HC Deb 30 October 1956 vol 558 cc1383-408

10.9 p.m.

Captain M. Hewitson (Hull. West)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the White Fish Authority (General Levy) (Amendment) Regulations Confirmatory Order, 1956 (S.I., 1956. No. 1061), dated 9th July 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be annulled. It is my intention to place before the House the particular circumstances of the fishing industry in Hull and to show the price they have to pay to the White Fish Authority.

In 1951, when the Act was passed by this House bringing the White Fish Authority into being, it was a more or less agreed Measure. At that time it was thought that such an Authority would bring some prosperity to sections of the fishing industry that were not so well placed either financially or in fishing technique as the Port of Hull. During that debate I expressed misgivings about the advisability of creating such an Authority, but, as I have said, the volume of opinion among hon. Members of both sides of the House was in favour of it.

I think I am safe in saying that since 1951 until the present time, we have had nothing coming up to the expectations that we had in 1951. We have had the exhibition—I repeat, the exhibition—of an Authority, brought into being to guide, counsel and help the fishing industry, setting itself up as a sort of imitation—that is all it is—Government Department, seeking all the prestige it can get and acting as a sort of unofficial Government Department.

I think the history of the Authority proves that. In the first year it started quite humbly with an expenditure of about £25,000. Last year, the expenditure reached a figure of £130,000. This Order of the Minister asking to double the present levy will bring the figure into the neighbourhood of £250,000 to £300,000. Hull lands one-third of the fish landings in the whole country, which means that Hull has to supply one-third of the income to this moribund body. That is a serious position for Hull. At a meeting of the Hull fish merchants, the first reaction was flatly to refuse to pay this new levy. The consequence of that was realised; that it would be something illegal and that some fish merchants or a group of merchants might be taken to the High Court and told they had to pay.

It is not the intention of the merchants or the fishers of Hull to kill the scheme. We should like to get out of it and, if we can do that, we are prepared to pay the price. At a recent meeting—I do not know whether it was official or unofficial—when the doubling of the levy was mooted, it was suggested by Hull merchants, either to the Minister or someone at Ministerial level, that while we could not agree to the doubling of the levy, we were prepared to pay something more than the ¼d. we are paying now as the price of getting out of the scheme.

We think that the smaller and uneconomic ports should have assistance, and we are prepared to assist them. But we do not like to be "milked" by a body of this description. If, in our opinion, the expenditure of this body was for the general good of the fish industry, we should squeeze and find the means to pay. But we are not happy and content with the method by which our money is being spent.

The White Fish Authority set up headquarters for itself near Harrogate. There was nothing wrong with that, although some of us thought that it was a bit funny. It was not very comfortable there, anyway. After a period, it thought, "We must go to London and set ourselves up as a semi-Ministerial Department." It goes to London, and in the Annual Report just published we find it telling us that its high administrative costs are due to the higher costs in London. It moved from Yorkshire, where the administrative costs are the lowest in the country, and went to a place where the costs are highest. If there had been a practical man on that body he would have suggested Edinburgh.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Why not Aberdeen?

Captain Hewitson

I am speaking of a centre for administration. I will not say anything about Aberdeen as a fishing port.

Mr. Hughes

As my hon. and gallant Friend is suggesting changing the centre of administration from where it is now to Edinburgh, my submission was, "Why not move it to Aberdeen, which has a big fishing industry?"

Captain Hewitson

For the simple reason that the White Fish Authority was set up not exclusively for the benefit of Aberdeen but for the fishing industry as a whole. In tonnage of fish landed Aberdeen comes very far down the list. Let me come back to my main theme. I excuse my hon. and learned Friend for interrupting.

I was saying that if there had been practical advice on the White Fish Authority the natural centre of administration to choose would have been Edinburgh. When the White Fish Authority was set up it was clear that the industry in Scotland needed help. In Hull, we realised that and were prepared to strain ourselves to go to the assistance of poorer ports.

Let us look at the bill of costs of these people who have set themselves up as—I will not say "little Hitlers," because I will not be as rude as to say that, but the position is developing in that direction. Look at the advertising costs. It has spent £100,000 in advertising, which it has not done itself but has handed over to an agency. God bless the agency.

How does the White Fish Authority advertise? I picked up the Hull Daily Mail, a very prominent evening newspaper in Hull, one of the best in the country. A quarter, a half, or a third of a page was taken up by the White Fish Authority advising Hull to eat more fish and chips. In the name of heaven, fancy asking Hull to eat more fish and chips, when every third or fourth shop is a fish-and-chip shop. A few weeks afterwards I picked up another newspaper and read," If you want to slim, eat fish, and apply to the White Fish Authority to send you a leaflet on how to slim." I suppose the Authority cuts out chips from that leaflet because chips are fattening.

The whole thing has become ridiculous. If the Minister doubles the levy, Hull will have to pay £100,000 in levy next year. I have described the Authority's idea of advertising. It should look at the advertisements of the British Trawler Federation ; this is sensible advertising. The White Fish Authority is merely overlapping. The Minister should look at this Authority and examine its accounts. It is expenditure gone made.

