§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill which is now before the House is in two parts. The first part deals with fishing subsidies and grants. It can be looked upon as a holding operation to enable the Government to continue arrangements for grants and subsidies beyond the present financial limits. The second part extends the existing powers of the fisheries Ministers to provide for more effective conservation of fish stocks.
As the House will know, the Government are awaiting the report of Sir Alexander Fleck's Committee of Inquiry into the Fishing Industry. We shall be able to review the long-term policy for our fishing industry when we have the Committee's report. Meanwhile, the industry is naturally concerned in case major changes in present subsidy and grant arrangements should take place before the Fleck Committee's conclusions are published. The first part of the Bill, therefore, will remove any fears that the industry may have on this score.
The near and middle water fleets as well as the inshore fishermen are at present assisted in two ways. There are grants and loans for the acquisition of new vessels and for the modernisation of old ones by conversion from coal to oil; and there is also an operating subsidy to the fleets. The arrangements, as I think the House will agree, have worked reasonably well. The greater part of our old fleet of obsolete coal-burning vessels has now been scrapped and replaced, although I must remind the House that today there are still more than 200 vessels of this kind.
We are now already approaching the upper financial limits set up by the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1957. The £19 million which Parliament has allowed for subsidies will be exhausted by the end of next year. The £9 million authorised for grants will also soon be taken up. The reason for this is that 1032 we have not been able to taper off subsidies to the existing fleet in the way that was originally envisaged, and the cost of new vessels has gone up. If the present arrangements are to continue until 1963, as provided in the Bill, I estimate that another £5 million will be needed by way of subsidy and £5 million by way of grants.
Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill deal with these matters. It will be seen that we are not proposing that the House should authorise outright the spending of the whole of this extra money. Only £3 million of the additional £5 million for subsidies would be authorised immediately, and, similarly, only £3 million of the £5 million for grants. The Bill will, however, empower the Government to authorise the remainder by Order, should that prove necessary. I think that the House would also agree that it would be unrealistic at present to look any further ahead than 1963. Well before then we shall have received and studied the report of Sir Alexander Fleck's Committee, and shall be in a position to consider what our long-term policy should be.
There is a number of factors likely to affect our fishing industry which the Fleck Committee will, I am sure, wish to consider before it reaches conclusions. Not least of these is the outcome of the second world Conference on the Law of the Sea, which will be held in Geneva next spring.
As stated in the Gracious Speech, at the opening of Parliament, we shall work at that Conference for a just and reasonable settlement of the very difficult questions of the breadth of the territorial sea and of fishery limits. The House well realises what vital concern these matters are to our fishing industry off Iceland and elsewhere in the North Atlantic.
As hon. Members know, we have been put in the position of having to give defensive protection to our fishing vessels off Iceland. This is because Iceland has unilaterally extended her fishing limits to 12 miles; and she has done this without awaiting the conclusions of the very genuine and earnest attempt which the world is making, under United Nations auspices, to reach agreement on this contentious matter.
No one—neither the Government, nor the industry nor anyone else, I think—imagines for one moment that we like 1033 fishing in protective havens off Iceland. But Iceland's refusal to consider any of our suggestions for a modus vivendi in advance of the World Conference has made this action inevitable. We have been forced either to provide protection for our vessels, or to acquiesce in action which we hold to be contrary to the law between nations.
There is no doubt that fishing has been effectively carried out in the havens. The catches in recent months have been good, and the facts completely refute unfriendly propaganda claims that British trawlers are under compulsion to fish in the havens. Our men have been able to fish there because of the protection of the Royal Navy, whose unremitting service has won the gratitude of the fishing industry as well as, I believe, of this House as a whole. We must not forget, either, the restraint and discipline shown by trawler skippers and crews throughout the whole of this difficult period.
In a sensible world none of this would have been necessary. We all of us can but hope that the conclusion of a fair agreement at the Conference on the Law of the Sea, next spring, will pave the way for stable conditions under which our fishermen will be free to exercise their skill and to earn their living without interference on the high seas.
The Fleck Committee needs to take into account the outcome of the Conference in completing its inquiry. It will need to consider, also, the implications of any agreement that may be reached on fish in the European Free Trade Association. If it is to do the thorough job which we expect of it, it will need time. But none of us will want to see the Committee's deliberations unduly prolonged, and Sir Alexander Fleck has informed me that its report will be available before the end of 1960.
The House will be interested to know that Sir Alexander Fleck and his colleagues have informed me that, without anticipating its final conclusions, the Committee is unanimous in thinking that, whatever the future of the industry should be, there should be no sudden withdrawal of the subsidies, since that would have adverse effects upon the industry. For this reason, the Committee welcomes the provision made in the Bill, 1034 since it gives the industry an assurance that present arrangements will continue for a further period.
In saying this, Sir Alexander has made it clear that the Committee is very much concerned that such public funds as are applied should be directed to maintaining and increasing the efficiency of the industry.
I think that I should now say a special word about Clause 3 of the Bill, the purpose of which may not be too easy to understand. The House has, on two occasions, approved schemes increasing the maximum amount payable by way of grant. When this has happened, we have aimed to give people with applications still in the pipeline the benefit of the increased rates approved by Parliament. The obvious way to do this, where a man has been paid grant at the old rate, but has not yet taken delivery of the vessel, is to make him an additional payment of the difference between the new and the old rate. Unfortunately, this is just what we cannot do.
The original Act lays down that once a grant has been approved, it cannot subsequently be altered by a later scheme. We have, therefore, had to allow people to repay grants so that, having repaid the grants, they might then make fresh applications at the new rates. Clause 3 removes the need for what I think I may call this devious and troublesome procedure. In future we hope to be able simply to make a supplementary payment in appropriate cases.
I now come to the second part of the Bill. The purpose here is to extend the powers of the fisheries Ministers so that the United Kingdom will be able to play its full part in carrying out measures for fish conservation as and when they are agreed internationally. The conservation measures which are at present in force have been taken under the International Fisheries Convention of 1946 and the International Convention for the North-West Atlantic Fisheries. These measures regulate the construction and size of mesh of nets. They lay down also minimum sizes below which certain commercially important fish are not allowed to be landed.
This year, the various States—14 in number—which are parties to the 1946 Convention signed a new Convention— 1035 the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention—which, when it comes into operation, will take the place of the earlier one.
I am glad to say that we in this country have taken a leading part in all matters to do with fish conservation. Our scientists here at home, we all agree, are second to none in fisheries research. The new Convention provides an essential framework to be used to ensure that fishermen of all the nations in this area do not fish themselves out of a living. We in the United Kingdom were the first nation to ratify the Convention, and the Bill demonstrates our desire to see that it becomes operative.
The new Convention is a much more flexible instrument than its predecessors. It allows for a wider range of action. It covers not only nets, but other types of gear as well. It provides for closed areas and closed seasons for fishing, and for action to limit the fishing effort in the general interests of conservation. Apart from measures of this kind to prevent more fish from being caught than stocks can stand, the Convention envisages, also, direct action to improve stocks by measures such as transplanting young fish and artificial propagation.
We are seeking the additional powers in the Bill in order to be able to cooperate fully in Measures of the kind I have just described. These powers are, of course, enabling powers. What will happen is this. The commission to be established under the new Convention will examine the complex scientific and technical problems of conservation. In the light of its studies, the commission will make recommendations to Governments on the specific Measures which are needed. Only when its recommendations are approved and accepted by Governments will they become binding. It is at that stage that the powers in the Bill will need to be used.
I and my colleagues—I believe that all right hon. and hon. Members are with us in this—hope most earnestly that ratification of the new Convention by other States will not be long delayed. For countries in whose economy the fishing industry is of real importance, conservation, in my opinion and, I believe, in the opinion of everyone here, is a subject requiring immediate attention. We, for our part, wish to be in a position 1036 to give effect to any Measures which we and other members of the Convention may approve and accept. The Bill makes our intentions crystal clear.
I will now deal briefly with one or two of the important points arising on the second part of the Bill. Clause 4 authorises Ministers to take measures to increase and improve marine resources. It would, for example, enable us to undertake artificial propagation and transplantation of young fish. Clause 5 extends to all types of gear the powers of regulation which, as the House knows, at present apply only to nets.
Clause 6 relates to the minimum size limits for fish, but would allow exceptions to be made to the general prohibition on the landing of under-sized fish. Some exceptions would be necessary if—I say "if "—we were to legalise any form of industrial fishing. We are very much alive to the dangers of this. But there may be certain kinds of industrial fishing that could be permitted without risk.
Let me make it clear that on this point we have certainly taken no decision at all. I give this pledge to the House, that we shall at no time allow any kind of industrial fishing that runs counter to conservation requirements or, of course, the provisions of international fisheries conventions. There are two further Clauses dealing with conservation. Clause 7 will enable us to establish closed areas and closed seasons. Clause 8 deals with licensing of fishing boats to prevent overfishing.
The powers to which I have just referred would be exercisable only under the terms of an international convention or like agreement.
That, I think, completes the general description of what we seek to achieve by the Bill. The Bill is not intended to introduce any sweeping changes into our fisheries policy, but simply enables us to continue with policies which, I believe, broadly, have found general acceptance on both sides of the House. It enables us to continue present arrangements for assisting the fishing industry until we are in a position to undertake a general review of our policy in the light of the Fleck Committee's report.
While the Bill widens the powers we already have on conservation, the general 1037 principles behind these powers have guided our actions in this House for many years, and they have been accepted by successive Governments and also by our fishing industry. I believe that the provisions in the Bill, which I now commend to the House, will meet with general acceptance and approval.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
In opening the debate for this side of the House, I hope that I shall be allowed to refer to one who is no longer with us, namely. Mr. Edward Evans, who so well represented Lowestoft and the fishing industry for many years. When debates on this subject took place, Members on both sides of the House looked forward to his contribution, because, if there was one thing that he had at heart, it was the interest of the fishing industry.
Whatever our political feelings, I am sure that we all deprecate his not being able to be with us this afternoon. In the middle of this year Members on this side who deal with fishing matters, together with hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies opposite, went to Grimsby and Hull on what was, I thought, a very pleasant and informative visit. That visit was all the happier for the presence of Edward Evans.
The Minister said one or two things which I found very interesting. He referred to the Fleck Committee's report and announced that we could expect the report of the Committee by the end of 1960. If we are not to have this report for a further twelve or fourteen months, then I should have thought that the Minister would have been quite entitled to ask Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee for an interim report before the full report was submitted. After all, in July this year, the Minister made a fairly substantial cut, 7 per cent., in the subsidies to the coal-burning trawlers without awaiting any report at all from Sir Alexander Fleck. This has had a very bad effect on ports as far apart as Aberdeen and Milford Haven. These two ports, in particular, felt this very badly.
I suggest to the Minister that if it is to be so long before Sir Alexander is able to report, then at least he might be asked to present an interim report dealing with inshore and middle-distant water fishing. I know that what he has to say about the distant water fishing fleet will 1038 be affected by happenings outside the control of the Government, but I think that there might be a very good case for dealing with the others.
We on this side support the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention. I hope that other countries will speedily give it their support, because, on a previous occasion, it was only by the concerted efforts of Members of this House at Strasbourg that we were able to get oher countries in Europe to ratify the North Sea Overfishing Convention. I believe that a concerted effort of this kind will have very good results.
The Minister said that the first part of the Bill deals with present subsidies both for fishing and for the replacement of fleets. It should be made explicitly clear, however, that there is not to be any additional money for any part of the fleet. The subsidy, or rate of subsidy, is in no way being altered. All that we are making provision for is an extended period of the subsidy. In addition, we are covering the anomaly where owners, having applied for grants, find that they are not sufficient to meet their needs, have to pay back to the Exchequer the subsidy which they have received and apply for a new one. To that extent, no extra money is involved at all. If we understand that from the very beginning, we will realise that the fishing industry will not receive any extra allowances by way of subsidies out of the Bill.
I am interested in the provision for the extension of grants for the building and the acquisition and improvement of fishing vessels. The Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I understand, is to reply to the debate, will perhaps remember that during the debate in July this year I suggested that we might consider the building of standardised vessels. I did not suggest that every vessel should be the same, but that there should be a group of vessels which could be built to do the job quite competently at a cost much less than owners have to pay at present. I made this suggestion because I was certain that within this industry there must be room for orders of this kind.
I was interested to read an article in the Fishing News of 30th October on precisely this subject. It stated:The problem of providing a suitable and efficient successor to Aberdeen's near-water 1039 steam trawler has proved a somewhat difficult one, but one class of vessel which recently made its appearance goes a long way to solving the difficulty.The article outlines the type of trawler that it is. It is a new Fair Isle class and is regarded as being a competent successor to the old coal steam trawler which previously fished from Aberdeen.
As a result of research, 11 of this type of vessel have already been built, and I am happy to say that my own constituency has been responsible for ordering and accepting delivery of five of them. This class of vessel has a contribution to make to the economics of the fishing industry, for this reason. It is perhaps rather more than half the size of the old trawler, but it is little more than half the cost, and its fuel costs are about £40 a week as against £240 a week in the case of the old trawler. One can see at a glance how the whole position changes if, by building this type of trawler, we are able to make such a substantial contribution to the economy of the industry. It was, therefore, because of that that I argued some months ago that this might well be considered in the light of new Government policy.
The only regret that I have about it is this. It was left to a private firm to carry out the necessary research and experiments, and in the course of the firm's experiments it found that the engine that was first suggested for the trawler was not powerful enough to do the job and the firm itself had to replace the engine which was originally supplied with a more powerful type. I should have thought that it was reasonable for this firm to suggest that, in view of all that it has undertaken privately, the Government might, in the replacement of these engines, meet it more generously than they have done in the past.
More than that, I should have thought that this would have been an opportunity for the Government, when introducing a new Bill, to say that perhaps this type of research work might more adequately have been undertaken by a Government authority itself, as one of the contributions which it could make to the fishing industry. It may be that it would need a single authority to do this job. If that be the case, I suggest that the Government might seriously consider, if Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee have 1040 not already done so, the amalgamation of the White Fish Authority with the Herring Industry Board to do this job. It may be that in the days that lie ahead we shall get rid of the two Boards and have a single authority.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum also explains the extension of the Minister's powers in relation to fish conservation. This is not a new subject to us in Scotland. Six years ago, when I led a deputation to St. Andrew's House, in Edinburgh, when the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) was responsible for fisheries in Scotland, this was one of the subjects which we raised with him. Since then I have attempted to raise it in the House on many occasions.
I admit straight away that there is a difference of opinion as to whether, as the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) said in the last debate, there is a movement of fish food and plankton which is responsible for the lack of fish or whether it is the tremendous amount of over-fishing which is going on which is responsible for the present shortage. Both schools of thought exist. Whatever it may be, when I put the Question down for Monday I was delighted to have the Minister's reply, and I welcome his decision to have discussions between his Department and the industry on the question of industrial fishing, because this looms large in the view of the British Trawlers' Federation and all who are interested in the fishing industry.
If I may deal with the Question in two parts, I did not like the other Answers quite as well. The Minister said that according to the Permanent Commission of the International Fisheries Convention,although there was a reduction in the stocks of whiting and haddock, this was not so substantial as seriously to reduce the yield from these fisheries.Whatever else this might say about the size of the problem, at least it has admitted that there is substantial fishing for industrial purposes which is having some effect, even though it is not yet serious. I do not think that anyone can take anything other than that out of the Minister's answer.
The Minister added:A similar conclusion resulted from an experiment in the industrial fishery grounds for young herring in the North Sea."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 11.]1041 As I have said, there is a difference of opinion as to who and what is responsible for this, but there is no doubt in the minds of men engaged in the fishing industry in this country that industrial fishing is having a serious and detrimental effect on our fishing industry. One has only to look at the Board of Trade returns, showing the landings by Denmark and the importation of fish meal into this country from both Denmark and Chile, to realise how serious the problem is. Indeed, if one looks at the returns of the landings of sand eel by Denmark—this is a fish food—one sees that in the last couple of years Denmark has taken 160,000 tons of it out of the sea, and, however one argues, no country can do that without it having an effect on the fish stock left in the sea.
There is an interesting article about herring in the Observer of Sunday, 25th October. That article refers to the herring industry as "An industry in the doldrums". It says:Fishermen say one reason for the poor herring catch is the destruction by foreign trawlers of small herring on the spawning beds in the Channel. Another complaint is that the Danes, who have no interest, in the full-grown herring, have built a number of fish-meal factories at Esbjerg and other Danish towns. From 1948, when the fishery at Esbjerg began, to 1955, close upon 250,000 tons of these baby herring were converted to animal food The Danes estimate that 150 tons of meal represents 36 million fish.In view of all these figures, surely it makes it more imperative than ever that the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland should be very busy inquiring into what is going on in Denmark, because, in the view of many, that is one of the reasons why both herring and white fish are so scarce to our own fishermen.
I am bound to express our perturbation, too, about the negotiations which are going on at present with Norway. I do not ask the Minister to say this afternoon what stage those negotiations have reached, but I must say that they are causing great concern to the fishing industry in Britain If, in addition to all I have already outlined as happening to this country, we are to be faced with a tremendous importation of frozen fish from Norway, it will make the outlook of the industry all the more difficult.
1042 Wherever one looks, whether it be to Iceland, to Denmark, to the Faroes, or to Norway—and now, if I may mention a country which the Minister did not mention, Eire, where the fishing line is changing—conditions in this industry are most unsettled. In addition to the Ministers who are present this afternoon, one Ministry which must be very much involved is the Foreign Office, because these international settlements which will have to be arrived at are very much the right of the Foreign Office and not of the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
It is all the more important, therefore, that we should get, perhaps this afternoon, a little more information from the Minister who is to reply, about the next Conference on the Law of the Sea. We on this side of the House hope that the Government are giving serious and urgent consideration to this Conference. It will not be good enough for them to wait until next spring, until the conference has met, and then seek to convert those who are present to our point of view. If we are to do this job well we have to start now, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us, before this debate concludes, what steps he and the Foreign Office have taken to make Britain's point of view known to other countries throughout the world.
We are discussing this afternoon what in many ways is a very great industry. It is an industry which has rendered invaluable service to the country and which, I claim, has made less demands, financial and otherwise, on the Government of the day than many other industries.
Sometimes the demands of the industry have been so few that that, perhaps, has been one reason for the Government's ignoring them in the way they do, but the Government must decide what they want the industry to do, what size of fishing fleet they want. I said many months ago that the Government must decide what type of industry they would like, whether in the distant waters, the middle or near waters. Let the Government make up their mind and I am sure that the industry will be delighted to play its part. The Bill before us today is at best only an interim one. It can be nothing more than that.
1043 This great industry should not be the plaything of political parties. It is one which makes a tremendous contribution to the nation's food supply. Indeed, it is the one industry which has not had to bring in chemical substitutes to help to increase its supply. It is the one pure food which is left to us. The industry not only makes a contribution to our food supplies, but is one which has made a great contribution to the country's needs in much more difficult times. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to go a little further than the Minister went in opening the debate, and that to the serious issues I have raised we shall have a reply from the Secretary of State when he winds up the debate tonight.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
I have listened to the very interesting speeches of the Minister and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), and particularly to what they both said about conservation, and, whatever else we may discuss today, in my opinion nothing compares in importance with the need for conservation.
We fished out the North Sea quite a few years ago. It became apparent in 1913. The 1914 to 1918 war saved it for some years, but after that war came to an end the good supply of fish lasted only a very few years, through 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922. When that sea became uncommercial, unprofitable for the fleets to fish it, some of the more enterprising people, mainly from the Humber, built very large trawlers and sailed away to the Arctic. There had been fishing at Iceland for fifty or more years, but it became intensified off North Norway and in the Barents Sea, and some fishermen went to Newfoundland, too. The search was on for new grounds. The fact is that all the grounds of Northern Europe are over-fished not only for white fish but for herring, too.
The figures given by the hon. Member for Leith are all too true. The murder of sandworms, the basic food for so many fish, was one of the worst features, and the catching of millions of tons of herring by Denmark for oil extraction is wasteful and useless. We are feeling the effects of it now. I did not think, in my early days in the fishing industry, that 1044 we would over-fish the herring, but I have lived to see it happen. Loch Fyne was a prolific supplier to Glasgow and the West of Scotland but nowadays there is a shortage not only occasionally, but almost every year.
The same thing happened in North-East Scotland, off my own constituency, where the Grimsby and Hull trawlers found the grounds off Buchan Ness, where the herring spawn. When the herring become heavy in spawn, like other fish they go to the bottom, but the traditional way of catching them, in England and Scotland, was on the surface; they were pelagic fish, caught with drift nets when they were at their best; but when heavy with spawn they can be picked up with a trawl net on the sea bottom.
