§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is not designed to usurp the privilege of the Prime Minister in selecting those Ministers whom he sees fit to choose. The principle of the Bill is contained in the sentence of Clause 1, which says:…a Parliamentary Secretary who shall have a special responsibility in respect of all matters connected with fisheries.That is the major principle of the Bill, and provided that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will, after the arguments that I and other hon. Members have adduced, agree with that principle, then I shall be entirely satisfied.
It would be only right and proper for me to place before the House reasons why I have come to the conclusion that there should be a Parliamentary Secretary specially to look after the fishing industry. On 18th October, 1945, which, so far as I personally am concerned, is a memorable date, for that is when I made my maiden speech in this House, I drew attention to the dismal fact that in Cornwall alone, at the beginning of the 1914 war, there were 2,000 Naval Reservists who came from the fishing fleet and that in 1939 only 200 such Reservists were available.
Hon. Members are fully aware, from the many debates that we have had on the fishing industry, that the fishing fleet of this country forms a pool of reserve for the Royal Navy which draws from it those very gallant men who man the little ships in time of danger to this country. When we talk about the fishing fleet and the fishing industry generally, I think all hon. Members will agree that what we really talk about is sea power, food and employment, for those three things are inseparable in themselves from the fishing fleet and the fishing industry generally. It will be remembered that during the last war thousands of the men who laid down their lives were attached to the fishing fleets in order to serve our 765 country during its time of danger. At the present moment there are 11,000 registered fishing vessels, producing about one million tons of sea food, representing about£50 million worth of food to the consumer.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
If the hon. Member is going to develop the question of sea power, which I should be very anxious to debate, the question of the Japanese Navy arises. I have been trying to talk and ask questions about that matter for a long time. Perhaps we could have a general debate on sea power to the advantage of the House.
§ Mr. Marshall
It is for Mr. Speaker to decide whether the hon. Member would be in order to go into the question of Japanese sea power.
In considering the question of the consumer need of fish and the amount of sea food provided by the fishing industry, we must bear in mind that it is not subsidised to any extent in terms of food. That is one of the great problems of the industry. About 30,000 active men are employed within it at the present moment, and we should not forget that there are also 3,000 wholesalers, 12,600 fishmongers and 15,000 fish fryers. The vital importance of the industry is fully recognised by the Royal Navy and by the nation as a whole. It will probably be remembered that in 1920 the then Prince of Wales became Master of the Fishing Fleets.
I have already spoken of the decline in the fishing fleets in Cornwall, and for a brief moment I am going to a part of the United Kingdom with which the Bill does not concern itself but which is indicative of the position. Only the other day I read of the decline in the fishing fleets in Aberdeen from 324 to 190 vessels. The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will no doubt develop that point should he be called upon, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir).
One of the factors which the House should always bear fully in mind is the hazards which the fishing industry has to combat from time to time. Most hon. Members will have read that in the 13 months to the end of February, 1954, the sea claimed 100 victims from the industry. That fact may not be fully appreciated by other people. We should 766 pause and reflect upon that point, as should those people who occasionally criticise the price of fish. We should also pause and reflect upon the position of the wives and families of those fishermen.
As to the question of the weather—which is something that, fortunately, none of us can control—in the last few months hundreds of pounds' worth of gear and tackle have been lost in my part of the world through the weather and the heavy seas that have been running. It has been the worst season since the war for the industry in the West.
The economic difficulties which face these men is another factor which must be considered. One of the matters which affect them most seriously at the moment is the rise in the price of coal. Many such matters have to be studied, and I know that the House has paid a great deal of attention to them during the period of time that I have been a Member. We have set up the White Fish Authority, and Members are anxiously awaiting its report, but I cannot help feeling that when we read it we shall find that, although it raises many points, suggestions and ideas, nothing has been effectively done.
I believe that if a Parliamentary Secretary had been specially appointed for the fishing industry we might have got on both faster and better. At the same time, it is only fair to say that the White Fish Authority had an immense task in front of it, and it is my considered opinion that the first man who took it over must have found himself in very great difficulties.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
Some of my hon. Friends are a little troubled at the fact that, although 11 hon. Members are shown as backing this Bill, they do not appear to be in the House to support it.
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has raised a question which I have never before heard raised in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), on my left, is seconding the Bill and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, whose name is on the Bill, will speak if Mr. Speaker calls her, as will another of my hon. Friends, the Member for Down. North (Mrs. Ford), on my right.
§ Mr. Marshall
I cannot think that a full-time Parliament is represented by the number of hon. Members opposite neither was it on the Division on the most important Clause in the Finance Bill last night which was passed with a majority of over 50.
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. Member has called attention to the number of Members present. Perhaps he is implying that there should be a count. I do not want to press the point, but he ought to be warned what he is suggesting. The names of 12 Members are shown on the Bill—including his own—but eight of those Members are not here to support it. When a Bill is carried forward to the Table of the House by 12 people and eight of them fall by the wayside, the question arises whether the House should go on discussing the matter, because there is a majority against the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the Bill is moved and seconded the Question will be proposed to the House. The number of Members present has nothing to do with the matter.
§ Mr. Marshall
When attention is drawn to the fishing industry hon. Members are generally inclined to think only in terms of the white fish industry and the herring fleet. That is very reasonable and natural, but when we are discussing the difficult problems which beset the industry we should also dwell upon the problems to which a Parliamentary Secretary would have to apply his mind in regard to crab and lobstermen.
In the great cities of the United Kingdom there is a growing demand for shellfish delicacies in a prepared and potted form. If a Parliamentary Secretary is appointed, I trust that he will apply his mind to the possibility of persuading private enterprise to go to the West, where it is mostly lacking, in this speciality, and engage in this type of work, in order to provide the necessary facilities for our crab and lobstermen. At the same time, I trust that he will apply his mind to the building up of lobster nurseries, which are frequently to be found in France and other countries but only infrequently in England.
768 Since the present Minister of Agriculture took office, great questions have been discussed under or affecting international agreements. It is not in my thought that the Parliamentary Secretary who would be specially charged with responsibility for the fishing industry would apply his mind to such matters. Those matters must be dealt with by a Cabinet Minister. I would take this opportunity of observing that the fishing industry owes my right hon. Friend a very great debt of gratitude for what he has done already. Incidentally, I would also observe that it is not usual on Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill for the Ministerial head of the Department affected himself to be present, and I am grateful to see my right hon. Friend in his place today with the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Marshall
The Parliamentary Secretary whose appointment I propose would, however, have to apply his mind to the question of over-fishing in the waters near our shores. Lately the Minister has been afloat with our fishing fleets in the North Sea. He went in Her Majesty's Fishery Protection Vessel, the "Coquette." I am satisfied from reports that have reached me that his visit to the fleets was much appreciated by all the fishing fleets as a whole. We are also grateful that he has stated that a second survey will be made for the pilchard fishing industry in Cornish waters. We know full well that the Minister fully appreciates the great hazards and perils at sea. He himself has faced perils, as the House knows, in the First World War.
The Minister of Agriculture must in the nature of things apply himself principally to agriculture. It can only be from time to time that he can apply his mind to the fishing industry, and the fishermen themselves and all engaged in the fishing industry desire that a Parliamentary Secretary shall be appointed to look after the industry. Were such a Parliamentary Secretary appointed, they would know and he would know that he would sink or swim according to whether or not he did his job by the fishing industry, and that question would be judged quite apart from what Ministers did about agriculture, with which he himself would not be concerned.
769 I trust that these arguments will impress most hon. Members, and also my right hon. Friend. I draw attention to two comments made in "Fish Industry." The first of them was in the edition for December of last year. It said that the proposal I am now making…has often been advanced during the past 30 years from the back benches but it has always been opposed by the Government of the day.It also said:Certainly it would be reassuring to know that the Government consider the problems of the fishing industry of sufficient importance to warrant such an appointment.Then in February of this year that magazine said:The appointment of a Minister of our own would not take away our troubles overnight, but would give new heart to all to try to overcome them.In the old days, as my right hon. Friend will know, the huers of Cornwall used to stand at the top of the hills to sight the pilchards, and when they sighted them they used to cry 10 the people to come and get them. I, as a Member for Cornwall, cry to my right hon. Friend that we who feel deeply about the fishing industry desire a Parliamentary Secretary specially responsible for the fishing industry, to help him to help us:Now tha' know what the sea's like: God made it first, lad, and Nobody can tame it.
§ Mr. Bing
Has the hon. Gentleman arranged for the Queen's Consent to be signified? Normally when the House passes a Bill that signification is a matter of course, but it seems to be departed from in this case, and unless we know that the Queen's Consent is to be signified, it is useless to go on discussing the Bill.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am very glad to support my hon. Friend who has so ably moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not know what fate awaits the Bill, but there is a very great principle implicit in it, and my hon. Friend has earned the gratitude of the fishing industry by introducing 770 the Bill and bringing this matter before the House.
§ Mr. Duthie
I hope that the misgivings of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) will be dissipated by the quality of the speeches that will be made for the Bill by its hardy supporters here.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the principle of the Bill and that there should be a Parliamentary Secretary specially charged with looking after the industry. We in Scotland are perhaps better served in this respect than our brethren in England. I think that any weakness there may be in the handling of fishery matters by the Government stems from the fact that there is not in the Ministry a Parliamentary Secretary specifically charged with responsibility for the fishing industry.
I speak as one who was born into and brought up in the fishing industry, and who has the honour to represent a constituency in which at least 50 per cent. of the people are fishing folk. I can tell the House that all my life there has been a feeling in the industry that there has not been given to it that measure of governmental care and constant attention that the industry merits. It has felt that, because it is sparsely distributed around the coasts, it has not commanded in this House that political importance that agriculture has.
Apart from its main value as a food producer, the fishing industry is the supreme training ground for the seamen of the Royal Navy and our Merchant Marines. We who represent fishing constituencies maintain that there is an overwhelming case for the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary who will look after the industry and who will be known to the industry—and this is the most important point of all—as its confidant and advocate, the one who will be its leader. That would be his accepted function in the industry.
The fishing industry is a very important and extremely complicated one. It is not limited to fishing; it is carried on not only at sea and in harbour. In addition to the catching of fish, it includes the curing and smoking and processing 771 of fish, and marketing at home and abroad. Incidentally, the troubles that we have with exports now alone warrant as much attention as possible to a special Parliamentary Secretary.
The building, design and equipment of the vessels is of the utmost importance, and this is especially true of those in the inshore fishing fleets. Two months ago the vessel the "Quiet Waters" disappeared during a storm. One of the questions asked is whether she was over-engined? Another is whether her superstructure was defective? What was the reason for her loss? There is virtually no evidence left to tell the tale. [Interruption.] This is not a joking matter, I would remind the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). That it is no joke for the relatives of the grand men who perished. This vessel went down with all hands and we have nothing on which to conduct an inquiry.
We want the most meticulous care exercised in the shipyards when these vessels are built. It is up to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to ensure that vessels of the right type are obtained by grants and loans through the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. There is also the question of fishing gear, which is ever changing and the cost of which is prohibitive. There is the question of fishing grounds and what has been happening in Iceland and Norway and what is threatening in the Faroes, Bear Island and the White Sea. The cost of vessels today prohibits us fishing in the Davis Strait or off the North Greenland coast.
Research comes into this and research is the responsibility of the White Fish Authority. There is no sign at all that anything is being done. It is true that the Torry Research Station is doing a magnificent job, but it is not doing research work at sea, where we want it done.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
The hon. Member must allow that there is a great deal of research work going on much further afield than at Torry.
§ Mr. Duthie
I agree, but nothing in keeping with the magnitude of the problem. This is where drive is required from Westminster.
772 There is the question of over-fishing. We have ratified an international agreement with the object of preventing over-fishing, but what guarantees have we that other Powers are playing their part? We have adopted a new size mesh which goes some way towards solving the problem, but what guarantee have we that foreigners who are fishing in our waters are doing the same? There is the question of shoal location, the training of young fishermen, the provision of engines, international and national regulations and our own territorial waters policy. All these are problems in the fishing industry today, and it is essential for their proper co-ordination and handling that they should be routed through one Parliamentary Secretary who is known and accepted by the trade.
The fishing industry believes, and apparently there is no proof to the contrary, that the Minister of Agriculture and his Joint Parliamentary Secretary have already sufficient on their plates with regard to agricultural matters. That opinion arises from the fact that, though we had one recently, we very rarely have any visits from the Minister of Agriculture to the ports and very few speeches to fishing communities and associations. The type of operation that prevails in Scotland is something like what we wish to see adopted in the Ministry.
