§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
It might be helpful if, at this stage, I say something about the forthcoming debate. It appears to me that the matter of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the fishing industry would be relevant to the question of Second Reading of the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill, and there follows, on the Order Paper, a Motion for the approval of an Order to which some part of the matter dealt with by the Report of the Committee would be relevant.
In the circumstances, it occurred to me that it might be thought convenient by the House to have one general debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, on the whole of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Fishing Industry, and on the Motion for the approval of the Order.
If we adopted that suggestion the House would understand that the Question for Second Reading and the Question for approval of the Motion would have to be put separately, and that if. after consideration of the Money Resolution, some other discussion were to arise about approval of the Order, that discussion would have to be strictly confined to the Order on the issues arising. I do not know whether that way of dealing with the matter commends itself to hon. Members.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
Your suggestion commends itself to this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, but the Government must understand that we do not regard this arrangement as being in any way a substitute for a debate on the Fleck Committee's Report when they publish the White Paper giving their views on the recommendations in that Report.
§ Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife. East)
We want a full debate on the Fleck Report at the earliest conceivable moment.
§ Mr. Speaker
I gather that, despite that wish, the House would like to proceed in the manner which I have suggested.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
The fishing industry usually gets into the news only when we read of the bravery and resource of our fishermen in storm or tempest, or when disaster overtakes them, but the publication of the Report of the Fleck Committee, earlier this month, has drawn attention to the broader background against which the industry operates.
I am sure that the House will join me in saying how grateful we are to Sir Alexander Fleck and the members of his Committee for the great amount of work that they have put into their comprehensive and valuable Report. We received it before Christmas. It was then printed, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I asked the various organisations in the industry to let us have their views upon it.
These we will consider before making an announcement of what decisions the Government have taken on the Report. Naturally, therefore, I do not intend today to comment on it—but I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that you have said that you felt able to announce that it would be in order for hon. Members to give us their views on the Report in this debate, so that the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will be able to take their views into account, also, when reaching our conclusions.
What prompted the Bill? It was not the Fleck Report. The Bill was in outline before we received that Report. To implement the Fleck Report would require major legislation which, after detailed consultation, would take time to prepare. The Government's power to pay operating subsidies to the fleets to help them with grants and loans, and to finance experiments and development through exploratory voyages and the like, all come to an end in 1963. By then we shall need another comprehensive fishery Bill.
Meanwhile, we mean to undertake a holding operation to meet our immediate 795 needs. There is nothing in our proposals which would make it more difficult for us open-mindedly to consider the Fleck Committee's recommendations on the future of the industry, or, in due course, to introduce legislation to implement them. The first reason for the Bill is that the fishing industry, and particularly its distant water section, is faced with entirely new conditions which may affect its whole basis of operation.
The trend of opinion in many countries, particularly some of those off whose coasts that we have traditionally fished, has for some time been moving in favour of extending the area of fishery jurisdiction off their coasts. Recognising that inevitable fact, at the Geneva Conference last spring Her Majesty's Government were reluctantly prepared to support proposals for a twelve-mile exclusive fishery zone, but with provisions for fishing nations to continue fishing in a six to twelve-mile zone for a period of ten years.
As the House knows, that proposal failed by but a single vote to command the support needed to become a generally accepted rule of international law. It was so near and yet so far. We were, therefore, faced with the likelihood of unilateral attempts by certain coastal States to shut our fishermen out from fishing grounds where, in the past, they had traditionally fished. Neither the Government nor the fishing industry could ignore the possibility of that happening. The consequences might be grave, particularly for the vessels of the distant water fleet, which have taken a substantial part of their total catch from those waters.
We therefore aim to get reasonable agreements with those countries, on the basis of the Geneva formula, which would give our fishing industry time to adjust itself. We have recently made such an agreement with Norway, and the details were laid before the House last November. It was satisfactory that both countries were prepared to get ahead with negotiations and to conduct them as between friends. The settlement represents a fair and reasonable compromise between the interests of our two countries. Where the Faroes are concerned, we already have an agreement dealing with fishing off their coasts, 796 which was reached in 1959. The House well knows that we are also in negotiation with Iceland.
The negotiations with Iceland have been very protracted. We could not even get agreement to start discussions until August of last year. We could not get started on the discussions themselves until the beginning of October. Since then, there have been talks in London and Reykjavik, and constant exchanges of views through diplomatic channels. There have been informal discussions at Ministerial level as well, and my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has been taking a close and personal part.