Then the Authority may say, "Look at our great experiments". Let us look for a moment at some of the things these people were supposed to do. They were to deal with surpluses, but what have they done? Exactly nothing. If I may use the farmer's term, in view of the fact that this is a Measure from the Ministry of Agriculture, they have done what the farmer gave the lad for holding his horse—nowt. That has been the sum total of their policy of dealing with surpluses. It has been an abortive policy.

Next, what has been done about charging on fish boxes? Nothing whatever. Yet these are things which they were going to do. What have they done about the regulation of supplies? Exactly nothing. What of improving standards of quality and better grading? "Eat fish and chips"—bulk landings of cod. That is their idea of improving the grading. There is no difficulty in selling graded fish in this country ; graded fish can be sold anywhere at any time, and in the deep-sea ports like Hull we are quite capable of running our own marketing schemes and selling our own bulk landings. There has been no improvement in the grading of fish. What of the equalisation of transport costs? That was abandoned. One asks why. The Authority said" We examined that and it was uneconomic. When we had fish controls the Minister of Agriculture covered the cost and it could be done—"

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

Who killed that scheme?—Hull.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

I do not think we can go into the schemes. I suppose the argument being advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) is that this conduct of the Authority does not justify the additional levy demanded.

Captain Hewitson

That is what I am trying to say. We are told that the equalisation of transport costs would be uneconomic. These people simply fold their arms, sit down and that is the end of that. They do not try to find any way of equalising costs. Although Hull would probably suffer in this, we are still prepared to help them if they go forward with a brilliant idea. They abandoned the regulation of sales on commission. Next, what of freezing fish at sea? We had the banging of drums and the sounding of trumpets. They fitted out the "Northern Wave" and said," We will send it to sea, it will go up to the Arctic Circle and try this freezing of fish at sea before coming back. This experiment will revolutionise the landing of fish in this country."

What has been the practical result? If there has been a failure, it has been the failure of the "Northern Wave." She was fitted out extensively at a cost of £150,000. She came back and landed a few tons of frozen fish at Hull and a few tons of frozen fish somewhere else. Now she is lying in the Humber, being refitted to go to sea as an ordinary trawler because the whole experiment has proved a failure.

I agree that we must have experiments to make progress. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been conducting experiments—fishing with a screen to show where the fish shoals are. This has proved successful, and now a fishing school has been set up somewhere on the East Coast where fishermen can learn the technique of sounding fish upon these screens. The Ministry is doing this, and it is good work—but it is something which could have been done by this other moribund authority. It was the job of this Authority to have developed these schemes at the beginning.

To prove that we do not need help from these people in our Port of Hull, last week we had trials of the latest trawler, which will be the largest and the fastest for sailing, with diesel-electric engines and everything up to date which fishermen need, including the shoal screens for soundings and everything that goes with them. That has been done by our own industry in Hull.

The White Fish Authority was to have brought hygiene and all that sort of thing into industry. That may be needed in some ports but it is not needed in Hull, where we have a fleet that is second to none not only in this country but in the world. The Authority was supposed to bring in all these latest techniques of fishing, but we in Hull have been going on without them. We do not need them. Some ports may need them, and we are prepared to help those ports with our levy. We do not need them, because we have a fishing fleet which is up-to-date and hygienic. We have up-to-date trawlers incorporating everything necessary under the health regulations.

It is really distressing to get this Order from the Minister telling us that we have to pay £100,000 a year. We have been doing things in Hull. It is the only port in the country which has a five-day week. That costs money. With this £100,000 we could go ahead with the beginnings of pension schemes, extra holiday schemes and many other guarantees. But if we are to be mulcted by an authority such as the White Fish Authority, which has no regard to spending, if we are to have this increase from ¼d to ½d., we think that, perhaps next year, we will probably be faced with the Authority suggesting to the Minister, and the Minister laying an Order, to increase this from ½d. to ld. which is permissible under the Act. That would mean that Hull would have to pay £200,000 per annum.

Well, we are not wearing that, and we suggest to the Minister that we will make a deal, in spite of the Statute. We are prepared to pay the ¼d. ; we are prepared to pay a little over the ¼d., but we shall use every method at our disposal, legal or otherwise, to contract out of this scheme, even if it means a strike—not of workpeople on the docks, but of merchants paying the levy. I see hon. Members laughing, but it was only by a flick of the finger that two or three weeks ago such action was not tried. It is only as a result of two or three people asking for good reason to prevail in order to allow this House to discuss the question first that that action was not taken.

Let me repeat what I have said. We intend to use every means at our disposal to contract out of that scheme. We have precedent in Hull for not entering into schemes. Our fish workers are not members of the Dock Labour Board, nor are our coal trimmers. The general trade unions, right across the city and the Port of Hull, are not members of national agreements. They have their own. It is something peculiar to our area.

I repeat that we shall attempt to contract out of the scheme, peacefully, if we may, but forcefully if we must. But we are prepared to do the following, even on contracting out. In respect of the levy, the present price per kit of fish is 2½d., and the Minister's proposal is to raise it to 5d. We are prepared to pay 3d. per kit into the pool while contracting out of the scheme, and we will give a guarantee of that sum each year.