That was one of the first signs of destruction of the industry, and Wick, the greatest fishing port in Europe for many years, has not a single boat going to the herring fishing now. It was Fleetwood trawlermen who found out where Loch Fyne herring spawned on grounds between Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre, and they did their fell work there, too.
The industry has committed commercial suicide and the day of reckoning is not far away. All this nonsense about finding more money for more craft! Britain has a great duty to do, but it is not done by this Bill. Britain has the great duty as a European leader. We should not wait for the Fleck Committee, but should now be taking the lead in telling the nations of Northern Europe what we all ought to do; for this is not a matter which affects only one individual country, and it is not one individual country's problem. It is not Iceland's problem only, or Norway's problem only; it is the problem of us all. This is common ground affecting the common heritage of all northern European nations. Common sense should have told us a long time ago that if it is right to protect the sea fish which we call salmon and trout, and other forms of wild life, it must be a million times more right to protect cod, haddock and herring. But that fact seems to have by-passed this House.
I urge this on both right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries 1045 and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and on their colleague at the Foreign Office, who has played such a notable part in negotiations with Iceland and other countries, with the British Navy, which has done so well in providing protection for our craft fishing in Iceland. But all these are only palliatives. We all want more inspiration.
I imagine that Iceland wants a private ocean round her shores where she can fish or over-fish and do what she likes—and supply us and put 40 to 50 or more large trawlers out of business. Maybe Norway does, too, but surely, in our day and age, when we can discuss the security of the world and get down to talking with people like Mr. Khrushchev about world disarmament, it is not beyond Britain's power, if this House has the will, to play a leading part now and to get on with the job, which is half a century overdue, of protecting fish supplies—even putting banks out of fishing altogether, to give the cod and the haddock and the herring a chance of reproducing their species. It must be obvious to every thinking man that we must do this.
Suppose Britain goes to a convention, say, a United Nations convention, where a decision has to be taken about Iceland. It takes no great imagination to visualise all the emotionalism which would be worked up about the small nation and the big nation, and the convention would go against us, probably. But there is no need for that ever to happen at all. This is Iceland's problem fully as much as it is ours or Norway's. It is a problem common to every one of us, and to Denmark particularly. I cannot believe for a moment that statesmanship has become so bereft and useless that men of good will, Foreign Secretaries, Ministers of Fisheries, whoever they may be, cannot get together round a table to settle this thing.
The Icelandic case can be destroyed, and so can Norway's—utter selfishness: they want their own little pond. What a wonderful thing for Norway if, in a Common Market scheme, with 10 per cent. duty taken off, she could flood our market with frozen fish and we had 40 or 50 good trawlers out of work—and their crews at Hull and Grimsby.
1046 It is not good enough. We are the greatest maritime nation of them all, and the sea is in our blood. We have been, probably, the greatest over-fishers, so there is a duty incumbent upon us. I hope that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench whom I am addressing tonight are not just pygmies, but will be big enough to take this matter to the Cabinet and get this thing settled. If they do not there is no future for the fishing industry.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Deer (Newark)
I am privileged to take part in this debate, because I am breaking a sort of monastic silence which characterised my four years on the Front Bench below me. I think that I am entitled to take part in the debate, because I am—as I suppose—one of the few Members here who has earned his living in the industry. My father was a fisherman at Grimsby and for a time I worked on Grimsby Docks. I also helped to organise in the fishing industry, amongst both fishermen and those engaged in landing the fish, one of our big unions, and as their spokesman I gave evidence before those commissions which we had on fishing prior to the setting up of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Board.
Therefore, I want to say a few words about the Bill and about its impact upon the industry. I was reading earlier today of a new super-trawler which is to be built for a firm on Humberside, and which will cost £400,000. Unfortunately, tucked away at the bottom of the article about this ship it was stated that it would be built at Bremerhaven. I suggest that if we are attaching any strings to anything that we give away we might see to it that the British fishing boat builders have a fair deal and that this going abroad for these huge trawlers is discouraged.
As to conservation, when I was a boy I used to go to sea on the Dogger Bank with my father and I can remember one of the causes of the over-fishing there. There were a lot of prime plaice and sole in what was called the ribs and some of the old fishermen who cast the lead could say where the fish were to within almost a few yards. Unfortunately, one of the methods used was to lower a chain called a "tickler chain." It scraped the bottom of the sea to disturb the resting fish, but it literally murdered millions 1047 of immature fish. It is no wonder, therefore, that the North Sea became over-fished.
The Minister and I have been to see the fishery protection boats at work. A year ago we went on H.M.S. "Silverton" and we saw the help given to the industry by this magnificent service. I was so pleased that I asked if I could go a second time and I had an interesting second visit. Whilst we were talking about small subsidies to be used in a number of ways, we were being faced with the fact that huge factory ships of foreign origin were coming into the North Sea and fouling the drifters' nets and doing all sorts of damage and anti-social work which this service of Her Majesty's Navy has the job of putting right.
I therefore want to pay my tribute to the Fishery Protection Service, particularly in relation to helping conservation. Excellent work is also done by the old skippers, the liaison officers whom the Herring Fishery Board part-subsidises to travel as extra hands on these boats. The value of their experience is considerable in helping our people to know exactly what to expect and when to expect it. I pay my tribute, also, to them.
I have here a wonderful brochure about fishing in distant waters, supplied by the British fishing industry. It is excellent publicity. It tells the story very well. I am sure that we all agree with what was said in the Gracious Speech about the need to do something early next year to remedy the difficulties in Icelandic waters.
There is another point which has struck me forcibly. Coming to the House this morning I passed a fishmonger's shop on my way to the underground station. I saw skate selling at 3s. a lb. and cod at 2s. 8d. and I began to wonder how it is that fish costs six times as much to get it on the fishmonger's slab as it does to buy in the wholesale market. There must be something wrong with a Department which has to admit that fish sold at about 6s. a stone—which is the fisherman's reward and the reward of the owner who has sunk his money in the industry—fetches six times as much on the fishmonger's slab. I do not know whether this matter 1048 will come within the purview of the Fleck Committee, but I am sure that something must be done about it.
Nowadays, one sees the most queer fish on the fishmonger's slab. It is skinned nicely and the ticket on it bears the word "rock" in small letters and then the word "salmon". People think that they are buying a bit of prime fish. When I worked in the industry it was either "dog", "cat" or "coley", but after being skinned and polished up it now has a very different appearance. We must do something to popularise the best possible fish.
In the fish and chips saloon, as it is called today, one buys two pieces of fish and a few chips, and half a crown has gone. I remember getting at Grimsby the same thing for about 4d. before the First World War, and better fish and bigger portions. If that is a reasonable plateful, what old-age pensioner will be able to buy a fish and a few chips at that price? Something should be done about that.
At the invitation of the industry, I went on an organised visit to Hull and Grimsby. We saw the wonderful changes and marvellous commercial expansion which had taken place there, but it was obvious that if they were to run their industry properly they wanted some help, not for themselves but for the provision of better docking facilities, slipways and dry docks. They said that if they could not get that help they would be very much handicapped. I therefore welcome the Bill for what it will do for the industry, but I have already drawn attention to its omissions.
In the account of its activities which the industry publishes, great pride is taken in the fact that a very small percentage of fish, other than offals and the residue, goes to the fertiliser factories. But when I was on the "Silverton" I saw a herring trawler come into North Shields a minute or two after 11 o'clock and I was amazed to find that the whole of the catch went to processing, because the clock had beaten the crew as a result of adverse tides. The catch was not put up for sale for human consumption. It went right away to the factories at a very low price, and obviously at a loss to the fishermen merely because the tides had been adverse. These are some of the things with which the trawlermen and drifters have to deal.
1049 I should like to pay tribute to the men in the fishing industry. By their gallantry and courage they face not only the hazards of their job and of the weather, but also death itself many times so that we may enjoy the products of their industry.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir William Duthie (Banff)
First, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) on his speech from the Front Bench opposite and say how pleased that we on this side of the House are to see him leading for his side in this debate. Fishing debates have always been conducted in a rather friendly atmosphere and, therefore, it is only right that those of us on this side of the House should say that we share with him a sense of personal loss at the departure of Edward Evans from our midst.
As the hon. Gentleman said, from time to time we are brought face to face with the difficulties and dangers that beset people in their avocations. For instance, in September we were shocked at the terrible loss sustained at the colliery in Lanarkshire, and last week five Scottish fishermen were lost in sight of their homes in the dreadful storm. Today, we are legislating for men for whom danger is a daily companion.
I welcome the Bill. I was one of the delegation which visited Hull and Grimsby, and as one brought up in the fishing industry I was astonished at the tremendous strides made there. In thinking of the Bill, however, I ask myself: why cannot a Bill of this kind be a complete document in itself? In it there are amendments of amendments of the original Acts, going back to 1883 and 1933. This leads to confusion, because to find out the law relating to the fishing industry one has to study all the fishing legislation from time immemorial. It would be splendid if a Bill of this kind could be a complete codification of the law pertaining to the fishing industry, although I appreciate that this might be striking a grave blow at the legal profession.
It is good that provision should be made for the continuance of the subsidies to both the white fish and herring industries. I say that it is good because I hold the view that these subsidies have come to stay, in some form or other. 1050 Both the white fish and the herring industry, if they are to be encouraged to recruit men, if they are to be able to offer housewives food at a reasonable price, must be helped in some way; and so this is not a subsidy to the fishing industry but to the public at large.
The Minister will have to consider sooner or later the extension of this assistance to the distant water trawlers, the owners of which have been commendably independent up to the present. They have not sought assistance in the form of a subsidy, but, with the threatened loss of fishing grounds by the turn of events—more and more extensions of fishing limits—these enterprising men, both ashore and afloat, may need assistance, and it is only right that the Government should turn its attention to their rightful needs if and when any application is made.
I am glad that Clause 2 makes provision for the raising of the ceiling in respect of new vessels and engines. I have one point to make about the re-engining of vessels. In Scotland, the inshore fleet is the property of fishermen-owners. Very often these men cannot proceed with the acquisition of a vessel without some assistance from a non-seagoing part-owner, who helps in the financing of the venture. It is a formidable undertaking for an owner-fisherman to acquire a new vessel today and in many instances he must get a shore man to help him. Yet whilst the fisherman-owner can get a grant for the re-engining of a vessel, that assistance is denied to the shore-based partner, and I recommend strongly that the Minister should reconsider whether this further assistance can be extended to the part owner who is based on shore.
Now a word about the herring fishsing, a subject fraught with controversy and about which all kinds of opinions are held. We listened with great interest to what was said by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith and by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). Most hon. Members who have been in the House during my time here know that I have made incessant appeals for more research into what is happening to the herring shoals. They are completely unpredictable, and their behaviour this 1051 year bears out that fact in no uncertain way.
The herring came on in reasonable force right down the East Coast from Shetland as far as Whitby at the respective regular seasons this year, but for some reason they did not come on at the expected time at Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The result was that a number of Scottish boats went back from East Anglia heavily in debt because of the non-appearance of the shoals. The herring have come on now and it is hoped that this will continue and that the fishermen engaged there will make a success of the present East Anglian fishing. The herring took off from the West Coast of Scotland and again we do not know why that happened.
We must bear in mind that the herring industry is fraught with much greater risks than any other industry in respect of the gear used. For instance, one herring drifter in Yarmouth last week lost £1,200 worth of nets. That sum takes a great deal of finding. Whilst there was a 12½ per cent. increase in the home consumption of herring in 1958, the Herrina Industry Board, which I believe is doing a good job now, cannot do its job of building up the industry unless the fish have been landed.
Science can and must help in this respect. It is astonishing to see the naivety of our Press men concerning facts which are common knowledge to herring fishermen. There was an article in the Daily Telegraph of 29th October which came out with the startling news that fish will respond to moonlight 30 ft. below the surface. It has been known to everyone connected with the herring industry from time immemorial that the moon plays an important part in the movement of herring shoals, so a statement giving prominence to that fact in such a paper as the Daily Telegraph underlines the necessity for more research into what is happening to the shoals.
On Monday of this week the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave a Written Answer concerning the International Fisheries Convention. The right hon. Gentleman stated:It concluded that, although there was a reduction in the stocks of whiting and haddock, this was not so substantial as seriously to reduce the yield from these fisheries.1052 This is the point I want to stress:A similar conclusion resulted from an experiment in the industrial fishery grounds for young herring in the North Sea."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 11.]I would be grateful if the Minister would amplify that point when he replies to the debate, because we would like to know the grounds on which such a statement is made.
The Minister has stated that the Fleck report will be available next year. I have made repeated requests for an interim report from that Committee and I appreciate that this Measure is merely marking time until the report is received. We presume that it will be the starting point of a complete regeneration and rehabilitation of our fishing industry, but there are certain considerations now besetting it to which the Minister must give immediate attention. One is the cost of gear, particularly of manilla rope, which is causing the gravest concern and appears to be getting almost out of hand. So I ask the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland to take up this matter in the strongest possible way with the President of the Board of Trade, to see whether anything can be done to bring down the cost of manilla rope and other gear to a reasonable figure.
There is also the question of new catching methods, the new scientific aids which are coming into the fishing industry, such as direction-finders, echo-sounders, and fish-finders. They are taking a great deal of the guess-work out of fishing and the locating of particular fishing grounds, but we require considerably more help yet.
Most of the new seine nets which are being used have been the product of the Scandinavian countries. I was glad to find, in the North of Scotland a fortnight ago, that a new net, a Moray Firth net, has been designed. Those responsible for its design have been in touch with the White Fish Authority, and I understand that frogmen will be asked to go down and actually see the net in operation. It is very vital that that should be done. If that approach has not already been made to the Scottish Office, I trust that the Secretary of State for Scotland will take note of this and do all that he can to help.
Fishing limits are a subject which is in all our minds at the present time, and 1053 the Icelandic question overshadows everything. Mention has been made of the Conference on the Law of the Sea, which is to take place next year. I would reiterate the appeal which has been made to the Minister, that preparatory and exploratory work concerning the conference should have been started long before now, particularly with regard to the appointment of the personnel who will be attending the Conference and instructing them about the points with which they will have to deal there.
When can we expect ratification of the North Sea Convention by the signatories? It will be more or less a matter of living in a dream world if it is to be years before that convention becomes an operating factor. We ourselves have: make some sort of provision to deal with the problems which are close at hand.
In the international situation the Icelandic decision is the basic factor, and I believe that when the Icelandic limit is established it will become the universal limit. I believe that we shall have to bring that limit into being on our own coasts, for that will be essential for the preservation of our own fishing. We certainly must set our own house in order. I also believe that no Government in this country, of whatever colour, once the limit is established internationally, can do other than review the regulations applying to trawling in our domestic waters.
I also believe that the three-mile limit is a dead letter. It is completely archaic. If we were to establish a limit on similar lines to the way in which the three-mile limit was established—it was on the basis of the range of a cannon shot at the time it came into being—there would be no limit at all because the controlled ballistic missile these days can go from one end of the world to the other.
The theory that the three-mile limit provides a nursery for all kinds of fish has been satisfactorily exploded. It provides a nursery for plaice, possibly, but it certainly does not do so for other types of fish. As is well known, young haddocks are to be found in far greater numbers 40 miles offshore than inshore. Also, one cannot ignore the fact that at certain seasons of the year mature fish 1054 come in to feed particularly near our estuaries and within the three-mile limit. At present, there is a tremendous incursion of fish inside the three-mile limit on our northern costs as a result of the recent storm.
I should like to make one or two recommendations as to how the question of our national limits for fishing should be gone into. These recommendations are the outcome of discussions that I have had with practical men in Scotland and elsewhere. There should be established an international exclusive fishery limit which should apply to all countries, and it should be fixed on base lines. I feel that we must adopt the base line idea in this country. We must have trawlers excluded from such areas as the Minch, the Firth of Clyde and the Moray Firth.
At present, we have a paradox in that foreign trawlers can come into these areas to fish without let or hindrance, but British trawlers are excluded. We do not want any more trawling done there, and we want the foreigners excluded. We ought to declare as protected areas certain areas close to the shore where it is known that plaice breed and young plaice are in abundance. We ought to put down obsructions in those areas to make seine netting impossible. I go so far as to say that because I believe that it is the only proper protection that we can give areas where plaice nurseries are known to exist.
We ought to license all fishing vessels. There should be a seven-days-a-week licence for deep-sea trawlers and a five-days-a-week licence for inshore fishing vessels. All the five-days-a-week vessels should be allowed to fish inside the agreed limit, obviously for five days a week. I suggest that Saturdays and Sundays should be close days for fishing, because in my part of Britain the boats do not fish on Saturdays or Sundays and the result is that the heaviest fishing of the week always take place on a Monday
I would raise the minimum size of plaice that may be exposed for sale. I would also say that the mesh sizes which are the outcome of the international convention should be enforceable and policeable in all coastal waters by all signatory countries. By that I mean that our fishery cruisers should have the 1055 right to go alongside a Danish or Belgian vessel in our waters and ask for the gear to be hauled up so that the mesh size being used could be inspected. It is not enough to have a net exhibited on the vessel. Anyone can exhibit a net with a mesh of the right size, but be using something totally different in the water. There should also be close times and close areas which should be rigidly adhered to and must, therefore, accordingly be policed.
These are considerations which, I believe, would have a very lasting beneficial effect on the fishing industry and would go a long way to securing the uniformity in the supply of fish that we so urgently desire. I believe that there are plenty of fish in the sea, but it is the question of finding out where they are. We must not lose sight of the fact that at present wherever we actually fish, we fish only the Continental shelf and do not go into deep water. We have incursions of large mature fish into our fishing grounds all around our coasts from time to time, and we do not know where they come from, but they come from somewhere, and it should not be beyond the power of science to find out exactly where they come from.
I believe that the White Fish Authority is trying to do a good job; and that particularly applies to the Scottish Committee. I do not think that the Government have been entirely fair with the White Fish Authority in the way that the Small Ports Scheme has been handled. It was and is a very good scheme, but it has been shelved, I believe, for the time being. I have never been given a satisfactory reason why it should be shelved. I believe that it could yet be put into effect, and that it would do an enormous amount of good in taking care of any gluts which occur. One has only to see what glut conditions are like in a small port to realise how important a scheme such as the Small Ports Scheme could be and what effect it would have in a crisis of that kind.
I am grateful for the Bill, and I believe that the fact that it takes pride of place in the legislative programme of the Government is something that will not be lost sight of by the fisher-folk of Britain.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I should like to join with those hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) on his debut at the Dispatch Box. May he long speak for fish from this side of the House if he speaks as well as he spoke today.
We are really discussing two separate things, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) said in the course of his injunction to the Government. First, we are discussing the long-term problems of the fishing industry, and here in this Bill the temporary palliatives to see what we can do to prop up the industry, pending long-term proposals, which must come if the industry is to survive.
I should like to say one thing in support of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and also of the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie), who speaks with great knowledge, which this House appreciates very much whenever he speaks on the fishing industry. The whole question of conservation is so vital that the Minister's statement this afternoon leaves one with a feeling of apprehension as to whether the Government really appreciate the urgency of the situation. When the Secretary of State for Scotland comes to reply, I hope he will make it perfectly clear to the House that the Government accept in principle the warning which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland gave us.
§ Mr. John Hare
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish to be unfair, and I would therefore remind him of the words that I used; I will paraphrase them. I said I thought that everybody in the House agreed that the question of conservation needed immediate attention. I was talking about other nations as well as ourselves.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The point he made had escaped my attention, but now that he has brought it to my attention, I am glad that he is now seized of the situation. If my unfairness to him has done nothing else, it has at any rate clarified the point.
Regarding the immediate palliatives suggested by this Bill, I have a particular 1057 problem in my own constituency, with which I will not detain the House for very long, though I wish to bring it to the right hon. Gentleman's attention. In the course of the debate we had last July, I pointed out to him how the fishing port of Milford Haven, which is the largest fishing port in Wales, has declined very rapidly in the last few years. I said at the time that I did not think the Government were entirely responsible, but the fact is that we have a very real problem there. On that occasion, I said to the right hon. Gentleman that seven or eight years ago we had 80 to 90 trawlers fishing from that port, and that last summer the number had gone clown to 41, and that this was a very serious situation so far as the economy of the port and maintaining services on an economic level was concerned.
As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows, I came to see him for a discussion immediately before the election, because the position in the port had deteriorated still further. It is a little bit better now than when I came to see him in September, but it is still far from good. In the debate in July, I said there were 41 trawlers fishing from Milford Haven—16 diesels, 5 oil burners and 20 coal burners. Today, that total of 41 has gone down to 36. It is true that there has been an improvement in that there is one new diesel vessel and one more oil-burning vessel, and the coal burners have gone down to 13. This is a gradual improvement in the right direction, but this port is now hanging on by its eyebrows and if there is no improvement in the situation in the next year it is quite possible that the economy of the port will collapse.
