about 30 to 40 per cent. of the 666 boats over 45 feet in length now operating are over 56 30 years old. But the fact that 300 boats have been built under the 1945 Act is a considerable improvement and a considerable success. I think that the case is clear here for continued help.
We think it right that the working fishermen—not the companies—should get extra assistance in the form of grants up to 25 per cent. of the cost to a limit of £4,000; that is to say, they would get the full 25 per cent. on a boat which cost a total of £16,000. My information is that somewhere in the neighbourhood of £15,000 or £16,000 should at the present time be the maximum cost of the type of boat with which this part of the Bill deals.
In addition to that, we also offer grants up to 25 per cent. of the cost of a new engine, with a limit of £1,000. The reason for that is that this type of boat with Diesel or petrol engines requires more than one engine during the course of the life of the boat, and for efficient fishing it is essential that such boats should be well engined. We therefore suggest for these working fishermen the larger grant of 25 per cent. up to a total of £4,000 for the boat and £1,000 for a new engine. The loans will be available through the White Fish Authority on certain conditions.
With regard to the herring fleet, under the Herring Industry Act, 1944, grants as well as loans have been available up to 2nd August last, when that Act came to an end. Between 1945 and 1951, 128 new vessels were built. Therefore, good use was made of those grants, and the position is not so serious as in the case of the white fishing section of the industry so far as the number of boats or the age of the boats are concerned. But there are still 30 per cent. of the 661 vessels over 30 years old.
The truth is that the market for the herring trade, as we know, has deteriorated since the period between the wars, and that has presented great difficulties. The home market was good immediately after the war, but I am sorry to say that that also has fallen off.
§ Mr. Stuart
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and others from the north have certainly done their best, as far as the strength of their lungs permits them, to bring these admirable 57 herrings to the attention of the public, and I wish that the public would pay more attention. It is very regrettable that the home market has fallen off. I know that the fleet has had a run of bad luck, but that is not the main problem. The main problem is the market. We must do all we can, and I hope that the Herring Industry Board will be successful in its efforts to try to popularise the herring.
Clause 6 authorises the Herring Board to spend £750,000 during the next 10 years in grants for the building of herring boats. Clause 7 increases the Board's power to borrow in order to provide loans in addition to grants.
Clause 5 deals with the white fish subsidy, to which I earlier referred briefly, for the inshore, near and middle-water sections. This, as the House knows, is not a new proposal. It was begun, as I said, in 1950, and it was announced by the present Leader of the Opposition as a temporary measure to last for six months. But, as the House knows, it has been continued since then by six-monthly prolongations of its application.
Frankly, we do not see at this moment the likelihood of being able to terminate this white fish subsidy in the very near future. Of course, it should be the ambition of any industry to be self-supporting, but up to date the money for this subsidy has been granted by Parliament under the Appropriation Acts, as it was the genuine hope at the time that it would be a temporary measure to assist the industry.
Now we feel that it cannot go on in that way, and that the right and proper thing to do is to ask the House to extend the white fish subsidy by statute. We have therefore put this in Clause 5. The intention is to give Ministers discretion to pay a subsidy during the next five years—that is to say, it will carry as far as March, 1958—and the Bill provides for payment up to a maximum of £7½ million with power to increase if necessary, but only by the affirmative Resolution of Parliament.
I think that at the present time the cost of the subsidy is running at about £1,800,000 a year. The subsidy, as I think most hon. Members know, is at the rate of 10d. per stone for fish landed by the inshore fishermen, and for the near and middle-water men it is based on a sort of insurance system worked out according 58 to the range of the voyage, the number of days away from port, and so on.
The other important proposal in the Bill is in Clause 8. It is a provision for an additional £1½ million to the Herring Industry Board and the extension of the power to give grants for 10 more years. The main reason for this is the financing of the subsidy for conversion of surplus herring to oil and meal. The Board buys herring surplus to the human consumption market at a fixed price, and by this means the herring fleets have been given genuine help because they have a guaranteed market here, although admittedly not at the top price which they would like—that is to say, the price for human consumption; nevertheless, it does act as a cushion to enable them to maintain their fishing constantly because they have a market for the surplus. It is of great value to the herring fleet, and I think that the House will agree that it should be fully established.
It is a new system, and more in the way of building plant must be done. Of course, the oil and meal produced is a valuable and useful addition to our scarce fats and animal feedingstuffs, so that this system is serving a useful purpose. The Herring Industry Board has so far erected factories at Great Yarmouth, Stornoway and Wick, and others are needed. We hope that we shall eventually see this scheme on a self-supporting basis, because that is what any Government must wish to see in order to relieve the Exchequer of payments of large sums of money. But the factories must be built first, to make the scheme a business concern. I hope that in the future we may see this eventually become a self-supporting new industry in this country.
I have referred to the importance of the home market absorbing more herrings for human consumption, and the Board believe that they are working on hopeful lines which will give some encouragement to the industry. They are working on new methods of presenting fresh or cured herrings for consumption, but this involves changing the old methods, new methods of packing and new machinery. All this takes some time and it must all be efficiently organised.
I trust that the Board will be successful in their efforts because I know that the industry today, as a result of the loss of Continental markets, depends on the 59 new methods in order to provide an outlet and to encourage our own public to consume more of their produce. It is of very great importance to the whole of the herring trade around the East Anglian and Scottish coasts and I hope that the Board will be able to get on with this work as rapidly as possible.
Under Clause 10 the Minister of Food becomes one of the Ministers responsible for the general supervision of the Board. At this time he is responsible in certain particulars but not in others. Clause 11 deals with the accounting and auditing of the Comptroller and Auditor-General and with the laying of the statements of accounts before Parliament.
The real object of this Bill is to carry on the work which was begun by the Herring and Sea Fish Industry Acts and to provide the finance necessary to maintain in an efficient state the inshore, near and middle-water fleets and the herring fleet. It is not a party Measure in any way. To a considerable extent the Bill is to assist and encourage the operations of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board and to help the work which the previous Government instituted in their Act of 1951. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House representing fishing constituencies will be desirous of seeing these objects carried out, and I trust that they will give us some support in carrying through this Measure.
§ 4.43 p.m.
Mr. Hector McNeil (Greenock)
I am sure that events will prove the Secretary of State for Scotland substantially right in saying that this is in no sense a partisan Measure, but I cannot help reminding him that he most unhappily drew our attention to a party matter almost in his last sentence. He drew our attention to Clause 10, which provides for the association of the Ministry of Food. The Minister of Food must get together with his right hon. Friend and make up his mind about this matter. He must not make week-end speeches saying that he intends to liquidate his Ministry within a year when his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is asking the House not to divide against him when he proposes to extend the life of the Ministry of Food in this connection.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. It had occurred to me. As a matter of fact, I understand that if the Ministry of Food should be liquidated its remaining functions would pass to some other Ministry, so that they would be carried on.
I now gather that the intention of the right hon. Gentleman is to liquidate the Minister, but not the Ministry. Although, in common with most hon. Members, I find the Minister of Food quite approachable and very courteous I must admit that in view of his performance during the last year there is a great deal to be said for the right hon. Gentleman's case.
But with the broad provisions of the Bill there will not be much argument. As the right hon. Gentleman has explained, they provide, roughly, for four substantial functions. First, they provide for the continuation of the subsidy for white fish in inshore and near and middle waters. We could have hoped that the conditions of the industry, as of others, would have so improved that the subsidy need not have been continued but, as the Authority have pointed out in their Report and as we all know from our experiences, particularly in the shops, it would probably be dishonest and certainly unrealistic to anticipate that the need would disappear in the near future. As a Government we introduced the subsidy and, subject to the usual scrutiny in relation to public funds, we are prepared to support the right hon. Gentleman in making this provision for its continuation until 1958.
The second provision is for the continuation of the funds under which herring can be treated. Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House 1 have never had any doubt that there would be no real future for the herring industry in its present proportions unless there was a continuing policy in relation to meal and oil. Moreover, many of us are reasonably confident that this need not continue as a subsidised process. In a world where the demand for oil and proteins will continue for a very long time there must eventually be conditions upon which those two products can be extracted from surplus herring economically and efficiently from a national point of view. 61 It would not be appropriate to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what progress is being made in this connection. He gave us a hint that new methods were being used in relation to extraction. This is an anxiety not peculiar to our own country. In various countries of Western Europe research is going on and new methods are being tried to extract proteins and fats from surplus herring. I have never been otherwise than persuaded that there must be simple and cheap chemical methods by which the separation can be made and by which proteins can be made available for agricultural feeding purposes.
I now gather that the inclination of the Herring Industry Board is the other way, and that they believe that they can simplify their cooking and preserving processes. I shall be glad to hear a little more about that if time permits. But I take this opportunity of saying that my hunch is all the other way and that it will be by chemical methods that we shall eventually solve this problem.
The substantial purpose of the Bill is to enable us to provide funds for loan and grant. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) is quite right in saying that the White Fish Authority had the powers under our enactment; but I think he is wrong in thinking that these powers have been effectively used in the meantime.
I am sorry if I misunderstood my right hon. Friend. At any rate, the remaining substantial parts of this Bill relate to the provision under which loans and grants are to be made available.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, there is nothing new in that. It is a continuation of the processes which have been achieved in recent years for the survival of this great industry. We do not complain that, in such a short period as two years, the White Fish Authority have not been able to offer us any new methods or to offer us a comprehensive plan. It would have been a miracle if they had offered a comprehensive plan and equally a miracle if they had produced a scheme not requiring public moneys.
62 While I admit that I have no foolproof scheme to offer, I must confess my disappointment that the Bill is not brought forward in a fuller context than we have here. I must also report my fear that, much too early, the White Fish Authority are showing the first signs of timidity in their Report. Hon. Members will have noticed that in paragraph 15 of the Annual Report of the Authority they point to the difficulties of achieving a comprehensive scheme, which I am sure all those who have the slightest association with this problem will admit to be the truth, and they run away from a comprehensive scheme very fast indeed.
To be fair to the Authority, I must agree that they have drawn our attention to several parts of a scheme, and my submission is that it probably would have been better for the industry, and certainly better for the House, if the Minister had been in a position today to tell us a little more about these proposals and to relate this Bill, the necessity for which we all admit, to these other improvements. For example, the Authority have advised the inshore fishermen, whom we propose to help in the Bill, about the desirability of setting up on a national basis a mutual trading organisation. I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman's Election speeches and the slogans of this Government will not make him too hesitant about addressing himself to the need for a mutual trading organisation.
The Authority seem to propose that the mutual trading organisation should concern itself with the buying and selling of gear and with the handling and the marketing of inshore fish, and it would not be unreasonable for the Government to tell us a little more about how this is to be achieved, because we all know—and we do not try to hide from it—that the very best scheme produced for almost any section of the industry, although I would make a qualified exception for the distant water section of the industry, tends to fall to pieces because it is so difficult to secure agreement when the scheme is applied to that section. What exactly are the White Fish Authority thinking in relation to a mutual trading organisation? What is the nature of the help which they promise to inshore fishermen in setting up this organisation? 63 A second, wider and perhaps more important proposal is the proposal to have a price stabilisation fund, which must affect our judgment upon how adequate or inadequate are the proposed amounts here. The House knows the essential of a price stabilisation fund. It is that the Authority should achieve a scheme under which a levy is paid upon all landings, and the proceeds of such a levy are, in turn, used to buy surplus amounts, in glut condition, which do not reach an agreed minimum price.
We on this side of the House are all persuaded that that can be of very great help to the fishermen, and it can also be of very great help to the housewife because she can then be safeguarded against the violent and seasonal fluctuations of prices with which she cannot cope. But while we need such a scheme, we are anxious to admit to the right hon. Gentleman that how the industry will accept it is quite another matter. There are objections in certain sections, which are quite understandable. Could we ask the right hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend what stage these discussions have reached? What hopes do the Authority entertain and what powers are they going to use, if powers are necessary? This would be a very big jump forward indeed.
There are a couple of other proposals, which are very interesting from the housewife's point of view, by which the Authority apparently mean to produce codes—codes relating to the handling and marketing of fresh white fish and codes relating to the freezing, handling and marketing of fish which reaches the public as frozen fish. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Roberts) has frequently drawn our attention to the importance of this latter aspect. I think I am right in saying that he has made some experiments in connection with it.
I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether you have ever gone into the household's domestic economy as many of us have; I sometimes meet my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) shopping, for he brings the experience of the trade union organiser to the slab from which we both buy fish. But even if you have not had that intimate experience, I have no doubt 64 that you can remember the tremendous revulsion which grew up in this country towards frozen fish—and which grew on a reasonable basis. It arose because housewives thought that some of the fish was no better than slush.
We all know that if supplies of coarse fish are to be made available to the housewife throughout the year in good quality and at reasonable price, then great processes of freezing must take place; and we also know that if the industry is to function economically throughout the year, it is similarly interested in freezing every kind of fish in a way which must eventually be acceptable to the housewife. The White Fish Authority tell us little about this and about their intention to establish the two codes, and I am sure that the House will very much want to know how far this has proceeded.
There is another point which might be given in relation to our consideration of the Bill. The House will have noticed that in paragraphs 61 to 66 of the Authority's Report there is a discussion on the transport equalisation scheme. I have been admitting to the House that there are differences in the industry about these proposals, and when we come to the transport equalisation scheme I am bound to confess that differences in the industry are reflected not in a party fashion but in both parties in the House.
My position, I think, is fairly well known, and, because I value the friendship of my hon. Friends, I shall not push it too far at this moment, except that I want to say this—and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) is here—I hope that if we are to have a freight equalisation scheme of any kind the Secretary of State for Scotland will, at any rate, take steps to see that the main recommendations of the M'Coll Report are followed in relation to Aberdeen.
The right hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, have noticed the statement to which I am alluding in the "Glasgow Herald" of 30th December. I know that this may not be of immediate interest to many sections of the House, but Aberdeen is an important port; it is a port which is to benefit from the Bill; it is a port which would benefit from such a scheme if it went through; and there is 65 a non-party M'Coll Committee which has reported upon the condition of the industry in that city. The "Glasgow Herald" was quoting from Lord Bilsland, the President of the Scottish Council, saying that the utmost effort would continue to be made in support of the M'Coll Committee's Report on the white fish industry in Aberdeen.
The Council did not think that the industry in Aberdeen should either have accepted the main recommendations or have made other practicable proposals for the reorganisation of the industry. They are pressing those views, I am glad to see from the "Glasgow Herald," upon the Scottish Office. Lord Bilsland concluded his review by saying that the White Fish Authority, who would have the duty of administering the funds assigned for grants and loans, had already accepted the main principles.
It is said that no public funds should be made available for financial assistance until those main recommendations have been implemented. That is my view in relation to this particular problem, but that is also my view in relation to these four main recommendations from the White Fish Authority to which I have alluded. We on this side of the House, like right hon. Gentlemen opposite, see no escape from this necessity, for the social, for the strategic, and for the food reasons, of making public funds available to this great sector of the fish industry, but we have an overriding obligation, when we are disbursing public funds, to make sure that what the public can get for its money it should get.
We all know that provision of public funds for new vessels will not in itself bring health to this industry, nor will it bring satisfaction to the public. Therefore, I think it would be helpful to the House if the right hon. Gentleman—or, perhaps, that may be a bit unreasonable, and I should say, instead, the Minister of Agriculture—would later tell us what improvements in the organisation of the industry they expect as a concomitant of the granting of these public funds.
As to the Bill itself, what the House will want to be certain of is that, along with these other methods of reorganisation, which, we all know, must take place, the grants provided for in the Bill are adequate to the job that they are to do. The right hon. Gentleman 66 quoted figures which are to be found in the Appendix to the White Fish Authority's Report—alarming figures showing the age of this fleet in the inshore and near and middle waters. He might also have quoted figures which would have alarmed us in relation to the manpower in this industry.
It will not be enough to see that more efficient vessels are going into production in the industry. The House must be satisfied that we are designing conditions in which the deterioration in this industry can be arrested, and the country will want to be satisfied that the industry is once more in a healthy condition from the manpower point of view as well.
The main financial provisions in relation to the replacement of fleets are to be found in Clause 2. I am told that by themselves—I am told by opinion in the industry which I should trust—it is doubtful if the level of those grants will make the rate of replacement which is needed. I rather think that it is only proper that we should ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that it is the opinion of the White Fish Authority given to the Ministers concerned that these grants, with the loans, will be, in their opinion, having had access to the industry and to the advice in the industry, sufficient to secure replacement at a rate which they think meets their obligation; that is, the rehabilitation of the industry and the provision of fresh fish in adequate quantities and at reasonable prices.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), whom we heard often in Committee when we were discussing the parent Measure of this Bill, shakes his head. I presume he is going to say from the advice available to him that he comes to the same conclusion as I; but that is doubtful. The hon. Gentleman was forthright enough in his criticisms of us: I hope he will be equally forthright in his criticisms of his right hon. Friends, and I hope that when we come to the Committee stage, if there is a need to divide upon this subject, we can count upon his support.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he did not propose to divide at all.
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman must listen carefully. I was indicating that we should not divide at this 67 stage. That would be highly illogical, for the Bill is partly, at any rate, our child. But at the moment I am addressing myself to the Committee stage. The hon. Gentleman must be prepared to back his forthright, loud and healthy opinions on this matter; and we are delighted to see him in good company for once.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the assurance for which I have asked. If this is the advice available from the White Fish Authority—if it is—then I and my hon. Friends must think further about the level of these grants. Perhaps, too, he will assure us—I am certain I scarcely need this assurance—that we are right in thinking that both in Clause 2 and then again in the Clause applying to the herring industry—Clause 6—the words that seem a little ambiguous bear only this meaning: that Clause 2 (1, a) applies only to smaller boats; to the owner-operated boats. I mean the words about the expenditure of £20,000, and that that applies only to the smaller boats, the 65 ft. to 70 ft. boat—that the ceiling applies only to that type of vessel.
Although I am sure I am wrong, to me and some of my hon. Friends the wording of Clause 2 (1, b) looks a little ambiguous, in that the owner-operator aspect is the qualification and not the size of the boat. I take it that in paragraph (a) "one-quarter" means the small boat, the 65 ft. or 70 ft. boat, and that paragraph (b), in which the one-fifth applies, refers to the 140 ft. size of boat.
There is another assurance which we should like to have, and which is very important—
§ Mr. J. Stuart
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like a reply now, because it might help to make the matter clear. The position is that only working fishermen can get the 25 per cent. grant. On boats costing more than £20,000, working fishermen may get only a 20 per cent. grant. That is to say, they will only get 25 per cent. up to the limit of £4,000, or they will only get the full benefit of a boat costing up to £16,000. Between £16,000 and £20,000 the assistance will taper down, because the grant tapers from 25 per cent. to 20 per cent. Working fishermen with a bigger boat, costing over £20,000, would not get more than 20 per cent.
That helps us a great deal, although, with great respect, it is not quite complete, because under Clause 2 (1, a) the owner-operator will get only £4,000, even if the cost of the vessel were £20,000, so he would get 20 per cent. and not 25 per cent.
We are not really in disagreement. Scotsmen may disagree about everything else, but their arithmetic is usually satisfactory. There are different ways of expressing it, but it means that on the £20,000 boat, which is the ceiling, he will get 20 per cent., and up to £16,000 he will get 25 per cent. On the larger vessels, costing perhaps £100,000, the 140 feet vessel, the ceiling is 20 per cent. by way of grant.
I should also like to be assured that the subsequent provision in relation to engining is exclusive. Will a man be able to draw the maximum grant under either Clause 2 (1, a) or Clause 2 (1, b) in relation to the hull and qualify for an engine grant as well? My expectation is that he will not, but we had better have it quite clear.
No grant will disqualify a man for applying for loans under Section 4 (1, g) of the 1951 Act, by which we authorise the White Fish Authority to make loans available for acquisition and for the equipping of vessels. It is quite clear that this is of tremendous importance, because even if our calculations about the rate of replacement that could take place under this scheme of loans were optimistic—and I am not optimistic—it is plain that the replacement programme will stretch over a considerable period, and we must therefore make sure that in the intervening period the best possible credit facilities are made available for the gearing and equipping of these vessels.
Those are three important points. No doubt my hon. Friends will have others to put, and I expect various Committee points will be made. However, there is a fourth matter to which I wish to draw attention. With this I will conclude, and I apologise for the length of my remarks. It is plain that under the most efficient conditions of the fleet the tendency would be to contract. One thing upon which we all agree is that in the last 25 years, except 69 during the war years we have aimed at, and the overall tendency has been for, a smaller tonnage fishing more efficiently to land a larger quantity of fish. If the loans and grants programme allowed us only to add to the fishing fleet we would, economically at any rate, be in some danger. The White Fish Authority, reporting upon this matter, quoted the industry as saying vaguely that the only thing to do is to exclude newcomers.