In Hull we have no use for the scheme. We think that the people who are running it are not capable of running a scheme. At the beginning of last year we put seven points forward to the Authority, and after wating seven months we had still had no reply. These chair-polishing fishers knew it all. They may be able to fish with rod and line, fly-fishing for trout and salmon, but when it comes to the deep water stuff, they do not know anything at all. If I may be rude again, they know as much about deep sea fishing as a cow knows about a white shirt, and that is nothing at all. That is the atmosphere, and that is the mentality. That is how we in Hull look upon these people.

We intend to fight every inch of the way. We ask the Minister to examine the expenditure of these people upon administration and advertising and see whether he can do something about it. If he finds that he cannot, then he must realise that this question will be raised regularly in the House until he does something about it. We cannot blame the White Fish Authority if it can get away with it, but we can blame the Minister for allowing the authority to get away with it.

The Minister must get down to rock bottom and do something about it. He must ensure that these people do some of the things they were set up to do instead of setting themselves up as a sort of Ministerial authority which cannot be questioned. If we write a letter to the Minister, he replies, but these little pundits think that they need not reply.

The Minister should give serious attention to the fact that Hull would like to contract out of the scheme and pay a contribution into the fund. If the Minister is prepared to consider it, we will go more than halfway to meet him. If not, then we shall fight, I will not say "to the last drop of blood"—we had plenty of that in the previous debate—but we will fight it on every possible occasion to make sure that the Hull fishers come out of the scheme.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

I beg to second the Motion.

The Port of Goole, unlike the Port of Hull, has no fishing interests and, consequently, has no direct interest in the Order. We feel, however, Hull being a sister-port of Goole's in the Humber, that Hull has a right to have its case heard. It is in that spirit that I second the Motion, the purpose being that a reply may be given by the Government to the case so eloquently put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) and the views of other hon. Members.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)

The Motion is the outcome of propaganda launched upon this House by the Hull Fish Merchants' Protection Association. Each hon. Member has had his share of the communications which have emanated from that body.

Captain Hewitson

If the hon. Member will allow me, I would like to declare my interest. For 27 years I have been the trade union official looking after the fishing interests of Hull, including many years before I became a Member of this honourable House.

Mr. Duthie

Be that as it may, I would have thought that the hon. and gallant Member, in moving the Prayer, would have been a little more guarded and temperate in some of the things he said.

Let us consider the White Fish Authority and its history. It came into being in 1951 as a result of the Sea Fish Industry Act. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and I had perhaps as much to do with the Bill as any two back bench Members in the House. Speaking for myself—though I believe it is the case with others who were identified with the beginning of the White Fish Authority—I was very disappointed during the first three years of the Authority's existence by the number of stillborn schemes. Very little was done, but, nevertheless, the idea was there. One may liken it to a motor car which has great potentialities, but which is not properly manned or properly driven.

There is a vast field for the White Fish Authority to cover. What we have heard tonight from the hon. and gallant Member does not in any way detract from the tremendous problem that must be solved in the fishing industry. Less than two years ago, Sir Louis Chick was appointed Chairman of the White Fish Authority. During the first three years, the great good will which attended the Authority on its inception was largely dissipated. Probably Hope deferred maketh the heart sick as far as the industry was concerned. Since Sir Louis Chick took over command, however, there have been indications that the Authority is getting under way. It is moving ahead, slowly perhaps, but still it is showing material signs of progress.

It is quite wrong and unfair for the hon. and gallant Member to say that there is no one in the White Fish Authority who knows anything about fishing. Mr. George Wilson, of Grimsby, for example, is as knowledgeable a man in the fishing industry as anyone in the country. The Advisory Committee would consider it a poor compliment to be characterised in the manner in which the hon. and gallant Member has described those associated with this body. While I am not too happy yet about some of the appointments, the fact remains that the Authority is getting under way.

Let us look at the credit side. We have heard a great deal about the schemes that have not come to anything. Let us consider some of the positive benefits which have come to the industry and to the country through the activities of the Authority. First and foremost is the administration of grants and loans. When the grants and loans scheme came into being in 1946, those of us who were identified with fishing communities pointed out the danger of grants and loans being given to fishermen on application without sufficient vetting. The position concerning grants and loans has been rectified and the Authority is now ensuring that the right type of people are being helped in this way to obtain new vessels and, in due course, engines to replace those that are defective.

That in itself is already paying handsome dividends to the country, and it will go on doing so in increasing measure. The guesswork has been removed from the giving of grants and loans, and the Authority has gone a long way towards ensuring for the country and for the industry, and for the Government and for all of us, that the right man goes into the wheelhouse of a vessel which is obtained under the grants and loans scheme for the white fish industry.

I would be the first to admit that there are not enough port officials on the payroll of the White Fish Authority, but they are an administrative expense, and the hon. and gallant Member is objecting to administrative expense. A way in which I should like to see some of its money spent by the Authority is in the building of strong teams of port officers, linked right round the coast, so that each port and each area has its proper administrative force.