In Scotland we have a Joint Under-Secretary who is charged with responsibility for fishing matters. He is my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart). We have also the particular advantage that the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Joint Under-Secretary responsible for fishing, represent fishing constituencies. They have done so for many years, and know the problems at first hand. In Scotland we have also a Joint Under-Secretary who deals with farming and who is himself a farmer. It is a very fortunate set of circumstances and works most admirably. The White Fish Authority has only a committee in Scotland, whereas in England it has its headquarters.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
Why is it, then, that Scottish Members are so much more vocal in their complaints about fishing off the Scottish coast?
§ Mr. Duthie
It may be that they take their responsibilities much more to heart.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East keeps in the closest touch with the White Fish Authority and any sign of life or initiative on the part of that Authority has come originally from the Scottish Committee. The Authority has been more or less moribund in England. The Authority was set up with a very lively hope on the part of all of us on both sides of the House who gave many hours to bringing it into being. Its first task was to be the reorganisation of the fishing industry. It has been in existence for three years and still has to begin the reorganisation of the industry. I am not overstressing the case when I say that it has been a bitter disappointment to all of us who were a party to its establishment.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does not the hon. Member feel that a new Parliamentary Secretary might be even more disappointing? The farmers are a little disappointed.
§ Mr. Duthie
I should like to see the responsibilities for the industry co-ordinated under one new Parliamentary Secretary whom, if necessary, we could pillory in the House. I want someone appointed and accepted by the fishing industry as its mediator in the House. That is the primary consideration. Rightly or wrongly, the industry feels that there is no co-ordination at all in the Ministry on these questions, and that all of them seem to be left to different Departments. I am sorry that I am so critical, but I am voicing the feelings of the industry.
A case was recently submitted to the Hague Court. What help was given there? The Icelandic problem remains unsolved and seems to be going by default, and there are also the Faroes and Bear Island cases. An announcement was made recently by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that our territorial waters are to be open to the foreigner, when our own trawlers are barred. The fishing industry was stupified by that announcement.
There is the question of the new mesh regulations to which we have subscribed and which we have put into operation. How are they working? At the present 774 time the new regulations mean that a fish of 13 inches can pass through the net, yet Ministry of Food Regulations are that a haddock of 11 inches and a whiting of 8 inches may be landed. The operation of this mesh means that fish which is accepted by the Ministry of Food as suitable in size cannot be caught and there are certain grounds, particularly in the Clyde, where the small type of whiting is the rule. There should be some kind of inquiry into the operation of the new mesh and there should be some amelioration for some of these fishing grounds. These are facts which must be faced.
There is the question of new fishing grounds and the operation of floating trawls, which have proved successful. The whole Atlantic is a new fishing ground and wherever the Gulf Stream flows there is the breeding ground of plankton, as has been proved by those who have drifted across the Atlantic on rafts and fed only on plankton-fed fish. If we opened up that source, we could snap our fingers at those who want to prohibit fishing in the waters adjacent to their coasts.
For three years we have had a small port scheme in draft from the White Fish Authority but to my mind that scheme is completely impracticable. But is it right that a proposal coming from the White Fish Authority should die before being put into effect? I would impress on the House that the home fishing industry consists of a whole series of warring elements. Those of us who were parties to bringing the Authority into being felt that here was a body which would be able to draw those warring elements together and unify them. But nothing has been achieved along those lines.
I submit that there would be plenty for a Parliamentary Secretary charged with responsibilities for the fishing industry to do. There would be plenty to occupy his time. I am absolutely certain that it would give a tremendous fillip to the trade and would be most encouraging to it. It would be productive of a considerable amount of new hope in the industry if this appointment were made.
While I very strongly support the principle implicit in this Bill, I hope that it is only one step towards what must 775 eventually come—the complete divorcement of fisheries from agriculture and in due time the setting up, I hope sooner rather than later, of a Ministry of Fisheries.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I am sure that the House is very much indebted to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) for presenting this Bill for our consideration and also to the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), whose knowledge of this industry is unsurpassed in this House and who has been a tremendous help to previous Governments in the remarkable series of fishing Bills put before us since 1945 and which have since become enactments.
This Bill strikes me as a small Measure which is rather innocuous. I am not impressed by the suggestion that the creation of a new Parliamentary Secretary would mean the salvation of the fishing industry. The causes of the decline—if there is a decline—lie much deeper than central administration. I think that the hon. Member for Banff put his finger on the matter when he spoke of warring elements—I would say dissident elements—which are so difficult to bring together. With the setting up of the White Fish Authority we hoped those difficulties would he resolved to a greater or lesser degree.
The association of the fishing industry with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is traditional. I was very amused by the Prime Minister when he shamelessly adopted what is probably the oldest gag in Parliamentary debates and talked of the close association between fish and chips. It was by no means original although, as is usual with him, it was very apt.
I think that the greatest value of the Bill is that once again it brings before us the acute difficulties of the industry. This is one of the three great major producing industries of the country by which we all live. Without mining, agriculture and fishing we could not carry on. It is a great source of pride to me that the Government which I supported—and will again support, I hope—raised the status of each of those industries. Those industries, the most important, were the most ill-regarded, the worst rewarded and took the greatest risk of 776 any industries in the country. Yet they are basic industries. The position of the miner in the social and economic scale has never been higher than today.
§ Mr. Evans
Oh, yes, indeed. The latest figures show that there was never more coal produced per man per hour than today. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and other hon. Members who make armchair criticisms of the miners might do a little less of that if they went and saw the miners and stained their hands a little in getting coal. The same is true in regard to the agricultural worker, whose standard has been raised and who is accorded a place of respect with his fellow workers instead of having the derogatory term of "farm labourer" still applied to him.
It is so also with fishing, and we who represent fishing ports know that the standard of living of fishermen has bean immeasurably raised during the last decade. That does not mean that the industry is anything but unsatisfactory. One of the most disquieting features is the tendency to monopoly. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and I spent a very pleasant time in Iceland and came back appalled at the mishandling of the situation. The position now is that no Icelandic fish are landed in this country. By that action alone the whole question of conservation is put into the melting pot again. What on earth is the good of us in this House debating conservation of fishing grounds and the preservation of the lifeblood of the industry when we so disregard the same principle applied in another land, because it puts our fishermen to certain disadvantages? We see the same tendency in regard to German imports. There is practically a ban on German imports today, and I understand that the fisheries of Denmark are also threatened.
Hon. Members opposite have been talking a great deal during the last few days about monopoly in television. It is about time we applied our minds to monopoly in fishing. I suggest that it is a wholly unhealthy system in the fishing industry that, in order to maintain the British fleets and the standard of life 777 of the fishermen, we have to cut out all forms of foreign competition.
It is to this kind of problem that the Government must address themselves. I am very doubtful whether the creation of another junior Minister would help in the solution of the problem. After all, all these suggestions and discussions eventually will have to pass through the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, or, if I may say so with respect, the hands of his successor.
In spite of what the hon. Member for Banff said, the major problem before the industry today is not so much that of getting fishing grounds, but of getting the fish to the people at a reasonable price. A lot of nonsense has been talked about the high price of fish. I want it to go out that there has been a steady decline in the selling price of fish first-hand, during the last three years, but there has been a tremendous increase in the cost of producing fish. We shall have to take drastic measures to see in what way we can bring down the cost of production. I am quite sure that it is not by restricting production and by creating a vast monopoly. My hon. Friends on this side of the House and hon. Gentlemen opposite who know the fishing industry are unanimous in that belief.
Reference has been made to the setting up to the White Fish Authority. I am one of those who took a prominent part in bringing that body into being; I have a kind of parental responsibility, and I suffer from the frustrations of fatherhood when I see that our offspring is not behaving as we hoped it would. It is no doubt true that the White Fish Authority has up to now disappointed us. Let us remember that it has had a most difficult task.
I regard the fishing industry as one of the most impenetrable of all industries in this country today. I have been on the periphery of it for 25 years now, and I always say that I probably know less about it now than I did at the beginning, when I was sure I knew everything about it. I thought that one only slung a hook over the side, caught a fish and put it on a fishmonger's slab and that was the end of the matter. I dare say the hon. Baronet the Member for Croydon, East thinks the same now, which is another indication of what we all suspect, that he is fast approaching dotage. I can 778 assure him that things are very different indeed.
The hon. Member for Banff has indicated some of the problems facing the White Fish Authority. They are fundamental problems of not only catching the fish but of getting them where they ought to be—inside the consumer.
§ Mr. Evans
Perhaps I should congratulate the hon. Member on showing appreciation so rapidly. He ought to try a little fish as brain food. It is supposed to be very good for that, and is rich in phosphorus content—but I will not pursue that.
To be serious for a moment, I would say that the disabilities of the industry must be tackled by the White Fish Authority. There is no reason why it should not do so. If it has not enough power, let us give it the power. That is what the Authority is there for, to coordinate the industry, to stimulate it, to give it funds. I am glad that the Authority is undertaking a very active advertising campaign. We are quite getting to like the humanised fish which we see in the newspapers today. The Authority should be congratulated on its imagination.
There are these problems. Frankly, I cannot see, although I shall support the Bill and the hon. Member in pressing for this step, that this is the answer to our pleas. It does not solve very much. I cannot imagine, particularly after the quality of Ministers we have seen up to now on the opposite side of the House, if I may be polemical for a moment, with one or two exceptions whom I am sure will not be considered for the position because they know too much about the matter, that the force necessary to ginger up the White Fish Authority can come from them.
The hon. Member for Bodmin talked about the subsidies of the fishing industry, and they are very substantial subsidies. 779 They do not compare with the£37 million for beef or£24 million for eggs, which are the big competitive elements with which the fishing industry has to contend. The near- and middle-water sections of the industry have, however, drawn very substantial subsidy benefits initiated by the Labour Government several years ago. Whether that is the best form of assistance it is not for me to say, but it has certainly kept the fishing fleets in the near waters at sea when otherwise they would have had to go back to port and be laid up, as are some of the fleets in Grimsby and Hull.
I have already referred to the deplorable mishandling of the Icelandic situation. I hope that, as the whole question of conservation is associated with that, we shall now hear from the Government whether they accept the Bill or the need for a re-examination of the monopoly implications of the present attitude of the fishing industry and also the need for an all-out effort to process our fish and make it much more acceptable to the consumer.
There is a great future for frozen fish, canned fish and prepared fish in all forms, but there is nothing more likely to destroy the taste of the housewife and her family for fish than to give them, everlastingly, stale, overgrown cod. That is why I believe it to be so essential to build up a quality trade in near-water and middle-water fishing in order to bring back to the housewife and the British family the feeling that fish is a jolly good meal.
I have in my hand—and I will not bore the House by reading from it—one of those glossy magazines which devotes itself to the interests of the fishing industry. I commend every Member of the House to read what a very eminent doctor has to tell us about the value of fish. Those of us who are inclined to put on too much weight ought to take heed—I have no one particularly in mind, except perhaps myself—that one of the best safeguards against this disability is a plentiful diet of fish.
I commend the Bill to the House. Frankly, I do not think it has an earthly chance, in spite of the pleasant way in which the Minister of Agriculture and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary seem to be enjoying the debate. I hope that 780 they will at any rate tell us that they will examine its possibility. I am sure that it is a good thing for the House and the country that this debate has been initiated, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Bodmin initiated it.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia Ford (Down, North)
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), and to say how glad I am that he has moved the Second Reading of this Bill. His proposal is a constructive one which will have the support of the fishermen of these islands. I should especially like to say a word on behalf of the fishermen of County Down.
The fishing industry in Ulster is of vital importance to many of my constituents. It is the livelihood of many men in areas in which no alternative employment can be found. It is a basic, indeed sometimes the only, industry in some of the coastal villages in County Down. That is why I feel that a Parliamentary Secretary, with special responsibility for the fisheries, is so important, especially as all those who have been engaged in the fishing industry have been very disappointed with the performance of the White Fish Authority. The Minister of Agriculture is concerned with so many matters that the industry feels that it would be of enormous advantage to have someone who would concern himself especially with fisheries.
This country cannot afford a sick fishing industry. For some years the position of the Ulster fishing fleet has been a cause of great concern, for many boats have been operated at a loss, and maintenance costs have risen in some cases more than 300 per cent. above pre-war levels. There is no section of the British fishing fleet today which is in greater danger of extinction. The number of boats in commission in County Down has fallen by one-third in the last three years. As a result of the rise in the cost of coal and transport charges, and the withdrawal of freight equalisation, an ever-increasing burden is borne by this fleet which operates so far from the principal cross-Channel ports.