We recognise that there are great difficulties, but we had hoped and expected that the matter could be settled before now. It would be lamentable to have it keep dragging on. From the start we have sought a fair and early settlement which would take into account the point of view which each country holds so strongly.
While on the subject of the negotiations with Iceland, I would like to take the opportunity of paying a tribute to our fishing industry—to owners, trawler officers, seamen and shore workers alike—for the patience which they have shown, and which they are still showing, through all these negotiations. No one's patience is inexhaustible. The spring fishery season off Iceland will soon be opening and we know how important that is to our fishermen and we and they want a decision soon. I trust that their forbearance will not be needed for much longer.
But whatever the outcome of the negotiations with Iceland, we have to face the fact that the distant water industry does not have an easy time before it. The Government wish to get into a position to help the distant water fishermen to meet the situation confronting them, and that is why we have brought this Bill before Parliament. In the long term, extensive and costly reorganisation of the industry seems inevitable, and the Fleck Report expresses that view.
As yet, no one knows what will be entailed. We need to know a lot more yet before we try to make up our minds on definite long-term measures, but it is clear that a great deal of experimental work will be needed into 797 matters such as the design of fishing vessels, the freezing of fish at sea, the possibilities of new fishing grounds, and so on. The Secretary of State for Scotland and I have it in mind to set up a small study group of representatives from the industry, the White Fish Authority, scientists and administrators to study these matters.
On the immediate issues arising from the loss of traditional fishing grounds, it seemed to us that the best course was to get ourselves into a position to be able to pay an operating subsidy on much the same lines as is now paid to the near and middle water sections of the industry. This would enable skippers and crews to benefit, and I am sure that the House will agree that that is important.
So Clause 1 (1) will enable arrangements for operating subsidies to apply in future to the distant water as well as to other sections of the industry. The point I want to put to the House is that, as far as the distant water section of the industry is concerned, we are dealing with the situation practically. In the Bill we are dealing with an immediate issue. At the same time, it is quite clear that much thought has to be given to the longer-term issues, but the proposals in the Bill will enable us to carry things along until we are ready to put the wider issues before the House.
Under existing legislation, a limit of £22 million is set to the total amount which may be paid out on fishing subsidies. That limit may be raised by a further £2 million by affirmative Resolution of the House. We can now see that we shall need at least that sum for existing subsidies and there would be nothing left for the distant water fleet. In Clause 1 (2), we are, therefore, seeking new powers which will enable us to make Orders, subject to the approval of the House, to increase the money earmarked for operating subsidies for all sections of the fleet by up to £3 million on any one occasion between now and April, 1963, after which the power to pay these subsidies lapses. Between now and then, new arrangements will have to be made. So much for the entirely new provisions that we are proposing for the distant water fleet.
I turn now to our second reason for bringing forward the Bill. As hon. Mem- 798 bers know, the Government have helped in the construction of new vessels for the inshore, near, and middle water fleets, by loans and grants administered through the White Fish Authority. In the last couple of years more new vessels have been ordered than ever before and they have taken less time to build. This is encouraging, but it means that as the rate of new building has increased so the calls for loans and grants have speeded up.
Under existing legislation outstanding advances from the Exchequer for loans must be kept below £20 million, and there is now little doubt that that ceiling will be reached this spring. Unless the limit is raised, this form of assistance will very soon be brought to a stop. In Clause 2, we therefore seek authority to raise the limit from £20 million to £25 million for outstanding loans.
The same kind of situation exists as regards grants. The total amount which may be paid out in grants is limited to £12 million, with provision for this sum to be increased by a further £2 million by Order. The whole of the £12 million is now committed, and we have accordingly made an Order for the additional £2 million for grants. As the loans and grants are to a large extent complementary to each other, it would, as you have said, Mr. Speaker, be advantageous if they were considered together. Having dealt with loans in the Bill, we shall seek the approval of the House for the Order on the grants immediately after this debate.
We have estimated the amount that we expect to need for loans and grants, and we have written a limit into Clause 2 and into the Order on grants. Hon. Members may ask why we have not done the same thing for operating subsidies for the distant water fleet and written a limit into the Bill.
When Her Majesty's Government subscribed to the Geneva formula, we recognised that this would mean that our fishermen would be excluded from important fishing grounds, and it was in the minds of Her Majesty's Government at the time we agreed to go forward with the Canadian-American proposal that was before the second Geneva Conference that this would become inevitable. We recognised it, too, in making an agreement with Norway after the 799 Geneva Conference ended, and we recognised also that special circumstances existed off Iceland. Under the agreement that we have made with Norway our vessels will shortly lose some of the grounds which we have traditionally fished within six miles of Norway's coasts.