There is another matter on which I join issue with the hon. and gallant Member. He belittled the benefits which the Port of Hull has received. I refer to the education schemes. There is the provision in Section 4 (1, h) of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951 to give financial assistance by way of grant for the maintenance while taking a course of specialized training or education of persons engaged or employed in the white fish industry or intending to be so. One of the greatest difficulties that beset our fishing ports—and Hull is no exception—is the ensuring of a plentiful supply of the right type of men as skippers and mates. It is quite true that Hull has its own education scheme, but Hull's education scheme does not furnish enough skippers and mates for the requirements of the expanding Hull long-distance trawling industry.

One finds in Hull skippers from all over the country, not a few from Scotland, and the same is true of Grimsby, Milford Haven, Fleetwood and North Shields. Today, the inducements to young people to take jobs ashore are tremendous, and so the men we find in the smaller ports who are going in for fishing are those with family boats on which to rely. The White Fish Authority is starting to do a great service in inducing young men without family boats and family connections with the fishing industry to enter it, and to look beyond the blandishments of local factory works, hydro-electric schemes, and so on. Most successful courses have been run in the North of Scotland, and no doubt Hull will benefit from them in due course, because of the spendid fishermen being passed into the industry through that means. Skippers are the key men in the industry, and it will require all the efforts of the Authority to ensure the supply of the right type of men.

Advertising has been mentioned. It has been proved conclusively that there is a far greater purchasing of fish by housewives today than there was before the advertising scheme of the Authority was commenced. It is true that the British Trawlers' Federation, and possibly the Hull trawler owners, too, have carried out an extensive advertising scheme, but much of it was—and rightly—for the purpose of making clear to the people of the country how the trawling industry has suffered because of the Icelandic problem. A great deal of that advertising expenditure has gone for that purpose, whereas the White Fish Authority's expenditure on advertising has been for sales promotion.

Why should not the Authority hand over its advertising to an agency? In doing so it showed good sense, ranging itself alongside the best business brains in the country. By whom is the advertising of any big firm which advertises done? By a first-class agency. The Authority was perfectly within its rights to use the services of a first-class agency to put over its publicity schemes.

I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for his great concern for Scotland. He wished, for one thing, the headquarters of the Authority to travel to Edinburgh. However, we have our own committee in Scotland looking after our interests, and we do not want to be so insular as to deny England her fair share. We are extremely glad that the main body is located in England. Why should it not go to London? It is so much better for us to be in close touch with the body. It is simply a matter of getting in touch with them up the road rather than having to hare off to Knaresborough and indulge in long-distance telephone calls, and those who attend conferences can get down to other things as well when they are in London. I cannot get away from the thought that the incursion of the Hull fleet merchants here savours of impertinence. The levy is not paid by the merchants. It comes from the "cod end," like everything else in the industry. I should have paid more attention to this agitation if it had emanated from the trawler owners who are the people vitally concerned.

The powers vested in the White Fish Authority by Act of Parliament provided that the levy might be as much as ld. a stone. The Authority has shown reasons why it is advancing that levy from ¼d. to ½d. a stone, and I am sure that there is not one producer from one end of the country to the other who begrudges that increase today. Do the Hull merchants scent a certain amount of danger in the activities of the White Fish Authority and think that, sooner or later, there will be an examination of the tremendous disparity between quayside prices and the prices of fish on the fish merchant's slab? That is the crucial point, and that is a matter which the Hull Fish Merchants' Protection Association should bend their energies towards solving now, because it will become a matter of prime importance, possibly before the House.

I have great hopes that the Authority will achieve the great aims which we held out for it when it came into being and that the House will support Sir Louis Chick and those associated with him in this good work by unanimously rejecting the Prayer.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) made an interesting, destructive and at times amusing speech which he hinged on the Order against which he is praying. He used the opportunity to attack the White Fish Authority. I think the House will regard it as significant that the Prayer was seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger), representing an inland constituency, who frankly confessed that he has no fishing industries in his constituency and in fact no interest in fish except to eat it. That is indeed a good thing, and I hope that it does him a great deal of good, but it does no good to the Prayer, because the hon. Member, in seconding, did not go into detail and did not adduce any kind of argument in favour of the proposal that is before the House.

I have criticised the White Fish Authority from time to time, but now that it is attacked in this way it is up to me to say that in my dealings with it, and they have been many, I have always found that the Authority conducts its work with usefulness and expedition and is indeed a great asset to the fishing industry.

The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West made several aspersions against the White Fish Authority. He said that it is an imitation Government Department. But I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that. Imperial Chemical Industries, the General Electric Company and other great companies might be compared to Government Departments, and, indeed, they might derisively be said to be imitation Government Departments. I am quite sure the House will agree that they are none the worse for that, and that they, too, do their work with efficiency and dispatch.

This White Fish Authority is a statutory authority with statutory powers, and it is right that we should look at it in proper perspective. The hon. and gallant Member described it as a moribund body and then rather inconsistently went on to criticise it for its activities. He cannot have it both ways. It is by no means a moribund body. It is a very useful and effective body which is doing very good work for the fishing industry.