The Bill, of course, specifically provides for newcomers. Could we be told whether the Authority have any scrapping policy? If so, it is obvious that they have the device in their own hands. The licensing device would meet the case. What I am not clear about is that it is their policy. I had better say that I am not certain myself that socially a policy of replacement should be pursued. It is not the only test, of course, but economically it might be the best way. Perhaps we could be told that in the reply.
If I had not spoken at such inordinate length I should like to say a bit more about herrings and about the conservation of fishing. We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Over-Fishing Convention, and I am delighted that the West German Republic is to subscribe to the Convention. Perhaps at some time the right hon. Gentleman might find it convenient to tell us when the Commission is to be set up, and also when we may expect the first report from the Commission on the operation of the Convention.
I have made it plain that we would not dream of dividing the House upon this Bill. It is a timid Measure—although I do not know that in some circumstances we would have been prepared to be bold. It is a limited Measure, and that is a great pity. Yet I admit the complexity of the industry is so diffuse that I do not know that we would have been able to introduce a comprehensive Measure. For what it is, we are grateful, and although we shall have Amendments to propose in Committee at this stage we shall be very ready to support the Government.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) say that at the moment this is an agreed Measure. I think we all feel that this 70 Bill will help the industry, and I am, therefore, grateful for it. There was one thing the right hon. Gentleman said in which I hope he is wrong, and that was when he accused my right hon. Friend of falling into a custom which has become very prevalent lately, namely, starting a purge in his own party.
The fishing industry is rather a Cinderella industry, because it does not get the credit due to it, although it does get more than enough curses heaped upon it. We all know, and are sorry about, the fact that the price of fish is high, but those who complain about it seem to forget why the price is high. It is not that the fishermen are overpaid, in any possible manner of speaking. We all know how hard their work is. If anything, they are very much underpaid, with all the great difficulties and dangers they go through. It is not that the owners or merchants are making the money. The real trouble is the appalling cost of freight and coal charges.
My one real doubt about this Bill is the fact that the White Fish Authority are to run it. I myself, in going about, have never heard one word of good spoken about them. I have also tried to find out what they have been doing. All that they seem to be doing, in my opinion, is either to try to start a scheme which will run in competition with the present one—and it seems rather unfair that anyone who is in industry should pay a levy to some body to start in opposition—or otherwise, they get out to some idea such as equal freight for all.
I suppose that some hon. Members on both sides of the House will strongly disagree with me, but I can assure them and everyone here that if we do that it will mean that people will have to ask a tremendous number of Questions on why white fish is so expensive in England.
Therefore, I hope that something can be done about the White Fish Authority. When I asked the people who have to pay the levy—the coastal wholesalers—what they thought about the White Fish Authority and what they had done, they said, "We do not know very much, except that we find that they have installed themselves in a nice house in the country and have settled down, and have done nothing since."
I feel that here is a chance for my right hon. Friend to see that they do 71 wake up and try to help the industry, and carry out the high hopes which we had of them when the Authority started. Anything which the Minister can do in that way will, I am certain, be very gratefully accepted.
There are two points concerning the Bill about which I particularly want to speak. I think that I am going to be rather a lone wolf because, from what my right hon. Friend has said, I think that what I am about to say will not be very agreeable to the Government. From what I know of Hull and Grimsby, they also will probably not agree with what I am going to say; the small ports around the coast of Great Britain will also probably disagree, and I shall be almost alone when I say that Fleetwood wants this.
The grant in respect of the 140 ft. boat should be for all vessels of any length up to a reasonable proportion or there should be some flexibility. The reason I say this is because of the fact that we have only a very few distant water vessels in Fleetwood, which means that we do not get a constant supply of fish at the port. If we could get this grant, I think that more distant water vessels would be made, and this would be an improvement for the fishermen at Fleetwood.
One other thing about Fleetwood is that the vessels have to steam much further than do those from Hull or Grimsby to get to the White Sea or Bear Islands. If over-fishing goes on, then everyone will have to try to seek new waters. If we had more distant water vessels for Fleetwood it would mean that we could do what we did before the war, namely, fish off the Newfoundland Bank and probably catch much more fish. It would bring prosperity to the town and help in reducing the price of fish.
There are two other points about building bigger ships. One is that it gives a steadier platform for fishing in bad weather, which ought to be kept in mind. and the second, and most important, is that with a bigger ship there is an opportunity for giving better accommodation to the crew. I think that we all realise how bad the accommodation is in most of these trawlers. It is only in the new ones that anything is really done for the comfort of the crew. I have talked to one or two of the men who have been on 72 good boats and their views on the complete difference which this makes are so great that I think that anything we can do to help in that matter would be an excellent idea.
My last point concerns the question of Iceland. We all know the present difficulties. We know that the Foreign Office have tried their hardest to get this question settled, and we all hope that it will be settled as soon as possible. I suppose that it is being held up because at the moment no country can ever get another country to agree. The story goes round that when our skippers asked why there was this hold up, they were told, "The trouble is that if there had not been brought in a Measure like this, Iceland might have turned Communistic." One good skipper said, "So far as fishing is concerned, that might be a good thing. If I go to a Communist country I get fined £45 and if I go to a non-Communist country I get fined £3,000." I do not say that we can support his view, but we can understand it.
We ought to make Iceland into a middle water area and not a distant water one. This would make a good deal of difference and be of benefit to the trawlers which go to Iceland, because of the subsidy. I hope that the Government will consider that question from the point of view of the industry as a whole and see if they cannot come to a permanent agreement about this, or at least a temporary one, until a better agreement is reached with Iceland.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
As the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) has pointed out, there are many different points of view in the fishing industry. I do not myself feel that that necessarily means that those points of view must carry on warfare with each other. I will give him his point about bigger boats if, in turn, he will be silent about freight schemes and give me a fair run for one of my hares—the flat rate.
I do not entirely agree with all the hon. Member said about the White Fish Authority, but I think that all round the coast there is a certain amount of impatience to know exactly what the Authority is going to do. There is much criticism that it has been rather slow in getting off the mark in many directions. 73 I want to confine my few remarks to the share fishermen of the north of Scotland. I must say that I am rather doubtful whether the Bill will be adequate from their point of view in achieving the purpose which the Secretary of State for Scotland set out for it. I am sure that his intention is of the best, but I doubt whether, as a result of this Bill, we shall see that improvement in the efficiency of the inshore fleet which he wants.
The grant is a maximum of £4,000, or one-quarter in the case of these share fishermen. That leaves a considerable sum of money to be found from some other source. Most of these people have no capital of their own, and we are being unrealistic unless we consider where the balance is to come from. I am glad to hear that there will be loans. I should like to have heard much more of the conditions under which these loans are to be given. It is a very serious matter for a man with no capital to take on a very risky job and make himself responsible for a large loan unless the conditions are to be reasonably easy.
I think that I am right in saying that, in point of fact, the grants will be smaller under this Bill than under previous legislation. There will be more to be found by the men out of their own pockets or by way of loans. I think that we are entiled to know in detail what the conditions are to be. Here again, there is this difficulty of raising capital which occurs again and again in every activity in the Far North among fishermen, crofters, and everyone else. The Government say that they are offering £4,000, but where does the balance come from? If it is not available, the Government might just as well offer nothing. I do not say that the Bill will do no good, but, after speaking to fishermen, I am very doubtful whether it will achieve the purpose described by the Secretary of State.
The Bill gives no assistance for gear. Gear involves a very heavy outlay for anyone starting out fishing. I wonder whether the Government feel that the White Fish Authority will be able to give help with gear?
Assistance under the Bill is confined to new fishing vessels. There are many people who have been unable to afford new vessels but have obtained secondhand ones and done a good job with them 74 and I wonder if it is wise to exclude them from the assistance provisions. I quite see that the Government have in mind the need to improve the fleet and are primarily concerned with new vessels, but the second-hand vessels has been very useful for the share fishermen.
§ Mr. Boothby
Is not that point met by the specific inclusion of engines? Is not the provision of an engine a very important matter in the reconditioning of a second-hand boat?
§ Mr. Grimond
I agree that assistance will be given for new engines and was just coming to that provision, which I welcome, but at the end of the war many second-hand hulls were obtained, and they have been doing good work round the coasts.
But after all is said and done about the provisions in the Bill, the effectiveness of the Bill will depend on the general future of the industry and on whether the fishermen will be able to catch an adequate quantity of fish whatever boat they use, and whether they will be able to get a decent price for it. There must be considerable anxiety on these wider questions in discussing the Bill. We have been told that it is the intention of the Government to continue and to make statutory the white fish subsidy. In the existing circumstances, that is right, but I am very doubtful whether it is the best way in the long-term of setting the industry on its legs. I believe the Government will have to look at more fundamental matters.
The matter of stocks is a very difficult and important one. I doubt whether one can give an easy overall decision about the North Sea. I believe that on the whole it is being over-fished, but there have been more whiting round Shetland during the last few years than for many years before, and there have been enormous catches of hake in certain parts. This is a matter about which we have still a great deal to learn. Some further restriction on catching may be necessary. On the other hand, if there is to he restriction on catching, we must bear in mind that that will be a very serious matter to many fishermen. How we are to build up the stock again without restricting the fishing activities of fishermen is a problem. For it is only by using modern 75 methods, which are to some extent destructive, that many fishing communities can survive.
I believe the White Fish Authority can do a great deal more about the processing, handling and marketing of fish. I know that they have done something to encourage quick-freezing, and the reduction of herring to oil. But there is still enormous scope for expansion in the quick-freezing of white fish. It is vital to bring fish to the market in really good condition. That is the only way we shall get the urban housewife to eat it. One method of doing that is by quick-freezing. Then I am told that we are years behind the Norwegians in the reduction of herring to oil. The Norwegians are doing a big trade in reduction to oil for human consumption. That trade has hardly been touched in this country, and that is a development with which the White Fish Authority could help.
As far as my fishermen are concerned, I am bold enough to say that transport is one of the greatest handicaps under which they live. If the Government are sincere in their desire to keep the smaller share fishing communities in existence they will have to tackle the problem of transport. If they do not do that no scheme will give these fishermen confidence.
Finally, there is the problem of the big gap between the fishermen and the housewife. If we can get schemes for the better marketing of fish by cooperation between the fishermen or by private enterprise, that may be one of the most important steps of all. It is on these wider matters that the success or failure of the Bill will depend.
No fisherman will lay out a large sum of money, and no young man will settle for fishing as a life, unless he feels that he will get a catch out of the sea and a market when he brings it to land. It is a very hard and ill-paid and sometimes very unpleasant job. I doubt whether the provisions under the Bill for grants and loans will be adequate merely as a financial proposition. I say that in all sincerity in respect of the share fishermen. But whether the provisions are adequate or inadequate, the ultimate success or failure of the industry depends on other and wider matters.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), for what he has said fits in very well with what I should like to say, although I should like to go a good deal further.
The Bill nowhere nearly meets the problems which affect the fishing industry. We are discussing a proposal to give grants for the building of new trawlers, but we are not really doing anything to create the conditions in which the new trawlers will function successfully and in which the subsidy could possibly be dispensed with. When the Minister of Agriculture replies to the debate his remarks ought to be directed to whether or not the Bill will be a success in the context of the situation which will prevail in the industry in the next few years.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke about the large sums of money which private individuals will still have to find even if they receive the grants scheduled under the Bill. Even if these grants are given to the near and middle water sections of the industry, it will be very hard indeed to find someone who will be prepared to hazard enough money to build a new trawler.
I also agree with what the hon. Member said about the subsidy. Nobody likes subsidies for a dying industry. Subsidies are useful as an instrument for redistributing income, but the fishing industry subsidy exists only as a prop. We ought to be directing our attention to the permanent solution of the malaise existing in the industry. Because of the rises in costs and changes in circumstances which have occurred since my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition first announced it, the subsidy is quite inadequate as a temporary holder of the line in the difficult economic situation in which many trawler owners find themselves. The man who is in permanent receipt of the subsidy is slowly but inevitably on his way to the bankruptcy court. The right hon. Gentleman ought to he looking again into the subsidy question in that light.
Many other minor modifications could be made, such as the one in relation to the 140 ft. vessel mentioned by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley). 77 However, if the 140 ft. limitations were to be waived they should be waived only in respect of the middle water ships and not the long-distance ships because the near and middle water industry is a totally different one from the long-distance industry.
I would respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should direct his attention to the activities of the White Fish Authority. Through this body there are powers existing at the moment which would give him the opportunity to participate more actively in the problems and difficulties facing the industry. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned the fact that a lot of people were a bit impatient at the way the Authority were carrying on. I would have said that that was a masterpiece of understatement.
They began with the good will of everyone in the industry. Everyone wanted them to succeed, but for two and a half years they have squandered every scrap of that good will. The fault rests with the members and not with the powers of the Authority, and the right hon. Gentleman should look at the personnel which constitutes the White Fish Authority. There is nothing wrong with the original powers and the conception that we gave them. What is wrong is that the individuals constituting the Authority are not using those powers positively enough, and are not showing enough urgency about the problems facing the industry.
Not only should the right hon. Gentleman ginger up the White Fish Authority, but he should give a series of clear directions to them. He should tell them that their main function is to produce new schemes and to go forward with much more positive and bolder ideas instead of spending so much time, as they seem to do, in finding some reasons for not operating new ideas when they are brought forward.
I am staggered at the way in which they conduct their business. For instance, the Milford Docks Company, in my constituency, wrote to them in 1950 and submitted a memorandum. That company managed to get a reply on 6th January, 1953. What kind of a body is this which takes over two years to reply to a memorandum on the industry, and what does the right hon. Gentleman 78 propose to do about such a state of lethargy? The right hon. Gentleman himself has no excuse for shelving the responsibility of the Authority, because he has been the responsible Minister in charge for nearly 18 months, so that some of the fault must inevitably rest on his own shoulders.
I think we ought to turn our attention not only to the White Fish Authority, but to the actual position which prevails in the industry generally and the problems which go beyond the powers of the White Fish Authority. A serious situation has arisen in some sections of the industry. Now, it has been proposed by some parts of the trawling industry that something might be done to help those particular trawler owners who are facing extreme economic crisis at the moment because of the fluctuating vicissitudes and rising costs. One way in which a stabilised position could be reached would be to apply a scheme through the British Iron and Steel Authority to increase the price of scrap to British trawlers to the same level as we pay for imported scrap. That would increase the capital value of many firms in the industry, and give them adequate security to tide them over bad periods.
Then I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be paying much more attention to the problems of marketing that exist in the industry. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlands spoke about the difference in price between the port and the slab. It is far too great. Part of the problem is that there are far too many people living on the distributive side of the industry at the expense of the producers and the consumers.
The right hon. Gentleman should institute an immediate inquiry into the existing distributive machinery. It is one of the most complicated I can think of, and probably its only counterpart is horticulture. There are, incidentally, many parallels between the marketing of horticulture and the marking of fish. Both are perishable commodities; both have bad organisations; and, frequently, both commodities come from remote areas.
The Minister of Agriculture should be looking at the fishing industry and using some of the lessons which we have learned from the horticultural industry to see 79 whether any help can be given in the marketing of fish. We should be looking not only at the administration of distribution, but also at the price system. The farming community is, after all, the only other great food producing industry in this country, and it never really prospered as long as the farmers were at the mercy of the public auction. I wonder whether the fish industry will ever get out of its difficulties so long as the fishermen are at the mercy of the public auction, and I wonder whether it would not be better to go for a minimum price to see whether we cannot get some stability into the industry in that way.
Thirdly, I think the right hon. Gentleman could do a lot more through the White Fish Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Food to make the public more fish conscious. It amazes me why nothing has hitherto been done through publicity schemes to enable the housewives, through the newspapers, to know that there is a large landing of a particular kind of fish at a particular time. It would help to reduce prices in the shops and help to sell the fish quickly at the ports.
The right hon. Gentleman should consider, with the Ministry of Food or the White Fish Authority, setting up an organisation through which information of a large catch at Grimsby, Hull, Fleetwood, Aberdeen or any of the other ports would be given to the newspapers for insertion in the columns specially dealing with housewives' problems. If through this medium the housewives could he told that a cargo of hake, herring, or whatever it might be had arrived at a certain port and the price should be so and so, it would help fish consumption generally and it would keep prices down, because the housewives would demand from her fishmonger supplies at the price stated.
Surely it is not beyond the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman's Department or of the Ministry of Food to publish recipes making fish more attractive for consumers either in salads, pies, or in any other way in which the fish could be dressed up. We are far too conservative in our use of fish in the homes of this country at the moment. There are many imaginative things we could be doing to make fish more attractive to the consuming public.
80 The right hon. Gentleman ought to pay some attention to research in the industry, a subject mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. As he said, the Norwegians are far ahead of us in the reduction of herring to oil. There is a great deal more to be done in other spheres of the fishing industry in the matter of research, and the Department of Scientific Research could be asked to undertake a great deal more than they have done in the past.
I was hearing only the other day of a scheme of which I do not know the details, but no doubt the Department of the right hon. Gentleman could get them for him if he is interested. It is a firm of manufacturing chemists called Lederles in Canada, which buys the guts and byproducts of fish on the Canadian coasts, and uses them for the manufacture of antibiotics. I should have thought that some investigation on those lines though perhaps on a much wider scale could be of great value to the fishing industry here.
I also agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland when he says that a great deal more could be done about research into quick freezing. The problems of the fishing industry will never really be solved so long as fish remains a perishable food. The same used to apply to meat, and now the meat is no longer perishable we have some stability in beef production. For too long there has been too much prejudice against the freezing of fish. If there were adequate research into the matter, and if there were facilities to freeze fish quickly at the right time it would be very difficult for the ordinary person to differentiate between the frozen fish and the non-frozen fish. Indeed, in many cases the frozen fish would arrive in industrial towns in a very much better condition than the so-called fresh fish arrives today.
We ought to be considering the problems of the fishing industry not simply within the narrow context of the Bill but in the context that this is a basic food producing industry. The problems of food will be increasingly difficult in this country in the next 50 years. In the 19th century we were able to get by because the terms of trade were running in our favour. The terms of trade will be steadily and increasingly against us in the next 50 years. The fishing industry has an increasingly important part to play, and if we organise it properly it will 81 make a contribution towards ensuring that the people are adequately fed.
The Department of the right hon. Gentleman has not shown nearly enough sense of urgency in looking at the problems of the fishing industry in that context. The speech of the Secretary of State this afternoon showed no sense of urgency. I do not wish to embark upon a discussion of the problems which pertain to the country north of the Border in the Kingdom of the Stuarts, but it can be said of the right hon. Gentleman, after his inertia this afternoon, as was said of another Stuart, that he never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one either. The proposals of the right hon. Gentleman today will do next to nothing.
The House of Commons has discussed the fishing industry and its problems many times. We are continually making the House of Commons into a public mourner for the private economic crimes that are going on in the industry. Until the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues appreciate that they have to take efficient and speedy action, and not just mourn the fate of the fishing industry by bringing forward measures such as this which may ameliorate and can only help here and there, we shall never get anywhere in tackling these problems. We shall never, by these means, get the fishing industry on the sound basis where the men who catch the fish are adequately rewarded and the people who buy the fish can do so at reasonable prices.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I shall be very brief this afternoon. I agree with the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) that a great deal more might have been done to popularise the consumption of fish in this country. Some of us do our best in our small way; but it remains to me an unfathomable mystery why pickled herrings are not eaten raw, by the million, in this country. They are absolutely delicious.
When our people go abroad and eat fillets of herring well cured and raw they think it is as good as caviare and quite the best thing they have ever tasted. This food is sold in Holland on trolleys as we serve ice cream. It tastes delicious, creates a splendid thirst, and has other great advantages; yet nobody in this country will eat it. It could be the 82 cheapest, most nutritious, most appetising and encouraging article of food in this country. I have tried to popularise cured herrings for 30 years, alas without the slightest success; and I hope to go on doing so for another 30 years.
One or two very interesting points were raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), particularly affecting the North of Scotland. He said that the Bill would be inadequate because many of the fishermen could not afford to take up the grant as they could not raise the balance of the cash. There are two replies to this point. The first is that the banks are very helpful to the fishing industry in the North of Scotland.