During the war the national need for food created a boom in the industry and the Ministry of Food purchased fish at a flat rate, eliminating the transport factor which has now become so difficult. 781 In the last few years, as other foods have become more plentiful, the market for fish has slumped, until now Ulster can absorb less than half of the fish landed in the Province. Every year there is a surplus of both herring and white fish which cannot be sold. The herring catch has been rising in recent years, but the market for fresh fish has fallen steadily.
In 1951 one-sixth of the herring landed in Northern Ireland was sold at a low price for meal and oil. In 1953 this proportion rose to more than half of the whole catch. Northern Ireland is badly situated geographically for the export of fresh fish. It takes at least a day longer for fish caught there to reach the markets in Glasgow or Billingsgate than for fish caught in England or Southern Scotland.
It costs more than£1 a box to send whiting to Billingsgate, and when the price at Billingsgate falls to, say, 30s. a box, the price which merchants pay on the quayside in Northern Ireland must fall accordingly. Only by limiting catches and by closing the ports when prices fall too low have Ulster's fishermen been able to carry on during the past winter. Fish sent from Ireland have to be handled much more often, sometimes as many as five times in the course of the journey. Whiting—which constitutes 60 per cent. of the catch—cannot stand this treatment, and as a housewife I realise the importance of quality fish being sold in the shops.
To try to offset freight and other disadvantages the larger fishing boats from Northern Ireland ports began in the winter of 1950 to deliver their supplies direct to Holyhead, Portpatrick and Whitehaven. There is almost as much fish landed on this side of the Channel now as in Northern Ireland. But this wastes time and does not help the smaller vessels, as only the larger boats can do the journey. Holyhead alone is six or seven hours from the fishing grounds.
Larger boats and trawlers have always had an advantage over the smaller inshore boats, because they can be operated more economically and are fitted with modern cold-storage equipment. The recent decision of the British Herring Board and White Fish Authority to build a fish-meal factory at Peel in the Isle of Man has disappointed Ulster fisher- 782 men. After all, we had fish curing factories at Portavogie, Ardglass, Annalong, Kilkeel and Banbridge. These are now falling into disuse, and have sometimes even been converted into pigsties and henhouses. To Ulster fishermen it seems nonsense that they must face the high cost of transport of our surplus fresh fish at the moment when between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of fish meal is being imported into the Province each year, and this at a cost of about£60 a ton, or more than£1 million a year.
During the war the fishermen and farmers of Ulster made a higher proportionate contribution to home-produced food supplies than any other part of the British Isles. Although our population is only one-fortieth of the United Kingdom, we managed to produce one-fourteenth of the entire output of these islands. Hon. Members often stress the importance of agriculture, mining, and other great industries in our national life. But the fishing industry, too, is of great importance, especially to an island economy. It is important for the food which the fisherman risks his life to bring to us, and it is important because they man the lifeboats round our coasts in time of peace and our minesweepers in time of war.
Fishermen are like farmers—they are more valued in war than in peace. In an emergency we rely on these men who earn their livelihood fishing from our little ports and harbours; we rely on them as a reserve of seamen for our Navy and Merchant Navy, and we rely on them to supply the nation with food to keep us alive during enemy blockade. They have never failed us; do not let us fail them. For too long has the fishing industry been the Cinderella of agriculture. This debate will be welcomed by the industry in Northern Ireland, and, indeed, in the whole of Great Britain.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Everyone who has taken part in this debate so far has supported this Bill, and I welcome it for a variety of good reasons, which I shall put to the House. It is a step in the right direction to help in a practical way Britain's sixth greatest industry and the third greatest producing industry—mining and agriculture being the other two. It will concentrate 783 responsibility for Governmental administration of the fishing industry in one pair of hands and will tend to remove from the fishing industry the millstone of agriculture which should be the responsibility of another Minister.
It will give to the Prime Minister the opportunity of appointing an expert and experienced specialist in fish to apply modern constructive methods to this great industry. Too long has this industry been afflicted by the bad tradition that, as Minister, a queer, diffused "jack-o-two-trades" has been handling it, spreading his interest over both agriculture and fisheries and being treated by the Prime Minister and by the Government of which he is a Member as a kind of experimental junior—a fledgling from the nest, trying out his little wings before he is either promoted or dismissed for incompetence or inattention.
This kind of coalition Minister, this combination Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has too much to do. An instance of this was provided by the Crichel Down case. I shall not discuss that this morning, because I should be out of order in doing so. But it shows that the Minister has too much to do, and that he was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. Either he knew what was happening and did not deal with it, or he did not know what was happening when he should have known. In either case, it shows that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has too much to do. This queer, inept diffusion of duties: this combination of ideas between agriculture and fishing; this clash of responsibilities; this mixture of what the Prime Minister the other day called "fish and chips"—not to mention the newspaper in which the fish and chips are wrapped—has long been the fate of this Ministry.
If we look back to the Second Reading debate of a similar Bill to this, called the Ministers of the Crown Bill, which had its Second Reading on 12th April, 1937, we find that a distinguished Tory of that day put much the same kind of points as I am putting today. He expressed the view which is implied today by the need for this Bill. On that occasion Viscount Wolmer, out of his Front Bench experience, said:Whenever you have had a Minister of Agriculture or a Postmaster General who did 784 particularly well, he was generally promoted to another more lucrative and so-called more important Department. If he did badly, he was not promoted, and the result was that such Ministries got stuck with Ministers who were not promoted.Later in his speech he said:Very few Ministers can pull their weight in their Departments until they have been there for a couple of years. The average tenure of a Postmaster-General,…Indeed, he might have added, "A Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries"—was, until quite recently, under two years, and I am sure that that has been a real drawback and an evil to the Department"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1937: Vol. 322, c. 675.]
§ Mr. Pagetrose—
§ Mr. Hughes
It is only fair to say that there is one outstanding example in the post-war years of a really great Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, who was able, in his versatility, to take in the broad sweep of his mind the problems of both those industries. I need not say that I refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams).
§ Mr. Paget
I am sorry to have anticipated so fine a peroration. I wanted to ask my hon. and learned Friend a question. When he said that Ministers of Agriculture had been promoted, I was wondering to which Minister he was referring. I cannot recollect a Conservative Minister of Agriculture who did not get sacked.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. and learned Friend has not interrupted my peroration. I have not come near it yet. When he asks me about that ancient history, I would point out that I was quoting Viscount Wolmer whose words related to a period when I was not in the House. Therefore, I cannot answer his question. Apart from the great Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, the fishing industry has not been maintained and developed with sufficient attention to the needs of the industry and the consuming public.
Indeed, even the present Prime Minister refuses to treat this great and important industry with the consideration which it deserves. Only recently, on 17th June, I asked him:…if he will reconsider his refusal to separate the Ministry of Agriculture from the Ministry of Fisheries, in view of the national 785 importance of the fishing industry; art if he will now take steps to set up a separate Ministry to solve its problems and attend to its development.His answer was:It would not, I feel, be a good arrangement to have a separate Department for every industry of national importance. These two industries have been long associated departmentally and, after all, there are many ancient links between fish and chips.A brilliant joke, but out of place in relation to a very serious industrial matter. Naturally I, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, put a supplementary question to the Prime Minister to point that out. I said:Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the association of powers and responsibilities to which he has referred is inflicting loss and damage on the home and foreign industry and also depriving British consumers of fish food and encouraging foreign trade rivalry? Will he take expert advice on this, which is really a national problem? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1954; Vol. 528, c. 2289–90.]That. I submit, is the proper level upon which this serious and important matter should be considered. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Banff (Mr Duthie) say roundly, in reproof of the Prime Minister no doubt, that this is not a joking matter, and I hope that the hon. Member for Banff will say that directly to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Duthie
I did not say it in reproof of the Prime Minister but of the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), who appeared to laugh at the mention of a fishing vessel, the "Quiet Waters," lost with all hands.
§ Mr. Hughes
However that may be, I recommend the Prime Minister to wear the cap. The characteristics of the answer of the Prime Minister are typical of the manner in which this great industry is now being treated by being harnessed improperly to agriculture. My rejoinder to the Prime Minister is that I did not ask for…a separate Department for every industry of national importance.I asked for freedom for the fishing industry. As to his witty quip about the…many ancient links between fish and chipsI should like to ask him some relevant questions. Would he say, because oil is 786 an ingredient in fish and chips, that the Ministry of Fuel and Power should be imported into the matter? Would he say that, because fish have to be transported, the Ministry of Transport must be taken into account? Would he say that, because fish has to be marketed, the Minister of Supply and the Board of Trade should be consulted'? Would he say that, because fish and chips are wrapped in newspapers, there is a close connection with journalism?
More seriously, does he realise the great contribution which the fishing industry makes to our national defence, not only to our food supplies in peace and war but also in the supply of skilled and courageous mariners to man our ships in time of war? Does he realise the terrible loss which the decadence of the fishing industry would inflict upon our nation?
The very fact that the Prime Minister refuses to treat the industry seriously, regards it as a joke and passes it off with a boyish non sequitur shows the need for a strong Minister of Fisheries to deal not only with the relevant problems but also with those problems to which the hon. Member for Banff referred as arising from the warring conditions in the industry. I should like to tell the Prime Minister this:His witty talk of fish and chipsHis policy of childish quipsWill not give people what they wishA regular supply of fish.They'll say the P.M.'s childish gleeJust shows that he is all at seaThey'll say that he's grown rather oddTo laugh so childishly at cod.That is why I welcome the Bill. It is a step in the direction of helping this great industry. Its purpose is to concentrate responsibility for the industry and its method is to establish a new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and to make that Parliamentary Secretary specially responsible for fish.
In my opinion, the Bill does not go far enough. I should like to see not only a Parliamentary Secretary but a separate Minister of Fisheries set up so that he, with his expert staff, could give complete and full attention to this great industry which requires it. Furthermore, I doubt if a Parliamentary Secretary would be sufficiently strong to deal with 787 what the hon. Member for Banff called the warring sections of the industry, and that is essential. It is necessary because the matters connected with fisheries are many, diverse, specialised and complicated. A mere glance at some of them will prove that they require the full time attention of a Minister.
They include such things as the actual catching of fish in inshore, middle and distant waters; dealing with the fishing vessels—boats, trawlers and drifters of all kinds—and their maintenance and repair; the provision and maintenance of fishing gear at reasonable prices: the landing, storage and cold storage of fish: and the transport and marketing of fish. As the hon. Member for Banff pointed out, there are also difficult questions relating to over-fishing in certain waters, foreign competition, foreign landings, and the protection of our fishing grounds and our fishermen. There ought to be a great educational and publicity campaign to make the people of this country more fish-minded so that we could help the fishing industry in that way.
The Governments of most civilised maritime countries have Fisheries Ministers of high rank who, by their prestige and power, are able to do what I should like to see done here. All who have studied the industry and have looked back at the many reports and recommendations about it, at its past development and at its present comparative indigence, will be impressed by two things: one, the need for such a high ranking Minister of Fisheries free from the trammels of agriculture; and, two, the need for a bold forward policy.
I welcome the Bill because it is a step in the right direction, but it is a step which, alas, has little prospect of success. Even if the Bill receives a favourable vote today, it has little prospect of success. In former times, when the traditions of the House of Commons were observed, a favourable vote was generally implemented by the Government of the day, but, alas, we live in decadent times when some secret and sinister caucus can take steps to negative the vote of the House. Whatever vote may be taken today will be considered upstairs by some secret and sinister caucus, and the fishing industry will suffer.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) for his imagination and, indeed, his courage in introducing this Bill. It does not apply to Scotland, and therefore I take part in the debate as a Scottish Member with some temerity. However, two Scottish Members have already spoken, including the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes).
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North said that he thought the Minister of Agriculture was caught between Scylla and Charybdis. He did not mention who Charybdis was, unless it was himself, which showed a becoming modesty, for Charybdis was the monster who, with fine phrases, lured unwary mariners to their doom.
I take courage in speaking in the debate because I think it is of value sometimes to my English colleagues to feel that they can learn from Scottish experience. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has already said, we are fortunate in Scotland in that, while general responsibility for the fishing industry comes under the Secretary of State for Scotland, we have a Joint Under-Secretary responsible for agriculture and a Joint Under-Secretary responsible for fisheries, although that Joint Under-Secretary is equally responsible for education. I have always found that to be a rather strange combination, unless it be that it is considered that the higher branches of learning should be devoted to the complex problems of this great industry of ours.
Agriculture in itself is a vast industry, and that is why I feel that no Parliamentary Secretary should be asked to choose between what are, without doubt, two priorities. That is one of the main reasons why I support the Bill. Fishing is not just a domestic industry. It is an international one with international agreements on fishing rights and such measures as the Over-Fishing Convention, and the whole vast question of exports.