The hon. and gallant Member went on to criticise the advertisement campaign of the White Fish Authority and he pinpointed one advertisement which says "Eat more fish and chips." I cannot see anything wrong with that, and indeed it has the advantage that one cannot eat fish and chips without eating fish, and therefore it is good for the fishing industry.

There is one thing that I would like to say in criticism not so much of the White Fish Authority but of the Statute under which it operates. It seems to me that the White Fish Authority should have more money. It has not enough money to carry out the great and expansive work which it is doing by way of grants and loans for the building of new trawlers.

Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)

But that has got nothing to do with it, surely. When did the White Fish Authority, except for administering the grants and loans, raise any money for the building of trawlers?

Mr. Hughes

I am coming to that point in a moment. I am sure the House will agree that the point I have made about the White Fish Authority needing more money for its good work is a good one. It should be put in a position, which it is not in at present, to make loans at a lower rate of interest. It is said that the loans must be on an economic basis—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is straying from the Order which is before us.

Mr. Hughes

Mr. Speaker, before you came into the Chair the debate was being conducted upon a very wide front. I am within the recollection of the House, but I submit that if you limit my argument you will be giving those who have spoken before me an advantage which I do not possess.

Mr. Speaker

I think that if the front of the debate were contracted the argument might be more to the point.

Mr. Hughes

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I always bow to your Ruling, and I do not wish to transgress in any way.

I have a good many points along the same line of country—I should not say "of country" ; I should say" of sea" in this debate. In view of what you have just said, Mr. Speaker, I will content myself by saying that I think I have said sufficient to show that the Mover of this Prayer has not proved his case against the White Fish Authority and I hope that the Prayer will be rejected.

10.55 p.m.

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

As time is limited I will make my remarks very brief. I say straight away that, whether it be on a broad front or on well-rounded phrases, I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson). I am getting sick of this constant sniping at the White Fish Authority. As both sides of the House set up this body, it is only right that we should do all we can to help it.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that this was a moribund body. If he had seen the Fishing News for 26th October he would know what the Sea Fishery Officer for Cornwall thinks about it. That paper says: Cornwall's good fishing year largely due to the W. F. A. and reports a speech by the Sea Fishery Officer in which he outlined the effects of the various grants and the way in which they had been administered.

Mention has been made of administrative costs and the move to London from Knaresborough. Anyone who went there as I did will know that involved a long and tiresome journey for anyone coming from the south. It is far easier to walk round to Petty France to see the officials concerned.

I am a governor of the Fisheries Organisation Society whose headquarters are in London, and that Society covers many fisheries societies round the coast of Britain. What happens with this so-called moribund organisation? We went to consult its officials this year and, for not less than three hours, we received their help and guidance. I think I am expressing what was felt by all the members of that organisation. They were extremely pleased and grateful for the help and advice given by the Authority.

On the subject of administrative expenses, the Authority's organisation, methods and procedures were surveyed last summer by Messrs. Urwick, Orr and Partners, the well-known firm of management consultants. Their report gives no support at all to those objectors who criticised the Authority's staff as being unnecessarily large. On the contrary, they found the organisation to be essentially sound and recommended an increase in staff and adjustments in the scale of pay of certain categories of staff.

Then there is the question of advertising. As has been said, the British Trawler Federation's advertising, which all of us who take an interest in the industry must know is quite excellent, was firstly beamed towards putting their side of the Icelandic dispute. I think that it did a very fine job. It then went on to other aspects of the industry. Surely it must be the job of the Authority to plan its advertising to help every section of the industry and to all those people who are interested. If it did not do that it would very soon be criticised. If it did any sort of sectional advertising, such as the hon. and gallant Member appeared to have in mind, it would very soon have these same organisations which are behind the present move after it for not advertising their side of the question.

Again, I do not accept that as a valid criticism that the Authority should employ a first-class advertising agent. The British Trawler Federation does, and we all agree on the success of its advertising. The Authority cannot be criticised for that.

Then there is the question of research. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself said, one cannot expect to be right the first time. Anybody who knows the industry must appreciate that it is one of the most complex in the country. If we please one section, then somebody else says that it is no good. If we please a section in Scotland, people in England think that they are missing something. We cannot expect to turn round, wave a wand and have the whole thing right in three years.

We all know that the Authority got off to a fairly bad start, but it now appears to be a good team. If some hon. Members have had trouble in getting letters answered, I must say that I have not shared in that misfortune. I have called for papers from the Authority and they have been in my hands within a matter of hours, because the office is round the corner and not miles away in Knaresborough. Obviously the Authority has been doing important research work, some of which may be vitally important to the shellfish industry in which fishermen in my constituency are particularly interested. Nothing can be published about that at present, although it may have far-reaching effects, because if something were put into print and it did not materialise immediately, we should hear criticisms of a similar kind to those which we have heard tonight. I should prefer that a little longer time was taken over these matters and something good produced in the long run.

