HC Deb 03 December 1959 vol 614 cc1504-12

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 36, at the end, to insert: and (d) the words 'one hundred pounds or, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding two hundred pounds or both' shall be substituted for all the words following 'not exceeding' in subsection (3) of section seven of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, and the amendment made by this paragraph shall extend to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. (2) Subsection (4) of section fifty-four of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1938 (which increased the penalty imposed by the enactment mentioned in paragraph (d) of subsection (1) of this section) and, in subsection (5) of the said section fifty-four, the words 'of the last preceding subsection and' are hereby repealed".

I can safely be brief in moving the Amendment, as I have reason to believe that it will prove acceptable to the Government. In fact, I acknowledge some assistance in draftsmanship. I also would like to make acknowledgment to the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees, which has been making representations to the Government for some time. The Government have not fully met the points I had in mind, but I appreciate their reasons for perhaps not going as far as the Association would have liked us to go.

The Amendment will bring upon foreigners illegally fishing in our waters the same penalties as are brought by the Bill upon our own fishermen. That is a fair and proper thing to do. This will aid conservation of fish stocks in our own waters and will be of assistance to our inshore fishermen. For these reasons, I trust that the Government will be able to accept the Amendment, and to expedite our proceedings I say in anticipation that I am much obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for accepting it.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I appreciate the cordial way in which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) moved his Amendment. I was impressed with his confidence that he has put his ease so well and briefly that I should be able to accept it. I always try to help the hon. Member in any way I possibly can. On this occasion, I like the purpose of his Amendment and the way it is drafted. Therefore, I readily accept it in the way in which it has been proposed.

This is a helpful Amendment. It seeks to bring the penalties for poaching into line with the other penalties which we have brought up to date in the Bill. I am grateful to those, on both sides, who have brought this matter to the attention of the House. The hon. Member has done a useful service in bringing it forward and on behalf of the Government, I am happy to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Godber

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In asking the House to give the Bill a Third Reading, I should like to express my appreciation of the helpful contribution which hon. Members, on both sides, have made to the discussions which we have had, both in the House and in Committee. Those discussions have not, perhaps, resulted in any extensive amendment of the Bill, but they have been none the less valuable in showing the great interest which the House as a whole takes in the welfare of the fishing industry and the broad measure of agreement which exists on how we can best help the industry to tackle the problems which confront it.

It is clear that we are all agreed that until we are in a position to decide upon our long-term policies in the light of the Report from the Fleck Committee, the present arrangements for financial assistance to the industry should continue. That is what we are providing for in the early part of the Bill.

Important and essential as the financial provisions of the Bill are, however, they are, nevertheless, concerned only with the next year or two. On the conservation side, the Bill is looking much further ahead. From the discussions we have had, it is evident that we all recognise the crucial importance of conservation. There must be continued international action in this field if we are to safeguard the natural resources on which the whole future of fishing, not only in this country, but elsewhere, ultimately depends.

The powers in the Bill, together with those already available under existing legislation, will enable us to take whatever action we consider necessary on conservation. Our hand will be immensely strengthened in securing the co-operation of other countries because, from the importance attached by both sides of the House to the whole subject of conservation, they can be in no doubt that this country puts conservation in the forefront of its fisheries policy.

In that connection, there is one matter particularly in regard to which hon. Members have expressed their anxieties: the question of industrial fishing. I should, therefore, like to take this opportunity of once again assuring the House that we are fully alive to the need for the utmost care in this direction. If we make use of the powers which the Bill provides to authorise industrial fishing—and we have taken no decision on this question—it will be only after full consultation with the industry and with our scientists, to determine what safeguards may be needed to ensure that we do nothing to endanger either the stocks of fish which are used for human food or their natural food supply.

It is opportune that the Bill should be before the House at this time, when some of the factors which may have important effects on the industry are still uncertain, some of them very uncertain. By its approval of the Bill, the House will show that it wholeheartedly endorses the support which we are giving to the industry, both at home and in our efforts to reach satisfactory solutions to those problems which can be dealt with only on the international plane and which it would be wrong for me to go into further tonight.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

I support the Bill from this side of the House. I was interested in the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reference to conservation. "Conservation" was the one word I attempted to have inserted during the Committee stage, but I received a firm assurance that it was out of order. It is strange, that assurance having been given, that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should say that, of course, what matters more than anything else is conservation of our fish resources. In this respect, the Bill is a departure from anything we have had hitherto.

Conservation is tremendously important. We cannot, I think, over-estimate its importance, because conservation is vital to the industry when the catch is falling year by year. Indeed, if the Bill fails to deal with conservation, the industry can look forward to a not very prosperous future.

I was glad to hear his assurance, but I thought that the Minister might have said a little more about industrial fishing. It is, I think, important to emphasise on Third Reading that we are, for the first time in our legislation, making industrial fishing permissible. It is a dangerous enterprise. It is one thing which the industry of our country has been rather worried about, because of the considerable amount of industrial fishing which is taking place in other European countries. So far, this country has always resisted any attempt to introduce industrial fishing. The Bill represents a departure from that stand, and I am very grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his assurance that no action will be taken in this respect unless or until he has had full consultation with the industry itself.

The other provisions of the Bill are merely a continuation of previous legislation. They in no way make any changes in subsidies either for catching or for the supply of vessels. I thought that the Minister might have gone a little further and taken the opportunity to say a word about what progress has been made in our arrangements with other countries. All the provisions with regard to conservation do not take effect at all unless the Minister has assurances that other countries are taking similar steps. I think that that is right.