We are anxious to reach a fair and reasonable settlement of the difficulties with Iceland. We must be realistic. We cannot expect an agreement that would not entail the loss of some fishing grounds off Iceland, but, on the other hand, alternative grounds might be found, and what the total effect, plus and minus, might be we cannot tell. However, in fairness to the industry we must give it an assurance that we are prepared to help, and we must put ourselves in a position to do so when and to the extent to which, the need arises.
That is what the Bill does, and that is why we have submitted it in this form. When we are in a position to assess what all this means we shall bring the Orders before the House for affirmative Resolution. This is a small Bill, but an important one. It enables present policies to be continued and gives us the power to help the distant water section of the industry in its immediate difficulties. It is a holding Measure, and I commend it to the House.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
I welcome the Minister to the first of our fishing debates For a change, we have a day in which to debate the fishing industry. We usually have to discuss our problems late at night, after a debate on some other subject.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill there was one very good reason for doing so which the Minister did not enumerate. It is simply this, that the White Fish Authority is running out of cash. Over the past few months certain proposals which have been made to the Authority have been held up pending the introduction of this Measure.
The Minister mentioned the agreement that had been reached with Norway. The agreement was accepted by the industry in this country as the best that could be obtained under the circumstances. While I do not disagree with what the Minister said, I think that it ought to 800 be clearly understood that this agreement was reached as a result of concessions made by our fishing industry. I will deal later with what the Minister said about Iceland.
I hope that the appointment by the Minister and by the Secretary of State for Scotland of a study group will not mean that there will be further delays in dealing with the problems of the fishing industry. After all, this industry has shown patience unequalled by any other section of the community. We have waited three years for the Report of Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee. I hope that this study group will get down to work while the Government are considering what legislation is necessary to deal with the problems of this industry.
§ Mr. Soames indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hoy
I am glad to have the Minister's assurance about that.
The Minister's statement referred to the White Fish Authority having to make grants for building rather more rapidly than was expected. He thought that this was encouraging, but I must point out that the rate of completion was due not to anything done by the Government, or by anybody else, but to the slackness in the shipbuilding industry. That, and that alone, made it possible for more rapid completions. While it may have given satisfaction to the fishing industry, it reflects the state of the shipbuilding industry at present. I think that I speak for hon. Members on both sides when I say that I hope that what we are able to undertake under the Bill and under the legislation which must be introduced as a result of the Fleck Committee Report will be reflected in the work in our shipyards.
May I offer our congratulations, albeit a little belatedly, to Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee? The Minister offered his congratulations last Thursday, but I am sure that Sir Alexander, the members of the Committee, and the Minister, will understand our reticence. After all, we have waited three years for the Committee's Report. However, I do so at this stage, and I do it with a little warmth.
The House must be disappointed at the fact that although, when introducing the Bill, the Minister, with the concurrence of the House, said that we were 801 also going to deal with the Fleck Report, he carefully avoided saying anything about it. I appreciate that he would like our views on what Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee have had to say, but I would also have thought that it would not be a bad thing for the Government to have some opinion on this matter. We have been discussing it for many years, but Minister after Minister has said that he had to confine his remarks strictly to what was in the Bill he was introducing, although once the Fleck Committee reported we would be given the Government's opinion.
We now have the Fleck Report, but the Minister now says, "I cannot say anything about it. I am really hoping to be told what hon. Members think about it." That is not a lead. Except for the small Bill before us, we are not legislating this afternoon; we are really discussing among ourselves what to do for the best for the fishing industry, and it would not have been a bad thing to hear what the Government thought about it. I shall seek to place before the House what I consider to be the problems presented by the Fleck Committee's Report and those which appear to exist to the people who are interested in the industry.
The discussion taking place this afternoon is being held against a very difficult background for the industry. We must remember that in the 1959 Report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation it was shown that Great Britain's share of the world's catch of fish, in a record year, was 10,000 tons less than in 1958. Furthermore, since that time large areas of sea have been denied to many nations, including ourselves, by an extension of fishing limits. The Minister has given one instance of this, but he is bound to know that a similar situation will soon arise in the case of the Faroes and Denmark, and certainly in the case of Iceland. As a result of that, the tremendous fishing areas which our fishing fleets have fished for years will be denied to us and will be reserved for private use and benefit of the coastal States whom they adjoin.