The Bill rightly states in Clause 1 that the duties of the proposed Parliamentary Secretary shall include all matters connected with fisheries. That 789 includes very wide and responsible duties. This ground has already been largely covered, and so I will not go into those duties in detail, except to say that, if we consider their main headings, we shall realise how impossible it is for a Parliamentary Secretary to give due attention to them if he has the vast problems of agriculture to handle as well.
There are not only the several branches of the industry in itself, in the near waters, middle waters, and deep waters. There are the ancillary industries connected with it. There are major problems such as supplies, quality and cost of raw materials, particularly fuel. There is the vexed question of transport, which is a major problem in Scotland, and it must equally be so in areas in England which are far distant from their markets, such as the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin.
I should like to take this opportunity of asking the Minister what progress is being made by the British Transport Commission with the proposed charges scheme which has to come before this House and which will intimately affect the fishing industry as a whole. I speak particularly for Aberdeen, which is the first fishing port in Scotland.
One of the major problems is to ensure that, through recruitment, the industry is always ready to respond to the needs of defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin particularly mentioned naval reservists. The matter of recruitment is a very serious one not only for the fishing industry but also for the Mercantile Marine, and it is something to which the House as a whole will have to give a good deal of attention. It is true that there will always be men who have the sea in their blood. Science and engineering can do much to ease the conditions of a hard but exciting life, but they can do so only up to a point. The conditions in the industry and the demands made upon the men who serve in it and in the Mercantile Marine are such that they do not compare favourably, particularly from the point of view of family life, with conditions in engineering and other industries at home.
The House must seriously consider ways and means of helping the fishing industry even more than we already do, not only to rebuild and organise, but 790 somehow to ensure that fishing is not only an existence but also a life. One hears complaints that it is difficult to get men in the industry. It is even more important to get the right type of men, and we shall never attract the best unless we give in return a reasonably fair deal.
I agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) that the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary would in no way solve the basic problems of the industry. Nevertheless, I think it would provide an opportunity for the Government as a whole to give more time to the consideration of the major problems of the industry, and it would also give them time to look ahead and to think more calmly about some of the very deep long-term questions that we have to answer.
It is important that the White Fish Authority should have one particular Minister to whom it can turn and who is constantly up to date with all the problems of the industry. I should like the Minister to say what progress the White Fish Authority is making in the consultations which it is supposed to be having with the various representatives of the Aberdeen fishing industry on the reorganisation in that port. My right hon. Friend will recall the McColl Report made particular reference to the problems of Aberdeen. While a great deal of it is not acceptable to the industry, much of it is, and, in order to obtain the maximum agreement. it was stated that the White Fish Authority were continuing their discussions with the interests concerned on the matter.
Personally, I think that, by providing another Parliamentary Secretary specifically charged with responsibility for fisheries, we shall show the industry as a whole that we consider its status to be very important. I do not ask for a separate Minister, nor do I think I will ask for it in future, for the obvious reasons of duplication and expense. I certainly think that, while many of the problems of the fishing industry could be solved, they are largely dependent for their solution on other activities of the Government. It is obviously important that a strong Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries shall be able to put his case to the Cabinet. I believe that his position will be fortified by the knowledge that the status of the fishing industry is considered to be such that it is necessary 791 to appoint a full-time Parliamentary Secretary to guard its interests.
Of course, we are all aware that the Government, in this matter, can only do so much. They can prevent certain abuses, and try to create the conditions in which the industry itself can re-build its own future. In Aberdeen, the number of boats has declined from 324 to 190, and I do not think that the future of this industry will ever be remade, and that we shall not succeed in helping it in this House, unless certain general conditions exist which create confidence that there is a future and a living for those at sea. Not only that they enjoy practical conditions of work, but that there is also a steady demand from housewives and from consumers as a whole for the products of the fishing industry.
Therefore, I consider that this Bill is a valuable one. I feel it will in some measure help what is without doubt one of our biggest industrial problems at this time. It is because I think it will promote a better understanding and a closer attention being given to an industry which is vital to the nation that I have very great pleasure in supporting this Bill.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
We have heard from the proposer and seconder of the Motion, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), the most tremendous indictment of the Government. It cannot be described in any other terms. It was a root-and-branch attack on the Government's policy with regard to the fishing industry—an attack which I think is well-founded. The only point at which I begin to part company from them is where they suggest a remedy.
Are these tremendous evils of policy likely to be corrected by a new Parliamentary Secretary? Under-Secretaries are not policy-makers; they are the administrators of policy, and when the policy is wrong they cannot put the matter right. Indeed, there is a certain irony in the situation. Agriculture has not only a Parliamentary Secretary; it has a whole Secretary all to itself, and while the fishermen come here to ask us for a Minister the farmers are very busily engaged in trying to get rid of one. Indeed, I can hardly remember a time 792 when the farmers were not very bitterly engaged in trying to get rid of the Minister of Agriculture.
The only exception was the period of office of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), and I hope I shall not be denigrating my right hon. Friend when I say that his success as Minister of Agriculture was at least partly attributable to the fact that he had an agricultural policy, whereas the failure of the right hon. Gentleman at present in this office—and, indeed, of all his predecessors as long as I can remember in that office, which has been the graveyard of political hopes in the Tory Party—is due to the fact that the unfortunate holders of the office have never been allowed to have an agricultural policy.
Personally, I think the farmers are wrong in concentrating their attack upon the right hon. Gentleman. I do not entirely remember how it goes, but I recall a music-hall song which went something like this:Look after the first,The second will be worse.I believe that applies to the right hon. Gentleman, and that, if he is thrown to the wolves, according to Tory precedent as far as holders of his office are concerned, agriculture will get a worse Minister.
§ Mr. Speaker
My patience was just running cut. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has so far said nothing at all about the Bill, as far as I can remember.
§ Mr. Speaker
No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman can find many and diverse illustrations of the general principle which he is now suggesting, but that would not make them all in order, even on the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Bing
Further to that point of order. There are hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House who feel that the Minister has done nothing for agriculture, and that the reason for that is that he has been prevented by his responsibilities for fisheries. Is it not in order to suggest that we should appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to relieve him of these activities so that he may devote his attention to agriculture?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is an ingenious argument, but not that of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton.
§ Mr. Paget
I will not proceed further with my illustration. I will only say that I am entirely unsatisfied that the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary will do any good for the fishing industry, unless there is the somewhat necessary preliminary of providing the unfortunate gentleman who may be appointed as a result of this Bill with some policy to administer.
I will not compete with the mover and seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill, or with my hon. Friend, in their knowledge of the industry and in their indictment of the policy—or lack of policy—of the Government. They have made their case against the Government overwhelmingly, but they will not correct absence of policy merely by providing a Parliamentary Secretary. We shall not get a policy for the fishing industry until we have a policy for the distribution and marketing of fish. At present, monopolist tendencies, maladministration, poor salesmanship compared with that in many foreign markets, and lack of utilisation, are the main causes of trouble.
Until the Government are prepared to go into the industry and plan it, as we sought to do—and with a considerable measure of success which has now been allowed to fall away—and until a real policy is developed, this great industry will continue to decay.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I wish to speak of fishing. I do not want to cover such a wide field as has been covered by other hon. Members but to focus my remarks on the problems of the Humber ports. In justification of this 794 I wish to quote two figures. It has been said that the total number of landings of white fish at the Humber ports amounted to 35.2 per cent. of the total landings of Britain. For the benefit of hon. Members who come from North of the Border, I would point out that that figure is 60 per cent. more than the total landings of Scotland.
I have the honour to represent the fishing port of Hull, which concentrates on distant-water fishing. I would therefore confine my remarks to that aspect of the industry. I did not have the good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) of being horn and bred in the industry, but in the very short time during which I have had the privilege of being a Member of this House, I have tried to do my best to meet all sections of the industry and to study their problems.
I am sure that hon. Members will agree when I say that I have found this industry to be intensely individualistic, enterprising and complicated. I have also found that it is extremely difficult to get all sections of the industry to agree on any particular point. I believe, however, that they agree that fishing is a cinderella industry of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. That is no reflection of the present Minister, who has a vast Department to run and control. Agriculture is more important to the country than fishing, and therefore it is very difficult for him to be completely au fait with all the problems of the fishing industry or to give its problems the amount of time they merit.
This cinderella needs a fairy godmother, who may appear not in the legendary fashion with a flash of light or clap of thunder but by means of the Bill. The industry needs confidence. It is going through a very uneasy period, and I wish to mention one or two ways in which it could be helped by the Government or by the country in general.
The first problem facing this industry is that less fish is being eaten in this country. Perhaps that is inevitable after a war during which other foodstuffs have been restricted, but it is also fair to say that the fishing industry faces a form of unfair competition with competitive protein foods, with meat subsidised to the tune of£39 million per annum and eggs to£24 million. That is an enormous 795 amount of subsidy when we realise that the turnover of the fishing industry is only£41 million per year. One must also remember that distant-water fishing vessels are not assisted by the Government subsidy, which goes only to middle-water and inshore vessels.
The second problem of the industry relates to fish prices. The industry is doing its share to keep prices down for the housewife, but the pre-war costs of the industry have gone up by some 300 per cent. while the quayside prices have gone up only by 80 per cent. Between 1949 and 1953 the costs to the trawler owners have gone up by 58 per cent., whereas the prices of fish have gone up by only 13.5 per cent. The industry is playing its part by trying to keep down the price of fish in spite of the fact that it now costs about£265 per day to keep one trawler at sea. It might be difficult even for a fairy godmother in the shape of a Parliamentary Secretary to do very much about these matters, but the creation of this post would give an assurance to the fishing industry that the problems which affect it so much are being studied at the highest governmental level.
The problem of foreign landings is very difficult, wrapped up as it is with O.E.E.C. and G.A.T.T. The amount of foreign landings may not be very much when compared with British landings, but our industry is working on a very small margin, and this problem becomes very important when one realises that 25 per cent. of the trawlers at Hull are laid up from April to July.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Does the hon. and gallant Member support the principle of monopoly in the fishing industry, if it is a national monopoly?
§ Major Wall
No. Sir, I do not support monopolies or unfair competition. The solution of the difficulty of foreign landings lies, to a certain extent, in the hands of our own industry in adjusting its own landings. Foreign landings are a difficult and dangerous problem which should be kept under close consideration by the Government of the day. The Icelandic dispute has already been referred to. The industry would have more confidence that its views are being continually pressed if they had a Parliamentary Secretary responsible exclusively for that trade and industry.
796 I have tried to explain how the industry needs help. I believe that every hon. Member will agree that it deserves to be helped. During the war, out of 180 fishing vessels Hull had 175 withdrawn from fishing, the vast majority for war service. In peace, and within the past 12 months at the port of Grimsby five trawlers have been lost, with the loss of 55 lives. The industry thus deserves help from this House and the country, both in peace and in war.
What help is the industry to get? What the fishing industry needs is a boost in morale. It needs to be confident that its complicated problems will be considered at the highest level. It needs an individual on whom it can focus its confidence and loyalty. I do not believe that this Bill is asking for the moon. We are asking, not for a special Minister, but for a Parliamentary Secretary—whether there should be an additional Parliamentary Secretary is not for me to argue. We want one individual on whom and in whom the loyalties and confidence of the fishing industry can be focussed. My right hon. Friend the Minister made history at Whitsun when he went to sea with the fishing fleet. I hope that he will make fishing history again today and appoint a direct leader of the industry in Parliament to serve under his supreme command.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I have listened with great profit to the debate and especially to the hon. Members from the fishing constituencies who have spoken about the present condition of the industry. I am glad that they have used the occasion—although I think a little illogically—to bring the fishing industry, as it ought to be brought, again to the attention of the House. In passing, I think that the House is particularly beholden to the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) for the way in which she has insisted on consideration being given to the special case of Ulster.
From the two speeches which the hon. Lady has made in the House, it seems that Ulster is still part of the "distressful" country. It is either the linen or some other textile industry—and now the fishing industry—that betrays to the House the story of neglect there as well as the neglect which we have been considering in other parts of the country. 797 When this matter comes to be finished—if this be the right way to accomplish it—the conditions in her country must be given as much consideration as those in the United Kingdom.
The Bill is about fisheries, but is even more concerned with the question of a Parliamentary Secretary. About that not very much has been said. It is an Unfortunate moment to be discussing a Parliamentary Secretary here. He is the only sort of person about whom any sort of hard promise has been made on behalf of the Government that justice will be done. The Parliamentary Secretary, sometime or other, will have his opportunities and his proper maintenance, and therefore this proposed Parliamentary Secretary for fisheries will perhaps have a better chance to give his attention to the work before him.