This is the problem. I should like to ask the Government if they will go into the whole question in order to see if something more can be done to enable the fishing industry to hang on in Milford Haven until we have a greater measure of conversion.
The second point is the wider aspect of what we do after we have hung on. Therefore, I wonder if we have done enough as yet to explore fishing grounds further to the South. I know that there are certain problems over hake caught off the African coast. Could the Secretary of State give us any idea of what plans the White Fish Authority are making for looking at the Atlantic in a 1058 southerly direction as well as a northerly one? I agree that there are problems concerning the freezing of fish and the maintenance of its condition until the vessels reach port. There are also certain problems of actual quality about fish caught off the African coast. It seems to me that if we could get over some of these difficulties, and if research can provide the technological means, we might be beginning to open up new possibilities that might tide the industry over for a longer period until international agreements can be ratified and operated.
Those are the two points I wish to make. I think the Government are well aware of our deep concern. In parenthesis, I should like to applaud the Government on the fact that, following the protest made by a former Member. Mr. Edward Evans, during the last Parliament about having our fishing debates at a nocturnal hour, we are all very glad to have the debate today at a reasonable hour.
We want the Secretary of State for Scotland to give us more details about the proposals which the Government are to put on conservation, and I should like to hear, in particular, the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the detailed suggestions made by the hon. Member for Banff, which I think are extremely interesting.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I should first like to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) about the time of this debate, while agreeing with what he said. I think that all of us on both sides of the House have helped to bring this about. Therefore, we are very glad about two things in welcoming this Bill. The first is that we are having the debate at a decent hour of the day, and the second is that the Government have implemented their election pledge to the fishing industry so quickly by introducing this Measure at the very beginning of the Session. I am sure that we all welcome the Bill for that reason.
The first thing to which I wish to draw attention is what the Minister said about our scientists being second to none. He is perfectly right. From a conversation 1059 which I had recently with one of them, it would appear that the importance of these dedicated men in international conferences is very great indeed, because they can get together in a way that is perhaps more difficult for other people, such as Members of Parliament. I am sure that the work they can do behind the scenes, both on this side and the other of the Iron Curtain, can be of inestimable value to the fishing industry as a whole. From the conversation which I had with this particular scientist, it appears that they reach a great measure of agreement in their discussions of various aspects of our problems, and therefore they deserve our gratitude.
I should like the Secretary of State for Scotland to amplify a little more what the Minister said about artificial propagation. Is that an elaboration of something on which they have been working for a long time? Does it mean a kind of fertilisation, or what does it mean? This is a very interesting point about which I should like to hear something more.
Turning to the details of the Bill, on the question of subsidies, with which Clause I deals, I again ask the Government to reconsider the scheme which was put up by the White Fish Authority for day payments as opposed to stone payments in relation to inshore fishing. I do not think the present reasons for rejection are fair to the actual fishery officers in the ports. I am thinking of those I know who are so well in touch with the situation and know in greatest detail everything that is going on. I am quite sure that men like that could reasonably operate this scheme fairly and effectively. After all, if the Sea Fisheries Committee wanted it and it is thought by the White Fish Authority to be feasible, I hope the Government will reconsider this matter at the appropriate time.
In Clause 2, which refers to grants, there is a point which I think might also be considered. The arbitrary classification by feet—under 40 feet, over 70 feet and so on—means that with the design of small fishing vessels today we may get a wide variation between the particular vessels within the classification as at present laid down. There may be one vessel with a greater tonnage and a larger crew than another owing to different 1060 types and designs. Therefore, classification might be considered on a tonnage basis as opposed to that of measurement in feet. I am thinking particularly of types of fishing vessels I have seen in Cornwall. This was put to me by a fisherman as something which might be considered.
The Clause refers to grants for acquisition and improvement of fishing vessels. On that I wish to ask for clarification of two things. In these debates it has often been advocated that good secondhand engines should be included. Whether or not that can be done I do not know, but I presume that such things as new echo sounders which are coming into use might be included in the improvements eligible for grant. Fishermen have asked me if what they call the ferrograph, a quite inexpensive instrument to install, and such things as fish finders and other aids to navigation, which are so important, will be included.
Another thing which has been a pressing problem in Cornwall recently is the question of radar. Few people who have not seen it working realise the limitations of radar. They seem to think that radar draws a picture like a television set of everything going on at sea, the land, rocks and fishing vessels for miles around, but that is not so. I have had experience of this at sea. Whilst on watch on one occasion recently a fishing vessel passed only 3,000 yards from us and was not shown on the screen: It was in the middle of the day and did not matter, but, from conversations I have had with fishermen, I believe they are apt to think that radar is far more all-seeing than it actually is. In a recent case there was an unfortunate episode when some shells fell close to fishing vessels. The fishermen said, "We did not hoist our radar reflector because it was such a clear night and we thought we must be seen". With the modern ranges of armament of ships it may not be possible to see such a fishing vessel either visually or by radar.
I ask that under the heading of improvements the Admiralty should be asked to co-operate in designing the best type of light fixed radar reflector which can be hoisted and kept on top of the mizzen mast of a small fishing vessel in order to give the crew the knowledge 1061 that they have adequate radar protection at all times. This could be done easily by carrying out trials at such a place as Devonport, where there are M.F.V.s which could be used to reproduce conditions experienced at sea. I should like to know whether such improvements could come under the grant of assistance because, after all, such a radar reflector might be quite an expensive item of equipment.
Clause 5 deals with the question of the size of mesh. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) has impressed on the House the need for discipline over this matter. I have been reading a speech made b. Mr. Edward Evans in this House in 1947. He spoke on the subject of over-fishing. I join with my hon. Friends in saying—whatever our political views—how much on this occasion we miss the excellent speeches which were made b. Mr. Evans on the subject of fishing, about which he knew so much. It is interesting to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 19th June, 1947, column 2350, what he said about over-fishing and the worries he and others had about it. That was twelve years ago and the situation is no better today.
We must have rigid discipline on this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said, I hope that when we get ratification of the convention it will be possible for fishery protection vessels on all occasions to close a ship at sea and ask to inspect her gear. As we all know, it is possible to have the gear which comes within the regulations on display on deck, but there may be something tucked away elsewhere which does not come within the regulations. All these things make it more important for the Government to press on as hard as they can, as I am sure they will, to see that this convention is ratified as quickly as possible. The signatories to it include the important countries in this matter, France, Belgium, Iceland and so on. It is extremely important to get it ratified with minimum delay.
Clause 7 deals with closed areas and I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said about it. The three-mile limit is a thing of the past, and it is absolutely out-of-date to have the idea of a breach-loading canon by which one puts a match to the touch hole 1062 and fires over the bows of a ship. It seems that we are always the last to change these things. We are lagging behind all the time. This Icelandic fishing question drags on year after year without a solution. Can we not go forward with a new solution and say that we will now consider the problem in terms of base lines, three mile or six mile base lines? That would be of tremendous help to inshore fishermen in conserving stocks of shellfish and so on in such areas as Mounts Bay and around the Lizard. Let us have a new approach to the problem, acknowledging and accepting base lines which would cover such vexed questions as the Moray Firth.
I add my tribute to the way in which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) led for the Opposition in this debate and endorse what he said on the importation of frozen fish. One does not know what is going on, but I feel sure that in this difficult situation with the Norwegians our Government are doing everything they can to safeguard the position, the situation is frightening.
We are seeing a complete change in Russia's attitude. It may be that because of N.A.T.O. and other things the Russians have decided that aggression does not pay and that therefore they may switch to an all-out economic offensive. I ask hon. Members to remember the number of factory ships and the number of "Fairtries" that Russia has and, consequently, the tonnage of quick-frozen fillets that Russia could send to the West and the potential demand by people who will eat this type of fish in the near future. It is very worrying. If we open the door in one instance it will be easy for others to say, "All right, you have allowed this increase, what about us?". I do not wonder that our trawler fishermen are worried about this, because there is a firm known as the Ross Group going into the quick-freeze business in a big way. It will be very important to us to see that this matter is kept very much under review.
I now come to the laws of the sea. It is high time that the Government made some kind of announcement about the composition of our delegation. This is such a vitally important thing to us that I would like to see some senior Minister from the Foreign Office perhaps taking 1063 the lead. I do not think that our delegation should be led by somebody in the legal side of the business. I think prominence should be given to the Minister mainly responsible for the fishing industry. I hope that the Government will send to the conference the highest-powered delegation that they possibly can. I would also like to suggest that it might be useful to send one or two back benchers who can mix more freely with other people from other delegations and who can talk to other people in a way which is rather more difficult for the leaders of a delegation whose hands are to a degree tied.
Those are the points that I wish to raise this afternoon. In closing I should like once more to congratulate the Government on bringing this Measure forward so quickly. I am sure it will be appreciated and I hope that some of the improvements that I have outlined will be incorporated in the Bill.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
First, I wish to join in the expression of regret for the loss of life amongst the fishermen in North Scotland during the recent gale. I also regret the absence of. Mr. Evans. Perhaps I might also congratulate the Government on having found a suitable time for this debate, because it is notorious that, unlike herring, Members of Parliament do not respond too well to moonlight.
During the last debate in July, the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, (Mr. Willey) and I were said to have laid great stress on the problems of the future. It has been said in this debate that discussion has been divided between the Bill, which is to be an interim Measure, and the much wider problems of the industry in the future. It is to this latter subject that I should like to start addressing the House.
When dealing with the conservation of stocks, I can give only the small amount of local evidence which comes to my attention from Orkney and Shetland; but I ask the Government, as other hon. Members have done, to maintain the closest watch on what is happening to stocks and to expand their scientific research organisation to a degree which 1064 will enable us to judge whether or not there is a serious danger of running down stocks.
Let me give one or two examples of the doubts which seem to exist. Not long ago the question of lobsters was raised by the Highland Panel. The present Regulations about returning berried lobsters to the sea was discussed. I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I think that during that discussion the representative of the Department said that as far as he knew there was no sign of a depletion in the stocks of lobsters round the coasts of Scotland. The evidence from Orkney is the opposite of that. As far as we can tell, there has been a serious depletion in the number of lobsters. Again, as far as one can see at the moment, in Shetland there is not a grave shortage of whiting, but there is some shortage of haddock and there seem to be very few halibut. I think that this variation can be traced all round the coast.
The hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) said something about steps which could be taken to protect stocks. Both hon. Members objected to the three-mile limit, but I am not clear what limit they want to impose instead. As far as I can gather, both hon. Members want to extend the limit a great deal. If the limit were extended, would seine netting be forbidden within the new limit? If it were, it would be an extremely serious matter. Alternatively, is the new limit to be enforced only against foreign fishermen, or only against trawlers? There are people—not I—who think that seine netting is destructive. This question of a limitation is complicated, however one looks at it.
I have considerable sympathy with the people of Iceland. I am told that fishing is one of the mainstays of their economy, and I am not at all unsympathetic to their view that they do not want to see their stocks of fish disappear. But it will be extremely difficult to conduct fishing on the basis that every country is going to protect a certain area of water and keep everyone else out of it.
I think that some of the suggestions which have been made that there should be certain areas in which fish could 1065 breed are more hopeful. I think, too, it may well be that some quotas will have to be imposed on the fish caught off the coasts of various countries.
The fishing industry has some curious aspects to it. To begin with, it is the last example of a substantial contribution being made to the welfare of the human race by what is in essence hunting. We have tamed animals, kept them under control and fattened them, but fishing is really the old jungle technique. We all drag up the fish that we can as best we can. In his opening remarks, the Minister touched on this and asked whether this may not change and we may reach a point when it is possible to increase fish stocks by feeding and certain areas may be cut off and used for breeding grounds. I would like the Secretary of State to say more about that.
I think I am right in saying that before the war experiments with plankton were being carried on at Millport for breeding fish in certain lochs. I think I am also right in saying that lobsters are so bred in certain parts of the world and that in Canada they have a more successful way of dealing with lobsters. This is done by putting the berried lobsters into ponds where they are allowed to breed. This should be tried here. Is there some chance that the whole basis of the industry will change by such methods?
The other difficulty seems to be that there are always two things pulling at our thinking. On the one hand, we admit that the diminution of fish stocks is serious and the corollary of that should be to catch less fish. On the other hand, we are all anxious that the fishing industry should prosper and catch more fish. We pay subsidies to improve the fleet while on the other hand we say that far too many fish are caught.
However hard they may try, I do not think it is possible for the British Government to go to an international conference now and stop the clock. The Government cannot now set the pace for the international conference to limit the amount of fish caught and stop the introduction of new methods of catching and so forth—it has missed its chance. As I have often mentioned before in the House, for years enormous fleets from Russia and Poland have been using new methods of fishing and dredging fish from the sea round Shetland. This has 1066 been going on, not for the last month or two, but for years. I do not think that they will give it up. Apparently, they want the fish to feed their people.
This presents the British Government with a real problem in considering what their attitude should be. I do not altogether like the fact that a considerable amount of herring caught in this country goes for fish meal. We are in a weak position so long as we do that when negotiating with nations having a far greater degree of poverty than we have. Many Eastern European nations have poverty on a scale unknown in this country. That is certainly the case with Russia. They want this fish, and a high proportion of it probably goes for human consumption.
One line which the Government should follow up is to try to limit the amount of fish used for manure. I wholly sympathise with what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) said about the habits of the Danes, who take a valuable food—immature herring—out of the sea and simply spread it on the land. I agree that these problems are international. I imagine that after the world conference has taken place and after possibly we have the Fleck Committee's Report the Government will have something new to say and will come to the House and say it. I wish that I could believe that the Fleck Committee will produce a radical report which will enable us to take a drastic step forward in dealing with fishing. We may all be rather too optimistic about what the Committee will find.
Bearing in mind the contradictions which are apt to exist in the industry, we should concentrate on catching fish for human consumption. Many of the provisions about using fish for meal were brought in originally to tide over gluts. I admit that many of the herring caught are not consumable by human beings, but in so far as this fish is consumable I would rather see it processed and sent under some international scheme to feed the people of Asia and Africa. If it was a temporary expediency of tiding over gluts, the Government should look at that rather than at simply going on processing it for meal.
The extension of fishing in the North of Scotland is a hopeful possibility. Shetland is a sort of vast boat anchored in 1067 the middle of the fishing grounds. If we are to achieve that desirable objective of maintaing the population, fishing is one of the most hopeful outlets. But we must do some new thinking about the shape and type of industry which is possible in the North of Scotland. Experience in my constituency in recent years has been that the large boats have not done too badly, but the small boats have had a difficult time indeed. If it were not for the despised dog fish, which are so usefully sold as rock salmon to the simple people of London, they would have had an even harder time. Larger boats must be provided. In the North of Scotland we may even have to go in for the type of "Fairtry" to which reference was made.
If we are to have larger boats, we must have adequate harbours. As the Minister knows all too well, because he has been there, there are important fishing communities, such as Whalsay, which still lack a harbour. This is extremely serious, because they have no shelter for their boats.
For us the next most important matters are transport and freight. I believe that it is in transport and freight, in marketing and processing, that the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board have their main part to play. I believe that those two bodies should be combined. I believe also that they should be given a much more commercial outlook and be asked to concentrate more on these aspects of fishing—transport, processing and markets. They go together, because if the fish can be processed locally in the ports all the useless parts of the fish do not have to be transported. There is no doubt that the people who cook dinners, etc. are keener and keener to get what they cook out of packages ready prepared. I have no doubt that it is all very deplorable, but I sympathise with them. I find that for the first time in my life when staying alone in Orkney I am able to eat fish. I can buy it in a packet, and even I can take it from the packet and prepare it.
There is also a market for fresh fish. There are many people in this country who have never tasted fresh fish. Many people in the House of Commons have never tasted fresh fish. There are many people who do not know that unknown 1068 types of fish such as ling are very good when fresh. Even the despised piltock is very good when fresh.
I should like to see the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board carrying on a campaign to impress on the public the advantage of eating freshly caught fish which has not been chewed up in a trawl net and which comes on to their plates from the admirable boats of the inshore fishermen.
Turning to the Bill, I share the feelings of the hon. Member for Banff about the habit of legislating by reference to other Acts. I suppose that it is necessary. As I understand it, we can take what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith says as true, as always, that the Bill does not alter the rate of grant or the rate of loan or the methods of getting it, but simply extends the present system and makes rather more money available.
The Bill contains a provision for licensing. Licensing is already referred to in the 1948 Act. I take it that Clause 8 merely extends the system of licensing to different types of boat. It is merely included in case it should be necessary after the world conference. I am a little chary on this question of licensing, because if we are not careful we shall establish a privileged class of people who have licences. Then we shall provide them with a lot of public money by way of grants and loans, and they will come out of it extremely well.
Clause 5 deals with gear. What other gear is contemplated as coming within the Clause? It says specifically that it is not only the size of the mesh. The Clause is fairly wide and I do not know what it contemplates.
I agree that, if there is to be a law about the size of mesh in nets, it should be enforceable. At present it is not, which is a pity. There are fishermen who think that it is illogical in this country to allow people to make illegal gear. If the makers of gear are asked why they make illegal gear, they all say that they must make it because it is used for covering up raspberries or strawberries, much of which is utter nonsense. It is more possible to control illegal gear at the source than when it is on a boat.
Anyone who has been to sea knows that, as a seine net is pulled in, the net closes up tight. With the best will in the world, by the time the fish are hauled 1069 on board they look as though they have been dragged some distance in a sack: they are in pretty poor shape with most of their scales off. Obviously there is some advantage in fishing with a small mesh, otherwise fishermen would not do it. How great is the advantage? How serious is the question of the size of the mesh? Is it a question of seine netting or trawling?
We must look to other methods of conservation—of protecting the spawning fish and the spawning grounds, of possibly trying to stop the mere hauling out of fish for manure and, as a last resort, imposing some sort of quota on different countries.
Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill as far as it goes. I am glad to see that the industry at any rate will know what is happening for the next year or so, but once again I cannot think that the Bill begins to touch the long-term difficulties of the industry. There is still this contradiction in our policy towards the industry, in that on the one hand we are encouraging the capture of more fish and, on the other hand, we all claim to be deeply concerned about the fact that so many fish are caught.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I have previously had the pleasure of following the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I think that it was on the occasion of my maiden speech which I made on a similar subject. Tonight, I do not feel that I can follow the hon. Member completely, because I wish to extend my warm congratulations to my right hon. Friend and his Department not only on the provisions in the Bill, but on the admirably concise and clear way in which they are set out. In my view, the majority of fishermen will be able clearly to understand what is in the Bill and that by its provisions they will receive a measure of security for a period of years, which will enable them to look ahead.
I welcome the Bill and I think that I speak not only as the representative of the fishermen in my constituency, but also those in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) and my hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) and Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham), and certainly 1070 for my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). The fishermen in all those constituencies appreciate the secrity which is provided for them in the Bill. Because of the tempest and the uncertainty of the financial returns, fishing is a very hazardous occupation. It is not possible to legislate against the tempest, but in my view this Bill contains provisions which will legislate to a considerable extent against the hazards of the financial returns to be obtained from fishing. I am certain that the fishermen in my area, who are almost exclusively inshore fishermen, will welcome those provisions.
There are three matters to which I wish to refer. Clause 2 of the Bill deals with the matter which I have just mentioned, security for the future. Clause 3 has no application to Northern Ireland. That is logical and something about which we who represent Northern Ireland constituencies do not complain, because the provision of vessels and funds for modernising vessels is regarded as a domestic matter to be dealt with by our own Parliament in Northern Ireland. Over the past years the Government have been dealing with that matter by way of grants and the provision of finance, and there is no complaint about that from the fishermen, who look forward to continued support from the Northern Ireland Parliament. We are confident that that support will be forthcoming.
The Clause dealing with conservation, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, is one of the most important parts of the Bill from the point of view of the long-term future of the industry. I was glad that the hon. Gentleman referred not only to herring and white fish, but also to the over-fishing of lobsters round the coast of the United Kingdom. It has been the experience of fishermen in County Down that the lobster stocks, if one may so call them, are being gravely depleted. Foreign fishermen come to fish round our coasts for white fish and every other type of fish which they can take, including shell fish. From the long-term point of view I am sure that one of the most urgent and important questions to be considered is the conservation of the fish round our coasts.