Secondly, we must consider the failure of the Law of the Sea Conference. Hon. Members an this side of the House, like the Minister, regret that by a single vote we failed to reach agreement at that Conference. Nevertheless, failure it was—and that must be taken into con- 802 sideration. We must face the fact that, despite the prolonged negotiations which have taken place, we have not yet achieved any agreement with Iceland, nor are we likely to achieve it. This is a regrettable state of affairs.
The Minister has rightly pointed out that this situation becomes more important as the spring fishing season approaches, because there must always be a temptation for our fishermen to go back to these grounds during the prolific season. Not only is this situation important to us; it might be as well at this stage to remind Iceland that it is also important to her. Iceland must find a market for what she catches, and this country has been a very profitable one for her for many years. Nevertheless, the essential fact is that these fishing grounds are being denied to our distant water fleet.
On top of all this, our fishing industry must realise that we have recently concluded a pact with some of the countries in the European Free Trade Association. As a result of agreements which have been reached considerable landings of frozen fish will come into this country. The contraction of the fishing grounds available to our fleet, together with the agreements we have reached making it possible for a tremendous increase in exports from these European countries to us, will present tremendous difficulties to our own industry which we should be quite foolish to ignore.
In addition to the agreement with the European Free Trade Association, we must remember that the European Economic Community—the six nations forming an area which is fish-importing—has set up tariff barriers which will make it all the more difficult for the Outer Seven to find a market for their fish. That is the background against which we discuss the industry's problems and, whether we like it or not, we must realise that the industry will not be able to create the conditions or make the decisions which will provide a solution of those problems.
These decisions will be made by Governments, on political grounds. We should be humbugs if we did not admit that a great deal of the difficulty which arises in our negotiations with Iceland is political. I was a little surprised to read on the tape an extract from a 803 speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary in December of last year. If the right hon. Gentleman had this to say in December of last year, I cannot understand why it did not appear on the tape until today. That is a most extraordinary thing. It was a statement given out by the Foreign Office in connection with the negotiations which have been going on between this country and Iceland, and it mentioned what the Foreign Secretary had to say about them in December of last year.
I am sorry that the Fleck Committee did not go more closely into suggestions about other pacts that might be made to meet the problems of the industry. About eighteen months ago I suggested to the House that a Western European Fishing Community might be the answer to the problem, and when the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor returned from Geneva after the failure of the Law of the Sea Conference and made his statement to the House, I reiterated the suggestion that, in view of the failure of the Conference, a solution to the difficulty, both for ourselves and for the whole of Europe, might be the establishment of a Western European Fishing Community, perhaps backed by Canada and America. The then Minister said that that question would not be overlooked, but nothing more has been heard of it since.
Hon. Members on this side feel that this proposal offers a real possibility of finding a solution. I am told by those who are interested that they have already made overtures to the countries of Europe and that the initial reply has been very encouraging. If my information is correct, Germany and the Netherlands have been rather enthusiastic about it. Certainly, they have far from rejected it. Many have agreed, with perhaps modified enthusiasm because it is a new proposal. But I should say that if we could have a fishing community of this kind, and if all the fishing fleets within the community had equal rights, we could get rid of many of the difficulties which beset the industry and cause us so much concern.
I would go further and say that so often, when these fishing nations are concerned with extending their limits, one of the reasons that they always give is 804 that there is considerable overfishing, that conservation is neglected and, therefore, they are seeking an extension to their territorial limits. If these be the reasons for the action they propose, then—if I can say this without any political controversy—I think that the answer is to be found in mutilateral agreements; because only by concerted action of the nations concerned, and not by unilateral action, can we find a solution to this problem. Each nation acting on its own can never preserve the fish within its territory. Nor can we have conservation in that way. It can be done only if all the fishing nations within the community can reach agreement on this proposal.
I should be the first to admit that these proposals will present certain difficulties. Of course, there will be argument about the rights and privileges of each section of the fishing community inside the community. But, despite these difficulties. unless we can get planning of this kind, I am afraid that all we shall be faced with will be chaos and perhaps the destruction of a great deal of the European fishing community. not excluding our own.
In facing this problem, or part of it, and in an endeavour to help to meet the situation, the Government have introduced this Bill. It is an innovation. The Minister did not stress it, but it is; because, for the first time in the history of this industry, we are legislating to pay a subsidy to the distant water fleet. Up to the present the distant water fleet has always maintained that it felt able to carry its own burdens and meet its own requirements without any subsidy from the Government. But I think that now the stage has been reached when it feels that, in view of the changing circumstances, some assistance is required. The future is much different from the past and even the distant water fleet must decide what its future is to be.