The suggestion of a Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the enormous problems which have to be faced—especially in a field where, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, no policy has been worked out—will not take us very far. I hold in my hand a new book to which considerable attention has been paid. In it this question of Parliamentary Secretaries and their usefulness in getting particular results is very carefully considered. It is the book written by the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, entitled "Government and Parliament." There is a valuable chapter on Ministers of the Crown and particularly on Parliamentary Secretaries. It deals precisely with this problem of appointing two Parliamentary Secretaries in one Department to carry on the work. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), the author, says:I had a special problem at Home Security …for there were two Parliamentary Secretaries, Mr. William Mabane and Miss Ellen Wilkinson, both of whom served me well.He goes on:The Home Office side was fairly easy, but with two Parliamentary Secretaries at Home Security…which is precisely what we are proposing here—
§ Mr. D. Marshall
I do not wish to interrupt unnecessarily, but I have no doubt that the hon. Member is aware that ever since he has been in the House 798 there have always been two Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Agriculture and there are two now.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
There are two at present, but one is in this House and the other is in another place.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
And there were not two Parliamentary Secretaries to the Home Office. One was Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Office and the other—Miss Wilkinson—was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Home Security. The Minister then held two quite separate offices.
§ Mr. Hudson
They were there together. The then Minister may be presumed to know as much about it as does the hon. Gentleman who interrupted. It is the right hon. Gentleman's evidence which I am giving, and I think that the House will agree that it is evidence worth considering.
§ Mr. Marshall
Is the hon. Member arguing that it was unwise of the late Minister of Agriculture to retain two Parliamentary Secretaries?
§ Mr. Hudson
I have not yet reached the point of saying anything about the unwisdom of any Minister. I am saying that one Minister had this problem to face. It was put by him in this way:The Home Office side was fairly easy, but with two Parliamentary Secretaries at Home Security it was not so easy because it was my wish as well as my duty to allocate duties between the two Parliamentary Secretaries in such a way as not to cause any feeling of unfairness. As a whole I think I can say that we succeeded.I doubt whether the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson, whose death we all mourn—on this side of the House particularly—
§ Mr. Hudson
And others, I am sure.
She herself was not sure about the effectiveness of her position, and indeed, the right hon. Gentleman in ending this 799 chapter on the duties of Parliamentary Secretaries says that:…she had thought of a dirge for unhappy Parliamentary Secretaries: it was 'Less than the dust' from the Indian Love Lyrics.Less than the dust was the importance of an average Parliamentary Secretary, as Miss Ellen Wilkinson saw it. There are tremendous issues of neglect in the fisheries, the proper development of fishing grounds, the care of gear, the building of an adequate number of fishing vessels, the encouragement of the men by giving them proper conditions, the development of markets and so on; and however hon. Members think that all these issues can be properly dealt with, especially with a Government which does not know where it is on the general policy to be adopted—
§ Mr. Edward Evans
If I may interrupt my hon. Friend, following his reference to the phrase "Less than the dust," is not the new policy going to be "Less than the gold dust"?
§ Mr. Hudson
We had better leave that till when the Parliamentary Secretaries get their salaries. If they are treated in the same way as hon. Members are apparently to be treated, the gold dust may be missing in their case.
I do not think that anybody is better able to state the real position of a Parliamentary Secretary than the right hon. Gentleman who wrote this book from which I am quoting. I want to quote another passage in which he deals with the functions of Parliamentary Secretaries. He says:On most matters, however, the files and memoranda were to come to me through the appropriate Parliamentary Secretary, it being his duty in such cases to read the papers and minute his comments and suggestions. Finally, I delegated quite a number of the less important matters"—I ask hon. Members who have been promising so much in the matter of fisheries to pay particular attention to this—to the Parliamentary Secretaries for decision, subject to the understanding that they would be referred to me either if the Parliamentary Secretary considered that they were of special importance or might lead to trouble or if there was a disagreement between the Parliamentary Secretary and our civil service advisers.800 I think that is a pretty good description of where a Parliamentary Secretary really stands in confronting the problems which he and the House in general have to face. He is not responsible for larger issues of policy. He brings his story to his chief, and if the chief has a policy it is all right, but if the chief has not got a policy we know what will happen. I do not understand how, after letting out to the public the story of their disagreements with their Minister of Agriculture, hon. Members opposite can come to this House and make promises of some remarkable modification in the situation in the British fishing industry.
I have considerable sympathy for the Minister. I do not wish to appear to be patronising, but I like the right hon. Gentleman as much as I like anybody on the Government Front Bench, and this is a moment when I offer him every sympathy. I do not think he is getting a fair deal, especially on the issue about which so much criticism is falling upon him. I do not wish to say anything to add to his troubles, but I do say that the party opposite which has been treating him in this way—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I do not think the hon. Member is in order in dealing with that matter on this Bill.
§ Mr. Hudson
What I am saying is that we have been promised, during your absence from the Chair, most remarkable results in the fishing industry if a Parliamentary Secretary is appointed to deal with the issue of British fishing. I am saying that the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary in that Department just now is a very doubtful proposal if improvements are to be made in the fishing industry. I am trying to show how weak is the case upon which hon. Members opposite have made their speeches. I agree that if a proposal of this sort were to contain some likelihood of a definite improvement in the lot of the British fisherman, I should say wholeheartedly "Get on with it."
I do not know that I am prepared to vote against the Bill; I think it is better that there should be something than nothing at all. But I do not expect anything like the results which have been promised from an expedient of this sort. 801 I know that I have not got the experience on these matters which some other hon. Members have. I remember when the late Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel used to deliver speeches to the House on this very question of fishing. It was the one subject on which he had great experience, and I found his speeches on fishing a good deal more interesting than his speeches upon, say, finance at the time when the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel was his Financial Secretary. He used to get into trouble for his financial speeches, but certainly his speeches on fishing were very attractive. I am sorry that he has departed and that we shall never hear again his views on matters of that sort.
I admit that hon. Members who have spoken today have shown a very deep interest in and great knowledge of what is involved. All the same, it is not merely the science of fishing that is involved. There is also involved the question of the British housewife, the proper marketing of fish and making adequate arrangements for making increasingly available good food for the British housewife. I admit that one hears hopeful things about the amount of fish coming on to the market. I do not often hear the radio in the morning, but I heard by chance this morning a statement on the improved shopping opportunities for the housewife. We were told that the price of fish was coming down and that the amounts available, with one or two striking exceptions—I took a special note of it, in view of today's debate—would be altogether better than they were some time ago. That is a hopeful sign for the future.
I suggest to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), who referred to the development of the crab and lobster trade, that that is much more of a luxury trade than the type of fish referred to on the wireless this morning.
§ Mr. Hudson
It is all right from the the point of view of filling the pockets of a few monopolistic fishermen.
§ Mr. Hudson
Those engaged in it. I want it to be possible for the people who need the fish to have an easier approach to the general markets than they have at the moment. But that is a large issue of policy, and I do not see any likelihood of that problem being solved by burdening the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries with another Parliamentary Secretary unless the policy along which he is to work is clearly defined for him. I hope that that issue, as well as the other interesting matters which have been mentioned, will be taken into account.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) has developed his argument against the usefulness of the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary specially responsible for fisheries, the Minister has shown his own great interest in the subject by his presence here on this Private Members' day, and the Minister of Food was also present for a time.
I am firmly of the opinion that the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary specifically responsible for the fishing industry would be of great value to the Minister in carrying out his responsibilities. Speeches have been made by hon. Members representing most of the major fishing ports. My special interest concerns the inshore industry. My constituency contains a number of those small fishing ports which are such a feature of our western coastline.
It was not so many years ago that these ports gave good employment to several hundreds of fishermen, and employment to still more people who backed up the fishermen in allied industries ashore. Along with other Cornish fishing ports, they have in the past made a substantial contribution to our national food supplies, especially in time of war, when a large number of deep-sea trawlers were taken away to do other work.
From what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall), I worked out that some 95 per cent. of the Hull trawlers were taken away from fishing duties during the war. The smaller ports have 803 a very useful contribution to make in war-time in the supply of food. Not only that; they have through the years proved a very valuable training ground for our seamen—those seamen who, by their grit, self-reliance and initiative, have meant so much to us in the past. They have manned our lifeboats and have constituted a most valuable reserve power for our Navy.
For reasons with which we are all familiar, these fishing ports have sadly declined during the last generation. Today, they are mere shadows of their former selves. One important reason for that lies in the great loss of manpower which occurred during the First World War, and since that time economic conditions have never been such as to attract new blood. The Government have taken useful action to deal with this problem. The formation of the White Fish Authority was a good step forward. Landings of fish and the building of new fishing vessels have been subsidised. But that is not enough.
My own constituency is feeling very severely the high cost of gear required in the industry today, and it was very disappointed that the subsidy could not be extended to cover the shell-fish industry, which also provides valuable employment. I regret that the hon. Member for Ealing, North cannot give a thought to the men who earn such a useful livelihood by catching shell-fish.
Not merely are the steps taken not enough, but the fishermen feel that they are not enough. They are very conscious of the fact. Closer attention should be paid to the industry. I am speaking mainly on behalf of the minor ports, especially those in the West Country, but what I say applies equally to the wider problems which have been raised by so many hon. Members today. The appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary would be a great encouragement to new recruitment in the Cornish villages, and would give new heart to the industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to make an encouraging reply to this debate.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Sir H. Roper). At least he has sufficient sense 804 of his obligations to turn up on the day when his name appears on the back of a Bill which is to be discussed. Hon. Members on this side of the House wish that that could be said of all hon. Members opposite, but many of them, although regarding it as very important that a day should be taken up in the consideration of this Bill, regard their extra-Parliamentary duties as so important that they cannot themselves be present.
Like my hon. Friends, I do not believe that the problems of the fishing industry can be solved by removing the Minister even farther than he is at the moment from any kind of direct control. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North said that hon. Members opposite wanted somebody who was specially responsible for the industry. They have the Minister. Have they no confidence in him, or do they think that he is particularly irresponsible in his attitude towards the fishing industry?
Hon. Members on this side of the House are gratified to see the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) in his place. Every member would agree that he made an extremely able and first-class speech, as he always does on fishing matters. But how are any of these problems to be solved by the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary? Secondly, are we not probably all wasting our time? Perhaps the hon. Member for Banff or the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) will tell us whether, before taking up the time of the House, they ascertained from the Government that they were prepared to signify the Queen's Consent to the Bill. It is important to know that, because a Second Reading of the Bill is absolutely pointless unless consent is given to the financial Clause, which is very properly printed in italics.
§ Mr. Duthie
I hoped that I had succeeded in making it clear that I was presenting the view of the industry on this question, and not my own. The industry feels that the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary specifically charged with responsibility for its affairs would go a long way towards solving its problems.
§ Mr. Bing
We appreciate the point of view put forward by the hon. Member. It is one which he has put forward on 805 more than one occasion. He developed his arguments very ably, but that is not what I am arguing about. The Bill can go no further unless the Government have determined to signify the Queen's Consent to it. Normally it was the practice, until yesterday, that when the House passed a Motion there was an obligation on the Government. Now there is a precedent set in the opposite direction. It would be quite futile for hon. Members to debate a Measure all day if the Queen's Consent was not obtained and signified. It will be futile even if, having debated the Measure all day, the Second Reading is agreed to unanimously by the House. I think it may be. Hon. Members opposite will vote for it because they think it will do some good. We shall do so because indirectly it is a vote of censure on the Minister. Thus we are all brought together, and I am quite certain that we shall have unanimous support for the Bill.
§ Mr. Bing
But what is the point of having a unanimous decision in the House unless we have an assurance from the Minister that the Queen's Consent will be signified to the financial provisions? The Bill proposes that a salary should be paid. That is why the Queen's Consent must be given. I do not know whether the Minister is going to say that because this Motion comes from the back benches behind him, because this is a Motion not proposed from the opposite side of the House—
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
My hon. and learned Friend is not assuming that there is a possibility, bearing in mind the precedent of a public relations officer at the Ministry of Transport, that the Minister may appoint a voluntary unpaid official?
§ Mr. Bing
That may be so. No doubt there are hon. Gentlemen opposite who are able to devote themselves full-time to the job without any extra remuneration. I do not know. That would restrict the choice to a very limited class of persons. We ought to know from the Minister whether or not the Queen's Consent is to be given, because if the Queen's Consent is not to be signified there is no point at all in pursuing this 806 discussion, and hon. Gentlemen opposite will be seen to have been very ill-advised ever to have brought up the Bill at all. I think that at this point the Minister should intervene to tell us whether this is so or not. If the Queen's Consent is not to be signified, we might just as well pack up and go home. What is the point of arguing about a Bill, even if it has unanimous support of the House, under the new procedure, if I may so describe it, if the Government do not intend to signify the Queen's Consent?