I come now to a more controversial matter in connection with the question 1071 of conservation. Recently, the Government of the Republic of Ireland introduced a Bill which will come into effect on 1st January next. In that Measure the Government of the Republic have drawn new base lines round the coast of Eire, which will deprive the fishermen in my constituency of opportunities of fishing, which, hitherto, they have always had, particularly in the area of Dunmore East.
I appreciate the feelings of the fishermen in Southern Ireland when vessels come, as they do, from foreign countries in large numbers and wade into the fishing to the disadvantage of the local fishermen. But it is very curious indeed that in drawing these base lines and legislating against foreign fishermen, the Prime Minister of the Republic. Mr. Lemass, who has talked so much recently about co-operation between North and South, should draw the regulations in such a way as to exclude not only the foreign fishermen, but the fishermen from the United Kingdom, and from Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
There is much to be said for the suggestion that, as we are faced with the Icelandic problem and with this new problem from Eire, and the problems which may develop from the Continental shelf and other sources, we should give consideration to setting up a system of base lines in this country as well. After all, our fishermen are dependent on their opportunities for fishing as much as are fishermen from other countries. Our fishermen, particularly the inshore fishermen, have a hard fight to earn a living. They are helped by the Government, but I think that they are entitled to expect that we who represent them should do our best to see that there is no unfair competition from the fishermen of other countries.
I appreciate the question of inconsistencies which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, whether we should allow our fishermen to fish within a defined area, or whether they should be restricted in such a way that no fishing is done in the area. That ties up with the problem of conservation. I suggest that there is an answer in the Bill which might receive consideration. An answer might be provided by a system of licensing in connection with fishing in particularly defined areas 1072 round the coasts of this country. If we could devise a system of new base lines, a system of licensing, we should be able to talk from a position of strength at international conferences on fishing instead of weakness, as is at present the case.
I really do not see why we should allow the foreigner to deny us rights and yet continue to grant free and exclusive rights to the foreigner to come into our own areas so close to our coast. I feel certain that the United Kingdom Government are in a very close conjunction and close communication with the Government of Northern Ireland in so far as this problem which has arisen from the decision of the Republic of Ireland is concerned, and I hope that a solution of the matter may be found before long.
There is very little else that I want to say. The Bill is one which we all welcome, certainly on behalf of the inshore fishermen, and I wish it a very happy and speedy passage through the House.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
I almost feel that I should apologise for intervening in a fishing debate at all, because I think that most other hon. Members who have spoken, or who will speak, this afternoon have been taking part in these debates for a number of years. Apart from the fact that this is my first speech since returning to the House after an absence, I have also returned, as a result of the vicissitudes of political life, for a different seat, namely, Grimsby, which is most heavily involved in the question of fishing. I hope that on this occasion and in the future I shall be allowed to express the interests of Grimsby as strongly as I can.
Unlike any hon. Member who has spoken so far, but, of course, not unlike one hon. Member whom I see opposite, I represent a port which relies very substantially on its distant water fleet as well as its near and middle water fleets. As far as the distant water fleet is concerned, the position of the whole industry is dominated by the Icelandic dispute, in particular, and more widely by the question of fishing limits.
What I would like from the Government, and what several hon. Members have asked for, is some assurance that 1073 preparations are really in hand, as thoroughly and efficiently as possible, for the next Conference on the Law of the Sea, because there is a widespread impression—and this is not in any sense a party political point—both in the industry itself and outside that we really did not do very well at the last conference. Therefore, if we could have from the Secretary of State for Scotland when he replies any information about what kind of delegation we are going to have, what steps are being taken to prepare its case and whether the lobbying of other nations whose support we might achieve is going successfully, this will be extremely welcome to those of us who are concerned with the distant water fleet.
I wish to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that in Grimsby, in particular, the situation really is urgent, not only because of the economic future of the industry but because in Grimsby we are almost living on the edge of a volcano over the whole matter of the Icelandic dispute. Tempers are running extremely high there—and this is certainly true of Hull and probably of Fleetwood—particularly over the refusal of the Icelandic Government to allow British trawlers to land fishermen when they are ill or injured. Some hon. Members may have seen in the national Press recently the report of the dispute which suddenly flared up on the fish dock in Grimsby when the lumpers refused, out of sympathy with the fishermen, to land the first autumn Icelandic catch last month. I have the feeling that tempers are tending to run higher and higher, and for this reason, as well as for the sake of the economic future of the industry, we must have an agreement fairly soon.
I was glad also that the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) raised the question of the recent action of the Eire Government, because when we are discussing limits we are discussing not only the Icelandic dispute but the growing tendency on the part of countries everywhere to extend fishing limits. Possibly the only difference which I have with other hon. Members who have spoken—I have come into the question more recently and have a somewhat more detached standpoint—is that I cannot help feeling that over the last few years 1074 the British Government have not at any point taken a sufficient initiative over the whole question of fishing limits.
I have a great degree of sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) when he said that most of the countries in dispute with us over limits, and also over imports of frozen fish, are the Scandinavian countries, seafaring countries like our own, with the same form of government, allied to us for many years past, and almost all of them members of N.A.T.O. One would really have thought that had the British Government taken an earlier and firmer initiative with Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden we could have avoided some of the situations in which we find ourselves today. One cannot prove the case, but I have that suspicion.
Although the earlier Clauses of the Bill, dealing with grants and subsidies, do not affect the distant water fleet, they are, nevertheless, of great concern to Grimsby, as to Fleetwood, because these ports, unlike Hull, are near and middle as well as distant water ports. Therefore, the provisions set out in the Bill for continuing the grants and subsidies are of great importance to us, particularly in respect of the near water fleet. The Grimsby middle water fleet has been almost completely renewed during the last five years. But as far as the near water fleet is concerned, of the 72 trawlers in it no fewer than 62 are coal burners more than 30 years old.
The object of the subsidies when introduced in 1950 was to enable some of these older uneconomic trawlers to go on fishing during the transition period while new ones were being built, just as it was the object of the grant, on the other hand, to aid the building of newer trawlers.
One point on which I should like to hear a comment from the Government is that in its last Report for 1959 the White Fish Authority pointed out—and this was referred to by the Minister in the debate last July—that for the first time since the end of the war the size of the near and middle water fleets was greater than the year before. In other words, the new building was not being matched by the scrapping of older and less economic coal burners. This 1075 seems to me to be a point of great importance, and it was, of course, for this reason that the rate of subsidy was cut.
When the Secretary of State replies, I hope that he will tell us what is the Government's view on this matter. Do they think that there is a serious danger, because the rate of scrapping appears to be slowing down, that our near and middle water fleets will be back in five years time to where they were ten years ago? I see the danger of going back to the kind of situation that we had 10 years ago—to the position where the fleet is too large and too high a proportion of it is uneconomic. But even though that may be a danger for the future, I think hon. Members agree that on balance the scheme of subsidies and grants has up to the present effected enormous improvements in the near and middle water sections of the fleet. They are smaller than they were 10 years ago and the average age is much less.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I also welcome the provisions in the various Clauses of the Bill for the conservation of fish, although it is hard to say anything about that matter because the Clauses are inevitably worded rather vaguely and one does not exactly know what they may involve. Nevertheless, they are obviously in the right direction.
It has been pointed out by many hon. Members that the Bill is only an interim Measure. It carries on the system of grants and subsidies which existed before. As far as the long-term future of the industry is concerned, the only disagreement that I have with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) is over the Fleck Report and whether we should be wise to hurry on the Fleck Committee or to encourage it to produce an interim report. I do not think that we would be wise to do so. I sat on a commission rather like this during the years when I was out of the House. It was a commission of inquiry on the Cooperative movement and its future. I was the secretary and I remember exactly similar pressure being put on us half-way through to produce an interim report. We nearly gave in to that pressure, but, looking back, I am glad that we did not do so, because it would have been an inadequate document, insufficiently 1076 thought out and insufficiently prepared. I would rather have to wait a further year, if necessary, in order finally to get a report with all the weight of long consideration behind it.
Meanwhile, I am sure that the Government are right—indeed, it is inevitable—to go on with a system of grants and subsidies, and Grimsby welcomes it very much. One might not have gained that impression during the General Election when one heard speeches from the trawler owners and their representatives talking about Government intervention in the private sector of industry and about nationalisation. One would never have dreamt that as an industry they were receiving subsidies and were asking for considerably higher subsidies. However, I do not want to introduce any party note into this extremely amicable debate, so, modest as the Measure is, we on this side of the House welcome it very much.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
I want to bring the debate back to the inshore fishermen. I was interested to hear about the experience of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) as a member of a committee making a report, as I was in his comments on the Fleck Committee. However, I do not agree with him. Only the last Session we had legislation on this subject, and we now have further legislation on the fishing industry. If the Fleck Report is not to be produced until well towards the end of 1960, we should have some form of interim report to guide us. I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that in our part of Britain we need to do some new thinking about this industry, particularly about its effects on the Minch, where we hope to build up local fleets.
I add my support to the Bill, which makes further provision for white fish and herring subsidies and grants which are very valuable to small fishermen. I represent an area where many small men are making their living from the industry—the bigger fleets from Grimsby are quite a different kettle of fish. There can be no doubt about the wisdom of this policy to protect and assist the fishermen upon whom we are so dependent not only in peace, but in time of emergency.
1077 It is essential that the small concerns in areas such as mine should be kept alive and thriving. The herring fleet has considerably diminished over recent years. Various hon. Members have referred to the cost of gear and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) spoke of the sudden hazards which can cause grave financial loss in one night. I was speaking to a fisherman the other day who told me that last season he lost 40 nets in one night. That is a very heavy burden, the sort of burden which must be shared by the State if we are to keep our fishing fleets at sea and maintain a thriving and contented fishing community.
It is well known that each area where fishing is followed has its own particular problem, so I make no apology for raising matters which affect Highland constituencies such as mine. In my constituency there is a very energetic, independent and enterprising fishing community in the small fishing village of Avoch. Throughout the years the fishermen there have kept to fishing for herring and have not changed to white fishing, in bad times or in good. They have a very good record in that all their boats have been paid for and all their loans have been met. A community of that kind deserves all the support that we can give.
Several hon. Members have spoken of the tendency towards larger and larger boats. The boats that the men of Avoch run—about 44 of them in that thriving little port—are of about 53 ft. Many of the men would like to have larger boats, because they are more economical and efficient. Unfortunately, like so many harbours and ports in the Northern islands, Avoch is tidal. There is no doubt that it would be to the benefit of the whole industry if the piers and harbours of places like Avoch and Gairloch, to mention only two, could be modernised. This is a subject to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred.
The first step is to provide harbours at least able to give shelter to all boats at all stages of the tide. There have been heavy landings at Gairloch which played an important part in the war, but when the harbour is tidal the boats cannot get in. The fishermen cannot got the bigger and more economic boats which they would like because they cannot 1078 use the harbour freely. I hope that the pier and harbour facilities will be improved, because it must be to the detriment of the economic running of the industry if they are kept in their present state. I welcome the improvement at Ullapool, where we have had the heaviest landings of herring since the war. I hope that the facilities at Kyle will be more fully utilised.
The point I am trying to emphasise is that if we are to modernise our fleets we must, at the same time, modernise port and harbour facilities in those areas where very large landings of herring are made. I should like to see ice factories established in those small ports, and there is no doubt that a canning factory in a place such as Avoch would help to stabilise prices.
Although the use of fish as animal food has been of great help to the industry, and has helped to give fishermen an economic return, more could be done to help with canning nearer the source of supply. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to the vexed question of freight charges and the enormous transport costs which we have to bear. The industry would be made more economic if there were more processing nearer to the sources of supply. The other day a fisherman told me that it "took the stuffing" out of the crew when they found they could not get a maximum price for their commodity, after a hard night's fishing.
The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) made a sound point when he spoke of high prices in the shops. It is disheartening to fishermen when they compare the high prices in the shops with the comparatively small return which they get. I hope that in its Report the Fleck Committee will make some encouraging suggestions for the future. I have no doubt that the Committee will look into these questions in the broadest possible manner. Here again, however, I emphasise the need to have an interim report from the Committee.
I should like to say a word about fish conservation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) has most ably referred. I should like to make one suggestion. I appreciate that little is known about the movements of herring, and that much research is still necessary, but there is one point which 1079 I should like the Government to consider. I suggest that a close season for herring should be made in the Minch. Many immature fish—Mazey herring, I believe they are called—are today caught in large numbers. I know that these immature fish are found at different times of the year off different parts of the coast—the problem is a difficult one—but, nevertheless, I make this suggestion concerning the Minch.
I would like to see a close season in, say, March and April applied in the Minch for an experimental period of at least a few years. I understand that this used to be done voluntarily by the fishermen themselves before the war. Today, however, no doubt for economic reasons, the fishermen feel compelled to fish all the year round. When one man starts doing it, they feel that they all have to do it. No doubt, this practice has been encouraged by industrial fishing for the oil and meal factories.
I am told that the £6 10s. per day subsidy crews are now much more happy and contented and that in general this subsidy works well. When it was introduced, however, the return for the herring was reduced to a minimum of £1 per cran. I believe that if this payment were increased to, say, £2 or more per cran for the good surplus herring which are caught in prime condition, and if fishermen could be given this price at all ports and not only in selected ports—I want to see this distinction done away with—I am sure that the fishermen themselves would accept a close season if it could be applied.
The close season could be decided by the Herring Industry Board and the money saved during this close season would, no doubt, help to pay the extra money which could be given for the surplus fish. The crews would come in and be able to get good prices for fresh fish and then get a good price for their surplus herring of much better quality. I do not know anything about this, but I am sure that the return in oil and fish meal would be much greater if the fish were in better condition. In addition, the fishermen would make up for their slack period by getting this extra payment.
I am told that the fish come into the Minch round the Butt of Lewis and that the fishermen feel that trawling and seine 1080 netting harms the beds, particularly nearer the shore. As one knows, the fishermen are apt to come within the three-mile limit. This trawling and seine netting in the spring does great harm. I am told that never have so many fish been caught at this time. The fishermen believe that this may well account for the failure in the Minch and the dwindling herring catches there.
It seems to me ridiculous—this is another sore point—that foreign trawlers can come into the Moray Firth and the Minch when our own men, whether we want them to trawl or not—that is another point—cannot fish there themselves This is a ridiculous state of affairs and I hope that it will be put right in the near future.
We must remember that in the Highlands, fishing is one of the basic industries. We are short of industries. I have mentioned the energetic community at Avoch, in my constituency, but I am sure that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) would agree that in the Minch we want more local fleets to take part in catching the herring in their own region and that he shares the hope that a fleet will be built up in that area. I hope that the Bill and the powers which the Minister will now have will go some way towards this end.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
The Minister must be very gratified at the welcome which his Bill has received from all sides of the House. Indeed, there has as yet not been a discordant note. I do not wish to strike a discordant note, but I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that his predecessor, speaking yesterday, said:We believe in strategic planning, but we believe that the tactical execution is far better left to private enterprise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 877.]That was the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaking yesterday.
Today, we are considering in all seriousness a Measure to increase Government assistance to private enterprise to the tune of £38 million. We are extending the assistance by way of grants, subsidies and loans which have been given by previous Bills of this description and giving Government help to private enterprise in the full knowledge that without 1081 this Government help much of this private enterprise fishing would have to cease. The industry would indeed be ruined if it were not for this Government assistance.
Despite the repeated eulogies which we heard during the recent battle of the hustings concerning private enterprise—that there must be no interference, no controls, and so on—I see from the Bill that Clause after Clause contains regulations about such things as the construction and size of mesh, the limit and prohibition of fishing and the prohibition of fishing for white fish in the North Sea except under licence—nothing but prohibitions, limitations and controls. In spite of the academic political arguments which are used at election time and for the purpose of winning an election, when we come, after an election, to the practical details of government we have to acknowledge on both sides of the House that these measures of subsidies, grants and loans must be extended to help a hard-hit industry.
There is no difference in the House about this and we shall not quarrel with the Government on these grounds. If we have any criticism at all, it is that we think that this is, perhaps, merely another interim measure and it does not go far enough to help the industry. Is it enough? I have not heard the Minister throw out any hope to the industry that the high rate of interest on loans might be reduced. That would help considerably in addition to the help which will be given under the Bill. If fishermen had to pay lower interest charges, they would feel that they were getting more practical help.
My interest in the fishing industry is not on the fishing side. My constituency builds many of the trawlers which are used in the industry. As far as I can ascertain, the fear of the shipbuilding industry is that we may be scrapping more ships than we are replacing, and that the replacement of the old trawlers by the new ones is not proceeding fast enough. That is obviously a fear in the minds of the Government, too, or they would not be increasing the subsidies and grants in order to make it easier for the replacement to go on.
I would like to know whether the Minister thinks that the building of new trawlers is going on at an adequate pace. 1082 We want to modernise our trawler fleet, irrespective of whether the vessels fish in distant, near or middle waters. We want to see the most modern fleet of fishing vessels that it is possible to get, but our shipyards are not happy about the present position. In the course of his rather gloomy speech yesterday, the Chancellor referred to the fact that the prospects for shipbuilding were not very bright. That definitely applies in the case of trawlers in the shipyards of Goole, Thorne and Knottingley.
We are also concerned to know whether the fleet is now adequate to deal with the fish which are suddenly starting to appear, especially in near and middle waters. The Fishing News, dated 30th October, refers to this question and says:In the past summer season, as a direct result of these conditions, the industry suffered from yet another shortage. This time it was a shortage of boats to catch the not-so-elusive shoals.It goes on to talk about the lack of an adequate fleet being especially hard-felt at the beginning of the summer season at Shetland. This shows that the question of the adequacy of the fishing fleet should be considered carefully to see whether the provisions made in the Bill go far enough to help us modernise the fleet.
The Minister paid a well-deserved tribute to our fishermen. He referred to them in terms of gratitude and sympathy—gratitude for their work and sympathy for the hardships that they have to endure. This has been done before, and the fishermen are very pleased to have a pat on the back. But they could receive one in a more practical form. If the right hon. Gentleman would have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was his predecessor, he might be able to persuade him to remove Purchase Tax from fishermen's protective clothing. I have raised this matter on various occasions, especially at the time of the last Budget, but it seems that the Chancellor abandoned his former sympathy for the fishermen when he abandoned the office now held by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I also would like to pay tribute to the work of the Fishery Protection Squadron. People I have met who have come back from fishing expeditions are 1083 loud in their praise of the assistance this squadron provides. I understand that there have been over 100 instances of help being given to trawlermen by Royal Navy medical officers. The trawlermen value that assistance very much. They also receive help in the repair of radar sets and engines, and vaious other forms of equipment. Such help has been provided on more than 90 occasions.
These facilities, unfortunately, are no longer available in Icelandic ports, and if the present conditions prevail for very much longer I hope that the Minister will give some thought to providing a special hospital depôt ship to patrol northern waters, and to be attached to the Fishery Protection Squadron, so that help may be readily available to the fishemen at work there. I know that a further Conference on the Law of the Sea is planned for next year, but if we judge future progress by that of the past I fear that it will take a long time before we are able once more to enjoy the facilities of Icelandic ports when our fishermen meet trouble in the pursuit of their calling. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give some attention to that matter and see whether assistance could be given by means of a specially provided ship.
We are also concerned with the export of trawlers we build as well as their use by our own fishing fleets. In my constituency, recently, a firm which specialises in the building of trawlers endeavoured to obtain a contract from a French firm of trawler owners, but was prohibited from supplying a trawler to that firm because of French import regulations. The order was lost to Britain and went to Poland, Shipbuilders in my constituency feel that these matters should be brought to the attention not merely of the Minister of Agriculture and the Chancellor, but also the Foreign Secretary. Today, these matters are all intertwined internationally, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that fact in mind in considering the question with his colleagues.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) expressed understandable concern 1084 about the shipbuilding industry. Generally speaking, it is part of a very much larger world-wide problem. I think that he will agree, however, that the catching power of the new fishing boats is 50 per cent. greater than that of the old coal-burning vessels. In those circumstances it is not likely that ports which are rebuilding their fishing fleets will have as large a number of boats as they have had in the past.
Owners in Aberdeen have had to go as far afield as Tyneside to get boats built, because of the congestion in the yards nearer home. I believe that there is now some assurance for a shipbuilding programme for at any rate a year or two ahead.
§ Mr. G. Jeger
Would the noble Lady invite her constituents to come a little farther South, to the Humber and to Goole, for their ships?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
If it would encourage the hon. Member, I might at any rate suggest it to representatives of the industry in Aberdeen.
In the meantime, I very much welcome the Bill—especially since it is the first Bill of the Session—because it affects the major industry in my constituency. I welcome Clause 2, because it extends the grants available both for new boats and for equipment, for the period up to 1963, and also because it gives hope of an amount of grant even larger than the £12 million now envisaged; it seems that the figure may increase to £14 million.