Mr. Godber indicated assent.

Mr. Hoy

That is what the Bill says.

On Second Reading, the Minister spoke about the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention, of which he had great hopes, and he went on to say that, while all the countries concerned, fourteen of them, had signed the Convention, Britain alone had ratified it. We were the first to do so. Have any other countries followed the lead given by Britain? We shall be interested to hear.

The Bill does not take us much further forward with regard to the future of British fishing. The industry itself is somewhat perturbed about the recent agreement with the Outer Seven. It wonders what the reactions will be, what will happen at the Second Conference on the Law of the Sea, what the Fleck Committee will produce by way of a report. Until these things are settled, we cannot really have any permanent legislation for the industry. For the time being, we support the Bill, but we support it knowing full well that it is a temporary Measure only to carry us over what might be a very difficult period for the industry.

10.7 p.m.

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

I agree with my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he says that it is good to find the great measure of agreement which exists in the House when we are discussing such a Measure as this. He said also that the Bill was to carry us on for the time being until we had the Fleck Committee's report. It is, after all, designed to help the fishing industry in an interim period.

The point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) is also a very real cause of worry to me. Under the new agreement, we are to have imparts of frozen fish, 24,000 tons, I believe. On Second Reading, I pointed out that this would establish a precedent. We have heard also that about £1 million worth of Russian tinned crab meat is to be imported into this country. At the same time, our crab and shell fishermen are not included under these subsidy arrangements. If the object of the Bill is to help our fishermen, it seems rather unfortunate that these things should happen at this time.

There has been a certain amount of talk lately about fishery vessels being detached to Iceland to protect our interests there. It has been said in certain quarters that this has meant that fishery vessels have not been able to protect our people round the coasts of England. I would like my hon. Friend who is to reply to assure us—I believe this to be so—that the vessels which are in use around the shores of Britain for fishery protection are not of the same type as those which go to Icelandic waters and do their very wonderful job there.

Since the Second Reading I have been in Washington, attending a conference, where we had the Icelandic delegates, and they, of course, raised publicly the vexed question of this dispute between our two countries. One was able to have private conversations with them, however. I can only hope that the Government are looking into this question with the idea that, perhaps, at the forthcoming Conference on the Law of the Sea, they may be able to make a new form of approach to the Icelanders to try to resolve this dispute. We cannot let it go on for ever. Unless we have a new approach we shall never get it settled, because they will never acquiesce in the present conditions. We must have a new approach to this problem, and I ask the Government to consider this most carefully.

My last point is that in helping the inshore fishermen I hope that the Govment will reconsider this day payment scheme as opposed to the ordinary stone subsidy. It can be worked, and it should be worked. It is the wish of the Sea Fisheries Committee, it is the wish of the White Fish Authority, and I cannot impress upon the Government strongly enough that they must reconsider this, and I hope they will come to a different answer.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

I wish to detain the House for only a few moments. First, I should like to echo the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) to the Government for a fresh and imaginative approach to the Icelandic problem in particular, and to the problem of fishing legislation in general, at this year's Conference on the Law of the Sea, because many of us feel that the approach at last year's conference was far from being imaginative to say the least.

We on this side of the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has said, welcome the conservation provisions in this Bill. As for the financial arrangements, we welcome them, and I think that hon. Members opposite do also, as an interim arrangement, but when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary speaks of the various uncertainties hanging over the industry which make it most vital to produce a permanent arrangement I very much hope he is not only thinking of the fact that the Fleck Committee is due to report, because the fact is that, apart from whether the Fleck Committee exists or not, the industry is going through a period of acute flux and uncertainty.

The industry is going through a period which began with the imposition of the 12-mile limit by Iceland, a period which continued this autumn with the concession on frozen fish in the Outer Seven Agreement, a period which will continue next March and April with the Conference on the Law of the Sea, a period which, towards the end of this year, will be marked not only by the publication of the Fleck Report, but, possibly, also by some difficulties that the industry may have with the Restrictive Practices Court. So, for a number of very diverse reasons, the industry's output is an extremely uncertain one.

I very much hope, therefore, that the Government, having rightly introduced this interim Measure, will not just sit back and wait for the Fleck Committee's proposals, but will consider the number of other factors affecting the industry, which may very easily not come within the terms of reference of the Fleck Committee. Having said that, like my hon. Friend I welcome the Bill as the modest interim Measure it is.

10.13 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)

I should like to echo the words of my hon. Friend in expressing my appreciation to hon. Members on both sides of the House and in the Standing Committee for the helpful and useful contributions they have made during the passage of the Bill.

There are one or two specific points raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) which I might just touch on shortly. I should like to emphasise that we attach the greatest importance to conservation. I think that we have reached a stage between us where we do not really quarrel about the use of this word, and if it was ruled out of order during the Committee stage I think that it was ruled out of order only in connection with Clause 4. I can only reiterate what my hon. Friend said about industrial fishing. We intend to "gang warily" on this, and, of course, we shall have consultations with the industry.

The hon. Member also asked what progress is being made with other countries in regard to the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention. As I understand, the position is that all the 13 countries have signed the Convention; so far we are the only country which has ratified it. We should remember that the Convention was signed only this year, and we hope that very shortly other countries will follow by ratifying it as we have done.

In reply to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) about Russian tinned crab, we have to remember that this is not a new trade. It has been going on for a number of years. We take this crab in exchange for Russian imports of curred herrings from this country, and, more recently, quick-frozen white fish.

Having answered these points, I am sure that the Bill is welcomed on all sides of the House, and I hope that we shall now give it a Third reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.