I think the Authority should be given a decent chance. Sir Louis Chick, the chairman, is trying to do a good job, and he took over an appointment which it was difficult to fill. As this House set up this organisation, I think we should give it a decent run for its money and back it all we can. Therefore I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will withdraw his Prayer.

11.2 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I desire to say little on this issue. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and other speakers have demolished the arguments advanced by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson). We thoroughly enjoyed the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. It was a real knock-about turn, but I do not think that it had much relevance to the prosperity or the work of the White Fish Authority. It seemed to be a marvellous advertisement for Hull, but I do not blame my hon. and gallant Friend for that. I have always contended that the best fish come from Lowestoft, and the industry depends on the quality of its fish.

Captain Hewitson

It is no more than a village.

Mr. Evans

It is a good village for all that, and what we sell is very good. But we will not go into invidious comparisons ; my hon. and gallant Friend knows my views on this subject very well.

I think it a great pity that such an important issue as the conduct of the Authority should be brought up at such a late hour in a Prayer. I have constantly asked the Government to give us a day for fishing—[Laughter.]—yes, we might have a day off as well—when we could debate the fishing industry in all its aspects, the White Fish Authority, the herring industry, the question of research, distribution and finance, and also manning, which is one of the greatest of the difficulties.

This matter should not have been brought up in a Prayer by an hon. Member who is distinguished in many ways but who in this matter has not the support of his own party. He did it without consulting the special committee dealing with fishing and without the support of the trade union most concerned with fishing ; indeed, in opposition to it. As a trade union official himself, I am surprised that my hon. and gallant Friend should have taken that attitude.

Captain Hewitson

I can assure my hon. Friend that the organisation which is the second largest in the country supports me in my attitude.

Mr. Evans

And I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the largest organisation in the country is "dead agin it." Furthermore, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, the Hull fishers are not behind this at all. We all know from where this emanates.

Captain Hewitson

The hon. Member is saying something that he knows nothing whatever about.

Mr. Evans

I generally do. But we are impressed by the sudden zeal of the hon. and gallant Member who has taken part in a fishing debate for the first time for a long period. The hon. Member for Banff, who in his excellent speech answered most of the points advanced by my hon. and gallant Friend, said that on looking through the records we should not find the name of the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger), which indeed we should not expect to find, nor should we find the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West on the occasion of the auspicious debate on the setting up of the Authority.

The only hon. Member who had the courage to oppose the introduction of the Authority on that occasion was the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). We all know that he has the courage of his convictions. He did not know much about the subject, it is true, but he had the courage to support his views in the Division Lobby, and I offered to stand as teller for him.

On this side of the House we take great pride in having set up the White Fish Authority. We may be disappointed at the pace and because it has not achieved as much as we hoped, but I cannot see how we shall help it by crippling its finances. It is like telling a man that because he looks hungry we are going to halve his rations. I agree that there is great benefit in bringing together elements which have always been individualistic and jealous of each other. I have engaged myself, on behalf of the merchants of my constituency, to put to the House the anxieties of those who have to foot the bill. One of these is the price fixing at the point of first sale.

The hon. Member for Banff has shown that good merchanting can easily recover an increase in the price of fish, and I do not think that the increase would be too small to be passed on to the next buyer as a direct charge. The fact is that the merchants will not sell at 3½d. which is a factor of 14. Do they want the price to be 7d. or 1s. 2d.? Of course they do not. They also say that they cannot put on their invoices the charge to the White Fish Authority. This body has my sympathy, because it has to foot the bill to the trawlers.

It has been suggested that the White Fish Authority should have a subvention from the Government, but we know that the Government will not do that. Proper methods of sale could easily recoup these people. When my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, West brings tears to my eyes at the plight of the fish merchants of Hull, I remember that the loss does not come out of their pockets but from the people who eat the fish.

A good deal has been said about advertising. We want fish advertised, as I said in the last debate. We do not eat fish specially on Fridays as a penance, as we are not a Catholic country. We want people to eat fish because it is' good food. The advertising of the White Fish Authority takes an entirely different line from that of the British Trawlers' Association. It seems extraordinary that the Association advertises in the Fishing News, and always has done so. We have to get the people of this country fish-minded enough to eat good quality fish. The money which the White Fish Authority distributes goes to improving the quality of fish. My hon. and gallant Friend is disappointed at the pace. Cutting of supplies of finance will not help the Authority to increase the pace.

I am sure that the House will reject the Prayer, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will not have the temerity to divide the House. But I hope the Government will give us an opportunity to debate this vital industry. Do not let us be fobbed off by a debate on subsidies or a debate on a Motion such as that moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. Let us have a good debate on an industry which is most important not only from the point of view of food but also from the strategic point of view—an industry which has all the best traditions of the British way of life.

11.11 p.m.

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

I listened with very close attention to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson), because I, too, represent a constituency in Hull. Hull has been mentioned several times this evening, and I think we ought at least to have a balanced view of that great port in the House. Very briefly, I want to put rather a different point of view from that of the hon. and gallant Member.