I also welcome the provisions of Clause 3, which makes the whole procedure very much more practical and simple. The port of Aberdeen suffered greatly from criticism just after the war, because it had a very large proportion of coal-burning vessels. We have been able to take advantage of grants made available under the various Sea Fish Industry Acts. Up to the end of 1959 we shall have had 54 new motor trawlers and 13 oil-burning trawlers, making a total of 67. In addition, there will be eight motor line-fishing boats, and we still have 81 coal-burners. In fact, by the end of this year we shall have 20 new boats completed in 12 months. By the end of 1960 it is expected that another 15 boats will have taken advantage of these Acts, and another six or seven possibles, which add 1085 up to a total of 90, or possibly 96 or 97 new boats by the end of 1960.
The hon. Member for Goole will therefore understand that we do not want to see too fast a rate of scrapping of old boats. Quite apart from the congestion in the yards, it would cause difficulties if the subsidies on the coal-burning boats were reduced too drastically, because that could mean unemployment among various crews. I hope, therefore, that while I appreciate his difficulties he will also appreciate mine.
I very much welcome the stability which is being given in this Bill by the industry knowing that it will receive a considerable sum in grants at least up to 1963. Aberdeen is spending about £2½ million a year. In fact, more grants and loans have been obtained for the port of Aberdeen than in any other port in the country. I must welcome the extension of subsidies provided by Clause 1, but I hope that when the next opportunity comes for debating the rate of subsidy the position of the coal burners will be regarded in relation to the congestion in the yards and to the price of scrap.
I welcome the provisions in these two major recommendations, because I think that the industry suffers from two great uncertainties; first, the Report of the Fleck Committee and, second, fishing limits. When I asked him about it on Monday the Minister was extremely non-commital as to when the Fleck Committee was to report, so I am glad to hear that we are definitely to have it in 1960. I am also very glad to hear that it is the opinion of Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee that these subsidies must continue for quite a time.
Some hon. Members have done less than justice to the efforts of the Government in trying to reach some compromise agreement on fishing limits at the Conference on the Law of the Sea. We sometimes tend to forget that it is a United Nations conference. If I remember rightly, over 80 nations were represented last time, and a great number of them had no seaboard at all and no personal interest whatsoever in the fishing industry.
I hope that we shall try our very best to press for the six-mile compromise on the Faroes that we have achieved by personal 1086 negotiation. The Faroes affect the port of Aberdeen more than any other place, and if the 12-mile limit is to be the rule after the conference in the spring of next year it is obvious that the Faroes will seek a similar extension.
I should like to return to the question I asked on Monday about imports of frozen fish. The Minister was unable to commit himself then, and I shall quite understand it if he cannot do so today. On the other hand, on the very next day, on Tuesday, there was a report in my local newspaper, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, whch said, in very large headlines:Norway Gets 'Conditional Yes'…It went on to say:Britain has given a 'conditional yes' to Norway's claim for admission of her frozen fish into Britain free of duty under the proposed 'Outer Seven' Free Trade Area, the newspaper Arbeiderbladet reported in Oslo yesterday. Arbeiderbladet is the official organ of the Norwegian Socialist Party, and often reflects the views of the Government.It then went on to say, as reported in the newspaper:The British have, for the moment, proposed a footnote making it possible for the question to be taken up again if there were fundamental changes in fishing conditions, and it seems likely that this refers in the first instance to a basic change in the fishery limit question.I want to comment on that, because I am one of a number of hon. Members who have supported the work to reach an agreement on what is called the Outer Seven. We do so largely because it seems to us the only hope of a bridge to a very much wider arrangement in Europe which would have three main purposes: first, to increase potential markets for our exports; second, to attract foreign, notably United States, firms, to this country—and especially to Scotland; and third, to guard against the damage that a tight Common Market might do to us, not only from a trading point of view but from a political point of view by splitting Europe.
In the smaller Free Trade Area it is perfectly obvious that if we are to expect advantages for some of our industries' products we must expect competition in certain of our main industries. If, however, this newspaper report is true, the effect, or the possible effect, on the fishing industry is one of extreme importance, though it can, I think, be conditioned by 1087 two main interests that are not, in fact, incompatible.
First of all, it is in the interests of the housewife—and I have heard only one hon. Member, the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), talk of her in this debate—who needs reasonable and steady prices. In the second place, the fishing industry itself needs them. If this report is true, if the Government have made these reservations on what are called "fundamental changes in fishing conditions" I think that they have fought hard to provide the safeguards that this industry undoubtedly must have.
It is impossible to comment intelligently on such a report until we know the level of such imports and the rate at which they will be allowed into this country. The Common Market envisaged a gradual reduction in tariffs over a period of 10 years. If we expect, in the Outer Seven, to keep the reduction in tariffs in line with that of the Common Market, we shall need to have a minimum initial reduction of about 20 per cent., with a reduction of about 10 per cent. in each following year. As far as one can now gather concerning the progress of the Common Market it will reach its final stage of reduction of tariffs a good deal earlier than the date at first envisaged.
I hope that in these negotiations account will be taken of the very great importance of an even flow of imports to our markets because, above all, we must try to avoid the unbalance of glut and famine. It is perfectly possible to do this with frozen fish. A great deal is being done in this country to improve our own facilities, and the spread of deep-freeze cabinets, not only in the cities but in our rural areas, shows how much can be done to bring fish at reasonable prices even to the country housewife, and, I think, in a very much fresher condition than that sometimes brought by the travelling fish van.
I believe that there is also a great future for dehydration. I admit that at present the appearance is not at all palatable, but the fish is very good to eat if one knows how to cook it. A great deal of research is now being done in Aberdeen, for instance, and much could be done to develop it commercially. In the first instance, unfortunately, it has 1088 been taken up for development in America. A great deal of this fish will be in direct competition with the deep-frozen fish, and may overcome many of the problems we shall have to meet following any frozen fish imports.
We must also decide among ourselves what we are to do about the banning of landings of foreign fish. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland)—whom we are very glad to see back with us once more after a short absence, and who represents a great fishing port—called attention to the fact that the first Icelandic boat landed fish on, I think, 25th October, and at Aberdeen on 2nd November an Icelandic boat landed fish successfully with the agreement of the skippers and mates of the industry. But I think we must have some common agreement about what we are going to do in all the fishing ports, whether in Scotland or in England, about these imports of foreign fish.
Clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill seem to be valuable as they give the Government power to assume responsibility for banning fishing in specified areas, which I presume will include such areas as the Moray Firth, and also in the North Sea, under certain conditions. It is very important indeed that if we deny access to our fishermen, we only do so on the understanding that exactly the same is being done by other Governments.
Lastly, this newspaper report about the agreement with Norway refers to fundamental changes in fishing conditions and says that that, presumably, will mean any fundamental change such as could be brought about by the Conference on the Law of the Sea in an agreement to restrict all fishing limits to 12 miles. Therefore, what we have got to do on the question of conservation is to tackle, first of all, enforcement and, secondly, ratification.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), whom we are very glad to see on the Front Bench, referred to a debate in the Council of Europe some years ago, at which I also was present—I think it must have been in 1950—when, owing to pressure from the United Kingdom delegation, we forced the last Government to ratify the 1946 Convention, that last Government being Iceland. We are very glad that Britain 1089 has taken a lead in ratifying this new convention, and we must press on, particularly in the Conference on the Law of the Sea, to obtain ratification by other Governments as soon as possible, because on over-fishing all else depends.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
The hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), in an excellent speech, displayed all the signs of the flush of victory. I think it was the poet Blake who said, "It is an easy thing to sing on the wagon loaded with corn and to preach patience to the afflicted." I am afraid that like the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod), my nearest neighbour 60 miles away in the north-west, I am not as happy as I would like to be with the Bill; though there are features of it which we welcome and which, I am sure, the fishermen will welcome, too. But here was an opportunity to fulfil a little more generously and imaginatively some of the promises which were made to the fishing communities during what we must remember was a very recent election.
The hon. Lady was quite right in saying that this is a fishing Bill. It is, of course, a fishing Bill. It was even more of a fishing device several weeks ago before it was framed. A vote-fishing Bill. She said also that it is the first Bill of the Session. That, of course, is as it should be, too, because, if I remember aright, in Scotland, at least, this was the first campaigning promise that was made during the election campaign. When she called it a considerable Bill, she was perfectly right, too. The bill is coming in now—to the Treasury. Nevertheless, it is good to see a Government promise being fulfilled, however belatedly, and I welcome it for all that is good in it. Perhaps I suffer from having a fine vein of cussedness running through my system. The Secretary of State obviously believes that I have that at all times. But I must say that the omissions deserve to be underlined as well.
When the hon. Lady talked about the difficulty of getting shipbuilding orders and deliveries in Scotland, she made me think a bit about Burnt Island and Ardrossan and those other "pockets of unemployment" as the Government like 1090 to refer to them rather than as part of a national problem of unemployment or under-employment. In such places these orders would be extremely welcome. I hope she will address her agile mind to this question and see whether she is able to bring pressure to bear on her friends in the Government to do what they can about utilising the wasted capacity of Ardrossan and Burnt Island. I would be sorry if she did not pile in with the rest of us to get something done about those places.
The hon. Member spoke with some anxiety about the proposals for the admission of Norwegian fish. I wish that were the only thing of this kind that left us a little anxious on this side of the House. In the recent Finance Bill we had a not dissimilar problem concerning herring; and, as far as I can remember, there was little anxiety expressed on the other side of the House about the position then. There were possibly one or two hon. Members who did so. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty spoke rather more independently than his hon. Friends in support of representations made from this side of the House.
There was the situation in which, while our own Western Isles fishermen were being refused additional herring processing plant and employment from the creation of those plants, at the same time the Treasury was admitting imports, without any sort of limitation, of herring into the existing herring industry plant from any other country which cared to contribute. I should have liked some more support from the other side of the House when we spoke on these benches in an effort to protect our fishermen and save something from the effect of that provision in the Finance Bill.
I am sorry to introduce into what has been an almost bipartisan geniality tonight a little note not of discord so much as of special pleading. This is an industry which, with all our little niceties set on one side, has not been a united industry. There is no use in thinking that we can gloss over these fundamental differences which have afflicted the industry for so long. I do not want to stress them too much; and. certainly, nobody wants to see them continued. We want to see an end of them on a local, 1091 national and world scale, and I think we are getting a little towards that end.
It is not surprising to those who know the local and national difficulties and conflicts that we have not reached the desirable goal of international agreement on the first conference of the sea. I think this is going to be rather like the summit talks. We shall go through quite a range of such conferences before we get a round, final agreement. There are so many interests, national and otherwise, which are involved.
We used to have the old conflicts in the north-west between the Fleetwood poaching trawlers and the local inshore fishermen. Of course, the economics of trawling, the result of over-fishing in the North Sea and all the rest of it in time created special new problems. The islands have been relieved of the threat of illegal fishing by the old type trawlers. But now, after the over-fishing of the North Sea, has come the over-fishing by the smaller vessels. My hon. and piscatorial Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) will know that the fishermen from his area have so over-fished their native waters of the Moray Firth that they have now to come over to the Western Isles. They are the new pirates of the west, at least a small minority of them are. They are causing in a new form the same sort of trouble and problems that we used to have with the Fleetwood trawlers and latterly with the Aberdeen trawling fleets, which were, before the belated building spurt, known as the slums of the sea.
§ Sir W. Duthie
We have had this out before. I categorically deny that any fishermen from the Banffshire coast has been engaged in piratical activities anywhere near the Isle of Lewis.
§ Mr. MacMillan
The hon. Baronet has said that with all the righteous conviction of the pirate Morgan defending himself against a charge of piracy. I hardly expected a plea of "guilty" without protest. The trouble is ca+ching his seine net offenders at all to prove their piracy.
§ Mr. MacMillan
And I still use it, of course. I intend to deal with this point in a little detail, although it is possibly a rather narrow one. I think 1092 the hon. Baronet has agreed that it has been largely the over-fishing of the waters in the Moray Firth that has led to the seine net fishers coming to the West. We do not mind them coming to the West; we welcome them. There is a fine comradely feeling among all fishermen.
§ Mr. MacMillan
Yes, certainly. They are most welcome—until they come within the three-mile fishery limit. The trouble is that they want to make themselves welcome within those limits, and I think it is a little bit shabby of them to take such advantage of the hospitality of the island waters, from which alone the inshore fishermen can make their livelihood and derive their food supply, and to destroy the fishing grounds around the islands, which can never be restored.
I have been at the Secretary of State so often about this. But he cannot escape from it. The only people who are escaping are the illegal seine net poachers. This is where my quarrel arises with the Secretary of State more than my slightly synthetic quarrel with the hon. Baronet. I wrote finally to the Prime Minister early last summer when the fishermen of the islands, driven by desperation, threatened to take armed action against the gentlemen who came over from Banff and the East Coast areas—the seine net poachers, if I dare call them poachers. The Prime Minister wrote me a very understanding letter. He fully understood, he said, our views about the undesirability of the local fishing grounds being raided and raped and all the rest of it by these wicked people from the larger fleets, as he called them, by which I presume he meant the fleets from Banff and Buckie and the rest of them. He used the expression, "Whatever the provocation, I must deplore the use of violence." The Prime Minister must have mistaken me for Colonel Nasser for a moment. I thought that he must have mistaken the Minch for the Suez Canal. While I agree with him more than he agreed with himself at one time in deploring the use of violence "under any provocation", nevertheless, that was all that we got out of his reply. And the Secretary of State has added nothing more effective to it.
1093 It is extraordinary how tonight everyone has defended the spending of what are, in fact, large sums of money and the giving of a great deal of national attention and effort to the protection of our trawling fleets in fishing Icelandic waters, or what the Icelandic people claim to be their territorial waters. It is extraordinary how we can, with almost no protest from hon. Members opposite, pour £300 million down the Suez ditch to no sane purpose and then be told by the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister, "I am sorry, but we cannot afford or justify the additional expense of placing one or two speed boats around the Western Isles to protect your local fishermen." That is the essence of the Secretary of State's letter.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)indicated dissent.
§ Mr. MacMillan
The Secretary of State can shake his head, but I can quote his letter if necessary. He said, "We do not feel justified in spending the money"—those were his words more or less—"in basing one or two speed boats around these islands" simply to see that the existing law and limits are preserved. That was the essence of his reply to the County Council of Ross and Cromarty and to myself.
The Secretary of State and his predecessors have stood by while they have watched the number of crofter fishermen and inshore fishermen dwindle from a pre-war 4,000 to about 1,400 today. This is a serious decrease in the numbers of any particular community in any country. In that particular area, the Highlands and Islands, which is suffering from general depopulation, it is more serious than it would be in most places.
What has been suggested that we should do about it? I hope that I shall not be accused of proposing unreasonable controls after listening to the hon. Member for Banff. Never was there such a list of regulations, controls, prohibitions and licensing as we have had tonight from him. I think that he was a little too rigid and restrictive in his proposals. We would never dare on this side of the House in one speech on one day propose so many controls and restrictions on private enterprise as he did.
1094 I remember sitting on the Neven Spence Committee on the white fishing industry which produced an interim Report and a final Report in 1945; but our two Reports never proposed so many controls as he managed to get into a ten-minute speech. Many of them were very good and I agree with some of them. Some, however, must seem to Tory colleagues to be highly reprehensible. What were they? Universal registration, closed areas, closed times and prohibited bays and days. And all balanced so nicely by national assistance. Do not let the hon. Member feel alone in this. He has joined a long Tory queue. Nearly all hon. Members on the other side of the House are now members of the National Assistance Party.
The combination of public authorities to whom he was appealing to save his industry were the White Fish Authority, the Herring Industry Board and the National Assistance Board. I call it "National Assistance", but other words for it are subvention, Treasury assistance, subsidies and so on. Not only that, but he did it on behalf of a most extraordinary section of the industry—perhaps not the least deserving—but, at any rate, the least likely to have anyone on this side of the House support his appeal on their behalf.
He was appealing on behalf of the passive shore owners. I did not fully catch the implications of his suggestion. I think that he meant to say that if we had shore owners who were able to supply or meet the gap between the cost of a vessel and gear and what is available in grant or loan to the working members of the crew, it would be a very nice thing for the Treasury or someone to come along and make the money available to the shore interests to complete the transaction. We have always looked on the shore owner on this side of the House as the least important and deserving person in transactions or bargains of this kind, and for the hon. Baronet to make a special appeal for them as against the working members of the crew, the actual fishermen, seems a very extraordinary expression of priority.
§ Sir W. Duthie
According to the Act which was introduced by the Labour Party, the contracting shore owner in acquiring a new vessel did, in fact, get a grant and loan.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I am not saying that he did not. I am saying that it is an extraordinary priority which is given by the hon. Gentleman to that particular person in that transaction. Why could not he have suggested the closing of the gap by making available a bigger grant or an easier loan, or even a bigger loan on easier terms to the working fishermen? I think perhaps that does appeal to him now on second thoughts. I hope that I am correct in assuming that the hon. Baronet has now changed his mind. I see that he has.
On one of the proposals he made I agree with him very much. On the Neven Spence Committee I was the only dissenting member and the only person to recommend strongly that we should have at least an experimental closing of the Minch for a number of years in order to try to build up a local fleet and encourage local fishing expansion and enterprise. I am glad—and I say this sincerely—that the hon. Member has come down flat on this issue, and I hope that he will carry all his constituents, including even the small and wicked band of pirates and poachers, with him on this point.
I commend his suggestion to the Secretary of State, who cannot afford to ignore so powerful, authoritative and influential an hon. Member on his own side of the House in a matter of this kind. It is a very revolutionary recommendation from the hon. Baronet, representing as he does the interests of the seine netters, with, I am sure, the support of the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South, and the trawler interests she represents. I think she agrees? It is a fine and altruistic attitude as well, and I can assure him that we shall do our best to justify it by extending our own fleet and fishing activities in the islands, providing that they mean what they say and loyally observe the closing of the Minch even for an experimental period of years.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), like myself, deplores the failure to provide more protection for inshore fishing and for our local fisheries. He pointed out, quite rightly, that we provide for the protection of salmon or, rather, for the protection of the interests which claim to own the salmon, and he asked why this should not be extended to these more important 1096 fisheries. I think that that was the line of his thought.
§ Mr. MacMillan
Conservation takes many forms, of course, including protection against the depredations of the predatory seine-netting gentlemen I mentioned a short time ago. Conservation can be a local thing as well as an international matter, and if the Secretary of State fails on this local scale he will certainly fail on the greater international scale. He should try to achieve a few successes locally before going to the international Conference on the Law of the Sea. We are asking merely for these little local things to be done in this little local way. We will try him, and then, if he is successful, we will push him along to the second conference when the time comes next year.
The Secretary of State does not seem even now to contemplate any action. We are not to have the same consideration for our inshore fishing as there is to be for salmon or, if one likes, for red deer. Why not? Only a few months ago the House gave two full days of its time in this Chamber and about fifteen sittings of the Scottish Committee to the protection of red deer or, rather, to the protection of the monopoly claims of the so-called owners of the red deer. If a gang of people go out and, on the testimony of one witness, are found to have shot a deer or to have been about to shoot a deer, or even are found to have looked like shooting a deer, there are heavy penalties which can be imposed. That is not exaggeration. One round of ammunition in a man's pocket is sufficient; there need be no rifle. A round of ammunition may have come through the post and, it would be said, it obviously came for that purpose and someone intended to shoot a red deer. The Act is chock-full of that sort of thing. If two or three people are found even with any intention of shooting red deer belonging to one of the hon. Gentlemen opposite—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sure the hon. Member would desire to remember that one form of synthetic piracy which is not in this Bill is deer poaching.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I claim your indulgence. Mr. Speaker, only to this extent, that I am now comparing penalties 1097 which are definitely referred to in the Bill with those which are imposed in other recent legislation in connection with fishing, with, let us say, the salmon fisheries. That is why I brought in the subject of penalties, and I hope that that, perhaps, does explain the point. We have made special provision in the Deer Act to fine two or more people up to £500 or to jail them for two years for doing to one red deer what fleets of poaching vessels are, in fact, doing to the livelihood of whole communities of fishermen in the North-West and the Western Isles.
Surely, this approach is out of focus and out of proportion, and it is not too much to ask the Secretary of State to do two or three things in order to give a measure of better protection to these least protected sections of the industry. We have asked him to bring the penalties upon the sea-raiders more into line with the value of the booty which they carry away from the island bays. That is not an unreasonable demand. Indeed, a revised penalty scale is conceded in one Clause of the Bill in another application. Since we accept the principle, why can it not be extended so that the penalties in regard to poaching in our inshore waters should be brought into line with the present rich profits made from illegal trawling and seine netting.