The second reply is that there are growing up, certainly in my constituency, companies who own a number of fishing craft but retain the principle of individual share ownership in the vessel, as well as their own share. These companies have considerable reserves of their own, and, therefore, find it much easier than individuals to raise the balance from the banks. I believe that this gradual modification of the share system, and the development of companies of this character, with larger financial resources, is the probable method of the future.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the perennial problem of transport rates from the North of Scotland. I have come to doubt very much whether we can solve this problem simply in the context of the fishing industry. I do not think it is really practicable to separate one commodity from the rest, and to treat it differently in respect of freight charges. If we are to deal with the problem of transport from the Highlands and other distant places in this country, we must do so in a comprehensive scheme, covering all classes of merchandise. I trust that the Government will consider this point.
I want to mention one matter in connection with the Bill, which I very much welcome. It will be very useful. It concerns the provision of grants for engines. It is the diesel engine which the fishermen need so badly at the present time, and want to put into quite good available hulls. The fact that engines specifically qualify for grant is most encouraging. All I would say to the Secretary of State is that I hope he will impress upon both the White Fish Authority and upon the Herring Industry Board that 83 they make sure that the grants go to the right men. In the past that has not been so, especially since the war.
Above all, I press that the grants should go to the younger men, particularly those who have had war service. That has not always happened, and there has been some dissatisfaction. I have even been pressed by some of the fishermen to oppose any further grants because of the way in which they have been administered. It is important to see that grants are made to the best possible men, those with whom the future of the fishing industry rests; and, therefore, to the younger men, if possible those who have had war service.
This brings me to my last point. I do not think that the House is very happy about the White Fish Authority. I am not altogether happy about the Herring Industry Board. I think it is better than the White Fish Authority, but that is not saying very much. I think, for example, that the Herring Industry Board have sat back to far too great an extent on the question of the reduction of herring to oil and meal. They seem to regard this process as only a temporary phase, to judge from conversations which I have had with them. I do not think that I am revealing any secrets. They think that it is only to be done during a temporary shortage of fats and oils, and that the whole thing is basically artificial. They therefore put up a few makeshift factories in some out of the way places and do not get on with the job as a permanent feature of our national economic life.
I think there will be a shortage of fats and oils in this country for many years to come, and that the Board should be going into this business on a far bigger scale. They should not put up little factories in distant little ports to relieve temporary gluts. That is not the longterm answer to the problem. I have seen an oil production factory in Denmark. I believe those in Norway are better still. I am sure that we are miles behind them.
We ought to be putting up modern factories in the big centres. There is one in Yarmouth which is not allowed to work during the season because of the smell. The Board could spend a little more money on the factory to get rid of the smell. Yarmouth is one of the places 84 where the big herring catches go in the autumn. Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Buckie are important centres of the Scottish summer fishing. I press very strongly that the Herring Industry Board should take up far more seriously than they have done this question of factories for making herring into oil and meal. It alone can provide a solution to the problems of glut which has bedevilled the industry for years.
I sometimes wonder whether the Minister of Agriculture has ever sent for the White Fish Authority, or the Herring Industry Board; and, if so, what he has said when they got there. I cannot think that the White Fish Authority's approach to the problems of the industry has been convincing. They produced one scheme for a flat transport rate, and after a little discussion they withdrew it precipitately; following which there has been total silence. Not a word on that or on any other subject. I suggest to the Minister that he should send for some of the chaps on these boards and say to them. "What are you doing?"; and occasionally, "What are you not doing, and why are you not doing it?". Has any pressure been brought to bear upon these boards? If not, why not?
If they are doing badly, why are some of the members not changed? They are not permanent appointments, and the right chaps are not necessarily selected every time. If somebody proves that he is not a good member of a board, it is no disgrace to let him go and appoint someone else to see if he is better and. if not, to sack him also. That is the advice I press upon the Government.
In conclusion, I again welcome this Bill warmly. It will do much good, if wisely administered, to the inshore fishing industry as a whole.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Captain M. Hewitson (Hull, Central)
Hon. Members from both sides of the House who have spoken this afternoon have skated warily around the problem of the fishing industry. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) referred to the deep-sea fishing industry as another industry. He may have thought that, but the deep-sea fishing industry is the real fishing industry of this country. We hear complaints, often from this side of the House, about the price of fish and questions are put to the Minister asking what 85 he will do about it. I ask hon. Members to examine the fishing industry in order to see what section is the real fishing industry, what it is doing, what help it gets, what are its costs and what it charges for its commodity.
By this Bill the Government are trying to put injections into this rickety child of the previous Government in the hope that it will live. The Government are asking for a subsidy to support the fishing industry, but I feel sure that we shall be asking for further grants in two or three or four years in order to subsidise something that should be scrapped. In this extension of the old Order we shall give subsidies to vessels that are probably about 40 years old, when we have within our grasp the ability to supply fish, which is a good wholesome food, to the homes of this country at a reasonable price.
Let us be honest. Is this Bill brought forward to ease the burden of the housewife or to subsidise something that is falling to pieces? The subsidies under this Bill will not go to what I term the real fishing industry. Clause 1 (1, a) says quite clearly that the grants shall not apply to any vessel over 140 feet. Yet we all know that any trawler over that size is a deep-sea trawler. We also know that in modern building we demand decent accommodation for crews so that the trawlers must be lengthened to make room for that extra accommodation as well as for plant for the conversion of fish oils and so on. That means that modern trawlers will be more than 140 feet and the Minister would have done well if he had substituted 180 feet in the Bill which would have brought within its scope modern long-distance trawlers.
How many of them have we got in this country? In the area which I with other hon. Members have the honour to represent, we have the largest long-distance fleet in the country. Based upon our port of Hull we have 163 vessels over 140 feet. Yet the White Fish Authority, from its country home where sulphur water is good but not fishing, is benevolently doling out subsidies which will not affect the main fishing port in this country.
This afternoon there has been reference to the recent fishing difficulties in Icelandic waters. Following an extension in Norway which took away from us many of our fishing grounds, we have had the extension in Iceland which barred not one mile of contour extension as so many 86 people think, but which took an extra mile extension from point to point which has taken away from us 60 miles of fishing. Instead of being allowed to fish in those waters we now have to go off the coasts of Greenland with all the hazards involved in that area. The unhappy experience of the Port of Hull was that within one or two weeks of that ban being placed on Iceland, one of our boats, the "Norman" went out and did not come back, with the consequent tragic loss of 20 of her crew.
Such things have left a deep feeling in Hull. Again this morning we read that the White Sea has been closed to us by an extension of boundaries from three to 12 miles and another large area approximating 5,000 square miles along the coast. That means that once again we have to go further and from Hull our trawlers are having to travel approximately 2,000 miles to find fish. This increases costs, and when hon. Members discuss fish prices to the housewife I would remind them that we have reached the stage where fish will no longer be cheap.
I have in my hand a statement that one of our finest vessels left Hull on Boxing Day on her usual run to the Greenland coast for fishing. She is one of the most modern vessels that science can produce, fitted with radar. She went out one of the proudest vessels possible, but this weekend she limped into Hull a broken wreck. Unable to take advantage of the shelter of Iceland during storms, she had to stay in the waters of Greenland amongst the ice floes, dodging icebergs with the result that she has come back broken to pieces. Will there be any compensation from the White Fish Authority, or any subsidy? No, there will not, but it is quite possible that the White Fish Authority will charge them levy for the fish that is left in her holds.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
I think that the hon. and gallant Member has got it slightly wrong. Iceland is open to the ships of all nations to take shelter for distress purposes, and so is Greenland. Greenland has a prohibition against any form of vessels coming in, except under stress of weather. I am certain that the Icelanders would be horrified if a message went out such as the one which the hon. and gallant Member is giving, because they are amongst our oldest and best friends.
§ Captain Hewitson
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. Probably I was putting my case for the Hull fishermen with rather more enthusiasm than careful thought. I was not suggesting that Iceland was barred to them in time of stress or storm. The point I wish to make is that but for the debarring for fishing purposes of the waters where the boat would normally have fished, and the consequent increase of a distance of four miles to one of 60 miles, she would have been fishing within shelter away from the northern storm by which she was wrecked. I thank the hon. Member for drawing my attention to the fact so that the point could be made clear.
I should like to quote the skipper of the vessel:We dodged all that night and about 10.10 a.m. on 9th January a huge wave hit us. We were without compasses, lights, telegraph, chronometer, sextant—in fact, everything. The wheel was in half and things blathered in debris. Both compasses were out of action for 36 hours and I just dodged about.That is the life of the fisherman who goes to sea—and yet we have complaints about the price of fish.
Let me quote prices in Hull. Last month, the average price on the quayside for all distant water fish was 47s. per 10-stone kit, compared with an average of 62s. in December, 1951. In spite of the fact that the Icelandic fish were not coming into this country last month, but it was coming in in the previous December, fish prices in Hull are very much below those of the previous year. The same thing applies to Grimsby. For the month of December, 1951, the average price per 10-stone kit for distant water fish was 66s., compared with 46s. in December, 1952. I do not think, therefore, that we are suffering very much from any fish shortage due to the banning of landings from that quarter.
But we should not, in fact, be troubled or worried about fish that is landed from other quarters. We are told that German fish is being landed by German trawlers. At the end of the 1914–18 war, the people in Hull were saying that no German trawlers would come back to the port, and up to the present none has come back. If we ban anything coming into the port, it remains banned. It need not be thought, therefore, that any pressure because of shortages will cause us to chance our minds.
88 To return to the question of subsidies, with which the Bill is concerned, instead of talking of a bolstering-up over the next nine or 10 years, we should be thinking in terms of future defence. In time of stress or trouble with overseas countries, the first things to be taken are our modern trawlers, to be added to Her Majesty's Navy to take their part as minesweepers and in other duties. It would be much better had the Government looked at the future both in terms of security and in terms of food for our people.
It would not have been out of place—I think that the House could agree to it—had the Government decided to build modern trawlers and to lease them to existing trawler owners, or, if need be, to run the vessels under some kind of State board. Taking even the widest argument that they should operate under some form of private enterprise, it would not have been out of place to build modern trawlers with the intention of cheapening the cost of fish on the slab for the housewife.
To build a trawler today and to put it to sea costs anything from £200,000 to £250,000. In the deep sea fishing industry, we have an investment of something like £18 million, which is a considerable investment and is bringing food to our people. With the extra charges with which it is now faced—a round trip cost of 21 days which was £250 in 1939 is today £2,000—this section of the industry should have some form of help. The White Fish Authority, however, has proved itself wholly inadequate to look after the industry, and I suggest that the Minister should now get down to something practical.
Let the delightful old gentlemen stay in their country home and operate the best they can with their subsidies, but let us bring into being a development board which is made up of all sections of the industry. Each section is well organised, from fish friers to fishermen, but they are not co-operating or working together. That is the great difficulty which the White Fish Authority are facing and is the reason why it can do nothing.
I suggest the setting up of a development council or board, made up of the whole of the sections of the industry, working alongside the White Fish Authority, with the idea at some stage of taking over, if necessary, from the White Fish Authority, so that it dies a natural death. This development council, 89 composed of representatives of employers and of workpeople, could develop the industry as practical men who know what it needs, how it can be improved, and how it can serve the community. I commend this suggestion to the Minister.
I am sorry that my Front Bench have decided not to go into the Lobby against the Bill, because I do not think that the Bill faces up to the problem as we know it today in the industry. I assure the Minister that when it comes to the Committee stage, various sections of the Bill will be fought very vigorously, especially concerning the 140 ft. limitation in Clause 1 (1, a). When the Minister replies, it would be good policy for him, and he would be popular in the industry, if he says that before the Committee stage he is prepared to give second thoughts to this figure of 140 ft. While I do not expect him to accept my suggestion of 180 ft., which would embrace the whole of the deep-sea side, he should think of a figure of compromise which he can himself introduce at the Committee stage.
As the right hon. Gentleman will have no opposition tonight in the Lobbies, I assure him that on the Committee stage he will get opposition from certain sections on this side, and, I hope, from Members on his own benches who made such vigorous speeches when the original Bill was introduced by the previous Government.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
Apart from the eloquent speech on behalf of the distant water section of the industry to which we have just listened, there has been remarkable unanimity about this Bill. I think, however, that even the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) will agree that the Bill has served one useful purpose in that it has given us a chance to talk yet once again about the problems of the fishing industry.
When the Sea Fish Industry Act was passed in 1951 the fishing industry, which was in a bad way, felt that here at last something was being set up which might produce some good results, which might improve the industry and deal with some of the problems facing it. As the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) said, we all wished the Authority well and felt that perhaps something helpful might 90 be introduced. I am afraid that our high hopes have not been realised, and there seems remarkable unanimity on that opinion on all sides of the House. Now, this is 1953 two years have passed and we are entitled to expect that some concrete measure or some scheme might have appeared from the White Fish Authority as a result of the time they have spent and the examinations they have held into the problems of the industry. It is not unreasonable that we should expect something to have been achieved. I agree with the hon. Member for Pembroke that the Authority have not tackled the job with energy and determination. I entirely support those who have criticised the Authority, among them my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby). There has been considerable lack of energy
The major problems facing the industry are still there and the position is as it was in 1951. We still have the problems of operating costs, over-fishing—to which the Secretary of State referred—transport, affecting Northern Ireland and Scotland, problems of marketing, the return of boxes and problems of foreign landings. All these problems faced the industry in 1951 and are as bad now as ever.
We do not wish to recapitulate the difficulties referred to time after time in fishing debates, but I should like to say a word about the inshore fishing section, because I believe that section is in the worst plight of all. I have heard it argued that the inshore fishing industry is uneconomic, that basically it does not pay for itself, that it is a liability and that in fact by means of grants and loans it has been too far expanded. If we take that view of the industry in isolation it is perhaps true to say that the inshore fishing industry is uneconomic, but we cannot consider it in isolation.
I agree with the White Fish Authority in their Report when they say that we need good fish in order to sell coarse fish. I fully support those who say that for strategic reasons the inshore fishing industry is necessary. We need a reserve of good men, trained on the sea, brought up to the life of the sea and in the tradition of the sea. We need them in time of war in order to call upon them as a trained reserve
From reasons of humanity alone, I think it would be wrong if we allowed 91 this industry through lack of support and merely because it was perhaps somewhat uneconomic to die completely and these men to be driven off the sea into other occupations. I believe it is in the interests of the nation, in the interests of the consumer and in the interests of other sections of the fishing industry that the inshore section should not be allowed to pass out of existence.
There are special problems facing the inshore industry, and the prime problem is that of operating costs. Operating costs have continued to rise. The Bill deals with the extension of the subsidy of 10d. a stone. Originally this was introduced as a temporary measure to deal with the problem of operating costs, but since the subsidy was introduced those costs have risen and the cost of operating one small boat, which in 1950 was £1,000, has now risen to something like £1,450. I am inclined to agree with those fishermen who have suggested that the subsidy is inadequate, and I believe they have made a reasonable case for an increase in subsidy.
The problem of transport, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), has been often discussed in this House. I was sorry that the White Fish Authority withdrew their freight equalisation scheme. I thought that a pity, and I ask my right hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate whether there is any chance of that scheme being resurrected. I know that some hon. Friends from Scotland feel it is wrong to tackle the question of fish by itself, that it should not be considered in isolation but that we should press for a general equalisation of freight charges. But, if equalisation can be attained in the case of fish, that is worth having.
I cannot see that if some arrangement is made by the White Fish Authority to equalise freight it necessarily jeopardises the chances of having the whole problem of other commodities considered. I do not think their objection a valid one, and I am inclined to say to those particularly concerned with transport costs in Scotland and elsewhere, take what you can get and support the Authority if they re-introduce the scheme.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Is the policy of taking what one can get for a short time —if it must result in ultimate failure—worthy of any serious consideration? Does my hon. and gallant Friend realise that if we make the cost of transport dearer in the majority of cases and cheapen it in other cases we leave it open to other competitive forces to come in and cut it to ribbons? We have seen that happen under present circumstances where a nationalised monopoly has kept on raising the rates to meet rising costs. If rail transport was raised from Fleetwood to Manchester none of it would go by rail; the high cost would attract competition from hauliers. In my view it is an economic absurdity.
§ Captain Orr
If I may interrupt my hon. Friend in his interesting speech, his argument seems to be directed against equalisation of freight in regard to any commodity, and perhaps that is arguable. I was, however, dealing with the objection which he and his hon. Friends made to the introduction of the scheme by the White Fish Authority, that if they want an equalisation of freight they should wait for it to be applied to other commodities.
I understand that there is some suggestion that the White Fish Authority have a quick-freezing scheme in mind and that this has met with considerable opposition from the trade generally. I hope that the opposition to it will not prevent the White Fish Authority from setting up quick freezing schemes to help the smaller ports, particularly in Northern Ireland.
I entirely support those who have talked about oil and meal factories. We are entitled to expect some energy from the Herring Industry Board in the provision of such factories. We are also entitled to know what the White Fish Authority are doing about the information service which they promised about marketing possibilities; and we are entitled to know what they are doing about co-operative marketing, which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned. The most important problem with which I hope someone with expert knowledge will deal, is that of the return of boxes. It is an immense problem in the industry and we ought to know what the White Fish Authority are proposing to do about it. 93 I wish to say a word about Clause 14, which deals with the extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland. It excludes Northern Ireland from the grants and loans scheme. I understand that that is because the Ministry of Commerce of Northern Ireland have a grants and loans scheme of their own operating. While admitting that it would be difficult to operate two grants and loans schemes side by side, it is fair to point out that the fishermen in Northern Ireland are not entirely satisfied with the scheme operated by the Northern Ireland Ministry of Commerce, and they feel that they should not have been excluded from the provisions of this Bill. That is a point which might be worth examining in Committee.
Broadly speaking, the tenor of our complaint has been that the inshore fisherman still feels in jeopardy, that recruitment is falling, that there is no feeling of security in the industry, that young men are not coming into it and that the industry is losing confidence in itself. It has never had much confidence in the White Fish Authority and has lost any it has had. While we give this Bill a Second Reading, we hope that the Minister will take some account of the feeling shown in the, House and in the industry and see if he cannot do something about the Authority, and get them to approach the problems with a determination to solve them.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I am glad to have an opportunity of intervening in the debate as representing one of the constituencies which are direct beneficiaries of this Bill. Though I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson), I am bound to say that however cut up Hull feels about it, we have to look after our own interests.
This Bill follows quite naturally the Act which was passed when the Labour Government was in power, the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951. Because it goes a little further and because experience has been gained we on this side of the House welcome the Bill, and we shall give it our support tonight, while giving the usual intimation that during the Committee stage we hope to see one or two 94 improvements, which we shall place before the Committee, made in the Bill.
The Bill is a financial one, and its whole value rests on its financial provisions. It seems to me a pity, therefore. that the design of the Bill, as I see it, and the grants that are available, will necessarily fail to attract the very people whom we wish to see as vessel owners and vessel operators. I say that because the grants are too small and the liability is so heavy for the type of men to whom 1 refer. The skipper, the good mate, the man who wants to be his own employer, even if he goes into partnership with several of his friends, will find that this high rate of interest, which we have elicited may be as high as 42 per cent., and with the money stringency today may be even higher, will be a millstone round their necks, and they will be very chary of applying for loans to the extent of £15,000. £16,000 and £20,000.
I cannot see why the Government, before we come to the Money Resolution, cannot think again about this aspect. It will be one of the most inhibiting features about the Bill—and I think that it is a very good Bill-that the very type of man who lives on the water and who has a feeling for the water will, against his own inclination, be disposed to look askance at this scheme simply because he would have this great financial weight hanging round him for so long. Yet that is the very type of man to whom the Government presumably wish to give responsibility through ownership.
I do not think that to propose a maximum of £4,000 in the amount of grant for a vessel and £1,000 for the engine is thinking in realistic terms. When one thinks of the rising cost of those commodities required for the building and fitting-out of ships, it is asking too much to expect the working fisherman to embark upon such an enterprise. It is a matter which is also worrying some of the bigger firms.
That brings me to the question of the definition of a "working owner." There are numbers of little groups in most of the near and distant water fishing centres, and I am sure also in the inshore fishing centres, all round the coast, consisting of a number of fishermen who have joined together and who operate their boats. It will be most difficult to disentangle this term "working owner"; 95 I do not know how many will be allowed to enter any form of company and still qualify for this assistance. I should like to see a little more clarification of the Bill.
I have mentioned minor points because most of the major ones have been taken up earlier in the debate. There is the question of the operative date of 31st July, 1952, the barring date, as I term it. I do not know what is the specific virtue of 31st July, 1952. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he winds up the debate why that date has been selected.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
That is the date of the statement I made in the House. That is why applications are related to that date.
§ Mr. Evans
I thought that something like that might be the explanation—that a statement was made on that date and that the benefits are not to be given to those who operated before then. While I appreciate the explanation, I do not see that it has any virtue; I do not see why, if a man had the energy and the will to go into business before that date he should be barred simply because the Minister decided to make his statement on that particular day.