The one thing which is inescapable is that if it is to hold its own the fleet must be up-to-date and modernised. The answer to that was discussed by Fleck with his colleagues and many suggestions have been made and experiments carried out. Whether the freezer trawler, in which the catch is caught and frozen whole, will provide the answer; or the factory trawler, which catches, fillets and 805 freezes at sea; or whether it will be a mother ship—a larger type of vessel with trawlers feeding it—we do not know. So far, the answer has not been found, but it is in that way that the industry will find its salvation, and if these tremendous undertakings are to be brought about assistance is necessary.
This section of the industry does not even foresee a future in which subsidies shall be continued to be paid for ever and a day. Indeed, it feels that this subsidy might be only a temporary one, lasting perhaps for ten years, and giving it an opportunity to meet the new competition which it has to meet by the modernisation of the whole fleet. I am bound to say, however, that this recommendation from the Fleck Committee is one of the few which does not have the unanimous approval of the Committee.
It meets with objections from one whom we in Scotland regard with a considerable amount of respect—Mr. George Middleton, the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. He felt that this section of the industry had not proved its case. Indeed, I think that he will be fortified in that opinion by the news, which has come since the Committee made its Report, that Mr. Hugh Fraser has now been elected chairman of Associated Fisheries. I should think that Mr. Middleton would not regard Mr. Fraser as a suitable candidate for national assistance. It may be that this position will cause a little difficulty, but I feel that if we want this section of the industry to face its responsibilities, assistance may be necessary.
I say to the Government that, like many others which are featuring in the Press at present, this industry causes a little concern to those who are interested in it because amalgamations and takeover bids are going on in this industry as in many others. The whole tendency is to concentrate power into fewer and fewer hands, and we shall be very foolish indeed if we do not face this new development.
I must tell the Minister that something of this has happened in my own constituency, where two firms have already been taken over in the last six months. The most recent one has caused me concern, because it has been taken over with absolutely no provision for people 806 who will lose their jobs. It is most difficult to support an industry when we find that certain sections of its work-people get so little consideration when such a take-over occurs, and this point will be taken into consideration in the days ahead.
So much for the distant water fleet. May I turn now to the middle and near waiter vessels? One thing that the Fleck Committee does very clearly is to abolish the idea which has been reiterated by Ministers in debate after debate that perhaps next year, or the following year, we shall get rid of subsidies for this section of the fishing fleet. The House will agree that this is complete nonsense and that it was misleading to hold out this possibility. At any rate, in this section the fishing industry has to compete with the other part of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. It has to compete with the very heavily subsidised agriculture industry. If it is to do so, certainly, for as far as we can see ahead, there is no more likelihood of the subsidies being removed for the middle and near water fleet than for the agricultural industry. The Fleck Committee is unanimous in that opinion.
Despite these subsidies, all is not well in this section of the fleet. Perhaps in the English ports—I think immediately of Fleetwood and Lowestoft—sections of the industry have been doing reasonably well, but the same cannot be said for fishing ports of a similar kind in Scotland. In my constituency, as has been admitted by the Secretary of State for Scotland, considerable losses have been suffered by the fleets because of the peculiar circumstances which obtain.
We have to box the whole of our catch at sea, or 70 per cent. or rather more has to be transported from the area to other parts of Scotland, or nearly half of it south of the Border. As a consequence, losses have been suffered. Perhaps that is the reason why two firms have had to sell up and get out of the industry. My information is that there is similar experience in Aberdeen in this development.
When the Government introduce legislation to implement the findings of the Fleck Committee, the Secretary of State for Scotland will have to take special action to see that in Scotland attention is given to these matters. While I would 807 not seek to depreciate the importance of this industry to certain areas south of the Border, such as Lowestoft, Fleetwood, Grimsby and Hull, and the lesser ports which are dependent on it, for Scotland as a whole the industry is much more important than it is south of the Border. The right hon. Gentleman will have to face these consequences when legislation is introduced.
Then, as I said to the Secretary of State some time ago, the Government will have to make up their mind whether they want these ports to continue, or to go out of existence. The Fleck Committee Report is a little disappointing in this respect. No matter how small the industry may appear compared with the total for the country, it is extremely important for the areas in which it is situated, and that ought not to be overlooked. What I am about to say now does not meet with the approval of a considerable section of the fishing industry, but for a year or two I have suggested in the House that the question of having a clear overall plan for a balanced fleet was something that we ought to face. I said that some years ago.