I have repeatedly suggested that, along with increased penalties, he might at least try out one or two speedboats located locally to go after the marauders and raiders as soon as they were spotted from the radar, radio or whatever signal it might be. It is all very well to ask the fishery cruisers to do it, but they cannot do the impossible. It is unfair to ask them to catch these nippy, manoeuvrable, little craft that dart into our bays. We all agree that the fishery cruisers are doing excellent work. Their captains and crews are doing excellent service, of course, but they are meant to deal with trawlers, not with these fast, nippy fellows from the East Coast and certain other waters. They cannot catch up with them, especially in darkness.
We suggested also that he might try the old Q-boat device of having one or two fishery cruisers disguised as seine netting vessels. There again, the cost would be infinitestimal compared with the 1098 money we have seen squandered on less worthy purposes in the last few years.
Next, I suggest, as I have so often suggested, that those who own the vessels, not just those they employ, should appear personally in the courts and be fined personally or, if necessary, after repeated offences, be committed to prison. Why should it always be the master of the vessel who has to stand there and take the ignominy and punishment when, as likely as not, he is under orders from his superiors, or, at least, under heavy temptation to break the law? It is time that the owners themselves came into court to face the music.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty and I often have to introduce a critical note on an occasion when there is so much mutual congratulation upon the assumed good will of both sides for this new Measure for the fishing industry. But we have strong reason for it. We have seen so much of what has been happening and so little done to help. The Herring Industry Board plant at Wick has recently closed down. We have seen the Diatomite works at Skye closing down. We have seen the number of crofter fishermen dwindle, as I said, from 4,000 in 1939 to 1,400 today. We have Britain's worst pockets of unemployment in our areas. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Ullapool as having had heavy herring landings this year. Yes; but it is still not a fishing port in the real sense of the term. There is no processing there. It is a sort of piscatorial pillar-box; one puts the herring through it down to the centres where it is sold and processed. It may help somebody, but it does not help Ullapool to develop beyond what it is—no more than a way through, an exit or entry, whatever one cares to call it, for herring passing to somewhere beyond.
On the other hand, we have had disastrous fishing seasons in the Northwest of Scotland. And this year, white fishing has been as bad. The Secretary of State spent one night in Broad Bay in Lewis some time ago, looking for poachers. Of course, he did not find any. One does not find any burglars if one tells them a few days before that the cops are coming. The right hon. Gentleman looked in vain. He amused himself and everyone else, including the 1099 cruisers, by gleefully saying, "Look—we have not caught a single trawler or caught a single seine netter". One other thing which was, unfortunately, true was that nobody caught a single fish. Nearly all the robbery had been done before he arrived, and the season proved to be one of the worst for the white fish industry in that area.
I welcome other parts of the Bill. I welcome the further provision for helping people to acquire new vessels and equip them. I believe that we all do. But, for the smaller man, there is still that gap which the hon. Member for Banff suggested we should fill by making money available to the person who was going to make money available to the working members of the crew. That is really what it amounted to. It is like lending money to Messrs. Napier to lend out to somebody else to get on with the job, the money then being paid back to two different sources.
There are people who find the gap between grant and loan and what they have themselves to find too much. These are not easy times for fishermen in the outlying areas to close the gap. I am sure that I have the support of hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Banff, in appealing to the Secretary of State to consider whether he can find it worth while to close the gap a little more. It is all very well to say that there is a limit. Where is the limit to what we offer to the aircraft industry and the cotton industry and other powerful concerns which ask for national assistance and receive it almost without means test? In this case, the gap should be narrowed a little to enable more of the smaller men to go in for larger, modern, dual-purpose vessels and better equipment.
Finally—I promise that this is finally—there is something we cannot do. We can promise all the extra millions we like for subsidies and new vessels; but we will not find enough people in Ross and Cromarty, Shetland and the Western Isles with confidence to take advantage of our provisions unless we also give them proper shelter, harbours and jetties for their vessels. We have no right to ask people to take heavy loans and to put valuable property on the sea and to leave it at the mercy of the tides and rocks. It should be the responsibility 1100 of the Secretary of State, in giving out public money, whether in grant or loan, to see that these new vessels will be sheltered in proper harbours, with proper landing facilities and all other things necessary to do the job properly.
When he decides to give help to build or to extend a jetty, for goodness sake let him stop the eternal habit of his Department of building nearly three quarters of it on shore, with a mere few yards of it in the sea at high tide. If we want the fishermen to buy new vessels and to encourage more men to go in for fishing, we must provide shelter for their vessels and make it possible for them to land their catches in a convenient way, with modern equipment, which is something we have not done before, at least in the island areas.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I am sure that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) will forgive me if I do not go into the difficulties of the Minch, but I came to the conclusion at the end of the speech that, more or less, he welcomes the Bill. He then went on to say many other things that he would have liked done as well. I was also very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he served on the Neven Spence Committee. I think that we all realise the debt that the fishing industry as a whole owes to my old friend and colleague Sir Basil Neven-Spence.
The hon. Member also said that the industry, from time to time, is not completely united. I think that we must all agree on that point. One of the difficulties about debates on the fishing industry and in taking advantage of the Second Reading debate on a Bill to deal with it, is that the industry itself is so varied. When we discuss agriculture, it is normal and natural for many hon. Members to concentrate on one particular part of agriculture, whereas, in debating the fishing industry, if we do not concentrate on one particular part we get a very confused picture. The picture in one part of the fishing industry differs considerably in some ways from the picture in another part of the industry.
The particular points that I want to bring to the Minister's attention are these. First, I, like other hon. Members, 1101 welcome the Bill. I should have liked a little more time between the moment when it saw the light of day and this debate, but the sooner the Bill becomes an Act the better.
I was a little anxious to hear that the Fleck Committee was not likely to report until the end of 1960. I think that all of us who have interested ourselves in these debates for over fourteen years know full well the difficulties of the subject and we recognise the great difficulties which confront such a Committee in trying to make a report that will be of value to the fishing industry. However, what I am concerned about is that it means that the Committee is likely to report after next July, if what the Minister said is correct. I am worried about that, because it is about July that the Minister comes to the House and tells us about other subsidies.
It was only last July that the Minister said, in answer to a speech that I made in the House about the readjustment of the levy, which was of considerable importance to the pilchard industry, that the matter would be considered between then and next July because, for one thing, the Government would have the Fleck Committee's Report. I sincerely hope that the Government will not use that argument again if, by that time, the Fleck Committee has not reported. This is a very serious matter. As I said at the opening of my speech, the difficulty about the fishing industry is its variety. The pilchard industry applies to the part of the country that I have the honour to represent and to live in, but, strangely enough, it applies only to that part of the United Kingdom. There are, therefor, peculiar difficulties there.
These difficulties are becoming greater. Last night I referred in the House to the difficulties which may flow from an increase in canned imports, which, in itself, will badly hurt the pilchard industry. Yet, in taking that into account, the Minister has not really considered further the point that we made about the alteration of the levy. It is extraordinary that the White Fish Authority, which was set up by Parliament for the purpose of scrutinising these matters, firmly decided that it was the right thing to do, yet the excuse that is usually made when a Government 1102 have to defend an answer was once more given. It was said that the matter was too complicated and would be very difficult to implement. Whether the excuse comes from the Treasury or from the Ministry of Agriculture, the words which are used in that form of defence are exactly the same.
This will not do, and if the Fleck Committee is not to report until a year from now, although I am fully seized of the difficult position in which Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee are placed, the Government themselves must decide to look once again at the matter. The White Fish Authority, the pilchard industry itself and all those who know about it feel that this adjustment should be made.
I am glad to know that further deliberations on the law of the sea will take place next year. Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), I share the hope that agreement will be reached on a six-mile limit. I think that this is the right moment to mention to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the fishermen whom I represent would also very much like to see a six-mile limit. I should be delighted if we could arrive at an agreement with another sovereign Power about a six-mile limit, but let us think occasionally of our own sovereignty, our own power and of our own fishermen.
The Bill has been produced—and I am glad that it has been produced—to help the sea fish industry. This and previous Governments have recognised the enormous importance of the sea fish industry to Britain, especially that part of it which is inshore. Not only does this part provide an extra source of food and a variety of prime fish which helps in the consumption of the total amount of fish, but it is part of a pattern of life of an island home. Again and again, when we have been in grave difficulties, the men in the fishing industry who know what I would term the short seas and the holes in the sea have been of invaluable assistance to the Royal Navy and to Britain.
In essence, therefore, the fishing industry and everything attached to and surrounding it is of importance. 1103 Although this is not his real responsibility, I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will consider the matter. I cannot understand why, in the case of an important small port like Fowey, which is bounded on one side by Polruan, where for a long time a fully manned coastguard service has been in operation, which is of immense importance to that port, it should suddenly be suggested that it should be moved elsewhere. I have come in from fishing pilchards myself, and I know the importance of the manned coastguard station there. It may be that the place to where it is proposed to remove the station requires one as well. I would not know, but I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that this particular station should not be moved.
All of us in the House who take an interest in the fishing industry welcome and support the Bill, but there are matters which, owing to the variety of the industry, need close attention. I repeat to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that although he made the excuse of the Fleck Committee in July, that excuse cannot work in July, 1960, as far as the Subsidy for Pilchards is concerned.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) wondered at the celerity with which the Bill was brought in. The money would not have run out for another year and, therefore, there was no need for the Government to rush the Bill in the first few days of this Parliament. They had months in which to do it. They have rushed it now before the Fleck Committee has reported, and it is a matter of speculation why the Government have done this.
One would have thought that if the Government were making a gesture to the fisheries industry, they would have done so after due consideration of the needs of the industry, after taking evidence of its present position and after considering the Fleck Report. But they have not done that. They have chosen to rush this trivial Bill, which bears all the marks of haste and is quite unequal to the occasion. One would have thought that if the Government wished 1104 to make a gesture to the fishing industry, they would have done it in a generous way and after due consideration.
Another outstanding feature of the Bill is its shortsightedness in relation to one of Britain's greatest industries. I approve of this little Bill as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Like many of its ancestors in this family of Bills, it merely tinkers with the relevant problems. It is one of a whole series of Bills spread over years designed to assist the fishing industry and presented and passed from time to time, generally very late at night and without due consideration. Indeed, amongst this family of fishing Measures today's Bill is an exception, because, unlike its ancestors, it was brought on early in the day instead of at about midnight.
All these Measures have the same defects. They lack continuity, they are not permanent and they fail to take the long view which is essential for the real and permanent prosperity of the fishing industry. Like today's Bill, they are all expressed in similarly pious terms—to make further provision for the white fish industry, to give herring subsidies, to make grants for the acquisition and improvement of fishing vessels, to extend powers for fish conservation and to deal with international conventions.
This Bill, like all the others, is of a temporary character and makes no real attempt to grasp the actual problems of the fishing industry. None of these can be dealt with fully or effectively except on a long-term basis. The Bill does not pretend to do that. Its failure is a disgrace to this island nation, with its maritime interests, its fisheries and its relevant ship building and ship repairing, with ships which are falling into decay and fishing fleets which are inadequate for their purpose and which are leaving thousands of men unemployed in our ports and harbours.
With our geographical position in the seas, full of fish, with our seafaring history and tradition, Britain should years ago have had the latest scientific devices in the most modern of fishing fleets for near, middle and distant waters. We are, however, unlikely to have these things until we no longer have a sectional Minister dealing with this matter, but have instead a Minister who gives his whole time to the fishing industry, 1105 a Minister of Fisheries of Cabinet rank. Until we have such a Minister, the relevant problems of the fishing industry will not be tackled in the way that they should. Indeed, in opening the debate, the Minister said quite frankly that it would be unrealistic to look farther ahead than 1963. He gave no reason for this arbitrary defeatist view of the fishing industry, and it is not borne out by the facts. On the contrary, the facts show that it is unrealistic not to look farther ahead than 1963. I shall give ray reasons why continuity and a long-term view are needed. This applies to every aspect of the fishing industry, as I shall briefly indicate.
The fishing industry is one of Britain's greatest industries. It is one of Britain's major industries. It provides the livelihood for thousands of workers, who deserve to know where their future lies. In a Bill of this sort, the Government should take a forward view and indicate where the future of the fishing industry les. That is true for the workers. It is true also for the owners in the industry. For them it involves enormous financial expenditure and they are entitled to know where their future lies.
Very large sums are involved by way of subsidies, and the Treasury is entitled to know where its future in this matter lies. So that whether we look at the position from the viewpoint of the workers, the owners, the merchants, the fish market workers, the transport workers or the consumers, they are all entitled to have their relevant problems treated in a long-term manner.
The industry is of great importance to various sections of the community, not only those who go to sea in ships, but those in the markets who distribute the fish, the transport workers and, in the long run, the consumers of the fish. They are all entitled to have this matter dealt with, not in this piecemeal fashion as a sectional Minister is forced to deal with it, but in a large way, by a large and national policy adumbrated in a large and comprehensive Bill.
There are other aspects of the fishing industry which demand a long-term view and continuity. The Minister spoke about the conservation of fish. Conservation of fish is dealt with in the Bill, but it involves a close and long study of the 1106 habits and migration of fish. This, too, indicates the necessity for a long-term view. The scientific studies, as I who am acquainted with the Torry Scientific Institute in Aberdeen know very well, require long years of investigation and exposition and not sporadic little Bills like this with vague generalities, which do not solve the relevant problems.
There is another aspect and one which was touched upon by the Minister in opening the debate. The fishing industry touches foreign affairs. There are agreements with foreign countries. There are conventions to be approved. That again indicates the necessity for a long-term view, and it reinforces my plea which I make to the Prime Minister through the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is listening to me now, that he will once again give ear to the suggestion that I have so frequently made in this House, that the Ministry of Fisheries should not be cluttered up with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, as though fish and agriculture were not food, but that there should be a separate Minister of Fisheries of Cabinet rank, giving his whole time to the fishing industry, so that he can go with that authority to foreign countries and engage in the relevant conferences and consider the relevant conventions.
That cannot be done by a part-time Minister. We should have a whole-time Minister of Fisheries of Cabinet rank dedicating his whole time to this. Such a Minister would not bring in a trivial Bill of this kind, but would, after due consideration, bring in the kind of comprehensive Bill which I have in mind. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, opening this debate, had in mind the need for a comprehensive solution of the problem I have referred to, for he said that until we were in a position for a general review we could not bring in a more comprehensive Bill.
In saying that, this Minister was not original. That has been said by every Minister down the long line of Ministers who have brought in trivial fisheries Bills of this kind. It shows the need for a whole-time Minister of Fisheries. The Government are now in a position to do that. They have a great majority. They are at the beginning of a new Parliament. They have time to tackle these relevant problems of home and foreign 1107 affairs, as they should, in the comprehensive way I have suggested. I hope they will do so.
I do not oppose this little Bill, this trivial Bill, for what it is worth. De minimis non curat lex indeed! But let that pass. This little Bill, this trivial Bill, is unworthy of a great occasion. It is unworthy of a Minister in a Government who have such a large majority, and it is unworthy of one of the greatest industries of Britain.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I am very disappointed that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) dislikes the Bill so much. It seems that he cannot have been swayed by the speeches on his side of the House praising it, especially the speech from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) who spoke from the Opposition Dispatch Box. He praised it very highly. I do not think that the hon. and learned Member has really been very fair about it. I should have thought that one of the great things about the Conservative Party is the speed with which we carry out all our promises. That is one of the features of this Bill. We promised to help fishing, and straight away fishing is helped. I should have thought that the hon. and learned Member would have congratulated my right hon. Friend on that.
It is always very difficult for English Members in these debates on fishing, as I have said on previous occasions, because there are few of us and yet we represent 90 per cent. of the catching power of the industry in the whole of the British Isles. We listened to one speech from an English Member, the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland)—speaking here again—and then we had a tourists' guide of Scotland and heard about Scotland's lovely harbours and beautiful ports, all very interesting in its way. Then we heard the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) speak about a civil war which was going to break out because they were impeded by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). It was interesting, but did not have much to do with today's debate on the fishing industry. 1108 We nearly got on to the question of a glorious stalk in the Highlands.
My criticism of the Bill arises from a hobbyhorse of mine. I have always ridden it against my right hon. Friend and his predecessors. I do not think that the Bill goes far enough with the subsidy. I am very pleased to think that there is a new Member for Grimsby who may help me with this, and I think that it is possible that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) may come in on my side, too, in saying that we must have a subsidy for vessels over 140 feet. I have said it over and over again. When we had a Bill a year ago an hon. Member for Hull got up and said, "We do not want it." The Minister threw up his hands, shouted Eureka, and I have lived and slept with nothing since. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at this, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice will support my plea, if he chances to catch your eye. Mr. Speaker.
I am speaking for all the people in Fleetwood when I say that if we find Icelandic ships coming to ports which do not want them the next few Icelandic ships which come along will be very willingly unloaded at Fleetwood, because there they are short of fish. Perhaps my right hon. Friend may find this suggestion helpful.
The other parts of the Bill are obviously very good, on the question of the different size of mesh, but they are entirely dependent on what other countries will do. I am delighted that we have taken action over this, but I think that we shall have to, not force, but try to get round other countries to join us as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend could easily give a lead in some of this because I gather that he has been approached to study a pilot scheme to see how the Danes are catching the sandworms. If that is a danger to fishing, and means a shortage of food for fish, then it would be a very good idea if my right hon. Friend would do that so that we could prove to the Danes how they were harming the fish stocks of the world. I feel that other countries would follow us if we could do that and give the right and proper lead.
However, many of our difficulties arise in the bigger ports because of the Iceland problem. I think that we have been very good over it and that the Government 1109 have done as much as they can. I gather that we must await what happens next summer, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), who said that we ought to have a very senior representative in high office to go out there. It would help immensely. If we do not get a reasonable agreement on this problem we must think again.
It is absolutely ridiculous, as my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) said, that the Irish can stop fishing near the coast but themselves fish within 12 miles of Ulster or any part of England. I do not think that it is right that this should go on, and it ought to be pointed out to the Irish how strongly we disapprove of that.
Another thing which is worrying many fishermen was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, who read out something from an Aberdeen newspaper. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have seen the leading article in the Daily Express this morning saying that it is learned from Norwegian sources that we are to allow in all the fish which the Norwegians send us. I hope and pray that that is not true. I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend will stick up for all the efforts of our fishing industry and really will fight its cause. I know that it seems as though my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, with his Outer Seven scheme, is rather a dagger in the side of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend has sleepless nights over it, turning these things over in his mind—from pigs to fish and we do not know what else, probably tomatoes, or something of that kind—but I hope that he will see that the fishing industry is not let down.
We know that there must be give and take in every industry. The farming industry has had to give a little and my right hon. Friend is trying to help the farmers. If the fishing industry must give a little more, I hope that he will see that he helps it to the utmost if it sacrifices itself for other industries.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
We have heard a good deal today about the trouble with Iceland and 1110 about our trawlers fishing in Icelandic waters. Our fleet has been praised for doing its best to protect trawlers in those waters, but the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), whose constituency adjoins mine, has drawn attention to an incident in which it appears that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will have to protect Cornish fishing boats against the British Navy. In July, a cruiser of our navy fired shells which nearly knocked out a fishing boat off Land's End. I tabled some Questions to the Admiralty just before the Recess, and I received the usual answer that the matter would be looked into.
I agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives that the matter cannot be left there. It must be looked into urgently by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because we need the protection that may be necessary against the Admiralty and its officials there. It seems to me terrible that it is possible for an accident of that kind to happen, especially off the Cornish coast near which I have lived for a great part of my life.
We had a debate on the white fishing industry in July when the Minister's attention was drawn to a proposal made by the White Fish Authority and the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee for some adjustment of the subsidy to Cornish fishing boats. The right hon. Gentleman turned it down and said that it was not possible, but it seems to me that there is a case. I hope that he will look into it again. He told us this afternoon that the Fleck Committee would report probably before the end of 1960, but I feel a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), who opened the debate so capably, when he says that there may be quite a good case for an interim report on some of the very pressing items with which the Committee is dealing. We have had so much experience in the House of a long detailed report being submitted, very comprehensive and useful, but involving too much work for a Ministry so that they shelve it for a long time.
The White Fish Authority had a plan for reviving the Cornish pilchard industry by enabling the fishermen to go after fish in more distant waters. I hope we shall hear something from the Minister about how this kind of work is proceeding. A 1111 Committee has been set up to deal with it, and I certainly hope that it will bring some help to this hard pressed industry.