We are all glad, particularly those of us who represent near and middle water fishing constituencies, to know that the subsidy is to be continued for another five years. Without the subsidy the majority of the vessels operating in those waters would never have been able to do so since the time the subsidy was introduced.
In my own port we are very grateful; we have had nearly £300,000 in subsidy. That has meant that most of the vessels have been able to keep at sea and add to our stock of fish. They have been able to perform a most essential service. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central will realise that in order to preserve a taste for fish in a community, which is not an easy thing to do, fish of good quality and variety has to be supplied. Unless that is done the houswife will soon acquire what I think is called in Scotland a "scunner o'fish." The middle water fishing industry is fortunate in being able to get that variety of quality; and that pertains in a higher degree to inshore fishermen as well.
96 Is this very costly means of subsidising the industry—just keeping the wheels running so to speak—the only method? I am assured by my friends in the fishing industry at Lowestoft that if they were saved from the unregulated—and I stress that word—foreign competition, there would be practically no need at all for the subsidy. Particularly are they feeling this in regard to the Danish boxed fish which comes in beautifully packed, by-passes the ports and goes straight to Billingsgate. It has been increasingly difficult in the past six months to get the high quality Lowestoft fish—the House may consider this special pleading for Lowestoft, but Lowestoft fish is of high quality—on to the market at Billingsgate. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) who has visited the East Coast —he descends like an angel of peace down there—knows the kind of fish we are able to produce.
I would put this fact to hon. Members opposite, although my hon. Friends have some responsibility in the matter. We can recall during the time when we were in office when there was a great outcry from the Opposition for the de-control of fish, and the Labour Government conceded it. But when they asked for the de-control of fish they did not realise they were asking for the de-control of regulated landings and a good many other things which went with control. Hon. Members knowledgeable in the fishing industry were aware of that at the time. But there it is. That has now come home to roost, and we have this complete damage of the fishing markets by these foreign landings.
I am quite sure that one of the ways of saving the subsidy and of giving increased stability to the industry would be to achieve some form of regulated landings. I am not saying that we ought to cut out foreign landings. The party opposite is always talking about competition. Well, now we have more competition than we want, because it is unregulated competition. I ask the Government to consider this as some means of alleviation of the high cost of the subsidy.
We have heard a great deal of criticism of the White Fish Authority. That seems to be the theme song of this debate. I, as a great supporter and proponent of the 97 White Fish Authority, think we are asking a lot of them. Here we have an industry, which has been going on for centuries, utterly unable to control itself or manage its own affairs. Now we are expecting a group of men from outside the industry—the reason they were chosen was because they are outside the industry—to produce a solution in a couple of years.
I have been on the periphery of fishing for 23 years or more, and the longer I am connected with it the more I am convinced of the little I know about it. I have never had briefs from any of my fishing friends which did not contradict the briefs of others, and very often they contradicted themselves as well. How we can think that any authority can take a purview of the whole of the fishing industry of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and have the answer tabled passes my comprehension.
§ Mr. Boothby
May I interrupt the hon. Member to say that we do not ask them to produce the solution; we only ask them to produce something.
§ Mr. Evans
They may be producing something before very long which the hon. Member may not like, and we shall have him rampaging about it again in the House.
We talk of development councils and all sorts of things. I should have thought the fishing industry was the last industry to be able to run a development council. Are we to have something set up in opposition to the very body we entrusted with power? Although I consider that we have not entrusted them with sufficient power, because they should have the power to control sales and prices and things like that; if they had, we might have achieved a much better position than we have today.
Another point is the question of the conservation of fishing grounds. It is a great disappointment that nothing has been done to set up the Over-Fishing Commission. I would urge the importance of this. It is absolutely vital to the prosperity of the fishing industry particularly in near and middle waters. It is becoming increasingly vital so far as the further waters are concerned and even the banks today are being over-fished. We must get down to this question of conservation as soon as possible.
98 Though I feel embittered and hurt at the action of the Icelanders, I think the biggest criticism is not that they put their waters out of bounds, but that they have taken action unilaterally, and sheltered themselves behind the action of Norway, who did not do it ostensibly for the reasons of conservation. If they had come to us, I think that the British Trawlers Federation could have produced a scheme in which a certain amount of agreement would have been achieved. But we cannot stress this question of the conservation of the grounds too strongly.
I have always been opposed to the equalisation of transport and to this transport equalisation scheme. I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that it does not make sense. Why should we ask a near water fisherman particularly to accept these loans and put a terrific financial burden round his neck when he has to subsidise a firm from Aberdeen, for example, who want to send their fish to Billingsgate instead of finding markets nearer? I think the whole question is one of getting markets in the right places.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Does the hon. Member not agree that the highest test we have is a supply to the consumer at a reasonable price, and for that purpose a freight rate is necessary?
§ Mr. Evans
I thank the hon. and learned Member for his interruption, and as time goes on I shall probably be able to find out what it means.
Those who know how that scheme operated know the chicanery and the tricks which were resorted to, and the rank dishonesty in a good many cases whereby that scheme was operated, and the money that came in which was not fairly earned. I am being careful in what I say about this, and I know this from my own experience. 1 think the sooner that scheme gets thrown on to the scrap heap the better.
What we are entitled to expect from the White Fish Authority by this time is some well thought out scheme of research into the habitat of the fish, their homes and breeding grounds, about which we know precious little. I wish we had spent a quarter of the money on fish research that we have spent on agricultural research; and then we would not have our fishermen trawling round the 99 seas hunting for fish and coming back with empty holds. There is a tremendous field for such work, and also in regard to the question of storage. We are just beginning to realise the possibility of storing fish so that we may have a steady market right through the year, instead of these awful gluts and silly competitive fights with our neighbours across the Channel.
These high quality fish should be quite easily stored in order that there may be a steady flow, so that the housewife may have a choice, and not be compelled week after week to get fillets of cod. They are all right once or twice, but we do not want fillets of cod all our lives.
On the subject of the training and education of crews, I hope that this scheme will have some attraction for younger men so that they will realise that the industry can provide a job with a future. I do not want this to be a dead-end job so that a man thinks that he will be a deck hand for the whole of his life. I want the willing and ambitious lad to be able to look on fishing as a career. I think that this Bill, following as it does the Act of 1951, will go a long way in that direction.
I do not know whether the Bill will be considered on the Floor of the House or upstairs. I hope that it will go to Standing Committee so that we can discuss these points in a family atmosphere in a friendly way.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law (Hull, Haltemprice)
Whatever differences of opinion there may have been in this debate, they certainly have not arisen from any narrow party considerations but rather from differing constituency interests and, in some cases, from differing views in the same constituencies. I want to register my disagreement not with what the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has said, because with much of what he has said I agree, but with something said earlier by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson).
Before I proceed to my ground for disagreement with the hon. and gallant Member, I should like to make clear the grounds on which I agree. I agree with him most heartily in the remarks he made about the Icelandic difficulty, the 100 effect which that had on our fishermen, especially those going from the port of Hull, and the effect of the whole problem upon the housewife. If some of his colleagues who from time to time talk about the wickedness of the Hull trawlermen in banning Icelandic fish had heard what the hon. and gallant Member has said on the subject, they would not talk so airily as they have done about matters of which they know so little.
But I want to deal with a specific point, because I should not like my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to think that the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central spoke completely for the fishing port of Hull. The point is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the weakness of this Bill was that it did not cover the port of Hull which he described as the real heart of the fishing industry. I agree that Hull is the real heart of the fishing industry, but to me the real strength of the Bill is that it does not cover the port of Hull. Unlike the hon. and gallant Member, I would object to this Bill if it offered the same kind of assistance to the long-distance fishing industry as it offers to the other parts of the industry. I differ from the hon. and gallant Member and also from my hon. Friend who represents the port of Fleetwood, the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), who made the same point earlier.
This Bill deals with the near water section and the middle water section. It gives them and the herring industry help, because in present circumstances they are not economic. It is impossible in present circumstances to run them economically and the Government have to give them financial help of one kind or another. In general I am opposed in principle to subsidies of this kind, but for the fishing industry it is clear that there are social and security considerations which merit quite exceptional treatment.
Therefore, I support the Bill in so far as it gives financial support to those sections of the industry which cannot stand on their own feet. But if the Bill went further than that and sought to subsidise that section of the industry which, with great difficulty, is still standing on its own feet, the result would be disastrous. The result would be that we should subsidise artificial competition with a section 101 of the industry which is standing on its own feet, which is doing its own job and which is bringing food to the people.
If my right hon. Friend followed the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member and my hon. Friend, all that would happen would be that we should reduce the distant water section to precisely the same level of insecurity as the near and middle water sections and make it need financial help in exactly the same way.
§ Captain Hewitson
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the deep sea trawler section running from Hull is not in need of any help?
§ Mr. Law
I suggest that the distant water section is not in need of help by way of subsidy, and that the only effect of subsidising that section would be to seek to build up an artificial distant water industry in other ports where such an industry is not already developed. If that was done, I am sure that the effect on the distant water section at Hull and Grimsby would be disastrous in the extreme.
I wish to make one comment about the functions and competence of the White Fish Authority. We have heard a great deal in its dispraise today. I have much sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Lowestoft. It is impossible for any body of men, however well meaning and however intelligent, to step in and to take hold of an industry as complex as the fishing industry, and set it to rights. My criticism of the Authority is not that it has done too little, which is the criticism which we have heard today, but that it has tried to do too much. If it would concentrate on modest schemes for helping inshore fishermen, for example, and if it would keep its hands off the distant water section, I believe that the industry as a whole would be better served.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Nobody could accuse the right hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) of inconsistency on the point on which he has concluded his speech. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) has said, the main theme of the debate has appeared to be criticism of the White Fish Authority. That is unfair. When I recall the vigour with which the Sea Fish Industry Bill was fought by 102 hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite whenever it seemed that we were giving the White Fish Authority any real powers, I must say that it hardly lies in their mouths now to criticise the Authority for not being vigorous.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice is still consistent. He still wants the Authority to do nothing and to be very modest, with all that that involves. I disagree with him. I disagreed with him when the last Bill was being considered and I disagree now. Unquestionably, the need in this industry—precisely because of the experience we have had with the people in the industry and their disagreements—is for some outside body to try to put a plan into operation.
It so happens that my constituency could hardly be further from the sea. That being so, I am free from the temptation, about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, of becoming involved in a conflict between one port and another or between different parts of the same port. Therefore, perhaps I can be rather more free in my general criticism. I dislike the Bill profoundly. As far as I can see, up till now no one has been willing to say that he thoroughly dislikes the Bill. I cannot lose any votes by saying that I dislike it, and I dislike it precisely because it is not part of any attempt to try to put right what anybody thinks is wrong with the industry.
I agree with everybody who has said—and I have said it myself in previous debates—that, with our aged and ageing fleet, it is bound to be extremely difficult for us ever to get those who go to sea or those who handle the products of those who go to sea organised into an efficient industry so as to be able to stand up in competition with their competitors overseas, and, at the same time, provide the basis for that merchant marine which we must have.
One reason why I did not agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) about the Icelandic problem, and one reason why I am worried about the continued inactivity of the Government about it, is that the more that that kind of thing is done, no matter what kind of a case can be made out for it, the more it will prevent the taking of those measures which this industry really needs to take if it is to put itself in order. 103 While we all agree that we must bring our ageing fleet up to date, this Bill, beyond giving away a very large sum of money—and it is extraordinary how Conservative hon. Members always say that they are against subsidies in principle and yet talk quite happily about giving away some £9 million or £10 million—provides absolutely no control, attaches no strings and gives no indication of what is to happen at the end of it all. If all the money is taken up, presumably, we shall then have many newer vessels, and that, in itself, is a good thing.
But what happens then? These vessels then start growing older, but nobody will have been charged with the responsibility, either at the giving or the receiving end, of doing anything about the conditions in the industry, and we shall be back exactly where we were before the giving of the money, so that in the future somebody else may well come along with another proposal for the giving of a lot more money in order to bring some more of these vessels, by that time much older, up to date.
I do not think it is really fair that we should go on doing it in that way. It is not true to say that the White Fish Authority have made no proposals about it. In page 11 of their Report—and perhaps the Minister of Agriculture, if he is to reply, will tell me something about this in particular—the Commission, in paragraph 34, having discussed at some length the ageing nature of our near and middle water vessels, say:The Authority have placed these facts before Ministers and have suggested certain measures calculated to improve the rate of rebuilding.I think it is fair to ask the Minister if this is the Measure which, in fact, the White Fish Authority suggested, or whether they suggested some other measures which the Ministers have not seen fit to implement? What does it mean?
To turn again to paragraph 34 of the Report, the White Fish Authority explain that the rate at which the capital involved can be earned back is not quick enough to encourage anybody to embark upon this spending of money, and they go on to say:…it would be desirable, therefore, for a certain grouping of ownership to take place 104 in which each operating unit would possess a number of trawlers.I do not know why it is not stated in the Bill that, coupled with the giving of this large sum of money, the Ministers should try to bring that about by making the provision of the assistance in some way conducive to an atmosphere in which that development could take place. There was no indication, in the speech of the Secretary of State at the opening of the debate, why that has not been done, or whether the Government agree with it or not, and, certainly, there was no indication that, having given £10 million of public money away, they were really going to do something about it.
This Bill is being used as a means of patching up inefficiency—and there are parts of this industry to which that applies—without at all getting to the heart of the cause of this inefficiency.
§ Mr. Osborne
Would the right hon. Gentleman say which parts of the industry which are so inefficient are being patched up?
§ Mr. Brown
Certainly, the near and middle waters sections of the industry, and, quite certainly, the industry's way of dealing with fish at the ports. I was coming to that, but I will not even exempt the trawlers. What the White Fish Authority said about grouping and the need for larger units and for factory association with some of these units I would accept in what I am saying.
I want, therefore, to ask the Minister what proposals, apart from the one they have put up, they are making. What is the Government's view of the Authority's proposal, and how do they propose to bring it about? Ought there not to be some control inserted into the Bill, because it is not unusual for such control to be exercised over the use to which this money will be put; that is to say, over what will happen to the vessels on which the money will be spent?
Why should we not indicate that, as a result of taking this money, those operating the vessels accept certain responsibilities and certain obligations to concert with the White Fish Authority the development of co-ordination and improvement schemes? That would make the giving of public money much more acceptable to the public, and I think it would also be more acceptable to those at the receiving end, because they could not 105 then be attacked for having their hands in the public purse, but would be taking public money for specific and obvious public good.
I should have thought that such a scheme, and even this Bill, should contain some proposals about the uses to which the money is put and the benefits to the public as a result. We must not go on assuming that the fishing industry will never pay. If we could have newer vessels, they would, presumably, earn a better financial return, but this Bill leaves them quite free to take advantage of more public money to become more efficient and earn better financial returns, while they can do exactly as they please with the result, instead of having a duty to apply it to the improvement of their own arrangements. The Bill certainly ought to include some provision of that kind.
May I now turn to a separate point? In an interjection, during his speech, 1 asked the Secretary of State about the present position in regard to loans under the original Act, by which the White Fish Authority have power to make loans up to 60 per cent. in all, at rates up to 4½ per cent. interest, different rates of interest applying according to the length of the loan. We ought to clear up this matter. I think the position is that on short-term loans the rate is 3 per cent., on loans for 15 years 4 per cent., and that it is only on the very long-term loans that a rate of 41 per cent. is charged. I should like to know how many loans have been applied for since the White Fish Authority got this power, how many have been refused and how many granted, and to what class of vessel this money has been directed.
I should like the House to be quite clear that the money given in these grants will not, in the Minister's view, discourage the use of the loan for this reason. The White Fish Authority have established quite a large number of conditions which the obtaining of a loan must attract. There is nothing in this Bill which attaches the same conditions to the obtaining of grants, and the Secretary of State has said that the grants, like the loans, are to be administered by the White Fish Authority. I think the Minister should tell us that the White Fish Authority—although there is nothing about it in the Bill at present—will have 106 the power to attach their own conditions to these grants, as, at the moment, they attach to the loans.
Are we to have the absurd position whereby, to get a loan, the owners have to accept considerable obligations whereas they can get a grant without accepting any obligations at all? If that is what it means we shall have a lot of grants taking the place of loans. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the White Fish Authority are to have power to lay down conditions.
I understand that to get a loan for the building or considerable rebuilding of a vessel, the owner has to give an undertaking to bring the crew standard up to that laid down by the Minister of Transport. I may be at fault, but I can find nothing in the Bill which obliges the man getting a grant to undertake that the crew standard in his new vessel will come up to the level required by the Ministry of Transport.
It may be said that nobody would be so foolish as to build a vessel which did not come up to that standard, but how do we know? After all, we are giving the money away and there should be some safeguard in this respect. I have talked with the trade unions concerned and they are upset that this point has not been discussed with them at all. I should have thought it was a point that ought specifically to be written into the Bill, and that we ought to have an undertaking in Committee that such a provision will be inserted so that the conditions which attach to grants will be at least equal to those which attach to loans.
While on the question of grants, I wish to raise one very small point with the right hon. Gentleman. In Clause 1 (1) it is stated:Subject to the provisions of this and the next following section, the White Fish Authority may make to persons engaged or proposing to become engaged in the white fish industry in Great Britain grants in respect of expenditure incurred.Quite frankly, if I understand that wording correctly I am a little worried about it.
While I understand the argument—even though I do not wholly agree with it—for giving grants to those in the industry to enable them to replace their ageing vessels, I am extremely unhappy 107 that it is proposed to do this without imposing any obligations or qualifications. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent me, either on my own or in association with somebody else, applying for and getting a large grant towards the cost of the vessels I require to enter the industry. This, presumably, also applies with regard to a loan.
I could get a grant without having any knowledge of the industry and without anybody being required to be satisfied about me. I appreciate that in the case of a loan somebody would want to be satisfied about my suitability for such an advance. It seems absurd to offer these large grants to people without, perhaps, the requisite knowledge to enable them to engage in the industry, and I should like the Minister to explain whether he thinks that a good provision to insert in the Bill.
On the general question of criticism of the Bill—because it lacks any central plan within which these grants would make sense—I would point out that there are a number of things which might very well be done, and which have been canvassed for so long, in order to put this industry on its feet. Since I have no constituency interest, perhaps I might chance my arm on some of them.
I fail to see why the Minister has not decided to give the White Fish Authority a bit of a jerk in the direction of using the powers included in the original Act. Why not let it take shares in some of the companies? I am not at all sure that a better way of dealing with those who own vessels of their own would not be, instead of just handing them the money and leaving them to use it as they wish, to give them the money through the agency of the White Fish Authority who would have a share in the control of the company. Such companies would get the money with which to rebuild or replace their vessels, and we should inject into those companies some more vigorous blood which might give us a keener and more lively direction of that section of the industry. I think such an arrangement would be well worth while and that the White Fish Authority might well be used as the agency for doing that.
§ Mr. Brown
They would not necessarily run the companies in which the money was invested, but there are many instances where the Government have put money into something or other and placed somebody on the board to watch the national interest. There is nothing new in that. The result would be that they would get the money and we should get some continuing interest in the undertaking. It would probably help them no end, and personally I do not see why the White Fish Authority should not run the vessels themselves.
I was interested the other day to see that the Reykjavik Town Council owned vessels, and I do not see why the White Fish Authority should not do what the Reykjavik Town Council is doing. I think we ought to consider some means of tying up the money with a continuing interest in what happens to the money after we have injected it into the industry.
I agree very much, as I always do, with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans)—who has taught me more about this industry than anybody else—about the way in which we are hanging back concerning the over-fishing problem. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how far we have really got with the Over-Fishing Convention and whether we are any nearer to the timetable set. I do not criticise the Minister unduly about this because I know it is a very difficult matter, but I think we ought to keep up the pressure a little.
It has always been assumed by those to whom I have spoken that the problem of the North Sea fishing grounds is something that must wait until all the other countries concerned are in agreement about it and that it would be unfair and wrong for us to take steps until the other countries have agreed. Quite candidly, I do not see why we must go on cutting our own throats just because the other countries concerned are cutting theirs. I think it might be a good thing to stop the flow of blood while waiting for general agreement.
I think it can be argued that the North Sea fishing grounds will be improved for us if we start protecting them. We are. still not as keen about doing that as we ought to be. We could do a great deal more about it, and I ask the Minister again to tell us what is happening about 109 the convention. The right hon. Gentleman could use the great stake he is going to acquire in this industry through these grants to get more vigorous measures taken to protect our own fishing grounds.