He recalled his speech on Second Reading in January, 1951, and referred to the misgivings which he then expressed, but I, too, recall his speech, and I recall that his misgivings were not on the ground that we were going too far but on the ground that we were not going far enough. He advocated wholesale nationalisation. When I challenged him in my subsequent remarks on that occasion, he did not deny it. Tonight he is taking a rather different point of view.

I can follow him a little in this respect, however, for on that occasion I tried to put the case for the distant-water trawler owners. I then advocated that they should be excluded from the scheme, because they were a highly efficient body and needed no assistance—and that applies today. They do not need assistance. They do not approve of the increased levy, and they realise that any benefit which Hull gets will be extremely small in proportion to the amount which they have to pay, but they accept it, realising that it is for the benefit of other sections of the industry, and are not greatly concerned about it.

Any increase is unpalatable. This increase is unpalatable. I want to suggest one way in which it might be made more palatable to the Port of Hull. If hon. Members refer to the Report of the White Fish Authority they will find these words on page 17: One important matter is the condition of premises, and there are, in addition, a number of longer-range issues such as the improvement of the fish docks themselves, the better use of available dock space … that require attention as opportunity offers. Opportunity is offering in Hull now in respect of the fish docks. The Hull fish dock is in a most deplorable state. Recently there has been a serious collapse of one of the walls. We have no slipway capable of taking any of our modern trawlers or, indeed, some of the not-so-modern trawlers. I think I am in order in referring to that matter, Mr. Speaker, because it is in the Report. I commend that point to the House—and, with that, I sit down.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I do not intend to delay the House for long, but I rise for a moment in order to say a few words in support of asking hon. Members to reject this Prayer. My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson) referred to the fact that those of us who remember the setting up of the White Fish Authority recall that the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) at that time spoke about giving the White Fish Authority more authority and the ultimate nationalisation of the whole industry. But I was rather surprised when he moved the Prayer—and it was, without doubt, a most eloquent speech—that it was mainly in defence of the extreme efficiency of private enterprise in Hull.

I was delighted to hear those remarks, but at the same time I was rather upset at his very critical attitude towards the White Fish Authority. I think that all who took part in the debate setting up this Authority fully realised the difficulties and problems that would confront it when it was set up. During its teething pains it may well be that it did not move as swiftly as most of us would have desired. On the other hand, I think that many of us realised the problems that beset it. Now, at the present time, as has been rightly said from this side, it is rather more grown up and doing things at last.

The hon. Member for Hull, West criticised the Authority on one point especially—that it did not reply when written to. That has not been my experience.

Captain Hewitson

Perhaps I could put the hon. Member right on that. I did not wish to convey to the House the impression that I had written to the White Fish Authority. I have never written to it. The people who have written to the White Fish Authority were the Hull merchants.

Mr. Marshall

I see. I presume the hon. and gallant Member is anaware of the contents of the letter. It may well be that there was no reason to reply to what they wrote.

I think that at times all hon. Members are not fully aware of the many difficult things which confront the Authority. I had a case not very long ago where difficulties arose—extreme difficulties between two operations of the fishing industry, and there was a clash of views. In fact, within 24 hours there was to be a strike. I got on to the White Fish Authority in London. Some of the people concerned were at that time in Edinburgh, not London. I telephoned Edinburgh and, in three hours, had arranged a meeting between the White Fish Authority and the two parties concerned, avoided a strike, and got agreement. That was due to the Authority.

There is much that one would like to develop on this subject, but I do not wish to delay the House. I do wish, however, to see to it that this Prayer is rejected.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

Just before the Minister replies I should like to add my voice to the many that have asked him not to accept the Prayer. I think that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) was really ludicrously one-sided, even for a statement from Hull—and he said that Hull liked to be the odd man out in these matters. My own merchants in Grimsby have spoken to me about this. They do not like the rise in the levy, but they have not spoken of taking the extreme action mentioned by my hon. Friend, let alone spoken of taking this absurd step of opting out of the scheme.

I think that the Authority is doing an important job, it is doing a good job, and should be given enough money to carry on its activities.

11.20 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I am glad that I waited to have those comments from the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), which add substantially to those from this side of the House. And I thank my hon. Friends for the admirable arguments which they have put forward, which have really completely demolished the case put by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson). I listened to his eloquence, but I also listened to the admirable replies given to him by my hon. Friends the Members for Banff (Mr. Duthie), for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), for Hull. North (Mr. W. R. A. Hudson), for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), with his great knowledge of the fishing industry, and by the Hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). One and all, they have dealt with his argument and have really roundly castigated him. That has spared me saying, as I would otherwise have felt obliged to say, some pretty terse words to him about what he said of the White Fish Authority. It really was not fair, and I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. and gallant Member will agree with that.

What we are concerned with here is the provision of money for an Authority which has an extremely difficult job to do, and one which all of us who are interested in the fishing industry want done. Whatever the hon. and gallant Member may have in his mind about how this could be better done for the industry as a whole, he has certainly not disclosed it tonight. What he has demonstrated is one of the basic difficulties and weaknesses of the industry, and that is sectionalism. It is one of the primary difficulties in dealing with the real problems of the industry. The hon. and gallant Member could not have given us a better example of it.