§ Mr. Bing
My hon. Friend is mistaken. That is only necessary for the removal of a Minister. That is not the problem before us. What is suggested now is that, prior to the removal of the Minister a new Parliamentary Secretary should be appointed. It is, I think, unfortunate that when a matter that is regarded as of such importance by hon. Members opposite comes before the House, and when they are so certain that all hon. Members have full opportunities to perform their duties, there should be so few hon. Members opposite here to advocate a Measure which they think—we do not—can solve practically the whole of the problems of the fishing industry.
I turn for a moment to the interesting and valuable contribution of the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford). Of course, in her constituency are not contained the main fishing ports of Northern Ireland. Kilkeel and Ardglass are in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who has his name to the Bill but has not turned up to discuss it.
We should be interested to know what is to be the constitutional relationship between this new Minister who is proposed and the Government of Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland they have a quite different system for the fishing industry. There they have not entrusted to their Minister of Agriculture, who combines that post and membership of the Privy Council with a post in the Church, and who is both right honourable and reverend, responsibility for fisheries. Why, I cannot think—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I doubt very much whether the constitutional relationship between the Minister and the Government of Northern Ireland arises on this Bill.
§ Mr. Bing
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it does. I do not think you were in the Chair when the hon. Lady was describing the whole position in Northern Ireland and said she hoped this Bill would help. There may be a compromise here. The position in Northern Ireland cannot be so bad, can it, that the United Kingdom Government think they ought not to follow the example of the Northern Ireland Government? Or do they think that because the Northern Ireland Government do one thing nobody else should?
However, in Northern Ireland fishing is entrusted to the Minister of Commerce. There are not the same comments made—why, I cannot think—about the President of the Board of Trade as there are about the Minister of Agriculture, and if the Government do not intend to have an additional Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the fishing industry, perhaps they could get over the difficulty by entrusting the fishing industry to the President of the Board of Trade, following the precedent in Northern Ireland. That is a possible suggestion.
I particularly want to deal with the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North. She said that the Bill would be of great assistance to Northern Ireland. Why? How? How can it possibly be so? She gave a number of figures, but the figures given by Lord Glentoran, the Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland, do not agree. We cannot really discuss this question unless we have accurate statistics.
Let me give one example of the difficulty. The Ulster Year Book records the number of fishing vessels as 150. Lord Glentoran said the number used to be 80 but was now reduced to 50. Which is right? Of course, the hon. Lady for Down, North is in this difficulty, that she gets no help from her colleagues and has to bear the absenteeism of all the other 11 Members. There ought to be somebody here to tell us whether there are 50 ships or whether there are 80 or whether the Ulster Year Book is right and there are 150.
808 We seem to have no dealings at all with most of the Members who come from Northern Ireland even on this very interesting and important point of the inland fisheries. In Northern Ireland 650 more people are employed, as compared with 600, in the inland fisheries than are employed in sea fishery. There are no statistics about the weight of salmon and trout landed. The only figure I know of is for 1952. Perhaps the hon. Lady or the Minister can tell us what is the weight of salmon and trout landed in Northern Ireland and put for sale on the market? The only figure I can get is of the weight carried by rail. We really are in difficulties when the Members from Northern Ireland are not here to help us by giving information. Why are they not here to consider matters which directly affect their country?
§ Mrs. Ford
We all understand the interest the hon. and learned Gentleman has when he speaks about Northern Ireland, but I do think that the fishing industry ought to be above party politics. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman's questions only emphasise the need we have of a Minister to be specially responsible for the fishing industry and to look into this matter. I would add that I do not sit at Stormont.
§ Mr. Duthie
Does the hon. and learned Member realise that pollack is about the grossest feeder in the sea and when other fish is more plentiful the supply must necessarily fall off?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I suppose that this is connected in some way or another with the provisions of the Bill. I confess that it is obscure to me.
§ Mr. Bing
The argument is advanced that there are various difficulties in the fishing industry. We had from the hon. 809 Member for Banff a very detailed and able examination of the whole position. He said that these various technical matters were not properly appreciated, that there was not sufficient understanding and that a new Parliamentary Secretary should be appointed to deal with them.
§ Mr. Duthie
I must correct the hon. and learned Member for the sake of veracity. I said that there was not in the eyes of the fishing industry obvious coordination of these matters.
§ Mr. Bing
Exactly, and it is to that point that I am addressing my arguments.
It may well be that the demand for this type of fish has fallen off, but how is the appointment in London of a Parliamentary Secretary going to affect pollack in Northern Ireland? The Bill applies to Northern Ireland, where the fishing industry is the express responsibility of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Commerce there. How is it suggested that the Bill will affect the position of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland at all? The hon. Lady the Member for Down, North, made a very eloquent and forceful speech, but it should have been addressed to another Parliament in which she has been inexpert enough not to have secured a seat.
§ Mr. Bing
If I understand the argument of the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North, something needs to be done by the United Kingdom Government to assist Northern Ireland in respect of sea fishing. She said that the fishing industry was in a very poor state. That was not what Lord Glentoran said when he was introducing the fishery Estimates in the Northern Ireland Parliament. He said exactly the opposite. It is all very well for the hon. Lady to say one thing. We ought to have several representatives of Northern Ireland here to say whether what the hon. Lady said is so or not.
Lord Glentoran, speaking of sea fisheries, said:There are signs that the period of contraction"—810 exactly the opposite of what the hon. Lady said—which inevitably followed the war and immediate post-war boom in the Northern Ireland fishing industry is now drawing to an end. The fleet, which formerly numbered 80 boats"—the Ulster Year Book gives a different figure, but to be 50 per cent. wrong is nothing new in Northern Ireland—now comprises 50 modern well-found craft, manned by about 300 full-time fishermen.The Year Book gives a figure of 600, so that figure given by Lord Glentoran is also exactly 50 per cent. wrong. Lord Glentoran went on:This force now catches about three times as much fish as before the war and has a gross income about five times greater.The hon. Lady said that the industry was declining and in a very poor way.
§ Mr. Duthie
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member wants to be accurate. Does he realise that, as far as landings in Northern Ireland are concerned, the domestic fleet is largely augmented by vessels from Scotland during the season?
§ Mr. Bing
I appreciate that point. As I understand the argument advanced from Northern Ireland, the value of a new Parliamentary Secretary would be in the help he would give to boats based on Northern Ireland. I deplore this sectarianism and provincialism in those who describe themselves as Unionists. They should not complain about the origin of the boats as long as they come from the United Kingdom, but this is a very natural sectarianism even on the part of the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North. I am dealing with the problem as it exists with regard to Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady said that the fishing had very much declined and was in a much worse position than previously. That may be right. If so, what Lord Glentoran said was wrong and we ought to have an umpire.
§ Mr. Bing
The hon. Lady will know that recently the Herring Industry Board has agreed to the establishment of a factory which is temporarily in Belfast 811 but is to be moved either to her constituency or to that of her hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South. If as Lord Glentoran said, the gross income of the fishing force is now about five times greater than it was before the war, it is difficult to accept the hon. Lady's proposition that somehow they are not selling the fish. We are all comparatively new to the House, except some of us, of course, and I say with great respect to the hon. Lady that she has been rather badly let down by her colleagues. There ought to be present one or two others of those people who have put their names to the Bill.
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. How often can an hon. and learned Member say something before the rule relating to tedious repetition arises? We have heard this six times at least.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not know the answer to that at the moment, but I have heard this once before.
§ Mr. Bing
Further to that point of order. You should take into account, Mr. Deputy-Speaker from which side of the House an hon. Member is speaking. It is a matter of which Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy-Speaker should take judicial notice that it is necessary to say a thing to a Minister on the Front Bench opposite at least four times before it is understood at all.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves his argument, is he not going to ask why the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), whose name is on the Bill and who has burdened us in season and out of season with speeches on television, is absent when we are discussing this issue? Cannot my right hon. and learned Friend say something about that?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not know what answer the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) can possibly give to that. He might come to the terms of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bing
If in fact the Bill will do anything for Northern Ireland—which I think is extremely doubtful—it will do something for the ports of Ardglass and 812 Kilkeel, both of which happen to be in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South. The hon. and gallant Member might well have thought that the Bill could do so little for them that he could expose his constituents to what he regarded as a kind of fraud by putting his name to it. He may think that the only way of running fishing properly in Northern Ireland is to hand it over to a Parliamentary Secretary, but there is no provision to do that by the Bill. He may have been reserving himself for the Committee stage in order to make that proposal. There is something to be said for no powers to be allowed to the Minister in Northern Ireland, and the hon. and gallant Member might have developed that.
The real issue is whether this is a sensible or a serious Bill. No one doubts the knowledge or ability of the two hon. Members who moved its Second Reading but we do not know whether, even after this debate and a unanimous vote in its favour, the Queen's Consent will be signified.
Secondly, with great respect to the hon. Lady for Down, North, there was no indication in the supporting speeches of what the Bill would do in relation to areas such as hers. No one knows what it would do in relation to inland fishing and we do not even know the figures. In regard to sea fishing we know that there is a conflict between the hon. Lady and the Minister in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Year Book, but no one seems able to tell us the position. Nevertheless, it is somehow thought that by appointing a Parliamentary Secretary all these difficulties can be removed. All I want to know is, how?
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) will forgive me if I do not follow him. I would rather content myself with dealing with certain aspects of the fishing industry. I suggest we want someone in the nature of a staff officer to the Minister as there are many problems to which the Minister, being a very busy man, cannot possibly give enough time.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) mentioned a very happy visit we made to Iceland together. One 813 thing we saw during that visit was the alarming prospect of large imports of quick-frozen, beautifully packed, fillets of fish which could come into this country, caught in the restricted waters which are denied to all but Icelandic vessels. Such imports could prove a great menace to our inshore fishermen.
We know that the White Fish Authority has a scheme in course of preparation, called the Small Ports Marketing Scheme. Could the Minister let us know what has happened to that scheme, how far it has gone and what is the sort of feeling about it in the industry? I am told that in the main the industry is quite prepared to bless the scheme. A staff officer such as we suggest would be able to help co-ordinate in that case.
The welcome visit of the Minister to the North Sea Fishing Fleet during the Whitsun Recess has been alluded to in this debate. I did not see publicity about that visit in the Press. It would have been a very useful thing to publicise it in order to show that the Minister was so interested in the industry that he was prepared to go afloat to see the men at work. I understand that he even tried to go aboard a trawler from a small boat at sea but the weather was too rough to make the visit possible. That kind of thing goes down well in the fishing industry and the fishermen would say, Here is a man who will come to see for himself." Such a staff officer as we propose could ensure that the visit got the publicity it deserved.
I think it very important that this man should be known in the industry as having direct responsibility to the Minister for the industry. It should be widely known that he is available and perhaps the Minister could announce that the Parliamentary Secretary would be shown all the papers and be au fait with every aspect of the responsible Department. Matters could all go through his hands before going to the Minister. If that could be announced by the Minister and published in newspapers, such as the "Fish Industry," everyone, be they fishermen, merchants, or anyone dealing with this complex trade, would know the name of the man who was staff officer to the Minister in this connection and who, therefore, should be their special friend.
814 Such a staff officer could follow closely such developments which are of great interest to us as the "Fairtry," which, as some hon. Members know, is described as a floating fish factory capable of going to sea, catching, gutting, quick freezing and packaging fish and, after processing them, can bring them back to port ready for marketing. It would be interesting to the Minister to be kept closely in touch with this wonderful experiment.
The suggested staff officer could also keep the Minister in touch with the progress of the freezing scheme of the White Fish Authority, whereby it is proposed to send a trawler to sea—I understand she is to be ready in September—with freezing equipment so that the first three days' catch can be frozen and come to market in really good condition. He would be able to keep the Minister in constant touch through officials in the Ministry with the progress of research into the use of new kinds of gear, such as synthetics like nylon and so on.
Other matters on which the Minister could be kept informed are, new trawlers, new ideas on fishing grounds and such vexed questions as the replacement of nets which have become redundant owing to the difference in the size of mesh due to over-fishing. A very important job for such a staff officer would be to act as a liaison officer with other Ministries. The very sad dispute between Iceland and this country has been mentioned. Iceland is turning to other markets, and the fact remains that they are a resolute people who are not prepared to give way. Such an officer could be in close touch with his opposite number in the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade and all other Ministries dealing with this matter.