One other question. Have we made any progress in the direction of really trying out factory processing on seagoing trawlers in the middle water section? I am told that as much as two-thirds of the fish taken out of the sea are still being thrown back. That practice could be stopped to a certain extent by having a smaller mesh, by using a float trawl instead of dredging on the sea bottom, and also if the trawlers had some means of processing the fish not required for human consumption, and could deal with such fish quickly enough. Could not the provisions of this Bill provide us with an opportunity for getting more active work done in that direction?
I believe that I have raised all the points to which I wish to draw attention. I ask the Minister to look very carefully into them and to answer the specific questions which I have asked, particularly about the loans and the conditions to be attached to the grants. I ask him to look carefully at conditions relating to crew accommodation. I hope that we are not to have a voluntary or any other kind of time-table on this Bill and that we shall have plenty of time to discuss it. I hope that before the Committee stage the Minister will consider whether he ought not to tie up the money and take the opportunity to put some new blood into the industry and apply some new pressure to it. I hope that he will consider whether he ought not push the White Fish Authority, in the contrary sense to that which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice wanted, into taking some wide scale measures.
The only trouble with the Authority is not that they lack knowledge or personnel but that they have drifted into the habit of trying to obtain the widest measure of agreement about everything that is proposed. The Chairman might be told that while he was certainly put there to see that there were as happy relations as possible he was certainly not told to do nothing at all until everybody was happy about it. If he does that he will never move at all.
My final point is a general one. In the end, whether one thinks of agricul- 110 ture or fishing, those of us concerned with primary production can only justify what we are doing on the basis of the effect it has on those who want to eat the food which has been produced. I say as strongly as I can to the Minister, "For goodness' sake remember that even if all my arguments were wrong and misdirected and you get your Bill you still will not have touched the distribution muddle. You still will not have touched the horrible business that occurs in getting the fish from the port to the other end, to the consumer." There are all those hundreds of people who call themselves merchants and who handle a box here and there, there are the transport arrangements and the market arrangements. There is a tremendous field here for cleaning up the bits grafted on to the industry.
All these things must be done if we are to do the housewife any good by way of quality, by way of the scheme by which she obtains the fish, as well as by way of the price at which she gets it. I beg the Minister to realise that when he obtains his Bill he still will not have touched that vital part of the industry. I hope that he and his colleagues will devote themselves to that end when they have put the Bill on to the Statute Book.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the application of this Bill to the inshore fishing industry and the herring industry. More than half of my constituents depend directly or indirectly on these two phases of the fishing industry. I was very pleased indeed to have the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that loans would accompany the grants for the betterment of our vessels and for other purposes, because the word "loan" does not appear in the Bill and during the Recess we in the North were very much concerned at its absence.
As regards the initial grant, I feel that it was wrong to depart from the standards which obtained in the legislation which came to an end last year. I should like to see a grant of 30 per cent for new vessels, and I shall try to have that put into effect during the Committee stage of the Bill. It is absolutely necessary that the fishing industry as a whole should know what is the ratio of loan 111 and grant which both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board are prepared to allow to the fishermen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) raised a most important consideration with regard to grants and loans under any of these schemes. That is the question of selection of the recipients of this aid. Quite a number of mistakes were made under earlier Acts because no really selective process was carried out to determine the right type of individual to receive help. It is vitally important in any fishing vessel that the right man is in the wheelhouse. There must be a good skipper, otherwise the venture will not succeed.
When we discussed the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, in 1945 I advocated that local committees should be set up to vet applicants and report on their ability to a central body. I sincerely trust that the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board will come to that same opinion and will set up local vetting committees. In all our ports along the Scottish coast we have cases where men received grants in aid but proved not to be good skippers. They failed in their ventures and left their vessels tied up in port, and the vessels were sold at scrap prices.
That can be avoided to a considerable extent and I hope that the bodies concerned in administering this Bill will do something along those lines. The definition contained in this Bill seems to me to preclude any man who hitherto has not been an owner or a skipper of a vessel. It is absolutely necessary that our new young men who are skippers in all but name should be given every encouragement to acquire vessels of their own. I hope that this will be kept prominently in mind in allocating grants and loans.
Much has been said in this debate about engines. The life of a diesel engine is very short. If the vessel is actually engaged in trying to pay her way and to pay off the indebtedness on her she is sometimes used 24 hours a day, six days a week. That is certainly the case in the summer. I sincerely trust that along with the grant for replacement there will also be adequate loans and that loans for the provision of new engines will be given 112 in exactly the same proportion as for the provision of new vessels.
A great deal has been said about the White Fish Authority and the way in which the Authority conducts its work. I have been bitterly disappointed in the Authority, and I will not add to the encomiums or otherwise which have been pronounced upon it today. There is Ministerial responsibility here and certainly a responsibility on hon. Members of this House. The Ministerial responsibility is to the extent that the White Fish Authority must be capable of carrying out the duties that now devolve upon it. It must be capable of carrying out the duties imposed upon it when it came into being, and certainly of carrying out the very onerous, serious and far-reaching duties that devolve upon it as a result of this Bill.
I would exempt one part of the Authority from any strictures of mine. That is the Scottish Committee, which is certainly paying close attention to its duties and is really trying to do a job for the Scottish ports. I hope that in the not distant future we shall see some concrete evidence of the Scottish Committee doing something worth while. I believe that there is a flaw in the white fish subsidy, necessary though that subsidy is. People have asked why there should be subsidies for the fishing industry. The reason why we have got to subsidise the fishing industry today is that the public of this country will not pay the cost of landing fish on our shores and passing it to the markets. [An HON. MEMBER: "And make a profit."] The profit is inevitable if people are to live.
The subsidy ought to be a straight 10d. a stone for all sections of the industry, because it is true to say that the bigger boat can take things far too easy under the cloak of the subsidy. To earn the subsidy in the inshore fishing industry a man has to work all day and every day in order to obtain the number of stones on which the tenpences accrue. The man with the bigger vessel can lie in a port other than his home port for two or three days and can be subsidised during that time.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a vessel can lie in port and qualify for subsidy? He knows very well that a vessel, in order to qualify for 113 an extra day, has got to stay until five minutes past 12 a.m. Then it qualifies. it is true.
§ Mr. Duthie
If the vessel does leave its home port and go into an adjoining anchorage, it can remain there as long as it likes and can draw a subsidy. That is a fact and I commend it to the Minister for inquiry.
Much has been said about over-fishing. The only real solution to over-fishing is action by all the countries fishing in the North Sea. They must agree on close times. A close time is a period when no fishing is done at all, when the fish can go about their reproductive functions and spawn. It is not impossible today to say when certain fish are spawning. Close times would do a great deal towards the rehabilitation of the fishing shoals in the North Sea. All countries must work together.
On the Moray Firth our fishermen do not work on Saturdays and Sundays. They have found that that gives a respite to the fish, and it has been most advantageous to the fishing shoals in the Firth. But the foreign trawler makes those two days his happy hunting days. The foreign trawlers are fishing all through the Firth during those two days. If we are going to have real action in the maintenance of the fishing shoals we have got to have international policing. Our fishery cruisers must have the power to arrest a trawler and direct it to the nearest port, where action should be taken by the local magistrates.
Much has been said about new ground. A great deal of research must be done, and that is one of the duties that devolves upon the White Fish Authority. Hon. Members may have seen in the papers recently that a Frenchman has crossed the Atlantic on a raft and that he lived on fish practically all the time. We have heard of the great catches of hake up at Flugga. The Spaniards have been fishing for hake off Southern Ireland. That is because those areas are in the Gulf Stream. We have an enormous amount of research and development to do in the Gulf Stream. Wherever there is plankton there is fish. Plankton thrives and develops in the waters of the Gulf Stream.
The White Fish Authority must soon equip a vessel with floating trawls to scout the whole Gulf Stream area. I predict that the results will be astonishing. 114 The Spaniards have been fishing off Southern Ireland with a floating trawl. We have been constrained to use the otter-trawl which works on the bottom. All the fish feeding on the plankton are to be found on the surface. To my mind, floating trawls are the solution of the loss of the fishing grounds which we are now experiencing. There was first Norway's action, and Iceland was waiting for the opportunity to close her grounds. Probably others will follow suit. We have got to face these certainties.
Much can be done with freezing. The White Fish Authority recently launched a freezing scheme for all the major ports. I do not think the scheme is wanted there, but, as has been mentioned in respect of Northern Ireland, small ports do want these freezing schemes, for fish may occasionally be landed there at the weekend and cannot be transported to market. We want the freezing plants to keep the fish in good condition until it can be sent to market.
I should like to say a word or two about the herring industry. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) in condemning the Herring Industry Board. I think the Herring Industry Board has done a remarkably good job. I am convinced that the herring fishermen of Scotland will be very glad that they are going to be looked after by the Herring Industry Board by means of these grants and loans.
There is one serious omission in the Bill with respect to grants, and that is that there is no grant for herring fishing gear. The herring fisherman is quite unlike any other fisherman in the risk that he runs when he puts his gear into the sea. A herring fishing boat today puts over £1,000 worth of gear into the sea, and this is attached to the vessel by a rope about an inch and a half in diameter. That is all that ties it to the vessel. Through weather or other causes, the gear may be lost.
Incidentally, the price of a net before the war was from £2 10s. to £3. Today it is £18. We have 500 fishermen today from the Banffshire coast working as day labourers on hydro-electric schemes. These men are unable to get back to the fishing industry as share fishermen, even if vessels were available, because they have not got the nets. I commend this matter 115 strongly to the Minister for his consideration, and I shall certainly raise this matter on the Committee stage of the Bill. The same applies to the vetting of applicants for assistance under the Herring Industry scheme as it does under the White Fish scheme, in that we want the best men to get the vessels.
Mention has been made of oil and meal plants. Oil and meal are probably the great future salvations of the herring industry. For generations we have been importing our edible oils from overseas, but we have got all the edible oil we want along our shores if we can only transform the herring into oil. Herring oil is a much better article from the nutritive point of view than palm oil or any of the oils that we get from Africa. We can never be deprived of a herring oil supply, come what may. Our inshore fishermen will go to sea and bring in the herring, whatever the conditions.
I should like to draw attention to the date July, 1952, and the stipulation that no boats contracted for before that date will be considered for assistance under the Bill. I do not think that is fair. The legislation in the Inshore Fishing Act and the Herring Industry Act more or less became moribund in 1951. It was impossible to get a vessel completed by the expiry dates in these pieces of legislation. Many fishermen would not be deterred. They hoped that they would get assistance, and they wanted boats in which to go to sea and catch fish. A number of them had their boats completed before those dates. I hope that these cases will be sympathetically considered by the White Fish authority, the Herring Industry Board and the Minister with a view to seeing whether some exception can be made in genuine cases.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) referred to second hand vessels. That is a very important point. Even more important is the case of the vessel that is tied up at the quayside and which the crew has deserted. Such vessels have been sold at scrap prices. I would mention an example of this as something which must be guarded against. A vessel which cost over £6,000 was sold for £2,000. It was transformed into a yacht. No fisherman or group of fishermen could put down £2,000 in cash; but if grants and loans 116 had been available four men would have been prepared to take over that vessel, and instead of receiving £2,000 for the vessel the Government would have received £6,160 in due course. The White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board must seriously consider how best to dispose of craft in the event of owners leaving.
There are many matters which can be adjusted during the Committee stage. This Bill is a most valuable contribution to the North East of Scotland—an area which, as we know, the President of the Board of Trade is concerned to see put right.
This assistance is not being given to a dying industry. Do not forget that the herring and inshore fishing industries are the cradle of British seamen. Every ship, from the Queen Mary to the smallest coaster, has fishermen among its crew; men who have been to sea and have received their training in fishing boats and every day, come weal come woe, in war and in peace, these men are our unfailing safeguards. I welcome the Bill.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Alex. Anderson (Motherwell)
I welcome the opportunity to say a word on this Bill. Every Member who knows the fishing industry must welcome it—not fulsomely, nor yet thinking that it will cure all the ills of the industry, because it will not do so, but at least as a step towards removing one of the obvious weaknesses that has developed in fishing in the last year or two.
It is useful to have a debate on fishing because it is high time that the House and the country realised the value and importance of the fishing industry. As the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has said, the fishing industry is a reservoir of trained seamen. These are the men who are called upon when war comes. These are the men who form the nucleus to train the crews when the Navy is being developed, and in that respect alone they deserve the very best from their countrymen, not only in war but in peace.
In addition to that we have a national asset in the craft which they man—and I do not think that this point has been mentioned in this debate—because whenever there is an emergency the cream of the fishing fleet is taken for other purposes. That is one of the reasons why 117 we should ask the Minister to consider if he is making adequate grants for the building of these vessels. He is getting a fleet of small craft built, maintained and manned in years of peace and quiet, and that fleet is there for him to take whenever there is any stress or danger.
We should seriously consider how many men of the type we should like to see manning these boats which we are to build can afford to put down £12,000 for a grant of £4,000 to build a fishing vessel. It seems to me that there is room for considering whether or not we could be a little more generous.
Another thing to remember is that fish is a valuable source of food. But we should not overstress that, because in normal times it is an alternative source of food and unless we can give the people fish of good quality—and there is nothing worse than bad fish—at a price within the compass of their incomes the alternative no longer exists. It is not true to say that the people grudge paying the fishermen a decent price for the fish they catch. On one occasion I followed the distribution of fish caught in my own little village in Caithness to the retailer who sold it to me over the counter of his shop. It passed through seven hands and I paid nearly as much for a pound as the fishermen in my village got for a stone. In publicising the value of fish as a food we must, therefore, make sure that it reaches the people at a reasonable price and that in the distributive process between the catcher and the consumer no weaknesses exist which can be remedied.
We should also realise the desperate condition of the inshore fishing industry. In the last three weeks I have heard of two inshore fishermen of Caithness who have walked out because they could not make a living. It never was an easy industry. No industry can possibly be more uncertain than the fishing industry. Even the great primary processes of agriculture or market gardening at least are conducted on dry land, under conditions that can be controlled in some way; but one can have the best vessels, equipment and crews in the world and can go out night after night without catching any fish, and there is a saddening of the heart and a weakening of the spirit in every fishing village in Scotland when that happens. It is an uncertain industry.
118 It is also a completely individual industry; so individual that people who complain about poachers very often do not instruct their own skippers to be very careful of the three-mile limit, and we have to make regulations to prevent people cutting off the heads and tails of flat fish in order to prevent their measurement and rejection as being under the prescribed length. In some ways the fisherman is his own worst enemy, because he is driven by hard, economic necessity to break the law and to do things today which are to his detriment tomorrow.
We must realise that this industry is in a bad state, and before talking of building more ships we should consider what those ships are to do. It is no use building more ships unless there are fish for them to catch, and if we go on increasing their catching power by perfecting our methods we shall reach the stage when there will be nothing for those boats to catch. We have already reached that stage in half the world. Somebody was talking about sending vessels from Fleetwood to Newfoundland; but there is a shortage of fish on the Newfoundland Banks and there is unemployment in the New England fishing villages, because man cannot go on constantly taking from nature and expect that the crop will continue to grow without any effort of restriction on his part.
The House should be very careful about expressing extreme opinions on the question of Norway and Iceland. Iceland is a small country with nothing in the world to trade but fish. She is facing the same position, ultimately, that we are facing in the Moray Firth—an area which once had plenty of fish but which has now been completely outfished. It would pay us better now—and it would have paid us better in the last 30 years—if, instead of getting a little tough with Iceland, we had got a little tough with other countries and said that there was to be no more fishing in the Moray Firth, the Minch and the Clyde areas until those natural nurseries had been replenished.
It seems crazy to draw a line from three miles out from Kinnaird's Head to three miles out from Dunscansby Head and allow a foreign trawler to operate inside that line—and I saw a Belgian trawler fishing 200 yards from the shore— 119 when a British trawler cannot operate inside that line. We shall have to have as much courage in this Convention in dealing with other countries as those who use a slightly heavy hand. Their other primary concern is our existence and the existence of the fish on which we live. We must see to these things and make every effort to help in this issue.
I welcome the Secretary of State's statement that the West German Federal Government were coming into the Convention because of their great catching power. Until the nations which margin the North Sea realise that they have not an inexhaustible reservoir, but one which must be apportioned, rationed and controlled, it will not be much use giving us a larger area or additional catching Dower.
The condition of the near water fleet is something which concerns me. There is no doubt that it needs replacement. It needed replacement 50 years ago. Some of the vessels tramping the sea now were doing so when I was only a boy. The fleet needs replacement and it needs it quickly. The Icelandic dispute has pinpointed the difficulty, because Iceland was the limit of the capacity of the best of them. They can go no further, and we are to have even further depredations when they are restricted to fishing coastal waters and the North Sea.
I wish the Minister had told us one or two more things. In considering replacements we have to consider the giving of grants. Are these grants to be given to anyone who applies for them? Is it to be a case of scrapping one boat and building another, because the whole history of fishing in the last 100 years has been conditioned by two factors? The fishing fleet has diminished, but the catching capacity and the output of the fleet has increased. We may precipitate just as much trouble by giving too many grants to set too many ships on the water and over-fishing grounds already depleted as we are doing at the present time.
This is an industry which it is impossible to do anything with unless some sort of physical control is used. It is a very unfortunate thing for a Minister to have to impose physical controls, but it seems to me that we should try to make up our minds as to what is the optimum 120 fleet that these grounds can carry and replace that fleet as quickly as possible with the very best personnel and equipment.
The second point I wish to mention has been raised already, but it is worth emphasising. What is the interest rate to be on loans for these fishermen? Are hon. Members opposite and the Government going to give us a dearer money policy or a cheap money policy? The modern, diesel-engined dual purpose boat that is built today will be running for a good many years, and there may be changes in interest rates and there may be changes in Governments. We may be back once more to a cheap interest policy and, therefore, every effort should be made to keep the load of interest debt on the working fishermen as low as possible, for he has to earn it each week.
There are two small points before I finish. I should like to mention the immediate inshore fishing for which this Measure will not do very much. There are certain things we should face up to. The near sea fleet brings us excellent fish in better condition than is brought in by the ships advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law). The best fish that goes on to the tables of Britain today is the inshore fishing fleet fish caught in the morning and on sale in the city by the evening. No elaborate freezing is needed for it. but only a little ice.
It seems to me that there should be some differentiation in the price, and a distinction between the fine quality that the inshore fishing gives us and the fish that come from other sources where the facilities are not so good. The problem has been thought about before but it is difficult. It should not be insoluble, especially if we adopted the processing of this fish at the point of landing and not pay expensive freight charges on 40 per cent. of that fish which, when the fish are filleted, is thrown away. It is no use talking about high freight charges if something like 40 per cent. of the weight of the freight is thrown away at the end of the journey. The whole industry requires rationalising and modernising.
The next point I wish to mention is the present distributive process. I do not think the distribution of fish can be simplified and streamlined to any great 121 extent. Any person who has any experience of the fishing industry and of fish knows that there is a considerable amount of avoidable waste both in manpower and money between the point of landing and the point of selling. That is one of the weaknesses in the price structure in the fishing industry.
I want now to refer to the herring industry. It has been suggested that the demand for herring in this country is not as big as it should be. I agree that that is true. For some of it the herring trade itself is responsible. No one who has ever lived in a fishing area could wax enthusiastic, for example, over the dyeing of kippers. It lacks the essential flavour and quality of undyed fish. That is one of the reasons why I think we have got to look beyond demand.
Herring is a bulk product and to sell it some bulk method of curing and treatment has got to be devised. We may like it or not, but we cannot persuade the people today to eat salted herring and we have failed to develop any other mass curing process that can deal with that. I think, therefore that everything possible should be done to stimulate the demand for herring for food, but other countries Pre more progressive than we are, and are moving away from the catching of herring primarily for food to catching herring primarily for fish meal and oil.
It seems to me that there is not the slightest difference in the useful purpose to which herring should be put. It does not matter whether they go for food or for fish meal and oil, they are to the advantage of the community and to the fishermen. But that can only be done if we are to have a price structure inside the industry that makes it economical for the fishermen in the area where there is no market on his doorstep to catch herring for fish meal and oil. We cannot give a price of 90s. a cran for herring because the catch happens to land near London, and give 45s. or 50s. a cran because the catch is landed a great distance from a large centre of population where supplies cost as much and transport even more. We must get some equality into our price structure.
I regret that there has been so much criticism of the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority. I thought it was not fair. I have had close contact with the Herring Industry Board and I 122 have watched the White Fish Authority since its inception. It is not a perfect instrument and we are giving it some extra power in this little Bill. I do not think that the personnel is perfect either, any more than hon. Members in this House are perfect. Indeed, we could make changes for the better in both, but the Herring Industry Board have done a good job for an industry which would have been derelict if it had not been for the Board.