I should like to refer to a report published in the Western Morning News on 3rd September of a meeting of the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee held at Truro the day before. There appeared to be some difference of opinion between West Cornwall and East Cornwall about the state of manpower in the industry. The chairman, Commander Luard, said:It was undeniable that fishing as a whole was steadily declining in manpower.Commander Luard has vast experience of the fishing industry around Cornwall, and what he says ought to be taken seriously into account by the Minister, especially when Cornwall is an area of high and persistent unemployment, a D.A.T.A.C. area, as it has been called. No doubt expression will be given to this fact in debates on a Bill which may be before the House next week.
Reference was made at that meeting to a report by the fishery officer, which said:… in the last quarter a record number of five French crabbers were arrested inside the limits. Nothing less than confiscation of catch and gear would stop this poaching which has been going on for years. When caught in foreign water, Cornish fishing boats have similar sentences imposed on them.The newspaper report added thatThe chairman hoped that future sentences would forbid offenders to buy back confiscated gear.We in Cornwall have known year in and year out of complaints by fishermen about French and Belgian crabbers. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to these points because they are of great interest to these people.
This emphasises points which have been made again and again in today's debate about fishing limits. I have a great deal of sympathy with the fishermen and with those in this debate who have said that it is time for Britain to re-examine these limits. The hon. Member for St. Ives spoke of a line being drawn from the Lizard to Land's End across Mount Bay. That is obvious common sense. Most of the European countries which have fishing industries seem to be adopting this method. I cannot imagine why on earth we should tie ourselves to an obsolete practice of a century ago.
1112 I must not trespass beyond the scope of the debate, but it is of the utmost importance that these comparatively small industries should be looked after as well as is possible, because in counties like Cornwall, so far removed from the great industrial centres, we have to depend upon the indigenous industries and fishing, particularly pilchard fishing, is only one of several which have come on hard times in recent years. I welcome the Bill, such as it is, and I hope that it will bring some benefit to the fishermen of Cornwall.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil de Ferranti (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I hope that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hay-man) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I still feel rather a new fish surrounded by older and much larger fish in this particular pond. Frankly, I would welcome the Bill if it were of some use to my constituents, but it is not. I am rather worried whether what I have to say will be in order, but the debate has ranged from speedboats to pirates and, therefore, I am sure that it will be. Those who know that I am the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale will realise that my constituents have a profound interest in the shrimping industry. It has been established in Morecambe for many years and forms a basis for the life of the town. Also, as hon. Members will know, the shrimping industry extends all round Morecambe Bay, and some 200 or 300 families in my constituency gain their livelihood from the shrimp.
The shrimp fishermen are extremely upset, and have been for many years, because those who fish for white fish, herring and sprats receive subsidies on their catches and they do not. I believe that the shrimping industry deserves the same help and the same treatment as the rest of the fishing industry, and I do not see why it should not receive it. Furthermore, there are some special difficulties facing shrimp fishermen at the moment which my right hon. Friend the Minister should bear in mind. The shrimping industry is declining. In 1920 there were nearly 40 shrimping boats at Morecambe, and that number has now been reduced to 20.
The fishing of shrimps is more expensive and requires more expensive tackle 1113 than other types of fishing. For instance, its tackle is nearly three times as expensive as that used for catching sprats or herring. Further, this industry is facing considerable competition from overseas, and it is competition of a type difficult to meet. The small Japanese prawn is becoming extremely popular in this country. It is being imported frozen and its sales are increasing, so it would be a great help to the shrimpers in my constituency if they could receive some additional help at this time.
In the past, they have always been refused help on the ground that the shrimp was a luxury. I do not wish to make any political point about these days of rising prosperity, but I do consider that this argument is valid no longer. The fact is that these families get their livelihood from shrimping, whether the shrimp is a luxury or not. The Minister referred to necessities. The shrimp is a necessity to the shrimpers and to their families, and I do not see why they should not have better prospects for the future than they have now.
My other point on this Bill has been mentioned by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley). Many fishermen, some living in my constituency, are concerned about the new regulations affecting the size of nets, etc. They are afraid that these will not be effective because they think that fishermen from Holland or Belgium will not adhere to any international agreement which is reached. They do not see why regulations should not be made for them unilaterally, and they feel they should be given an assurance that if other nations do not comply with the regulations, these should be altered for them.
I hope the Minister will bear these points in mind and will try to find some way of helping the shrimpers of Morecambe.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I hope the House will forgive me if I bring back the debate from shrimps to cod and from the highways and byeways of Cornwall and Scotland to the Humber, where the bulk of the fishing industry is concentrated. Like hon. Members on both sides of the House I welcome this Bill, not only for its contents but also for the fact that it has 1114 given us opportunity for a wide-ranging debate on the fishing industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) has already made the point that the three great ports of this country, Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood, do not get much of a look in on these fishery debates because there are so many hon. and right hon. Members who represent other smaller ports throughout England and Scotland. Also the normal fishing debate is held on some Bill to extend or modify grants or loans, and the distant water section of the industry does not attract such loans and grants. That being so, one cannot discuss the problems of this section of the industry in our normal annual fisheries debate and it is therefore particularly important for us to take full advantage of this opportunity. In this connection, I was delighted to hear this point made in a strong tone from the other side of the Humber, as well as from the other side of the House, by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland).
I will try to put the problems of the distant water section of the industry under two heads: the first, costs and subsidies. The hon. Member for North Fylde suggested that subsidies should be paid on vessels larger than 140 ft. I warn the House again, as I have done three years running, that if costs continue to rise the distant water section may be forced to ask for subsidies. The cost of a modern distant water trawler is in the region of £300,000. The whole pattern of the fishing industry may be altering and it may be necessary to construct factory ships, in which case the cost will go up to £1 million or more. So if this section of the industry is to be kept prosperous it may be necessary for it, reluctant though it would be, to ask the Government for similar help to that given to the other sections of the industry.
A lot will depend on two things. First, it will depend on the result of the Outer Seven negotiations. This problem was ably put by the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). I will not go over the ground again but will merely add that if Britain is to open her markets to our partners in the Outer Seven for wet or frozen fish or fish products, as some compensation it would only be fair that our partners in the Outer Seven should open their 1115 restrictive fishing limits to our trawlers. The position as regards the Outer Seven and Iceland will affect the distant water section of the industry more than any other, and it may have a great bearing on the question of whether it is forced to ask for subsidies similar to those given to the near water and middle water sections of the industry.
Certain hon. Members have mentioned harbour facilities. Here, again, I think the hon. Member for Grimsby will agree that the facilities, certainly in Hull and perhaps to a lesser extent in Grimsby, are deplorable. This is not the direct responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I hope he can bring his influence to bear on the British Transport Commission. When we get the ridiculous situation that about 80 per cent. of the distant water trawlers operating from Hull cannot use the slipways in that port but have to go to graving docks for overhaul, it is a shocking commentary on the stewardship of the British Transport Commission in both Hull and Grimsby. However, I must not pursue that too far or else I shall be called to order by the Chair.
I now turn to the second problem, conservation. In this Bill we see extended the existing powers regulating the construction, design, material or size of fishing gear, including nets. We also see that these restrictions will now apply to non-registered fishing vessels and to foreign vessels. As regards foreign vessels, I believe it is by agreement with the countries concerned. I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is by a bilateral agreement with some other country that its fishing vessels will be subject to the same restrictions as ourselves or is it incorporated into the North-Eastern Atlantic Fisheries Convention, for the implementation of which this Bill seeks to give the necessary machinery? Could the Minister give me a reply when he winds up the debate?
For the first time this Bill allows in places other than the North Sea close areas and close seasons. We all agree that conservation of fish is of the utmost importance but we do not close areas unless two things can be proved: first that too much fish is being caught and, second, that the area is being over-fished 1116 to the extent that safeguards are necessary because immature fish are being taken out of the water. The Icelandic Government maintain that their-extension of limits is based largely on reason of conservation. I believe this theory is untenable because it can clearly be shown that the stocks in Icelandic waters, certainly of cod and, indeed, most other varieties, have remained more or less the same over the years, and it can be shown scientifically that fishing limits as such are no real safeguard for the conservation of fish stocks
Furthermore, the conservation convention at Geneva which was signed by both Iceland and ourselves laid down four rules in relation to the problem of extending fishery limits for reasons of conservation. Firstly, there were to be negotiations lasting six months; secondly, there was to be no discrimination; thirdly, if there was disagreement the parties to the dispute had to submit to a committee of referees; and fourthly, any extension of limits was to be based on scientific findings.
None of these four rules has been met by the Icelandic Government. There was no negotiation. There was a unilateral declaration extending her own limits. There is discrimination, in that certain Icelandic vessels are allowed to fish within the new 12-mile limit and, indeed, the old 4-mile limit. Also, the Icelandic Government refused to go to the International Court of Justice or to any other impartial tribunal. Further, the action of the Icelandic Government is not based on scientific findings.
Finally, on the question of conservation around Iceland, no conservation measures proposed by Iceland have ever been refused by the existing international conservation bodies, to which both Iceland and ourselves belong. Therefore, I submit that there is absolutely no justfication for maintaining that an increase in the limits serves to conserve fish and can be justified as such.
Reference has already been made on both sides of the House to next year's Conference on the Law of the Sea, and I will, therefore, refer to it only briefly. Whatever the outcome of the conference—whether it be a 6-mile limit or a 12-mile limit, with historic fishing rights—I hope that there will be an agreement which is truly international and that 1117 when our delegation comes back from Geneva the world will know that the matter has been settled one way or the other and that all the countries of the world will adhere to it. That will at least prevent our being faced by something which many of us fear, that the Icelandic Government, once it has achieved a further limit than the present 4-mile limit, will seek to extend to the 100 fathom line, thus claiming rights over all the sea to the Continental shelf, which would be disastrous to our fishing industry and create anarchy in international law. Whatever the decision is, I hope that the leader of our delegation and Her Majesty's Government will do everything they can to ensure that it is an agreed decision and will be adhered to by all the other nations of the world.
Clause 6 makes provision for industrial fishing. The House will know that if wet fish falls below a certain minimum price, which is itself well below the cost of production, it goes for fish meal in a similar way to certain forms of offal. Clause 6, with firm safeguards, allows trawlers in certain circumstances to fish for fish meal. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has any pilot scheme in view and will try this out on a small scale before embarking on a larger scheme, because I feel that it may be a rather dangerous precedent.
I would like to refer to the Torry Research Station. We are told that in the Bill there are powers to increase marine research, and there is talk about the artificial propagation of fish, and so on. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would arrange for hon. Members on both sides of the House to visit the Torry Research Station so that we can see exactly what takes place there. From my contact with the industry, I understand that it is doing very valuable work. In his other capacity as Minister of Agriculture, my right hon. Friend arranges visits for hon. Members to agricultural research stations, and I wonder whether he contemplates doing the same with regard to this fishery research station.
There was perhaps in past years a feeling that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave precedence to agriculture and did not pay enough attention to fisheries. That has certainly not been true in recent years, and I 1118 thank my right hon. Friend, on behalf of my constituents and many in Hull and the East Riding who depend on the distant water section of the industry, for the powerful way he has supported the industry, particularly in the Icelandic dispute. It is felt very strongly in that part of the world that in this respect he has given the industry every support that it could possibly ask for.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
When I spoke in our last debate on fishing, in the last Parliament, it was my pleasant duty, on behalf of the whole House, to congratulate Mr. Edward Evans on his maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I do not want to appear in any way disrespectful to the present hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), but I am sure that I am again expressing the view of the House when I say that we have very much missed the wisdom and guidance o. Mr. Evans during the debate today.
Turning from absent to present friends, I can congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), who, today, made his maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I would also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) on his demi-maiden speech and say that we are sure we can look forward to some refreshing interventions from him on the subject of fishing.
As we have conducted the debate without any party acrimony, perhaps I might say that it is a pleasure to me to see the cherubic countenance of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food opposite me once more and to add that he seems to me to be the personal embodiment of his party's sloganLife is better under the Conservatives.The Secretary of State for Scotland was looking rather worried during the debate. That is probably because he realises that we have some very difficult problems to face if we are to have a balanced fishing industry. In fact, the debate has been unique. We usually have a non-party debate because everybody criticises the Minister. On this occasion there has been very little criticism, and such criticism as there has been has come from Conservative back 1119 benchers, who have cried out for more controls and licensing. They are Dr. Jekyll here, but they were Mr. Hyde during the General Election. We really cannot afford to be doctrinaire about these things. We must deal with each problem as it comes.
I can hardly say that I welcome the Bill, because it increases the subsidy. We have to think of the taxpayers. No one has mentioned this. We can hardly welcome a Bill which increases the burden on the taxpayer. However, what we welcome is the continuing regard for the industry by the Government and their continuing acceptance of their responsibility for the industry. I was delighted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he had discussed the Bill with Sir Alexander Fleck, but we should not get into the habit of mind where we welcome any extension of subsidy. We ought to admit its necessity, perhaps, which is a different matter. In short, we should not take a sectional view about these things.
Apart from that, it seems to me that the Bill demonstrates again the essential dilemma which faces the Government. The Government repeatedly reiterate that the subsidies are not permanent but temporary, yet every few years they come to the House with a Bill extending the life of the subsidies. The dilemma is that, as the years go by—these subsidies began in 1950—because we are dealing with a palliative, we are prevented from dealing with the industry's fundamental problem. This is unfortunate. It means that all the constructive proposals which are made from both sides of the House in these debates are shelved by the Government because they say—they do not conceal the fact—that they are dealing with a temporary expedient and not a solution to the industry's problems.
I have a good deal of sympathy, as I have said before, for the point of view which has been expressed by Lord Boothby and was expressed today by the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). We are dealing here with a particular problem within the industry—the difficulties of the inner and middle waters and the inshore fleets. We have had a good deal of experience of this subsidy, and there may well be a case for 1120 a permanent subsidy. I do not very much object to that.
This may be a measure of planning, but the right hon. Gentleman is in the position that he cannot yet make up his mind about this because he has to await the decision of the Fleck Committee. He said today that its Report will be received before the end of next year. We recognise that the Committee has been delayed by the fact that we have the second Conference on the Law of the Sea also taking place next year, and the Committee feels that it ought not to report before it learns what has happened at that Conference.
I entirely disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby. We are dealing here with political decisions, and the convenience of a committee ought not to prevent the Government and the House taking effective political decisions. We can procrastinate to the length that we preclude ourselves from taking effective decisions. I do not want to digress, but I believe it will affect another industry concerning my own constituency—shipbuilding.
Admittedly, we have very difficult problems and, admittedly, the solution of some of these problems is not entirely in the Government's hands. We have to await for some purposes the Conference on the Law of the Sea. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Leith and one or two other hon. Members who have said that they would be more encouraged if we knew what the attitude of the Government was to be at this conference. I have some sympathy with those sections of the industry which feel that it would be helpful if we had a more constructive lead from the Government now. After all, we should acknowledge the relative success which the Government have had with the Faroese Agreement.
There is another factor which, again, is not entirely within the control of the Government. We have the question of the European Free Trade Association. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he got a very rough time over pigs, and I understand that one of his hon. Friends wishes to raise the matter, given the opportunity, later this evening. Now, we are in just the same position about fish, and I should like the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell us who is conducting 1121 our negotiations at the moment, because here is a matter of first political importance. We ought to know how effective is the voice of his Department in these negotiations. That is a fair question and one to which we should have a reply at once.
About the disputes, I say that, quite apart from the Icelandic dispute and the possible Norwegian dispute, there is a real possibility of the whole pattern of the fishing industry changing, and changing relatively quickly. I am rather surprised that we have not heard anything about this during our debate, but I realise that this is a factor which is not within the control of the Government. These factors must affect whatever decisions we take about the industry, but I reiterate that we cannot await the solution of all these problems before we decide the manner in which we are to support, if necessary, the fishing industry.
Then there is the over-riding fundamental question of the purpose of the subsidy, and, as I have said in previous debates and will go on saying in this House, when public money is involved we are entitled to know the overt purpose of the Government in providing that aid. We ought not to go on year after year being content merely to give first-aid. There are many ancillary questions which are equally important. I have always regretted this sort of aid, because one has in mind the whole time the effect of the subsidy on the prevalent interest rates. There is a case for examining this aid to the fishing industry seeking this aid from this point of view. We know that there have been 18 different rates of interest in the fishing industry scheme since as recently as 1953. This is the sort of problem which the Government ought to examine, to see whether it would not be better to provide the aid in the form of stable interest rates.
There is also the case, which has been argued previously and has been mentioned again today, whether such aid as this ought not to be discriminatory. It has been argued in previous debates that, even with the subsidy, the small man and the family concern are not able to take advantage of the aid provided. There is the question of discriminatory aid in the sense of helping particular 1122 ports, and the fact that if the subsidy continues as it is administered at present, it will not prevent some of the present ports becoming derelict.
We ought to be considering whether this very large sum of public money might not be directed more towards helping such ports as Aberdeen, Milford Haven and North Shields. These are the questions which the Government ought now to be resolving. One of my right hon. Friends mentioned the great interest of shipbuilding, and I believe he mentioned something along the lines of a "scrap and build" scheme. If we are giving this aid at present, we ought to consider helping the shipbuilding industry.
These are all questions which ought to be decided by the Government without waiting for the Fleck Committee's Report. We cannot go on expending public money in these very large sums while putting off a political decision the whole time and hoping that these improvisations will serve the long-term interests of the industry. These are not questions on which we can expect guidance from the Fleck Committee. The Committee can advise us about the future shape and pattern of the industry, but the Government already have provided very substantial sums of money to aid this industry.
We have debate after debate about the still remaining heavy proportion of obsolete vessels. We cannot afford to do this, and that is why I have mentioned the changing pattern of the industry, and the very real threat which we may have from the development of the trade in frozen fish. These are matters which should be dealt with now. It will not do to set up a Committee like the Fleck Committee and wait on that Committee for several years, and then, as we know we will, have the inevitable year's delay after that while the Government are making up their mind.
I do not propose, on Second Reading, to discuss the details of the Orders which will be consequent upon this Bill, but I should like to mention one or two matters which have been mentioned during the debate, which are important. One is the dual purpose boats, the possibility mentioned by the hon. Member 1123 for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) of giving aid to some of the long-distance trawlers. At any rate, we should consider loans.
I do not mention these matters in the expectation of a reply, save on those recommendations which have been made by the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board. I do not expect the Government automatically to accept the advice given to them by the Authority or the Board, but I expect a reasoned reply from the Government when they fail to follow the advice which is tendered. That is essential if we are to have happy relationships between the Government and those public bodies.
That part of the Bill which deals with conservation has been accepted by everyone who has spoken in the debate. We are all worried by what is happening in the traditional fishing grounds, and I think that we are all becoming increasingly aware of what little knowledge we have of the seas and of the enormous amount of scope for research to which we shall have to turn more and more. I know that when we last discussed fishing, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to Lowestoft, Aberdeen and Burnham and I join with him in paying tribute to the lead given by British scientists while paying tribute to the Government for putting us in the happy position of being the first to ratify the conservation convention.
At the same time, I press the right hon. Gentleman to give all the support he can to research. We may have to look more and more to fish to help us in our difficulties in feeding the world. The fact that we have given a lead places upon us the burden and duty of doing what we can to encourage research. We are all disturbed by the threat of industrial fishing.
What we want is the realisation by all countries concerned that the problems of fishing are common problems and that all of us have to devote resources to research and to getting richer harvests from the seas. At the same time, we have to co-operate to see that we do not prejudice one another by seeking only our own interests. It is unfortunate that the Government have hidden behind the Fleck Committee to avoid making some political decisions which ought to have been taken.
1124 We all await that report with the greatest interest. The debate has shown that once we receive the Committee's recommendations there will be a common endeavour to make the best use of them. This industry demands a good deal in courage and fortitude from those who spend their lives in it, and it is entitled to expect our support and our acceptance of our responsibility for this great national interest.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) almost surprised me by sitting down at that moment. I appreciate the way in which he has welcomed the Bill, even if he had some cautious words which may not have been praise for all our actions.
I repeat what has been said by other hon. Members and express my great sympathy to the relatives of the men who recently lost their lives in the fishing disaster in Scotland, and to the members of that fishing community and all fishing communities. This is an industry which carries with it great hazards. Those of us who know fishing ports know the desperate anxiety which must be felt from time to time by wives and other relations and dependants, and by the community as a whole, when ships are at sea in terrible weather. I am sure that the House would want them to know that our thoughts are with them in a time like this.
The debate has been surprising for me, accustomed as I am to a sustained measure of attack on whatever issue I am speaking about, whether in the House or in the Scottish Committee. As I have done before, I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) on his admirable opening speech. It showed great knowledge of his subject and it was presented in a very balanced way. I am very glad that the debate was opened by a Scot and in such a way, because the industry is of great importance to Scotland—it is of great importance to the United Kingdom—and no Secretary of State for Scotland could possibly be in office for more than a few weeks before realising, if he had not done so already, what the industry meant to the country as a whole.