He could make it his special charge to see that the small harbours of the country are maintained, and that would be a very big charge. Those concerned with the harbour at St. Ives have been very exercised lately with the possible deterioration of their harbour wall. Such an officer could find out exactly whose responsibility it is to see that the wall is properly maintained and who has to give a grant, if necessary. As was mentioned by the mover of the Second Reading, this man could keep us really up-to-date on such matters as lobster storage—"viviers" as they are called in France. I know that the White Fish 815 Authority is going into that matter and has examined a possible pilot scheme. Such an officer could find out how far the scheme has got and chase it up.
He could also act as liaison officer to the Admiralty. I should like to know who in the Admiralty is charged with the job of looking after the interests of fisheries, matters such as the training of reserves, the earmarking of necessary vessels and all the work in the Admiralty in the preparation of lists of trawlers needed by their Lordships in an emergency. I know from my service in the Navy in the last war how desperately short of trawlers we were in the early days when we needed them for mine control at the entrance to our ports, convoy duties and the like. Who at the Admiralty is responsible for all that work? Who is to be responsible for such policy and with whom is he in touch in the Ministry? This staff officer, surely, could be closely in touch on that problem.
It is for such reasons as these that I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to tell us that he will give the fishing industry the confidence it requires by telling it that he will appoint somebody who will be charged specifically to be responsible to him directly for such matters as I have tried to mention today.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I do not take part in the debate as a representative of a fishing port. I have listened to all the debate, which would have been a most appropriate one on a Private Member's Motion, but it seems to have very little relation to the Bill before us.
I think that there are too many Ministers in this country. There are already two Parliamentary Secretaries at the Ministry of Agriculture. I do not think there should be; one is enough. Why there are two I do not understand at all. At the Foreign Office we now have five Ministers instead of two. Scotland, I think, has five instead of two. So we go on. I bear in mind the consideration that these things cost money.
This industry employs 30,000 people, which is just about the number of people who earn their living in my constituency. Do I, therefore, want a Parliamentary Secretary for Croydon, East? If every 816 30,000 people are to have a Parliamentary Secretary that means more than 600 Parliamentary Secretaries—at£1,500 a year each. Let us have some sense of proportion about this matter.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
On a point of order. Will the hon. Member tell us the source of his remarkable figure of 30,000 people employed in the industry. Is he thinking of those who go to sea or the whole of the ancillary services, fishmongers, etc.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am talking about those going to sea. There are some fishmongers in my constituency. I am talking about the production side, a figure of 30,000 for which has been given in the debate. I did not furnish it.
§ Sir H. Williams
There has been very little about that.
When one talks about an industry, one is dealing with the productive side. The distributive side includes many other industries. A figure of 30,000 is about correct. I was once engaged in the machine tool industry. The value of its production is greater than the value of the fishing industry, but no one has suggested that there should be an Under-Secretary of State for machine tools. No one has suggested an Under-Secretary for jet-propelled aeroplanes. There are sometimes suggestions that we should have a Minister for sport or a Minister for fine arts. Let as have some sense of proportion.
This country could be governed very efficiently at the beginning of the century with half the number of Ministers that we now have. We have Ministers of State, Under-Secretaries and all the rest. It is a lot of nonsense, and the time has got to come when we must bring down the cost of governing the country. We start off with a new Under-Secretary; he has a private secretary and a couple of shorthand typists and somebody called a staff 817 officer. I was not quite clear what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) meant by a staff officer—whether he meant the chief officer to the new Parliamentary Secretary, or the Parliamentary Secretary himself.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard
I was using an analogy from Service procedure, under which an admiral or general—in this case the Minister—has someone under him who is expert in that sphere of activity. In this case it was to be a Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Sir H. Williams
Then in this case the Parliamentary Secretary is to be the staff officer. I thought he was the man who did all the planning and the other was the one who had the glory.
One Member said that we needed to have this Parliamentary Secretary so that we could have better design of ships. We have already got the Marine Department of the Ministry of Transport, which is responsible for all shipbuilding. Surely that is the right place for that job to be done? We have heard a great deal about the Icelandic dispute. I do not see where the new Parliamentary Secretary comes in there. Surely one of the five gentlemen at the Foreign Office might get busy on that job on the rare occasions when they are at home, which rarely happens.
§ Sir H. Williams
No, he is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
There is far too much running about the world by Ministers. They are much better employed sitting at their desks doing their regular job. The fashion of peripatetic Ministers was started by Lloyd George in 1919, instead of Ministers staying in their Departments and thus making sure that no decisions are held up because they are away. I am not criticising anyone in particular. There is one Foreign Minister in Geneva, one in Washington. I am not certain about the other three. The one in the other place— 818 [An HON. MEMBER: "He is back. He arrived last night."] I am glad to hear that.
The House must once again start thinking of economy in public expenditure and in manpower. Some hon. Members may have read a document published on Wednesday, the Report of a Select Committee, of which I was a member, on accommodation in this building. That problem arises because this building swarms with Ministers. Under the Chamber is a large new set of Ministerial rooms. They are all full. Even as things are some Ministers have to double up, and some have rooms in rather more remote parts of the building because we have too many Ministers.
I disapprove of a Bill which would add to the number of Ministers. I have heard nothing today which indicates how the appointment of a new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries would contribute in the Tightest degree to the solution of the problems which have been painted for us—I assume they exist. I hope we shall not indulge in this extravagance of appointing a new Minister.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire. South-East)
I think we can congratulate the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) on providing a peg on which we have been able to hang a debate on a great and important industry. It is true that we have had some fun and games about certain aspects of his proposal, but we cannot have fun and games about this great industry itself. It is right that we should seize such opportunities as occasionally present themselves to discuss the industry. and I congratulate the hon. 'Member upon his introduction of the Bill.
I also congratulate those who have made serious and outstanding speeches upon this matter. I certainly think that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) brought to the debate great knowledge and something really worth while. I sincerely hope that the problems which they have mentioned will be given every consideration by the Minister who is responsible for this great Department.
819 That is not to say that I am supporting the proposal that there should be an additional Parliamentary Secretary; I shall have something to say about that shortly. This is a worth-while debate, however, and I am glad that practically everyone who has spoken, in particular the hon. Member for Bodmin, paid a proper tribute to the fishermen both in peace and war and the great part they play in both.
The post-war years have seen a rather different approach to this industry than existed in the inter-war years. With all our faults and failures to solve all the problems, very much has been done for this industry in the years since the end of the last war. I believe that what has been done bears very favourable comparison with the inter-war years, which were rightly described as the "years of despond," the years of despair for the men who were engaged in the industry.
Whatever charge may be made about the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, it surely could not be that it has been neglected. We have had a spate of legislation about it and some of the results have been of value. There has been no failure to consider and appreciate the problems of the industry, but there are still a number of problems to be solved and which necessitate the attention of this House and the Minister responsible. This kind of debate enables us to ask the Minister questions about his handling of this industry.
One of the problems is the number of old vessels among our. 11,000 fishing vessels. In many cases they are over 50 years old and are uneconomic, being coal burners. They should be replaced by modern units. Speaking of the near- and middle-water craft during a debate on the Herring Industry (Grants for Fishing Vessels and Engines) Scheme, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:…it is among those that the most serious position exists, and it is there that we are most urgently concerned with getting large-scale rebuilding. We are aiming at rebuilding something like 500 vessels over the next 10 years, so we must hope for something in the region of 50 new boats a year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 742–3.]I understand that the orders for this type of craft amount to nothing like the 50 a year mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary and I wish to ask the Minister 820 what he is doing about it. Is he thinking in terms of improving our fleet by reaching at least the number which he and the Parliamentary Secretary hoped for?
I do not wish to regard this matter merely in relation to the fact that our present vessels are uneconomic. We have not paid enough attention to the conditions of the men employed in the vessels. I was glad to see that Dr. MacQueen, the Medical Officer of Health for Aberdeen, speaking of the accidents, injuries and skin conditions of fishermen, said:Let us remember that we have not yet eradicated the sea slum. It still exists as a blot on our civilisation and a challenge to our prevention services.He also said that there was a need for more effective legislation governing the conditions for seamen. That may be true, I do not know. But if it is, I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman is doing to bring in legislation as early as possible in order that this medical officer of health and others may be able to secure an improvement in the conditions of seamen. The most efficient boats would be useless without the men to man them and we have to ensure that there is an adequate recruitment to this industry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have no desire to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this Bill merely provides for the establishment of a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and does not lend itself to a general debate on the fishing industry.
§ Mr. Champion
I would merely comment that everyone else has used the Bill as a peg on which to hang a debate about the condition of the whole industry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
So long as the hon. Gentleman brings arguments to bear that that is a reason for the appointment of an additional Parliamentary Secretary, well and good.
§ Mr. Champion
I hope, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that if you will bear with me you will find that eventually I shall come to that point. And, not to make it too eventual, may I say that, if appointed, the Parliamentary Secretary ought to go into the necessity for greater efficiency in the marketing of fish? Having said that, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word about the marketing of this sea product which necessitates very close and careful 821 attention from someone—whether it be the new Parliamentary Secretary is an entirely different matter—
§ Mr. Champion
I have noticed that our procedure on Fridays permits a little more sympathy towards any hon. Member who is speaking—
§ Mr. Champion
But there is also the matter of the interpretation of those rules.
It is true that there is a necessity for greater care to be taken by someone—whether it be a new Minister or not—over the handling of the fish once it has been landed. I have a little sympathy for the Danish lady who, speaking to a Rotary Club in my constituency, said,I can never buy a piece of fish here without a shudder. In Denmark I never doubt but that the fish is fresh. In England fish stalls are open to dust and flies, and I do not like buying the fish product in this country.I think her strictures were a bit too sweeping, but there is no doubt that we have to clean up the distributing side of this industry. More hygienic handling is required, more refrigeration, a better selling technique, and so on.
§ Mr. Champion
It is a question which would have to be dealt with by the Minister of Food but he might be encouraged by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
I wish to ask what has happened about foreign landings in flush periods. I gather that the Minister has recently had consultations with the industry about this and I hope that we shall have some report from him on that matter.
It is no part of my business to turn down the proposals contained in this Bill, although if it came to a Division I should vote against them, mainly on the grounds that I consider the number of Ministers and their functions to be a matter for the decision of the Prime Minister. I believe there is a lot to be said for the point expressed by my right hon. Friend the 822 Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) in his recent book. He states:The growth in the number of the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries needs to be watched; even the number of Parliamentary private secretaries should be limited. If their numbers become excessive, the free functioning of Parliament is endangered. All of them are inevitably tied to the Government by speech and vote, though not officially quite so tightly in the case of Parliamentary private secretaries. It is undesirable that the proportion of Members of Parliament so places should be needlessly high.Strangely enough, I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) in his fear that we might overdo this business and have too many Ministers in the Government of the day. There is, too, the danger that if we employed an additional Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture he would set out immediately upon the task of "empire building" within that Ministry. He could bring about a condition in which memo is piled on memo, minute on minute, paper upon paper, and so on, and build up a situation in which he would increase the work without adding to the real work done or bringing a scrap of additional prosperity to the fishermen or one more fish to the consumer.
I look forward to hearing the Government's view on the matter. I think that the appointment is unnecessary, but it is necessary that the Minister or one of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries should be charged with the specific task of looking after the industry, and should devote as much of his time as possible to the task of bringing to the industry a greater degree of prosperity, if that is possible by governmental means.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
Perhaps at this stage hon. Members would like me to intervene in the debate. I will try to answer the questions which have been put, but they have been far ranging and have covered many matters which hon. Members propose should be dealt with by an additional Parliamentary Secretary. I say at once to my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) that he has done a good service to the House and to the industry by introducing the Bill and enabling us to have this debate. It has been extremely interesting and has been noteworthy for 823 some helpful speeches. It is always difficult to select speeches for special mention, but I know that the House always likes to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans).
It is not my purpose to attempt to deal with the constitutional aspect or the general issue of the proposal to add to the number of Ministers. I agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) that the number of Ministers in any Government must be within the prerogative of the Prime Minister of the day. The question before us is not one with whose general repercussions I am competent to deal, but it would be right to assume that one consideration which would have to be borne in mind would be the need to justify any additional Ministerial post as a necessary service to the nation.
My purpose is to give my views from my own experience as Minister of Fisheries during the last two and a half years as to the value of the proposal as a contribution to the practical work of fisheries administration. I hope that I can convince the House that in England and Wales we are doing very much what hon. Members desire when they suggest an additional Minister, and we are doing it with the Ministers we have at present.
This brings me to what has been mentioned in nearly every speech today, and that is the importance of this industry. The burden of what has been said is that the case for the new appointment rests on the importance of the fisheries problems. I have every sympathy with that approach. I fully realise that my hon. Friends who have promoted the Bill have done so from a deep concern for the interests of the industry and all who are concerned in it.