The White Fish Authority have had only a very short time in which to operate. Think of the difficulties under which they have been operating. People are chattering about dropping the flat rate for fish. The White Fish Authority are dealing with the most individualistic and, in some ways, the most selfish of all industries. It was not the Herring Board and not the White Fish Authority that dropped the flat rate. It was the influence of the pressure groups in certain sections of the white fish industry.
The Herring Board and the White Fish Authority stand between the devil of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the deep sea of the Minister of Food. It is time the Ministers got together to clear that up, and make definite the differentiation between the duties of the catchers and the distributors—make clear where the duties of catcher stop and those of the distributor begin. If we can do that we can save this industry, and save it in perpetuity.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
I think it must be almost unique in the history of this House for two sons of Caithness to follow one another in the same debate, particularly in a debate about fishing. I respectfully suggest that the tenor of this debate has been excellent. It is a joy to me, at any rate, to find Members of the House of Commons making speeches on a nonparty basis such as have been made today by people with knowledge of and interest in this industry.
We are putting the cart before the horse in this Bill. All the troubles in the white fish industry flow from one single cause so far as the inshore and near waters are concerned—the grounds are hopelessly overfished. If it were not for the fact that foodstuffs are very expensive and that people are still somewhat hungry the prices being realised today would never 123 be realised. They are making more today for immature fish that used to be thrown back into the sea than formerly was made for sizeable fish. It is pitiful to look round at near-water trawlers and other smaller vessels, some in my constituency, and to see the results of arduous fishing and scraping of the fishing grounds—a few boxes of fish selling at high prices —yet resulting in voyage losses. This fate will overtake all our fishermen unless this House takes the earliest possible steps under the Ministers concerned to call the very much overdue fishing convention.
It has been suggested by various hon. Members in their speeches today that the faults lies with the fishing industry for its troubles. There is very little truth in that. Two very great faults lie with successive Governments. The first is the fault to call the oversea fishing convention. I think that is so because the responsibility lay at Britain's door. We have always been the predominant fishing nation in Northern Europe. That is why we did not close the Moray Firth and the Clyde and the Minch. We were getting so much greater benefits off the North Norwegian coast, White Sea, Bear Island and from all round the coasts of Iceland. That is why we thought it better to hurt our own inshore fishermen—for the greater good of the nation. The fault lies with our predecessors in Parliaments, and with successive Governments of all kinds of colour.
For 14 years I have been speaking on this subject in the House, and for many years before I came into the House I was speaking on it. We cannot take out without putting back when dealing with any form of wild life whether in the air or on the ground or in the sea, and I do beg the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to grasp this nettle, and to grasp it quickly.
I am not making party points, though the best ground on which to make them would be the failure after the war to lead and inspire the convention, which was tragic, for we were in the driver's seat, we were the victorious nation in Europe, and we could have made everyone toe the line. But we missed the boat. There was a conflict between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture. One wanted to take the long-term and proper view. The 124 other one, under great pressure, of course, all the time for food. He did not care about food tomorrow or any other day. He wanted it today for people who needed it. Unfortunately, the Minister of Food won that conflict. Otherwise we might have been in a very much better state today.
Look at what has flowed from it. When I was in the fishing industry—and I spent 20 very happy years in it—we had the Minister of Fisheries looking after us in England and the Fisheries Board in Scotland, now called the Scottish Home Department. Now we have got a burden of six Government Departments—the Ministry of Fisheries at Whitehall and all the other places where they have branches; the Scottish Home Department in Edinburgh with its branches—port officers, and the like; we have got the Ministry of Food with its fisheries division. I wonder what they do? I wonder how many there are of them doing it? We have got this White Fish Authority whose record is lamentable; we have the Herring Board in Edinburgh; we have a section in the Foreign Office putting up a very bad show, in my opinion, in regard to Iceland; and we have other Departments hanging on.
All these are Departments directly concerned with the control and well being of the fishing industry, and maintained at high cost to the taxpayers—far too high a cost. Six of them looking after an industry that ran itself with great enterprise and with no difficulty in finding the money for trawlers or inshore boats in the days when there was fish to catch.
All our troubles flow from that one source, and the enterprising long distance people of whom the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) spoke and of whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) spoke are still not asking anybody to find the money. It must make everyone in this House—because we are all accountable to our constituents and to the taxpayers as a whole—consider the worth of this mass of Ministries and boards. Most of them must spend most of their time corresponding with one another about fishing, or telephoning one another or visiting one another. As one with experience in this industry on the production and distribution side I should say we should be much better off if we returned to the old arrangements. 125 Why should not it be simply the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries responsible under this Bill? Why must we have the White Fish Authority and the Minister of Food brought in? It is no new thing to give loans and grants for inshore boats. The Scottish Home Department have been doing that for a long period of time, and I do appeal—and I hope my voice will reach the mandarins of the Treasury—for some action, that is wanted. We talk of Geddes axes and the like. I think we want a Geddes axe on these boards and Ministries.
The White Fish Authority has been severely criticised by almost every Member who has spoken, and those hon. Members have been justified. It is a board which has produced only two schemes, and both of them were relics of war-time control abandoned by the Minister of Food. One was the flat rate for transport which was brought in as an instrument of control for the one purpose only of enabling fish to be sold by retail from John o'Groats to Land's End at the same price. It was a vicious control against the fishermen. It stopped the upward swing of the price pendulum but did not stop the downward swing. That is one of the reasons why I am against the flat rate. Because of the patriotism of the fishermen they stood this iniquity, and also because their fish mostly made control.
The other scheme brought forward by this White Fish Authority is that of freezing fish. I have some knowledge of that. I was a pioneer in this industry over 30 years ago, and I have an interest to declare because I am still a managing director of two freezing plants in Britain, one at Grimsby—a very large one—and the other in London. Someone said people do not eat frozen fish. People eat good frozen fish. Good frozen fish will sell as readily as any other good quality fish. But the people are awfully tired of stale. long distance cod landed from boats that have been 28 days away from port, and packed in ice as a preservative.
In 1949, or thereabouts, the British public reacted against two commodities—long-distance cod and sausages. They were both "phoney" articles, and very bad. There was actually a scheme, about which both sides of the House met committees and representatives of the trade, to go on freezing this long-distance cod. 126 When the Ministry of Food gave up their scheme some time before the White Fish Authority came into it, thousands of pounds were lost by the stockholders; a few years ago they were all carrying stock that could not be sold.
Deputations from every wholesale organisation in Great Britain came to the House to see Members on both sides. It was quite unique, in my experience, that from the North down to Cornwall everyone was against it. The trade were against it, yet that scheme is still on the books. I suppose they are still trying to push it through. It should not be done. Fish should be frozen at sea if it is to be frozen at all. No one wants to freeze good fish from Caithness or Cornwall, or other near waters, but all fish caught in the Arctic Circle should be frozen, and frozen at sea.
There is a job for the White Fish Authority to do. They could make an experiment by taking the 140 ft. boats referred to in this Bill, equip them with diesel engines and give them fuel reserves in the double-bottoms, when they could stay at sea for some time. Or they could use existing trawlers, which would go to Greenland, which we have heard spoken about today so eloquently by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central with the difficulties that arise from fishing unchartered grounds a long distance away from home in vile weather.
I have some knowledge of operating a floating factory in the Davis Strait, the "Thorland," formerly the "Highland Enterprise" of the Nelson Line. She fished there for some years, until the Germans captured her, and they used to come back with 1,200 to 1,500 tons of magnificent and superb halibut. Hellyer Brothers of Hull, who have so long adorned the trade, had two large ocean liners on the same job fishing in the Davis Strait off Greenland. Would there not be something there for the White Fish Authority to do if they were imaginative and courageous, in freezing cod fish. All fish is good when it comes out of the water. The stale cod about which I spoke a moment or two ago is superb fish when caught. It is only inedible stale pap anything up to 14 days later when landed in this country. That is the kind of stuff the White Fish Authority want to freeze. 127 Freezing fish out of the water to store it, using refrigerator carriers to take the catch away from the floating freezing ships to the fishing ports or coming right up the Thames to London, or right up the Manchester Canal to Manchester, or into the Mersey and Clyde—
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
I am not disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman, but is he not doing the White Fish Authority an injustice in suggesting that they are trying to prevent the freezing of fish at sea?
§ Sir D. Robertson
If they agree, why on earth are they sponsoring a scheme to go on freezing stale cod? Only a day before the House rose a very large deputation from all the great ports including the port the right hon. Gentleman represents came to see hon. Members on both sides and told us about this.
Now I want to say a few words about herrings. We still have plenty of good quality herrings, but unfortunately the catches are rather uncertain. I think there is a charge to be made against the fishing industry for their failure to market fresh herrings, which are about the finest food we produce in our country. They should be consumed, and I think they would be if every fishmonger, fryer and wholesaler put their backs into it. Earlier on in the debate it was suggested that use could be made of broadcasts. News flashes on the wireless during the 6 p.m. news or the 8 a.m. news about big catches of herrings being available would be very effective; advertising agents could also be used. A good deal of work has been done in different towns by having "herring weeks," and so on, but it has not gone far enough.
We could also freeze herrings. There is no reason why we should not, because they are fresh and lively when they come in, and it would be just as good as freezing them straight out of the sea. Instead of that they all go to meal oil, at tremendous cost to the taxpayer. It is a good thing to use them, but it is not good enough when one realises that the taxpayer is providing the bulk of the money to buy the herrings. Neither is it good enough to turn food of the highest quality into meal and oil. Norway, to whom 128 reference has been made, has an enormous coastline and an enormous catch of herrings, but they are totally different from our own, being very coarse herrings. Ours are much more succulent; they are a much smaller catch, and it is wholly wrong that the major portion should be sent away for oil.
I want to finish on this note. Iceland may have made a mistake in acting alone in the way she did, but she was faced with the destruction of her only industry—the same problem about which I spoke earlier in referring to the over-fishing of the North Sea and the near water grounds. For exactly the same reason Norway, another nation almost devoid of agriculture, with fishing as its main industry, had to act. The Russians have now stepped in, closing the White Sea, an inlet into the Barents Sea. Undoubtedly the fishing industry everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere is facing the over-fishing of all grounds.
A few weeks ago one of my old friends in the industry told me that one of his company's trawlers—a modern vessel; one of the £200,000 craft referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, Central—came in from Bear Island with a cargo of codlings. The quality was good, but the trade would not pay for the labour in filleting them; they were too small. The Bear Island grounds were discovered only in 1927, and that great Bear Island shelf, which has been the mainstay of long-distance fishing for so long, has got to a stage where cod have become codling.
I hope that the Foreign Office will take steps to call an over-fishing conference. Do not wait for an agreed date. Call it now and tackle this at the highest level. Ministers with the power to say "Yes" and "No" must sit in on the conference. It is not good enough to leave it to civil servants from 15 different countries, none of them being able to say "Yes" or "No," but simply having to report back to their Governments.
This is a common heritage which I am speaking about. It does not belong only to Britain, although we were predominantly the nation which did the most fishing; it belongs to everyone whose nationals fish these seas. If we can talk and discuss matters concerning our 129 national defence with N.A.T.O., why cannot we discuss with them how to protect and how to share the fishing grounds? That is a job which has to be done, because if it is not, we are wasting time discussing a Bill like this.
I realise that the North Sea fleet wants completely rebuilding. I know that it has largely to be rebuilt at the cost of the taxpayer, but the trawlers and smaller craft will not pay to operate unless the fish is there to catch in paying quantities. If it is right to protect salmon and salmon trout, why not cod and haddock, which are more valuable and important?
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am sure that the House was astonished, if not shocked, at the Olympian complacency and detachment of the Minister, who, today, said, "This is not a major Bill." A major Bill is called for. When Parliament is invited to consider the fishing industry in its present condition it should be a great occasion, and an occasion for a major Bill, because this industry is very important to the nation.
Its problems are many and complex, and they are crying out loudly for solution by a major Bill. This was recognised in the speech from the Throne so recently as 4th November. The Gracious Speech then promised many improvements in this industry, in these extensive, if rather vague words:My Government will continue to give every encouragement to the fishing industry. A Bill will be laid before you to provide financial help for the building of fishing vessels."-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 67.]Here were two promises by the Government. One, to encourage the fishing industry, and, the other, to provide finance to build new ships. Neither has been performed. I suppose that Ministers will claim that this trivial Bill is a performance of the second one—to finance the building of ships. It is not, because it is too small, too limited and irrelevant to the real and major problems which are waiting to be solved.
In a letter which I received on 12th January from the Aberdeen Steam Fishing Vessels Owners' Association, an authoritative and expert organisation, they say:the proposals in the Bill have, of course, been the subject of close examination, but 130 have aroused no enthusiasm, and it is improbable that any trawler owner will take advantage of them.They then proceed to give reasons to which I shall draw the attention of the House in a moment. By them this Bill is regarded as a breach of promise and a betrayal. Last Saturday, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries said:I will not let the farmers down.He is now busy letting the fishing industry down, which is the other half of his jurisdiction, by not bringing in an extensive Bill to deal with all the problems which are waiting to be dealt with. Both halves of his jurisdiction deal with food. In letting down these halves he is letting down the consumers also, and he is thereby letting down all the people of this country.
These are strong words, but in using them I am supported by every phase of the Aberdeen fishing industry—owners, officers and crews, merchants, distributors and fish market workers. They reasonably take the view that first things should come first, and among these first things are the conservation of the fishing grounds, which are depleted, as we have heard from so many speakers today; reasonable prices for fuel and gear, which are far too expensive; and fair transport charges for fish to the large consuming centres.
It is folly to ask a man to buy a plough unless he has productive land to till and access to markets for his produce. It is equally folly to ask a man to buy a ship unless he has productive fishing grounds in which to fish and access to fish markets. Until these matters are attended to, any Bill which goes off at a tangent, as this Bill does, away from the urgent problems will be a dead letter.
I quote from an authoritative and expert opinion upon this matter. Referring to the disadvantages which I have mentioned, this opinion says:These disadvantages are responsible for the reaction to Government proposals. The cost of a modern near water trawler is approximately £80,000, of which the owner is expected to provide £60,000. But it is difficult to believe that any owner would contemplate such an outlay unless some assurance was to hand of being placed on equal terms with Humber ports and that British markets are not to be the dumping grounds for foreign fish either by direct consignment to inland wholesale markets.There is, moreover, no indication yet of the steps to be taken to prevent the over-fishing of near water grounds and trawlers 131 fishing these grounds have just completed a most unsuccessful financial year because of high operating costs as well as the scarcity of fish. The time needed to land a reasonable catch is far in excess of what it was 30 years ago, and the high cost of labour. fuel and gear has made trawling so speculative that today no owner would contemplate for a moment risking his capital in building a new ship.In this connection, you will have noted from the Press that s.t. 'Lochnager' has now been sold to foreign owners. This ship was built less than three years ago, was of the most modern type, and yet the owner has been reluctantly compelled to sell her as he has been unable to secure a return on his capital let alone earn depreciation charges.These are weighty words which the Government should bear in mind before going on with this trivial and ineffective Bill.
The subject of freight charges, which has been referred to, is another vital matter. The absence of a flat rate presses unfairly on the whole north of Scotland. It is killing fishing communities and preventing the development of trade and industry. It is also one of the points made against this Bill by the authority to which I have just referred. I quote again:The difference in freight charges between Humber ports and Aberdeen as shown by statistics of the Ministry of Food was 3d. per stone. Since that time rates have advanced by 41⅓ per cent. No port can continue to work at such a disadvantage and it must be only a matter of time before Aberdeen falls to the level of Milford Haven or fishing ports of that class. This aspect of the problem was emphasised in the First Annual Report of the White Fish Authority, paragraphs 61 to 66, in which the imperative need and the advantages to be gained from a transport equalisation scheme were stated precisely in relative terms of producer and consumer.Upon that the White Fish Authority have dithered and changed their mind as on other questions.
Another obstacle to the shipbuilding which the Bill contemplates is the excessively high price of fuel and gear. Again, I quote from the same authority:Bunker coal F.O.B. costs 15s. per ton more in Aberdeen than in Humber ports. Oil fuel is at a disadvantage here to the extent of 21s. per ton and a protracted correspondence between the Scottish Council and this Association and between the Scottish Council and Scottish Oils and Shell Mex Limited failed to induce the oil companies to place Aberdeen on the same level as Humber ports.In the course of this correspondence this Association expressed difficulty in accepting the plea of the oil company that the position of Aberdeen as a sub-installation was responsible 132 for an additional charge of 21s. per ton. Singly, railway rates or bunker charges would prove an obstacle to the progress of any industry but, in combination, the barrier may be regarded as almost unsurmountable.Another, and perhaps even more vital, problem, is that relating to national defence. It has already been well said in this debate that the fishing communities round our coasts are springs from which we get fine, courageous, expert seamen to defend the country in time of war. Their boats are used as minesweepers. But that supply will be dried up and the nation will be placed in peril by neglect such as that I am now critcising. To show that I have not relied merely on my own opinion, I quote again from the same authority:There is one point that the Government appears to have lost sight of in their decision in the matter of an equalisation rate for transport. In 1936. the port had 326 trawlers and liners and the Superintendent of the Mercantile Marine, at a public luncheon in Aberdeen, was in a position to declare that the recruitment for fishermen in the Royal Naval Reserve at Aberdeen was by far the highest of any of the major fishing ports of the country—indeed, one of the leading English trawler owners of the country wrote and asked me if owners in the port offered inducements to the fishermen to join the R.N.R. There were, of course, no inducements—the men were volunteers. The fleet today is just under 200 vessels and at least 1,200 men have been lost for good to the fishing industry of this country.In the circumstances, it is a mockery to present this Bill as, to use the expression in the Gracious Speech, an "encouragement to the fishing industry." Look at the discouragements of the last year which remain unremedied—the Norwegian fisheries decision, adverse to Britain's fisheries; the Icelandic fishery dispute, also adverse; the strike in the East Anglian ports; failure to implement international conventions; failure of the White Fish Authority to use fully their statutory powers; conflict between various fishing interests; antagonism between port and port; scarcity and high prices for the consumers; discontent for owners, the merchants, masters, crews, and fish market workers. It is a terrible category of wrongs unremedied and of things requiring to be done.
This trivial Bill does not alleviate these discouragements. It does a little—very little—to touch one small part of this vast and complex industry. Let us look at the future and see what are the other 133 matters urgently requiring attention which the Bill does not touch. There is the conservation of depleted fishing grounds, often recommended by authoritative committees; decent conditions of life for the masters and crew which would attract young men to the industry; the provision of finance for various ancillary purposes; a co-ordination of landings to prevent slumps and gluts; and reorganisation of transport and marketing.
These and other encouragements are urgently necessary not only in the interests of the fishing industry itself, but of the fish-consuming public throughout the nation. They are needed to enable Britain to compete with foreign nations and against foreign landings, on the merits of British fishermen rather than by adventitious bans and strikes. The Bill does not solve these problems. Compared with them this Bill is as a pinkeen to a whale.
The stark fact is that this industry has been disgracefully handicapped by being harnessed to the Ministry of Agriculture. The fishing industry requires the whole-time attention of a really understanding Minister who could understand that it is many-sided and affects producers and consumers, who are, indeed, the whole nation. Such a Minister perhaps could realise that this little Bill is not enough for this many-sided industry. It leaves whole sections untouched. There are the producing side—the distant water, middle and inshore fishermen—the distributing side and the consumers.
The tragedy of this Bill—
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
The hon. and learned Member is now discussing another Ministry, not this Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
Before you came to the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the debate had been conducted on a wide basis, and I hope that my remarks go no wider than those of any of the previous speakers.
I may have misunderstood the hon. and learned Member, but I understood him to be arguing that the present form of Ministerial control was not adequate, and that is not the subject matter of this Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
I did so in passing, but I shall not say another word about it.
134 The tragedy of this Bill is that it does not touch the essential relations of those concerned in the industry. It does nothing to co-ordinate them, to eliminate wasteful rivalry or to bring order out of chaos. When the Bill was published, in December, I think, the "Glasgow Herald," which is not to be confused with the "Daily Herald," and which cannot by any stretch of imagination be termed a Socialist paper—it is a thoughtful, careful and distinguished organ, but it is Conservative—said of this Bill:Superficially, the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill is a singularly meaningless Measure.and, later, added:The intent behind the Bill may become apparent at a later stage.I mention that to show that there is criticism of this Bill not only from our side of the House and our side of the Press, but from the other side as well.