1125 The hon. Member for Sunderland, North did a rather peculiar thing: he said that he wanted a clear declaration on "the Bill's overt purpose. Was he speaking of the Bill, or of subsidies in general? I can deal very easily with the overt purposes of the Bill, but I do not know whether he wanted a philosophical discourse on subsidies, or on subsidies in relation to this industry.
§ Mr. Willey
I am not asking for a philosophic dissertation. I am asking for a realistic and practical explanation of the expenditure of public money.
§ Mr. Maclay
Those two could conceivably be the same. The clear and overt reason for the Bill is that it is an interim measure to enable the Government to continue the existing subsidy policy for the time being until they have had an opportunity—and here I come to the hon. Member's next point—of considering the recommendations of the Fleck Committee, which we hope to receive next year.
We fully realise the need for some clear guarantee that subsidies will not be abruptly withdrawn next year or the year after. The Bill is a clear indication of the Government's intention to maintain subsidies and grant and loan assistance to the industry for the time being.
Throughout the debate, hon. Members have raised points of detail about subsidies and rates of subsidies. As the House is aware, subsidy rates are reviewed every year in the light of the latest information available about trading results and the fleet's operations These reviews will continue, and in determining the rates of subsidy applicable to the different sections of the fleet, the Government are bound to take full account of the effect of any changes in costs and proceeds on the profitability of fishing operations and of the comments of hon. Members. I assure hon. Members who have raised specific points on the rates of subsidy that their observations will be carefully noted. This is not the right occasion on which to go into detail, because such discussions will be more relevant to the annual subsidy review.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North implied that we were sheltering behind the Fleck Committee in our thinking about fishing generally. I had 1126 great difficulty in discovering what he meant by that, and my hesitancy in standing up when he concluded his speech was due to my pondering what he meant. The Fleck Committee was given a very wide remit. It is to go into the fundamental problems of the industry and I think that it would be extremely difficult to jump ahead of its report with any constructive, long-term, positive proposals.
Obviously, thought continues all the time. I do not know whether the hon. Member felt that certain things could have been done without reference to the Fleck Committee. I find it difficult to believe that it would be wise to appoint a very important body to consider the fundamentals of the industry and then to make fundamental decisions without waiting for its report.
§ Mr. Willey
A business firm has many decisions to take during the conduct of business. It cannot simply set up a committee and hide behind it. The Government have taken decisions about subsidies since 1951 and those decisions have involved the expenditure of a good deal of public money. All I ask is an explanation of the purpose of that expenditure and the position for future expenditure. Those are decisions which the Government should be able to take without hiding behind the Fleck Committee, which has been set up to give a broad review of the industry.
§ Mr. Maclay
Like any other business, we are bound to be making assessments and decisions the whole time, particularly during the annual subsidy review. By common acceptance, the purpose of the subsidies so far has been to ease the transition period during the change from an old fleet to a new and modern fleet. That has been the clear purpose since these subsidies were started.
We recognise that that policy, or that thinking, could not stop tomorrow, or at the expiry of the existing powers. We need the extra money to keep us going pending the still more detailed consideration that must be given to the long-term future of the industry. This is an interim Measure. I do not think the hon. Member's strictures mean that we ought to think beyond that. Our purpose in the past has been clear and 1127 we are awaiting the report of the Committee on the more fundamental issues within its terms of reference.
It may be useful to say a bit more about the result of the subsidies and the grants with which the Bill deals. A substantial modernisation of the fleet has been made possible by the provision of grants and loans for the building and conversion of fishing vessels. Between 1953 and 1st October of this year grants for 246 new white fish vessels for near and middle water fleets have been approved. Eighty-five of these have been for Scotland and 161 for England and Wales. Grants have also been approved for 22 conversions and modernisations. Aberdeen holds first place in the score, having had grants for 66 new boats. For the benefit of other hon. Members, Lowestoft comes next with 54, and, if I may go back to Scotland, the hon. Member for Leith will be interested to know that Granton has had 19. That is a good figure for a relatively small fishing port.
Those figures do not include inshore and herring vessels. In their case grants have been approved for 675 new boats and 400 engines, just about half of these being for Scottish vessels and the majority for white fish. Because costs of building have risen, the cost of the programme has increased. Last July, Parliament sanctioned the proposals that the Government put forward to raise the grant ceiling to £37,500 for white fish vessels. We are now proposing to make a further provision of £5 million so that the help afforded by the White Fish Authority in the form of grants can continue without a break, and the process of replacing old and inefficient vessels can go on smoothly and successfully.
I was rather interested to hear some hon. Members questioning whether we were going fast enough, and other hon. Members questioning whether we were going too fast, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). Progress has been patchy. In some years in some districts it has gone well, and in other years and in other places it has not gone so well. By and large, the rate has been reasonable, and I am glad to see that in one port about which we have been 1128 anxious for the last two years the rate of scrapping of the older vessels has been rising.
There is nothing to fear from too-quick scrapping unless we get the rather fantastic position where there is a sudden disappearance of a large number of boats simultaneously. That would mean a consequential loss of men from the sea before the new ships were ready to take them on. It is not easy to get a gradual phased operation so that there is no gap between the two but, by and large, this operation is going fairly reasonably successfully.
May I deal with the problem of the Fleck Committee and the date of reporting which has been mentioned by many hon. Members. The Committee was appointed at the end of 1957. It has always been recognised that it would have a difficult and important task and would take a considerable time. My right hon. Friend and I met Sir Alexander Fleck the other day. He told us that the Committee had taken a great deal of evidence from all sections of the industry, Government Departments and other bodies, and had visited fishing ports up and down the country as well as certain ports on the Continent.
The Committee is making good progress with the sifting of this evidence and appreciates the desire of the House and the Government that it should produce its Report as soon as it can. At the same time, as has been evident during the debate, there are various uncertainties, for example, the Conference on the Law of the Sea, next spring, which may well have a bearing on the Committee's conclusions. We think that it would be wrong to press the Committee to produce its Report prematurely and before it has had a chance to see how some of the more difficult questions will unfold. The same difficulties apply to an interim report, because with this mass of evidence to digest certain uncertainties still exist. To produce an interim report would be extraordinarily difficult and might be misleading.
The other main point raised during the debate by a remarkably large number of hon. Members is that of conservation. I confess that I had given some thought to the possibility that some hon. Members would say that the powers that we are taking are excessive 1129 and would sound a note of caution. It is interesting to note that not one hon. Member has done that and that everyone is properly concerned, as the Government are, about the importance of the better conservation of fish.
There is the obvious principle that we must not take out from the sea more than what nature can replenish. That applies to agriculture, too, but the farmer is perhaps more fortunate in that he usually has control of the cropping of his fields and by his own efforts can often help nature to produce better results. In fishing we have barely reached the stage at which we can marginally influence the production of marine resources, but Clause 4 of the Bill would enable us to help in this, for example, in the transplanting of young fish from one area to another where conditions may be more favourable to growth. It is important to control cropping of the sea, but it is more difficult because in general fishing grounds are open to all comers and the regulation of fishing can only be done by international agreement between the countries concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) dealt with that and asked a question about what was meant by propagation and what progress was being made. Propagation is simply seeing whether, by the use of tanks, we can reduce the loss of eggs which is so serious in the ordinary processes at sea. Frankly, the progress has not been rapid. Experiments have to be on a small scale, but it is interesting work and is going on. The more productive work, which has been done on a larger scale, concerns the transplanting, which I have already mentioned.
The Overfishing Convention of 1946 has been of great value, but its scope is limited. That is why the Government have taken the lead in working for a number of years to reach agreement upon a wider and more flexible convention. One or two speeches made at the beginning of the debate seemed to indicate that immense pressure was needed to persuade the Government that this question of conservation was important, and to make us take the lead in international discussions. The fact is that we have taken that lead, and it is correct to say that it was entirely upon our 1130 initiative that the discussion and study went on which resulted in the more recent Convention. It is also true that we ratified that Convention, and we shall certainly do everything we can to see that other nations are encouraged to ratify it.
There is one other point concerning conservation with which I should like to deal at some length. It was raised in particular by the hon. Member for Leith and by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). One if not both hon. Members referred, by implication if not directly, to an Answer given on 2nd November about the effect upon fish stocks of industrial fishing carried on by other countries. The Answer stated that the Permanent Commission set up under the Convention had made an assessment of the effect of industrial fishing. It found, after a very detailed examination of the available information by scientists, that while there was some reduction of stocks of haddock and whiting it was not so substantial as seriously to reduce the yield of the haddock and whiting fisheries. This was a deduction drawn from the situation as it was last year. The Government certainly appreciate the concern felt in connection with this question, and if the scale of industrial fishing should grow we will keep a very close watch upon it.
§ Mr. Hoy
When I put my Question to the Minister on Tuesday I did so because the industry in this country feels that Denmark is considerably over-fishing, purely for industrial purposes. She is setting up factories and an industrial fishing fleet. We want to direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that agreement was reached that 10 per cent. of the catch could be used for industrial purposes, and the British industry wants to be assured that this agreement is not being abused. The Answer given by the right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday admits that certain over-fishing has taken place, since it admits that a certain depletion has already taken place although it has not yet become serious.
§ Mr. Maclay
One of the difficulties is that it is by no means proved that this is the result of over-fishing. There may be other causes. Nevertheless, we have noted carefully what the hon. Member 1131 and others have said. We realise that this is a point which needs the closest watching.
The trouble is that young haddock and whiting are mixed in varying extents with the small herring which are the main quarry of the industrial fishing industry. As for herring stocks, tagging experiments carried out by the scientists of several nations, under the auspices of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, have established that the effect of industrial fishing is not as serious as has been felt, and that, at any rate at its present intensity, it cannot be regarded as a main cause for the disappearance of the herring shoals from the East Anglian grounds.
I was glad to hear that better catches were landed today at Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Perhaps this is an indication that shoals have strayed from their normal paths and are late in arriving at their usual grounds, or that they are rather patchy in their distribution. They may have come in with last night's moon, but I am not sure in what phase the moon is at the moment.
Then there is the question of sand eels—the other main quarry for industrial fishing. They are not generally so mixed with the white fish species, although they are part of the white fish food. Our scientists do not feel that the present level of fishing will have serious consequences, although, here again, the position will have to be watched. We are very much aware of the problem, as are our scientists, and we shall go on working to solve them.
It is worth realising that while herring shoals have been scarce this year off East Anglia there has been a limited overall improvement in catches off the Scottish coast, as compared with 1958. The weight of herring landed in Scotland since 1st April this year is 30 per cent. up on 1958 figures, although the catch is very much smaller than it was four or five years ago. There is the balancing factor that the herring fleet is very much smaller, a great many men having gone over to the white fish industry. It is, therefore, a little difficult to be sure what is happening in that part of the world.
It has been suggested that the growth of trawling for immature herring is responsible for the decline, but we really 1132 do not know the reason. We can see that the shoals are not where they used to be, but we have not been able to establish for certain whether this is due to trawling for herring generally or in any particular area, or is due to natural factors.
I leave this part of my speech by saying that I agree with all those hon. Members who have said that it is a question of the first importance and that any Government must not only work at it themselves, but do everything possible to persuade other nations to act sensibly regarding research and conservation methods. These are the more general points. I will deal with two detailed points and try to answer a few more of the questions which have been specifically asked by hon. Members. A number of hon. Members mentioned the preparatory work for the Conference on the Law of the Sea. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) referred to it, and so did other hon. Members.
Of course, the importance of proper preparation has been fully realised by the Government. Some hon. Members suggested that we should be preparing now. I can assure them that we have been doing it ever since the end of the first Geneva Conference. There has been no dilatoriness in thinking about the problems and having discussions with other countries and doing all possible preparatory work for this very important conference which is to take place next spring.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South and my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) referred to the European Free Trade Association and to certain reports in the Press. I wish to make clear that an official statement has not yet been made on these negotiations by any Government, for the simple reason that the negotiations are still in progress. Hon. Members will realise that I cannot make a statement for the time being, but I assure the House that a statement will be made at the earliest possible moment. I would remind hon. Members that newspaper reports are not always correct. I do not think that they will expect me to go further.
§ Mr. Maclay
These negotiations are conducted under the collective responsibility of the Government.
§ Mr. Willey
This is not a flippant matter; it is a matter of great gravity. The fishing industry is greatly disturbed and those in the industry are entitled to know. I cannot ask a more forthright question than, who are conducting the negotiations for us at present? We expect a statement to be made shortly, but surely we are entitled to know who are conducting the negotiations on our behalf. We are concerned about whether the fishing industry is enjoying effective representation in our delegation.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Gentleman must have been long enough in the House to realise that at any stage of continuing negotiations it is, to my knowledge at least, never the practice of any Government to say in detail who is conducting specific negotiations. The negotiations are being carried out now under the authority of the Government of the day with the co-operation of the various Departments which may be concerned and in consultation with those people whom we consult.
§ Mr. Willey
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that, but I have never known a Government who were unable to tell a questioner who is conducting negotiations on their behalf. We are concerned with a political issue here. I am not content to have a bureaucratic decision taken in this case. If any decision on this matter is taken, it is a political matter. It has been discussed today by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Here we have a preposterous position, with the Secretary of State saying that we cannot be told who is conducting the negotiations on our behalf.
§ Mr. Maclay
Preposterous—I was about to say, "Preposterous my eye!" The preposterousness is all on the other side of the House. It would be inconceivable for a Government, at any given moment during continuing negotiations, to set out to give precisely the name, address, and telephone number of the person conducting the negotiations. Clearly, the key Government Departments are in closest consultation the whole time on the subject, and, 1134 obviously, there will be various stages in the negotiations. It is absurd to pretend that any Minister could stand up and say at any given moment who is conducting the negotiations—
§ Mr. Willeyrose—
§ Mr. Maclay
One more question before the hon. Member intervenes again. Is he referring to Her Majesty's Government, or to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretary of State for Scotland, or the Foreign Secretary, or what is he asking?
§ Mr. Willey
I am asking a simple question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can quite understand the embarrassment of those hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies. Here is a political question. It is a political decision. Either a political decision has been taken or it has not. If it has, a directive has been given to civil servants that they are negotiating on our behalf. I want to know—this is the reason why I am taking this opportunity to ask—whether a political decision has been taken, and if not, by whom that decision is to be taken.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member becomes more and more fantastic. I hate to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of this debate, but he is asking a very puzzling question. Of course, the political decision that there should be negotiations was made by the Government. It is known to everybody. Subsequent to that, detailed negotiations have been going on, and I have already said that negotiations are going on. I cannot see the point of the hon. Gentleman's question. I am sure that he has been here long enough to realise that he would not get any other answer from his own Front Bench, if his party was in power, and were he unfortunate enough to be on a back bench. Such negotiations are always conducted under the collective responsibility of the Government and the Ministers. I do not think that we can carry this any further—
§ Mr. Willeyrose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
The hon. Member must remember that the House is not in Committee now. He has put his point and that is as far as we can go.
§ Mr. Maclay
Ministers collectively are responsible for these negotiations, of course. That is the answer that the hon. Member must have known that he would get. [Interruption.] The hon. Member says that a definite decision has been taken. How does he know that? The negotiations are going on, as I have said.
I will try to deal briefly with a few more matters that have been raised. The hon. Member for Leith referred to a previous speech on standardised vessels. The position there is rather difficult. The production of ever-improving fishing vessels must mean continual experiments and changing practice. That has been the history of all ships throughout time. The production of standardised ships, while effective in war-time, has never been the ultimate answer. It is true that some private owners and yards have been experimenting in much greater standardisation, and I think that is right, but I do not think we want too much standardisation because we must go on pursuing the possibility of improvement.
I have dealt with two of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff raised, herring movements and preparation for the Conference on the Law of the Sea. He also made a number of interesting suggestions on how the future might be governed by closing the Minch, and such matters. I do not think that he would expect me to go into the merits or demerits of his specific proposals this evening, but they are extremely interesting and will be duly noted.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives raised a question which I have not answered, concerning grants for echo meters and radar aids to navigation. The position now is that grants of this kind for aids to navigation are made if they are included in a new boat, but they are not at present made for such aids in existing boats. There is an argument here, but it is true that in a great many cases it is wiser for the owner of the boat to consider hiring rather than purchasing. Many big shipping firms trading deep sea have never in their history owned their own navigation aids. They have found it much better to hire from one of the big companies who are also responsible for maintenance, and I would commend that advice to some of the shipowners involved.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but surely some of these things cannot be hired.
§ Mr. Maclay
I should like my hon. Friend to give me some details about this.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised two interesting points. One related to the question of harbours. This is a Second Reading speech and I think that it is permissible to say a word about harbours, although that matter does not arise directly from the Bill. As I think he knows, as recently as in the Highlands White Paper, which we published in the summer months, we have said that we are speeding up the programme of fishery harbours in Scotland. I would say to him with all respect that one of the little problems in which I know he tries to help, is to get uniform decisions on where a harbour should be. That can be a source of great argument which can go on year after year.
I think that he knows that we have had our problems in that respect, but we are conscious of them and pressing on with a good deal greater speed than for some years with the provision of new harbours. He and other hon. Members raised the question of lobsters. The position is difficult. Are they being over-fished, or are they not? On present information there may be an element of over-fishing, but there is no proof that there is any in the hon. Member's own area. In the West of Scotland there is some under-fishing at the moment. This is a problem which we have to go on watching and studying very carefully. As we get down to some of the Western Isles, there is some evidence of possible harm from under-fishing in getting the best stock available.
My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod)—and I hope that the House will agree with me in giving these detailed answers, because a great many questions were asked—also spoke about harbours and raised the interesting suggestion of a close season for herring in the Minch. Again, I do not think that the House will expect me to go into this argument in detail this evening. It is full of possibilities and of impossibilities, too, if that is the word, but, at any rate, it is full 1137 of alarming possibilities and it is one of the matters that no doubt we cannot ignore and must have under consideration.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of more local boats. I could not agree more concerning the West of Scotland. It is a great pity that so much of the fishing in the West of Scotland is done by boats from the East Coast. Anything that an hon. Member can do to help encourage the West Coast men on many of the Western Islands to use the grants and loans now available will be very welcome indeed.
I have been working hard on this for the last few years and wherever I have been on the West Coast I have urged people there to study the grants and loans available and to take an example from the East Coast on this matter. I am glad to say that signs are beginning to appear that more boats owned on the West Coast are starting to fish, but there is a great deal more to be done and we have been working on this, as was pointed out in the White Paper.
I should like to have got into discussion with the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) on the lines that he temptingly dangled in front of us in the course of his speech, but I do not intend to do so, except to say that it is obvious sense—there is no political content in it—to assume that the Government in a great many ways help industry where it is necessary. It does not raise great fundamental issues on nationalisation. The question is how to get the best management, the best enterprise and everything else. I think that this method of working the fishing industry is a good method and that he really agrees that there is no political content in that, so far as the fishing industry is concerned.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) is not here, so I will not pursue the very tempting argument that he put before me. He developed at length an argument which implied that a tremendous amount of poaching went on. I think that you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were not in the Chair at the time, but with the hon. Member for Banff on one side and the hon. Member for the Western Isles on the other, the Secretary of State had to assume his 1138 usual position of getting in between and being fired at fiercely from both sides.
The fact is that we are conscious that there has been a certain amount of poaching there. The Scottish Office has taken very active steps to deal with it. It is very difficult to make certain that every bay and loch in the whole of the West of Scotland is covered by a protection cruiser, but we have taken very active steps. I think that the detailed points raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles, as he knows, we have answered much more fully than he implied in his speech. I will leave it at that, since he is not here to carry on the argument.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) raised a number of points which I can assure him have been very carefully noted. If I have missed out certain points which have been raised by other hon. Members, I shall look at HANSARD and consider whether we can deal with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) mentioned the Torry Research Institute and suggested a visit. I do not think he is here at the moment, but I can assure him that we should be only too glad to make arrangements for a visit by hon. Members to that research institute. The work being done there is of fascinating interest, as I have seen for myself. If my hon. Friend will let me know, I will see that arrangements are made at some time convenient to him and to any hon. Members who wish to go.
My hon. Friend asked about another interesting matter, namely, plans for a pilot scheme for industrial fishing. There are to be discussions with representatives of the trawling industry, at their request, on the general subject of industrial fishing, and these discussions will take place next week.
I have gone in to considerable detail in this reply. I thought it right to do so. I am grateful for the welcome which has been given in general to the Bill, and I strongly commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).