I should be the last to deny the importance of these fisheries problems and the first to acknowledge the consideration which is due to an industry which is of vital importance both as a source of essential foodstuffs and as a reserve of ships and seamen for defence. That aspect was mentioned by several hon. Members. In addition, the hazards, both to those who employ their capital in the industry and to the fishermen themselves who have to face the wild elements, are great.
824 I also acknowledge that the industry is a complex one, with problems ranging from those of the owner-skipper in the inshore section of the industry to those of the great industrial companies which run distant water fleets.
§ Mr. Duthie
On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to read a book while the Minister is speaking?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is precisely what I meant. I said that I did not know whether the document was related to the Bill.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The problems range from those of the owner-skipper in the inshore section to those of the great industrial companies which run the distant water fleets. We find ourselves facing at one and the same time the problems of over-production in one field and of the depletion of resources in the other. I am grateful for the evidence which the debate has shown of the concern of hon. Members for the industry and their wide-ranging knowledge on its many and varied aspects.
It might help to get the range and variety into perspective, and to point out to the House why an additional Parliamentary Secretary would not help, if I mention the principal problems with which we have had to deal since we took office. At the end of 1951, just after a very difficult year in the industry, the fine modern' trawlers of the distant water fisheries were bringing their catches home to a market that had collapsed. On the other hand, the near and middle water fisheries were finding that the fishing grounds which had become so abundantly stocked with prime fish between 1939 and 1945 were becoming emptied with almost startling rapidity as the fishing fleets of every nation swooped on them like a flock of hungry, highly competitive seagulls.
825 They were operating with a fleet of which more than three-quarters was over 30 years old. A proportion of the fleet is over 50 years old, but three-quarters of the near and middle-water fleet is over 30 years old. That was the position in which we found ourselves, and it is the background to all the questions with which we have had to deal relating to the economics of the fishing industry.
It may help the House to understand the problems if I go through the most important aspects of our fisheries work during the last two and a half years so that we can then see whether we think that the appointment of an additional Parliamentary Secretary would help us in any way.
I will start with the international field. Almost all our main fishery grounds lie well outside the immediate home waters. Many of our fishermen are as familiar with Tromsö and Iceland as they are with Hull and Fleetwood, and it is a common thing in their lives to compete with Russian trawlers for catches of cod, with Dutchmen and Danes for plaice, with Spaniards for hake and, lately, even with Danes and Norwegians for edible shark off the Scottish coast. It is, indeed, to international collaboration that we must look in the longer-term to solve the present difficulties of the near and middle-water fleet.
As I said a little earlier, the period between 1939 and 1945 enabled the stocks of fish to be built up in the North Sea and the western hake grounds, but the resumption of unregulated fishing after 1945 led to a rapid depletion of the stocks in those popular areas which are so relatively near our own shores. Over-fishing can only be effectively overcome by international co-operation. It is a very slow process to secure agreement on the necessary measures among the many countries concerned.
I am sure the House will agree that in this great field the suggestion that there should be an additional Parliamentary Secretary would not take us very far and would not help us.
To continue the story, we have a good record as a country in our efforts to bring about international collaboration. The United Kingdom can take credit for initiating the negotiations which led to the International Fisheries Convention of 1946 which has now borne fruit in the 826 regulations which are now in force in the United Kingdom and in the countries of the 11 other signatory Governments, prescribing minimum sizes for meshes of fishing nets and minimum sizes for fish which may be landed or sold. I am glad to be able to inform the House that we have just been notified that the Federal German Republic has now acceded to the Convention and will be putting the regulations into effect.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
All the countries which can be in it are now in it. Germany has been an observer up till now, but she is now coming within the Convention. Some countries which were not signatories to the Convention do not come within it now any more than they did in 1947. Nevertheless, all the main countries fishing in the North Sea are in the agreement. I hope that within two or three years we shall begin to reap the benefits of these measures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff asked how the policing would be carried out. These are early days. I am satisfied that it is the intention of all the participating countries to make the regulations work. I had the very great pleasure of welcoming the delegates to the first meeting to London in May, 1953, and I was very much impressed with the desire of all the delegates to make the Convention a success. There have been two further meetings since that date, one in London and one in Copenhagen, which have proved very fruitful. I wished to call attention to that important fact in relation to the discussion of the possible appointment of an additional Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman relies upon the Joint Under-Secretaries at the Foreign Office to do the work with which he has so far been dealing?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
No, Sir. I rely largely on the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and myself, in collaboration, to do the work.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is relying upon a great deal of ingenuity to keep the subject within the terms of the debate.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In order to answer some of the points which have been raised, I wish to show some of the ways in which we are helping the industry directly at the present time by means of grants and subsidies, about which I was asked some questions.
With regard to grants and subsidies, it is true that we have not yet got the amount of new building for which we expressed a desire when we discussed the subject last year, but new boat building is going ahead. Applications have been approved for assistance towards the cost of 27 new near- and middle-water vessels and 77 inshore vessels, for the white fish industry, 38 herring boats, and 81 engines. The expenditure on these is expected to amount to about£500,000 in grant in this financial year, quite apart from the loans which are being made towards the fishermen's share of the expenditure on those boats and engines.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) asked two specific questions about Scotland. I do not agree with her that the appointment of an additional Parliamentary Secretary in England would help her in Scotland, but I should like to give her the answers to her questions.
The talks between the White Fish Authority and the owners on the McColl Report came to a deadlock, and at the present time the White Fish Authority are considering the next step. The British Transport Commission is drawing up a draft road merchandise charges scheme which it will. I hope, shortly be submitting to the Transport Tribunal.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I thank my right hon. Friend for the trouble that he has taken in answering those questions. Can he give a definite date when the British Transport Commission will be able to submit its scheme. We have waited for it for a considerable time.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that we are not going to have the re-imposition of the transport levy?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I should like to answer another question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), who asked what progress had been made on the small ports scheme and what work was being held up. I understand that this scheme is nearly ready for publication, but that certain details relating to safeguards for the interested parties still have to be agreed between them.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It arose in the course of the speech—I do not think you were in the Chair at the time, Mr. DeputySpeaker—when my hon. Friend was advocating an additional Parliamentary Secretary.
I have answered the main questions that were put to me, and now I will come back to the more detailed provisions of the Bill.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I am going through my speech and trying to say why and why not.
In all these manifold aspects of the fishing industry upon which I have touched, I want to tell the House that I take the keenest personal interest, and that recently, as certain hon. Members have remarked in the debate, I spent a weekend in the North Sea observing the activities of the fishing fleet. I was able to do so as the guest of the commanding officer of a Fisheries Protection vessel, which bears the name of H.M.S. "Coquette." I was not actually able to board a trawler, because the sea was too rough, and also because the trawler was going one way and I was going the other. However, I was able to see at close quarters a fairly wide range of fishing in the North Sea, and I am very grateful to the Royal Navy, not only for their traditional hospitality, but for the education which they gave me during that weekend.
829 On the question of the delegation of work to the proposed additional Parliamentary Secretary, it is true that fisheries problems are not all on the very highest level. Some are international, others are administrative, but though extremely important, they are not all on the same level. There are many questions which can be deputed for settlement to a Parliamentary Secretary, and, even in the case of the most important problems, some of the decisions which have to be are not specially critical and need not be taken by the senior Minister.
In these cases, I have expressly directed that they should be dealt with by one of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries in the Ministry of Agriculture. The Parliamentary Secretary in the Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), makes a special study of fisheries problems, and may be regarded, from one point of view, as adviser to myself on fisheries questions, and, from another point of view, as my deputy in such cases, or perhaps a combination of both.
This informal but clearly defined arrangement is well designed to meet the legitimate point made by my hon. Friends who are sponsors of this Bill. It is meant to ensure, and I think it does ensure, that the problems of the fishing industry can have a greater share of the attention of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary than would be possible if, on the one hand, I tried to take every decision myself, or, on the other, a new Parliamentary Secretary was expected to take the final decision himself and shoulder the responsibility.
Hon. Members will remember that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary did bear the brunt of the work of piloting the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill through the House last year, especially during the Committee stage. I admit that that was a special case, but, under the arrangement I have described, the Parliamentary Secretary is particularly concerned with Parliamentary work relating to fisheries. My hon. Friend has had the privilege of meeting representatives of the industry both on their own ground and when they come to the Ministry to discuss their problems with us. As a result of this arrangement, my hon. Friend is able to act virtually as my deputy. Where wider problems arise, from which I should not feel justified in dissociating myself, the arrangement is 830 that my hon. Friend should make himself master of the great complexity of detail that lies behind each question, after which we discuss the matter together, and I am in consultation with him throughout. Finally, I am responsible for taking whatever decision it is necessary to take.
I hope that, from what I have said, my hon. Friend the promoter of this Bill and those who support him will agree that I have, in fact, found the kind of solution for which they are seeking, since I have delegated a wide range of fisheries administration, so far as such delegation is possible, to a junior Minister, who makes it his special field. It will be no less satisfactory to them to know that experience has now shown this method of delegation to be in the best interests of the industry, of Government administration, and, to end on a personal note, of the Parliamentary Secretary and myself.
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
We have not heard anything from the Minister on the points raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Down. North (Mrs. Ford) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), with regard to the way in which this matter is affected by our relationship with Northern Ireland. I think it is a pity, in view of the fact that the hon. Lady has been here today, that not even a mention of her presence was made by the Minister. That may merely be proof of the fact that Northern Ireland Members are only required here to maintain a Tory Government in office.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
May I answer that straight away? I should like to say that I am certain that the whole House appreciates the speech made by the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford). The technical position is that it is perfectly true that the Northern Ireland Government runs the fishery industry in Northern Ireland, the connection being with the Home Office in this country. The work done by the White Fish Authority, which is carried on the Vote of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the administration of the White Fish Subsidy in Northern Ireland are carried on my Vote here. It is true to say that anything done by the White Fish Authority in Northern Ireland will be my responsibility.
§ Mr. Bing
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) or the Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland was right, because the right hon. Gentleman will recall that they gave quite contradictory accounts of the white fish industry? Will he tell us which was right?
§ Mr. Ede
I would suggest to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch that, if he wants information about Northern Ireland, he should put down a Question to the Home Secretary, for, as far as this House is concerned, be is the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries of Northern Ireland. Nowhere else but in Ireland would such a situation be tolerated.
I am sure the whole House was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the position of the Parliamentary Secretary who sits in this House, and whose abilities, I am quite sure, are warmly recognised on both sides of this House. I certainly recognise them, because I served for many years with the hon. Gentleman on the Surrey County Council, of which he was a member of some considerable use before he gave up to Parliament and to party what was meant for mankind in that particular county.
I should like to make a suggestion. If the Parliamentary Secretary shoulders so heavy a burden with regard to fisheries, would it not be appropriate at Question time when matters relating to fisheries are put—unless they are on the very highest level, in which case it would be necessary for the Minister to intervene—that the Parliamentary Secretary should have the opportunity of answering them?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I shall have to think over that suggestion. The right hon. Gentleman, and anybody else who has held high Ministerial office, knows that one usually has an agreement with one's Parliamentary Secretary about these matters. The agreement in our case is that I answer Questions on Thursdays and the Parliamentary Secretary answers them on other days.
§ Mr. Ede
That means that when there is any chance of a Question being put 832 in the House the Minister takes it, but when the Question is low down on the list and somebody has to turn up in case Question 70 should, by a miracle, be reached, the Parliamentary Secretary takes it, so that he gets all the inconveniences at Question time, with none of the possible glory that might come from a smart retort to a supplementary question.
I suggest that where the Parliamentary Secretary has a definite piece of work assigned to him in the Ministry it is only fair to him that recognition of that should be given by his being expected to answer Questions, even on the Minister's day in the House. I know that my own Under-Secretary always answered Questions that related to Civil Defence, because that was the subject that had been assigned to him, except for the very top-level decisions.
I do not think the House feels that we have had an adequate answer from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the way in which this branch of his Department shapes inside the Ministry. I hoped that we could have an assurance that on many of the issues which are of great concern in the country something more would be done in the interests of the fishing industry by the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary, who we are glad to see has returned to the House. I hope that he will for once read what I have said about him. He need not fear that there was anything critical on this occasion.
§ Mr. D. Marshall
Perhaps with the leave of the House I may thank the Minister of Agriculture for the reply which he has given. I consider that he agrees with the principle which I mentioned in moving the Second Reading of this Bill that the Parliamentary Secretary should have special responsibility in matters connected with fisheries. In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, I am prepared to withdraw the Bill, subject to the leave of the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.