The intent behind the Bill is apparent now, and I have nothing to say against that intent except that the Bill is too limited and does nothing to touch the urgent and immediate problems. Instead, it merely tinkers inadequately with one aspect of this great industry. These problems have been explored and reported upon by various distinguished committees, the Duncan Committee; the Neven Spence Committee and the McColl Committee. I recommend to the Ministers concerned that, before they go on with this petty Measure, they should study those reports in order to see what are the real requirements of the situation so that these great problems can be treated, not in a Departmental way but at the high national level which they deserve and which the people of the country expect.
Indeed, so true is this that we find a striking view-point expressed in the current issue of the monthly, glossy and expensively-produced periodical called "Fish Industry," which claims to be the "monthly journal"—if that be not a contradiction in terms—for executives, for the producer, the merchant, the processer, the fishmonger and the fryer. It makes this striking observation:In view of the attempts both from without and from within to get the industry into a state of real and lasting prosperity and to serve the nation better by producing better fish, can one blame the Socialists for believing that nationalisation is the only way, when, from the inception of the Labour Party, public 135 ownership has been synonymous with success, especially where private enterprise has allegedly failed?Later in the same periodical, and in the same article, it goes on:To say that the industry is too complicated to be nationalised is to mislead oneself into doing nothing and hoping for the best, which is never a very realistic or safe or successful way of tackling the private business way of life.I am not attempting, and I hope that no one else will attempt, to make this a party matter. I merely give that quotation without comment to show the viewpoint of certain authoritative sections of the fishing industry itself.
This Bill, I think and hope, will assist Aberdeen, which, before building new ships, badly needs three things: the conservation of the fishing grounds a flat rate of transport for its fish to the large consuming centres of the South, and the renovation of its fishing fleet. I would like to see reciprocal understandings between Aberdeen and the English ports to eliminate wasteful competition, to clarify types of fish and to agree on a flate rate of transport. This would enable each port to market its fish expeditiously and economically and with advantage to themselves and the consumers.
I must say a word about the White Fish Authority. I had, and still have, high hopes that the Authority would use their great statutory powers quickly and extensively; that they would rapidly tackle and solve the great problems to which I have referred; that they would win and deserve the confidence and support of the industry as indeed the Herring Board has done; that they would reorganise the industry in order to avoid gluts and slumps; that they would make the public more fish-minded.
After all, we are told from countless hoardings throughout the country that, "Beer is best." Why should not we be reminded that, "Fish is fine" or, "Fish is good for us"? I believe that the White Fish Authority could do something on those lines. They could co-ordinate their work on sea and land so as to ensure a large, plentiful and cheap supply for all. That would enure for the benefit of the whole nation.
136 The White Fish Authority cannot carry out their duties if they are to suffer from attrition. I note with dismay that Mr. P. D. H. Dunn has resigned from the Authority to become economic adviser to the Hull Fishing Vessel Owners' Association. I think that the Minister should explain how that came about, and why. It is a bad blow to the White Fish Authority, and a great loss.
In their great tasks the White Fish Authority have the advantage of very wide statutory powers, and they have the distinguished Duncan and McColl Reports for useful guidance. They should study these and the experience of experts in order to learn the inter-relation between the building of the fishing fleet, as envisaged by the Bill, the conservation of fishing grounds and the transport to market of catches. If the Authority understood these matters they would support equalisation of transport charges. Instead, they chop and change. Their policy is contradictory. First, they supported and now they oppose this necessary policy.
It reminds me of Dryden's character, Zimri. With apologies to Dryden I adapt his words to the White Fish Authority and say that the Authority:With powers so various that it seemed to beNot one but all mankind's epitomeHas used its many powers in ways quite wrongUpon an industry that waited long.This Board has no result today to showExcept to fishermen—a knockout blow.As the Conservative "Glasgow Herald" shrewdly remarked on this very topic:The summary abandonment of the scheme for equalisation of transport charges on white fish traffic may or may not be connected with the denationalisation of road transport.I hope that the House will take the view that the White Fish Authority should not allow themselves to be made a cat's-paw of politics, but should realise their duty to producers and consumers. The British fishing industry is the greatest in the world, but it is being overtaken by other countries because of neglect and misunderstanding of its real problems.
I hope that the Minister will re-examine this Bill in the light of the criticisms which have been levelled at it during this debate and that he will make it a Bill more worthy of a great fishing industry.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
Having sat here since 2.30 p.m. I have been tempted once or twice to wish that I had a Scottish accent. I have waited so long not because I am an expert or because I pretend to understand the industry, but because during the Recess I saw a number of the trawler owners and fish merchants of Grimsby, the greatest fishing port in the country, and they asked me to put forward one or two considerations.
First I wish to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). This Bill puts the cart before the horse. Even if the greatest aims and hopes of this Bill were achieved, the problem would still remain. The real problem is that of over-fishing. No matter what happens as a result of this Bill the real task is that of tackling the problem of over-fishing—a problem which was not tackled by the previous Government nor, as far as I can see, has it been tackled by the present one.
The Minister in introducing the Bill said that it offered grants to make it worth while for the owners to build new trawlers. That is a vain hope. I am advised by the people who run the industry, and I merely repeat what I am told by them, that a 100 ft. vessel costs between £70,000 and £80,000. A 20 per cent. grant for that is simply meaningless in view of the results which the industry is now showing. The fall in the fishing yields since 1946 from the near water grounds is really alarming.
In 1946, the catches amounted to 1,904,000 cwt., but the figure has dropped each year until, last year, it was down to 947,000 cwt., or less than half. If the situation is judged on the basis of the 100 hours' work, in 1946, the catch was 287 cwt., and they are now getting only 179 cwt. If it is taken per trawler day's work, in 1946, the figure was 31 cwt., and today it is 18 cwt.
What business man or group of business men is going to put up a lot of new money in an industry which is absolutely dying from being overworked, even if tempted by means of these grants? I say to the Minister that this Bill, good as it may be in regard to certain sections of the industry, which are grateful for good intentions, does not attempt to deal with the problem.
138 May I make one or two suggestions to the Minister? It would be a terrible tragedy if, as a result of this Bill, there were increased fishing facilities in the North Sea, and, therefore, I ask the Minister if he will insist that there should be a "scrap and build" clause, and that at least one old boat should be scrapped for every new one built, but, preferably, that two should be scrapped for every new one. If we have the same number of more modern vessels fishing these diminishing fishing grounds, the destruction will go on at an accelerated pace, and therefore I beg of the Minister to make a condition that there shall be scrapping as well as building.
I should also like to ask him whether, in the Clause dealing with engines qualifying for grants, he will make these grants also available for new boilers. As the Bill is drafted, will new engines include new boilers? I am told that, assuming that the hulls are good enough, the life of existing vessels could be almost doubled if some grant could be given for new boilers. I am told that this would cost something like £6,000, instead of the £60,000 to £80,000 which a new vessel would cost.
Next, I am asked to put this question to the Minister. Why was the 140 ft. limitation fixed? That, in itself, will not be sufficient to achieve the aims of this Bill, because I am advised that, with a diesel engine, a 139-footer could be used for the distant waters trade, and, since the money offered under this Bill is not meant for the distant waters trade, it would cause a diversion of the money into the wrong channel. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that, in addition to a limitation in the size of vessels, there should be some limitation on the gross maximum tonnage, in order to see that the money being applied for this purpose is only used for fishing in home waters.
I have many figures which I could quote of the results of recent fishing, but I will only give two. At Grimsby, in December of last year, there were landed 183,000 kits, which fetched only £436,000, whereas, in 1951, a much smaller amount—168,000 kits—fetched £150,000 more. I could quote the Hull figures as well, but will only ask if, in view of these facts, the Minister really thinks that a business man, offered this 20 per cent., is really going to put up the money to build a new vessel. Of course, he is not. If I 139 may say so once again, I do not like grants, subsidies or loans. I would much rather see the Chancellor of the Exchequer leave the money with the firms which made it, instead of taking it away in taxation, and thus allow them to provide themselves for their own depreciation and renewals. I think that would be a much better policy.
Finally, I am asked to say this. When does the Ministry propose to get the 1946 North Sea Convention signatories together? My friends in the trade feel that it is our duty to take the initiative, because if we do not nobody else will, and because without the conservation of these grounds none of the hopes contained in this Bill will be achieved. It has been suggested by one hon. Member that we ourselves might set the example in conservation.
It would be a tragedy for the whole of the fishing industry if we were to reduce the number of vessels which we are using in the North Sea and at the same time allow other countries to increase the number of their vessels. The most important thing is for us to call the Convention signatories together at once and not leave this to be done by other people. If we do that I am sure the industry will benefit to a far greater extent than from anything that would flow from this Bill. There is a lot more I would like to have said, but I promised to sit down before 9 o'clock.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I am glad that somebody from the south-west of England has at last been able to put, if only briefly, some of the points concerning the inshore fishermen of West Cornwall. Many hon. Members have spoken about conservation, and it is said in West Cornwall that unless some stern measures are taken and taken soon there will be few fish around our coasts in the foreseeable future.
On the whole the fishermen of West Cornwall welcome this Bill, but they feel it could be improved, and I will if I may put very shortly five points which they have put to me. Could not the Minister reconsider the question of gear so that this can be included, and, incidentally, is echo-sounding equipment classed as gear or not? Could not the Minister recon- 140 sider shell fishermen? After all, many of these men are white fishermen as well, and they find it hard to understand why a man catching sole at 3s. per 1b. can get the subsidy whereas a man landing shell fish for less cannot. Could not they be included? Fishermen would also like clarification of the term "working owner" where engines are concerned. It has been suggested that perhaps a better definition would be "sea-going owner."
With regard to grants, a good deal has been said about these being made to the right type of man. I do not think there ought to be any form of means test concerning these grants. The fact that a man has been in the industry during the bad days as well as the good should be sufficient to enable him to get a grant if he requires it. The fishermen have complained to me concerning a matter about which many hon. Members have spoken today. They do not want to see what they term the "fair weather" fishermen, the men who go into the industry when times are good, getting grants to the detriment of those who have been in the industry all their lives and whose families were in it before them.
The last point they wish me to put to the Minister is, who is going to administer the machinery of these grants? Is it going to be administered by the officers of the White Fish Authority—in our case from Plymouth—or by the local representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries who knows more about the fishermen and local conditions? I am sure it is the Minister's wish to encourage the real fishermen by this Bill, and not, as I have said, the fair weather fishermen. It is those real fishermen that we wish to encourage, not only as a vital part of our defence in war, but as the backbone in peace of one the most important industries in these islands.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), who opened the debate for the Opposition, said that we would not be opposing this Bill on Second Reading. In the numerous speeches which we have heard since then one might say that, generally speaking, there has been no opposition to the Bill but, equally, no enthusiasm for it. Very few have objected to what is positively in the Bill, but many have said that they 141 wish that there could have been other features in the Bill which there are not. Despite what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) said a few moments ago, I think that most of us would agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland who said, in opening the debate, that this was not a major Bill.
I want to try to deal with the broad implications of two main features of the Bill. First, there is the attempt to stimulate the rebuilding of near and middle water fleets which are ageing, uneconomic and very often offer bad conditions to the crews, and which will not be rebuilt if private enterprise is left to itself. Secondly, there is the continuance of subsidies to keep the existing, somewhat uneconomic, vessels in the nearer water fleets in use at sea. Of these two aspects—the rebuilding of boats and the subsidies on current operations—I think that there is no doubt that the first is very much the more important. It is to that mainly that I wish to direct my attention.
So far as the second is concerned—the question of subsidies on current operations—all I can say is that we on this side of the House accept that as a necessary measure which we started and we are now prepared to support. We accept it, as I think do hon. Members opposite, with some reluctance only pending more fundamental action in the industry. There is one positive danger in it to which no attention has been called in this debate, and which I take from the Report of the White Fish Authority. At a time when, in one part of the Bill, we are trying to stimulate people to replace their old boats with new, this subsidy, unless carefully operated, might have the effect of making people keep those old boats in operation for a further period. Unless they are offered hope that the general conditions of inshore, near and middle water fishing will improve that is very likely what many will do.
In that sense the subsidy conditions of this Bill might have the effect of preventing grants for the rebuilding of these boats being taken up. In any case, I think that we all agree that subsidies offer no long-term solution for the industry, because if we fail in our attempt to get the fleets rebuilt, those fleets will be beyond any condition in which even very large subsidies can help to keep them at sea.
142 It is right that the debate should have ranged as wide as it has done because it is the background to the Bill rather than the Bill itself which is of interest. Before we part with the Bill on Second Reading we ought to be sure why it is that we want to use public money to bolster up a section of private industry which, on its own showing, cannot support itself on a purely commercial basis. If we agree as to why we want to do this thing, the second point is whether this Bill will be effective for the purpose.
As a preliminary to what I want to say on the major question of why we want to bolster that part of the industry, I might say that it is very misleading to talk about the fishing industry and to say, "The industry thinks this" or "the industry wants that." In point of fact there are relatively few interests which are common to the whole industry, and as anyone who has dealt with it knows, it is extremely hard to obtain one opinion out of the whole industry on any subject.
It is clear that this Bill does not deal with the fishing industry. It only deals with one particular part, namely the near and middle distance fleets. What has been not quite so clearly brought out is the significant way in which this particular division between near and middle distance fleets on the one hand and distant water fleets on the other also divides the industry up geographically within this country in terms of fishing ports.
If I may give a few figures which are taken from the figures at the end of the White Fish Authority's Report, out of the 1,109 trawlers—I am only talking of the trawlers which are listed—there are 817 of them which will come within this Bill, and there are 292 which will not come within it because they are more than 140 ft. long. Of those 292 big ships which are outside the Bill, no fewer than 254—that is all but 38 of them—are based at Grimsby and Hull. We find that Hull has only four trawlers which will be affected by the provisions of the Bill. The whole of the Hull fleet, with the exception of four, is too large to qualify for the grants in this Bill.
I cannot help feeling that the very one-sided nature of the Hull fleets is responsible for the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central (Captain Hewitson) who seemed to be seeing things, if I may say so. 143 entirely from the point of view of the big long-distance operators who operate from Hull. At the other extreme is Scotland where, in all the Scottish fleets, there are only four which are listed in this Report as being outside the Bill; all Scottish trawlers bar four are small enough to be within the Bill. That just shows how difficult it is to get general agreement between the big financial interests which are concentrated at Grimsby and Hull and the far more dispersed industry in the rest of the country.
Perhaps I ought to be able to give a more balanced view, as the Member for Grimsby, than some other hon. Members because Grimsby does provide about the best cross-section that there is. We have 145 of the smaller trawlers which are within the Bill, and, in addition, 91 long-distance trawlers which are outside. Therefore, in my constituency I am affected on both sides of the industry.
The Secretary of State told us what the condition of these near and middle water fleets is in terms of age. So far as I can see, looking at the figures, there has been nothing approaching an adequate building programme in this section of the fleets, except perhaps in the one single year 1929–30. My history is not good enough to enable me to know why there seemed to be a revival in that year, but it is noticeable that in that year both the long-distance fleets and the near and middle waters fleets seemed to have better building figures than they did in the early 'twenties or subsequently in the 'thirties, or post-war. What we are attempting to set right by the grants offered in this Bill is a very long trend which has been going on at least since the end of the First World War in the near and middle waters fleets.
Let us be quite clear what is the analysis of the industry which we are making in accepting this Bill. What we are really saying is that if we look at the matter on a purely commercial basis, the distant water fleets which produce the bulk of the supplies in terms of sheer quantity can survive without the help of public money. That section, despite what has been said, has not, in fact, asked—it has certainly not pressed hard—for any kind of help for itself. My experience at Grimsby is that distant water trawler owners do not welcome anything in the way of a subsidy for themselves because 144 they fear it would bring in its train a certain measure of control. Certainly, that section gets no help from the Bill.
On the other hand we say, again looking at it on a purely commercial basis, that the near and middle waters fleets are not remunerative, and if left to themselves they would die. Therefore, we are prepared to give these subsidies on their current operation and grants for re-equipment out of the public purse. At the same time, when we are being asked to use public money in order to keep a certain unremunerative section of our own industry in existence and to keep it fishing, we are also constantly being requested by various sections of the industry to limit, and to some extent to prevent, foreign imports—both the landing of foreign fish at our ports and the import of boxed fish direct to our markets.
The foreign fish, if one takes the boxed fish with the fish landed from foreign trawlers, is very varied and is usually of very good quality. It is fish which it apparently pays the producer to catch and to bring to our ports and it costs the British taxpayer nothing. I am putting this problem as crudely as I can, because if we look at it in terms of principle it is a fairly formidable proposition to justify. We are being asked to provide public money so that an unremunerative section of our industry may continue to produce fish and, at the same time, we are being told that we can do without good fish from abroad which does not require any subsidy from us.
It is a particularly difficult argument to defend for those who believe in the supremacy of a free market as the right agency for determining priorities in connection with the economic activities which should be carried on, and it is not altogether easy to defend it from the point of view of the British housewife, who looks at the question from the point of view of the types, quality and quantities of fish available in the shops.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Is not it a fact that the fishing industry welcomes the good quality flat fish that comes in from Denmark and some other countries, but objects strongly to stale cod coming in in huge quantities to compete with that caught by our own people who have a struggle to live?
§ Mr. Younger
I do not accept that. I think the hon. Member is falling into 145 error in talking about "the industry." I can think of very many interests which have a very different view from that expressed by the hon. Member. No doubt the view he has expressed is that of certain sections of the industry.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Member said "the industry." Although the producer has more capital sunk in the industry he is not the only person with an interest and a view to express.
How, then, are we to justify this very difficult proposition? First, I seek to justify it—because, as I have indicated, I am prepared to accept this Bill—on the ground that we do not necessarily accept the unremunerative state of our near and middle water fisheries as being permanent. If we can get international action with regard to over-fishing we think that that situation could be remedied in a relatively short time and that probably five years after a scheme had been agreed upon we might hope that these waters would again contain fish.
If that is so we are justified in taking a temporary artificial measure to keep our fishermen and their fleets going in the meantime; but we should remind ourselves that this is an argument that cannot hold good indefinitely. If for any reason it were to become clear that we were not able to restore these fishing grounds by means of measures against over-fishing we might have to jettison this argument for continuing to subsidise large sections of our fleets.
We should tell the Ministers concerned—and this question involves many Ministers —that it is absolutely vital, in conjunction with this Bill, to exercise the maximum pressure as early as possible to get agreement on this over-fishing problem. We believe that over-fishing is the basic problem, and if we can get rid of that the probability is that we shall not have to worry about subsidies or, indeed, grants for rebuilding.
I was indignant when I heard the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) suggest that the previous Government had done little or nothing about over-fishing. Goodness knows, that progress has been slow, and I am not pretending that it has been satisfactory; but at least we launched this international negotiation 146 and got the Convention started, and all but the last few ratifications were in by the time we left office. It would not be true to say that we do not attach the very greatest importance to this problem.
In connection with the solution of this problem and its relation to rebuilding, we should keep in mind what is said by the White Fish Authority in paragraph 36 of their Report:It is unlikely that any agreement could be reached which would have the effect of the British fishing fleet continuing to take as much fish from these waters as formerly and every effort should be made to arrive at an agreement which would, in the long run, enable a much smaller number of vessels to land the quantities of fish likely to be allotted as the British catch under an international agreement.While we regard proper arrangements to prevent over-fishing as being most important, we must not think that the result of that is to be that our near and middle water fleets are to remain at the present level. We hope that they will be much more modern and efficient, but it seems clear from what I have read that they are not going to be as numerous. I should like the Minister to comment upon this, particularly in relation to what other hon. Members were saying as to the policy of scrap and build. We should not envisage a certain number of people building new vessels while the old vessels stagger on for a long period. We must envisage smaller but more efficient near and middle water fleets.
The other arguments that have been used by many hon. Members on this issue are that, first of all, the fishing fleets are the reserve of the Royal Navy, and from the defence point of view it would be lamentable if the numbers of our fishermen were seriously to decrease. Secondly, from the sociological point of view, it would be disastrous if many of the inshore fishermen, particularly those scattered around our coasts in villages where there is little alternative employment available to them, were to face the loss of their livelihood in any large measure. The only alternative would be to migrate to the great centres of population or elsewhere. That process in the Highlands of Scotland and in many other areas has, in the view of many people, already gone much too far.
I believe those reasons outweigh what would perhaps appear to be the economic arguments against subsidising temporarily these sections of the industry. I think 147 that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central was wholly thinking in terms of the big ships and rather overlooked the considerations to which I have called attention.