However, I will not go into detail in dealing with the arguments of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, for I feel that they have been admirably dealt with. I entirely agree with the admirable reply made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff. I would only add that I cannot quite agree that the levy is paid only by the catchers of the fish. I think it is paid by everybody—those who catch it, the merchants, those who retail it and the consumers as well. Nobody can say exactly where the incidence falls.

On a small point in the hon. and gallant Member's speech, I would say that his remarks about the "Northern Wave" were not really fair. The "Northern Wave" was chartered only for one series of voyages, and it is natural that the experimental machinery should now be dismantled. She has done valuable work, and I do not doubt that as a result of it there will be considerable benefit to the industry.

I was grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Lowestoft. He must have felt a slight twinge when he looked back three years to the Motion that he moved praying that we should not reduce the subsidy from ½d. to ¼d. I am glad that he, at any rate, has been consistent, even if his hon. and gallant Friend has forgotten the view taken by the Labour Party at that time.

I very much welcomed the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North, which gave a much truer perspective of the general view of the industry in Hull. I certainly feel that the Hull industry would not take such a sectional view as the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, West does.

I should like to say a word or two about the Authority. I have not time to enumerate the many useful jobs that it does and the many valuable functions that it performs. These will be found in the Report which hon. Members have. I am certain that, from that, hon. Members will agree with me that the Authority has done a great deal of valuable work. I was particularly glad to hear my hon. Friends the Members for Banff and St. Ives speak of the progress which they had discerned during the last two years since the arrival of the new chairman. I am sure that will be most encouraging for him in his difficult task.

In closing, I should like to say a word about what I think is the really basic problem with which the Authority, and no one else, can deal. The fact is—this follows the line taken by the hon. Member for Lowestoft—that fish is an optional food. As this is not a Roman Catholic country, it is not even compulsory for us on Fridays. The fish fryers take about half the distant water fish, but when the rest reaches the shops it is largely an optional food for the housewives. There are other foods offered which housewives may take according to their choice at any given time. The result is that they do not buy fish more than occasionally unless the quality and the price are particularly attractive.

Fish is sold in retail shops in competition with many other attractive foods. These days the tendency is for more and more foods to be offered in standard qualities and in attractive packages, with big national advertising campaigns which continually press their benefits upon the housewives. I think particularly of cereal breakfast foods. In pre-war days, people quite often ate fish for breakfast, but it is not eaten anything like as often now. One of its main competitors is the uncooked breakfast foods, which, supported by a tremendous advertising campaign, are attractively arranged and well put over to the housewife. In this context, one sees immediately the great contrast of the variability in quality, and sometimes also in presentation, of fish ; this indicates the measure of the handicap that fish has to bear in competing with these other foods which are offered in uniform, standard qualities.

We all know that by the very nature of things to bring a daily supply of high-quality fish on to the slab at all is a major achievement. To get it there at competitive prices is a great credit to the industry. Most fish which is caught has to be brought long distances often hundreds of miles away from our shores, and the fish does not swim about in nicely-graded shoals. They are all shapes and sizes. Once caught, it is a flesh which quickly loses its attractive flavour and is highly perishable. So that the whole business of getting the fish to the housewife in an attractive, uniformly graded condition is a difficult one.

A great deal has been done—do not let me leave any impression behind that it has not—with great credit to those who have done it. In the catching part of the industry, especially in the distant water fleet, the modern vessels, with their quicker voyages and more rapid return with the fish, have in the last few years reduced voyages by two or three days. There are quick-freezing developments, and the new fish sticks, which are going extremely well, are all helping in the direction of catching the housewife's custom. In addition, there is the great national publicity campaign which the Authority has directed particularly to the consumer end and which the B. T. F. is now directing to that end also. There is room for both.

It is interesting to see that sales went up in 1955 by 4 per cent. and in the first half of this year they were up by no less than 7½ per cent. in quantity and well over 8 per cent. by value. There is no doubt at all that this great advertising campaign is really giving results ; but very much still remains to be done.

The fact is, as has been said tonight, that the fishing industry is not one industry, but a whole collection of industries. It is composed of highly individualistic people, as we have heard tonight from the hon. and gallant Member, in all sections, and they do not always co-operate too easily. They need an Authority which will co-ordinate, and co-operate in bringing these sections together in order to make more effective the linking of the chain from catching the fish to the point when it reaches the counter, and so that it will reach the counter in uniform grades of quality, at competitive prices and as fresh as possible.

That is the aim of everybody in the industry, but there is still very much to be done if we are really to make the fish as competitive as we would like it to be to catch the housewife's custom in competition with all the many other foods that are out to gain her custom. It should be remembered that even in Hull, large quantities of good fish often have to go to the meal factory because they cannot be found a market for human consumption.

I ask the House to reject the Prayer and to provide the Authority with the money that it needs to go on with the job for which it alone is peculiarly well suited and constituted to carry out.

Captain Hewitson

After hearing the views of both sides of the House, and still very unrepentant, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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