I am somewhat sceptical of the effectiveness of this Bill to carry out its purpose. I very much doubt how far these grants will, in fact, induce much new building, unless it becomes apparent at an early date that over-fishing is to be reduced. If there was that long-term prospect ahead the grants in the Bill might have the desired effect. On the one hand, there is a possibility of the grants being taken up by the small men, but it has been pointed out that they will find it very difficult to raise three-quarters or four-fifths of the cost of a modern boat. The White Fish Authority called attention to the difficulty of small men, particularly owners of single boats, continuing to operate at all. Therefore, we must reckon that these men will find it difficult to take advantage of the Bill.
Then there is the possibility that the owners of considerably larger fleets and long-distance trawlers might wish to come into the near and middle water business, but, judging from the conversations which I have had—and this also applies to that of other hon. Members—they will not do so as long as the near and middle waters are so greatly over-fished and under-stocked and they do not see any commercial inducement—and that is what they will think about—to come into this business. Some of them have said to me that the near and middle water fleets will have to become a great deal smaller before they think it worth their while to put their resources into this side of the business.
Therefore, I think it is a little difficult to see how this money is to be taken up, but I hope it will be. That largely depends upon whether we can show some progress in a wider international agreement, so that the various people in the industry will feel that a few years hence they are going to get a reward for the outlay they are going to make now.
There is the further point that it is very important that we should not go on longer than is absolutely necessary asking the fishermen to go to sea in the conditions in which they have to live in the very old boats. I think people are 148 deterred from going into the industry as a whole when they hear stories of the conditions in these very old boats. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) asked about the conditions which would be imposed in connection with these grants. I hope. as he does, that one of the conditions imposed will relate to the accommodation in the boats which are to be built, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us generally something about what he intends about the conditions under Clause 1 (1).
I want to ask the Minister one question about the effectiveness of the Bill—to which, perhaps, I do not really expect an answer, but I think that he and the House should have it in mind. Suppose the Bill is not effective. Here we are justifying this payment of public money on grounds other than commercial grounds. In commercial terms the country is not to get anything back out of it. We are justifying it on different grounds—on national grounds, and the grounds of defence. Suppose we do not get the fleets rebuilt by this? Where do we go from there?
Are we to contemplate, if this fails, that we are to come back here two years or three years hence and say, "Well, the Bill has failed to work and if it is to succeed we must step the subsidies up to a much larger percentage"? Or are we to say, "It is not so important, after all. We acquiesce in having no rebuilding"? If we are serious about it this is a problem that we ought to be facing now. It is a thought we certainly have on this side of the House that if it is really the case that the near and middle water fisheries over a long period are to be a commercial liability but, at the same time, a national asset it may be the nation, rather than the commercial interests, that has to undertake their maintenance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper talked about the possibility of the White Fish Authority or some public authority taking shares as a condition for making these grants. That is one possible solution, but I throw that out as a question. I shall not be surprised if I do not get a very precise answer to it now, but it is a very real problem, whatever we think the solution ought to be in the long run. 149 I should like to say a word about public participation in the industry and the question of the White Fish Authority, which has come very much under fire. It was given fairly wide powers, very largely against the wishes of many hon. Members opposite when they were in Opposition. They tried to curtail the powers proposed for the Authority. Now we are told that it has not done nearly enough—at any rate, by the great majority of its critics. I think the reason is fairly clear. It has issued so far only one annual Report, and it appears from that that it has begun by attempting to get general agreement within the industry for its proposals.
I am sure the Minister will not object to that technique because, on looking through the report of the Second Reading debate on the 1951 Bill, I find that he particularly said that the White Fish Authority should not take any action unless it got, at any rate, very substantial agreement in the industry. I am prepared to agree that that was the right way to approach it, but if we are serious in thinking that the industry needed such a body—and I am certain that my hon. Friends on this side are agreed in thinking that such a body was necessary—if we find that it has become impossible for the White Fish Authority to get anything done, not because it has not got any ideas or any schemes but because it cannot get agreement, then, I suggest, it is for the Government of the day to take up their responsibilities and decide how far they are going to back the Authority, and propose to, and, if necessary, force through this House schemes to which there is very considerable opposition in the industry.
It is not right that we should make a scapegoat of the White Fish Authority. There have not been, so far as I know, any practical suggestions today from most of the critics of the White Fish Authority as to what they think it should have done. All they have said is that it has done nothing and it ought to be doing something. It has not been in existence very long and has issued only one annual Report, but there a good many very sensible ideas are adumbrated—not worked out, of course, and one would not have expected that—but adumbrated in it and showing that it is prepared to tackle the timing of landings, the flat rate scheme, and so on. These things have fallen down not because the White Fish Authority has not been doing its work of hard thinking 150 over technicalities, but because it could not obtain agreement.
Either the Government mean business about the operations of this Authority, or they do not. I am not really criticising the Government for not having as yet taken a firm grip on this matter, because I think it was reasonable that the White Fish Authority should have a period of a couple of years to settle down, and it has not been formally in existence for very long and has only issued one annual Report.
I am not making any criticisim of past inaction of the Government, but I shall be criticising the Government for inaction if it goes on very much longer in the face of what I believe to be sensible proposals made by the Authority, which they drop for lack of agreement. Everybody in the industry to whom I have spoken privately acknowledges that there is no subject under the sun on which general agreement can be obtained, and we might all just as well accept that. It is important to develop the powers of the White Fish Authority, and if we are critical of it we should deal with it by making it better and stronger, and not by so depreciating it that it can do even less.
There is a growing tendency in the industry for certain powerful and, I grant, efficient interests to get together a good deal more than they have done in the past for concerted action, which is often advantageous to them but which does not pay very much attention to the interests of the rest of the industry or of the consumer. For instance, there has been a good deal of criticism of the distant-water development scheme introduced by the Humber trawler owners at the end of 1950 or early 1951. They have never really operated it because the whole situation changed and they withdrew practically all of it, but it was in essence a restrictive scheme which has been bitterly and, in many ways, unfairly criticised in this House and elsewhere.
On that subject, I should like to draw attention to what the White Fish Authority said. It examined this scheme very carefully, and said in the first instance that it did not think the scheme, as it had been operated, had proved detrimental to the consumer. As far as I can judge, that is correct. But it also said that it did not think decisions of this importance. 151 which might well be detrimental to the consumer, should lie simply with a group of trawler owners.
If schemes of that kind are to be introduced into the industry it is essential that they should be introduced by a public authority whose actions can be criticised in this House, so that we can be sure that other branches of the industry and the consumer are consulted. With developments of this kind, indicating that the industry may be prepared to organise itself more than it has done in the past, it is doubly important that the White Fish Authority should be supported.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Central. to whose speech I have already referred several times, supported the idea, which I have seen canvassed in the Press as an alternative to the White Fish Authority, of a development council for the industry. I must say that if that means the predominance of the Hull interests, and if the Hull interests take the same view of the near and middle water fleets as my hon. and gallant Friend took today, God help the smaller ports and the fishermen all round our coasts. It is essential that this should be handled with determination by a public authority, and not just by a section of the industry.
§ Mr. Younger
My hon. and gallant Friend says it would secure more food for the people. I do not think anybody suggests that at the moment there is any limitation on the catches of the section of the industry about which he seems to be thinking exclusively.
Before sitting down, I want to do no more than ask a question of the Minister on the Iceland problem. I hope he will give a general indication of his attitude. The dispute with Iceland obviously ranges very far. It touches on the whole question of territorial waters, which is a major international problem extending far beyond the question of fishery conservation. We have had trouble with Norway. We have trouble with Iceland. Now I see in the papers that we look like having some kind of trouble with the Soviet Union; although I have not had time to 152 consider how important that is. it looks to me somewhat ominous.
I regard all these matters as being essentially for the Government. I do not know what went on about the Iceland dispute between the time the Government of which I was a Member went out of office and the time, quite a number of months later, when Iceland actually introduced the regulations of which it had given us warning. May be, there were a lot of negotiations at Government level. I myself think that the Icelanders could well have avoided a lot of this trouble had they shown a little elasticity in meeting the needs of our industry, particularly over the question of shelter. They did not do so. It is now a considerable time since the Iceland action was taken, and it is time something of the Government's views were known upon this problem.
I think that the Government have let the industry call the tune for long enough. I dare say the Minister has been reticent for much the same reason as I, with my much lesser responsibility now. have also been reticent. I want to see a settlement. I am not concerned to lambast anyone, but I believe that the dispute is damaging to Iceland and to us. I believe that it is dangerous to our credit in the European and international fields. I expect him to be reticent, but I ask him to say anything he can on this question.
Does he mean to submit this problem as a legal matter to the International Court? We know that if he did it would take a long time to get a decision. If it were submitted to the court, and that would mean abiding by the decision of the court, would he be content to see Iceland fish excluded from his country during the time the court deliberated? We would have put ourselves in the hands of the court, and the ban would not influence the decision of the court. We shall spend 12 months with all the difficulties and exacerbation of relations, and possible periods of shortage. They have not so far been acute with the exception of a week or so, but we may have difficulties of that kind.
In my constituency, there are many ways in which Grimsby suffers from the absence of Icelandic fish, even though the weight of fish is made up from other sources. I believe that it is a matter of greater interest to British trawler 153 owners that there should be a reasonable arrangement for the regulation of imports than it is to worry about the exact demarcation lines in Iceland.
I am not opposed to regulating landings as such, but I think the White Fish Authority has the right solution here and I recommend hon. Members to look at paragraphs 30 and 56 to see what is said there. I believe that there should be regulation of foreign landings, but that it should be done on the basis of public authority under international agreement and not in the way in which this restriction on the landing of Icelandic fish has been introduced.
I think that the combined policy of stabilisation of European fisheries generally and the preservation of the grounds is a policy for the Government because it is far beyond the capabilities of the fishing industry. I invite the Government to take at least a lead in this matter. I know that the trawler officers and fishermen in my constituency feel great indignation about this. I sympathise with them but I ask, "Is their action, which is certainly going to damage others, going to be effective in giving advantages to them?"
We have promised the Government our agreement tonight, and we have indicated certain aspects which we think are inadequate. I hope that the Minister will give a good send off to the next stage of the Bill by taking notice of our criticism and attempting to answer some of our questions.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
I should like to say at once on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House that we thank hon. Members on both sides for the very constructive attitude which they have adopted towards the Bill. I think that the debate does show that there are certainly no controversial points as between one side of the House and the other. Many of the detailed points raised have been on geographical lines rather than on party lines.
The Bill is, in the main, to provide finance with the prime object of restoring efficiency and stability to the near and middle water fishing fleets and also to help the inshore fishermen. The provisions of the Bill go no further than is necessary for this purpose. I must say 154 that if we accepted all the suggestions which have been made by hon. Members in the House today for expansion of the Bill we should find the account very heavy indeed, and we have not unlimited means, as I think the House knows only too well.
I should like at once to answer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) on the questions he put with regard to the Icelandic fisheries dispute. My right hon. and hon. Friends agree entirely that what we want to see is a settlement. That would be by far the best solution to the difficult position in which we find ourselves with Iceland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is hoping to be able to make a further statement to the House within the next week or so. In the meantime, therefore, I am certain the House will appreciate that it would be very inappropriate for me to make any comment this evening.
One of the main themes of many speeches in the debate has been the question of over-fishing. That is a background to a great many of our problems, particularly those of our middle water fleet. I accept at once what the right hon. Member for Grimsby said as to the action which he and members of his Government took in this regard when they were responsible for our affairs. The present position, which I think is the main interest of hon. Members in all parts of the House, is that the Convention will come into effect two months after the last ratification has been received.
The ratifications of the several signatories have been received over a period of time. While it is true that Spain has not formally ratified the Convention, the Spanish Government have, nevertheless, in advance shown their willingness to accept and apply it provisions by passing legislation requiring their fishermen to use the larger size mesh of nets as laid down in the Convention as from the beginning of this year. We have already put into operation the provisions of the Convention relating to the prohibition of the landing and selling of immature fish by an Order made in 1948. We propose taking similar action with regard to the size of mesh of nets as soon as a common date by which nets shall conform with Convention sizes can be agreed with the other signatory Governments. We are 155 hoping to be able to arrange for early agreement on this matter and on the setting up of the permanent commission as soon as the Convention is in force.
The House will recollect that my right hon. Friend pointed out in his speech when introducing this Bill that our neat and middle water fleet is very old. It dates mostly from World War I. In answer to the right hon. Member for Grimsby, in contrast to this, several fishing nations on the Continent have fleets which are new and modern and larger than they were before the last war. Since then some countries have much increased the number of vessels fishing in the North Sea. They have modernised their fleets. All these things show how important it is for us to do likewise. While the Government fully accept the need to prevent over-fishing, I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that if we do nothing to replace our obsolete boats we shall be placing our own men under a great handicap compared with their better equipped competitors from other countries.
Moreover, we cannot afford to rest on our unique distant-water fleet only, leaving to the foreigner the job of supplying quality fish from the near waters, with the prestige and goodwill that goes with it. That is what may happen if we allow things to take their course. As the right hon. Gentleman said, he did not expect me this evening to go into the possibilities in the event of the action proposed by this Bill not being successful after a period of years. I assure him and the House that we have this difficult and serious position in regard to the near and middle-water fleets very much in mind.
During the course of the debate many Members have raised the point as to whether the rate of grant will be sufficient for the purpose for which they are intended. I should like to try to put to the House the views of the Government on this point. The question is whether we are making a good enough offer to gain our objective, which is to get new vessels built. I realise of course that the 25 per cent. limit for working fishermen is less than the 33⅓ per cent. grants available to the inshore and herring fishermen under the earlier legislation, but at that time both grants were linked with a means test.
156 Many of the good fishermen who were not barred by the means test will already have their new boat and will not need another for some years to come. In addition to them, the deserving fishermen who were excluded because of their means and who would have been a good investment for the nation will now be eligible for grant and will be able to get assistance. That also answers the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard). Assistance will be available for a boat over the 70 ft. limit prescribed by the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, 1945. It is perhaps early to be dogmatic. I honestly believe, however, that the grants offered will serve their purpose and achieve the end which we all wish to see attained. In this connection, I am told that the White Fish Authority have already had a number of inquiries from inshore fishermen on the basis of what they have so far heard about the Bill, and this at any rate shows that our proposals have stimulated interest.
Turning to the 20 per cent. grant offered for the shore owners, the expression of a definite view as to whether it will be sufficient to do what is required is of course a matter of judgment. I recognise that building costs are now very high; that is one of the main reasons for providing grants. While no one suggests that the 20 per cent. grants will start a new boom in the building of fishing boats, I think it is worth taking note of the fact that without any assistance at all 10 new near-water boats came into commission last year and 13 are at present under construction. So, although the numbers are few, we hope that with the incentive of the 20 per cent. grant owners will not be hesitant to take advantage of the scheme.
Other points were raised by the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil).
Did the Government seek the advice of the White Fish Authority on the level of the grants and loans? If so, were the Authority satisfied that these would attract new construction at a sufficient rate?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
That is an impossible question to answer. Naturally we consulted the White Fish Authority on all these matters. It would be going too far to say that they were satisfied that this 157 provision would produce everything; I have not said so tonight. I think it is a movement in the right direction. The right hon. Gentleman asked if there was a special scrapping policy and, if so, what it is. My answer is that it is a major question of policy for Ministers in consultation with the Authority. There is no need for a special scrapping policy, because the near water fleet has been diminishing all too fast, and it is still going down rapidly. The building policy is in this Bill and we hope it will be successful.
Another point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was how the White Fish Authority proposals for mutual trading organisations for inshore fisheries would work. We consider the proposals for the better marketing of inshore fish afford more stability, and we understand the Authority have discussed those proposals with representatives of the fishermen with a view to formulating a statutory scheme. Such a scheme would require confirmation by Ministers and Parliament and therefore the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it would not be appropriate for me to express an opinion on such a scheme at this stage, even were I fully informed of the nature of the proposals which might be put forward.
As regards fish freezing, the position is that the scheme published in draft by the Authority provides for the buying of fish by the Authority for re-sale as their own fish in a period of short supply. The Authority can either use private enterprise cold storage for the fish or set up their own cold storage. The Authority have received many objections but they have not as yet told us what are those objections. No doubt the Authority are considering whether to go on with the scheme with or without modification to meet the objections. When the time comes the Minister will have to consider the matter, but I cannot comment on the merits meanwhile until we know what is the scheme and the objections and the proposals of the Authority.
There were two other points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He asked whether working fishermen will get grants for engines as well as hulls. The answer is that grants are available for working fishermen, (a) for new boats and, (b) for engines; not both at once, but in turn. In other words, if they get a grant for 158 a new boat the maximum would be 25 per cent. or the £4,000 limit.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Yes, in a new boat. But two or three years afterwards, if that new boat wanted a new engine the same man would be entitled to a grant for a new engine. That is the present position.
The final question raised by the right hon. Gentleman was what rate of grant do working fishermen get with large boats or boats exceeding £20,000 or more. I think my right hon. Friend made it clear that in those circumstances the working fisherman comes under Clause 2 (1, b) and therefore gets only 20 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) and several other hon. Members ask why the limit on boats was to be 140 feet. The hon. Member for North Fylde spoke very fluently on behalf of Fleetwood and the same point was raised in a different context by other hon. Members.
The view of the Government is that if we raised the limit above 140 feet it would bring in the distant water fishing boats and the Government consider that they do not need this kind of help. The distant water fishing boats have carried through a major rebuilding programme since the end of the war with private capital, and I see no evidence to suggest that they cannot do what further building is necessary in the same way.
If I hurry on I know that hon. Gentlemen will forgive me. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlands (Mr. Grimond) made a lot of interesting points all of which will be examined. He referred to one matter to which I should like to give the answer now. He asked me to tell the House where the fisherman would raise the balance of the cost of a boat. Inshore fishermen will get grants of 25 per cent. and, in addition, loans up to 60 per cent. That will leave the fisherman normally with only 15 per cent. to find himself. Bearing in mind that there are subsidies on both white fish and herring fishing, that should not be too heavy a burden to a reasonably good fisherman. I hope that the House will agree.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) raised many questions. He 159 was specially vehement about the activities of the White Fish Authority. During the debate we have had arguments on both sides about the Authority. No doubt this debate has been the occasion for criticism of this Authority which was set up by hon. Gentlemen opposite under the Sea Fish Industry Act of 1951 with the good will of all of us on both sides. Criticism can be helpful if it is constructive. I make no complaint that it has come forward today, for the Authority figures most definitely in this Bill. This is a proper occasion to look at the general state of affairs in the industry; but criticism that is no more than condemnation does not help.
The plan for having an Authority that would assist development and promote improved organisation in the fishing industry was a good one and in our opinion it remains sound. There is much that the Authority can do which cannot be done as easily, if at all, by other means. But two requirements are necessary. One is reasonable patience. It must be remembered that the Act only received the Royal Assent in May, 1951. The other requirement is the co-operation of those in the industry, from the catching side on the one hand to the retailing side on the other, and a willingness to look beyond their sectional viewpoints towards the good of the industry as a whole.
Neither of those requirements has been as forthcoming as might have been hoped. The Authority have a most difficult task. It was never reasonable to suppose that great changes would be brought about overnight in the complex business of the catching, preparation and distribution of fish. The Authority are tackling their task in the hope of coming to general agreement with the various sections of the industry. All suggestions that have been made today which might be helpful to the Authority will be examined most carefully by my colleagues and myself.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) asked from what date the grants would start. My right hon. Friend told him that they started as from the day after he made his statement. It 160 is always difficult to select the right date. I think that the House will agree that in principle retrospective legislation is bad, but there is something to be said—and something was said—for not considering any order placed before the Bill becomes law.
What we have done in allowing a limited back-dating in Clause 2 (4) is to fix upon the day after the announcement made by my right hon. Friend. No one who made a contract before the date of the announcement had any reason to believe that grants would be available. Those who contracted afterwards may be argued to have done so with the knowledge of the Government's new intentions, and in the belief that the vessels they were ordering would be considered for grants. I hope the House will agree that there is a case for saying that, although they have no right to assume any such thing, there is something in the point. What is more important, we do not wish new building to be held up until the details are settled. On this point, we are convinced we have struck the balance correctly.
I should like to answer many of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), but, if I may, I will deal with one, which is in regard to the grant arrangements. Detailed conditions of the grants are not appropriate to the Bill, but will be worked out under the provisions of Clause 1 (1), so far as the White Fish Authority are concerned, and Clause 6 (1), so far as the Herring Industry Board is concerned. These will be approved by the Ministers, and such other questions as crew accommodation will no doubt be handled by way of approval of plans by the Authority. All other points raised in the debate, which I am afraid I shall not be able to answer now, will be noted, and I commend this Bill to the House and hope that it will have a safe and speedy passage.
§ Captain Hewitson
Would the Minister give a reply to the suggestion of a development council to run parallel with the White Fish Authority?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.