While pointing out the dangers of distorting the fleet by the payment of operational subsidies as proposed by the Fleck Committee, the Committee recommended against any overall plan for meeting this situation. In that respect, I am disappointed with its findings. With the contraction of the distant fishing grounds, with the tremendous increase in seine net fishing and the altogether overwhelming concentration on a limited area, I should have thought that it would be possible to outline a plan which would give us a fleet to meet our needs. This is important even to the smallest community. I see the right hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) present. In his constituency is a port of this kind. It is extremely important to his constituency. I am certain that for his constituency he would want to know what the intentions of the Government are about that type of port.
I wish to say a word or two about the herring fishing industry, which provides tremendous employment in Scotland and in ports further south. In addition to providing employment in a vast number of areas, 808 it has also provided many headaches. I do not like recalling this, but the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) said that he thought the reason for the absence of herring was the return of a Labour Government. As I said to him, no one has told the herring that we have had a Tory Government since then but the herring have not come back again. Even with the return of a Tory Government, we have had to face a continual decline in the herring industry. That cannot be denied. Because of the changes in the market, which were beginning to show themselves even prior to the war, new outlets had Ito be found.
The herring industry, I think rightly, considered that canning and quick freezing seemed to provide a suitable method, but they demanded a high capital investment plus a regular supply of fish. Having come to that conclusion, the Herring Board decided on a plan for all-out fishing to ensure that this supply would be met with the surplus catch going to the oil and meal factories. I shall not now go into all the disappointments that there have been. It is sufficient to say that it was originally planned to land 3 million crans of herring, or approximately 525,000 tons a year. This was agreed between the Herring Board and the fleet, but, unfortunately for both of them, they did not get the consent of the herring. The catch, by 1958, had fallen to 110,000 tons. It is only fair to say that a year later, as a result of an improvement in the Scottish catch, this had gone up by 27,000 tons.
That, together with the fall in fishmeal prices, created a serious situation for this section of the industry. It was not helped by the flooding of the British market by fishmeal imports from Peru. The tremendous flooding of the market by Peru caused a considerable fall in the price for fishmeal. This was a section of the industry which made a fairly substantial contribution to the economic welfare of the fishing industry. From this section the industry drew an annual income of about £3½ million, but with the substantial fall in the price as a result of these importations that income has fallen by more than £1 million and it has to be found elsewhere. As a result, it was made impossible for the processors to pay to the Herring Board the prices agreed and that made economic difficulties. 809 With one or two others, I took deputations to the Board of Trade. The deputations included the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). We even contacted the Peruvian Ambassador in an endeavour to help to solve this problem. We got talks going, but, so far, no satisfactory settlement has been reached. As a consequence of this price arrangement, on numerous occasions I have had to communicate with the Minister on the question of the kippering industry in my constituency. That industry feels it is being compelled to pay such high prices that it is pricing itself out of the market. It may be that if this section of the industry can receive supplies at more economic prices it may be more able to accept a greater part of the herring industry catch.
The decision of the Fleck Committee to recommend the establishment of a United Kingdom Sea Fisheries Authority in place of the present White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board will be widely welcomed but, again, the suggestion is not original. It has been made in the House for many years. Many of us have been asking for a long time that this should be done. With the two subordinate boards, one for England and Wales and the other for Scotland and Northern Ireland, I am certain that they will be able to survey the industry as a whole much more competently and much more economically than the divided arrangement which we have had heretofore.
In addition to assisting in providing an up-to-date fleet, it is also proposed by the Select Committee that plant should be provided for the processing of fish, and this may be one of the solutions to our problem. I am certain that the industry wants to undertake it. Indeed, considerable sections under private auspices have already done it. I am sure that for the smaller ports this will be a tremendous help. I hope that the Government will not be long in dealing with this problem.
Another of the Fleck Committee's recommendations which must commend itself to the House is that more money ought to be made available for scientific and industrial research. The fisheries group in the past twelve months has had the privilege of visiting Grimsby, Hull, 810 Lowestoft and Fleetwood, in addition to the ports in our own constituencies, and it is right this afternoon to acknowledge the hospitality which we have received from the industry in these areas.
Included in our visit to Lowestoft was a visit to the Fisheries Research Establishment, which is under the very able leadership of Dr. Cole, who is Director of Fisheries Research in England and Wales. He and his staff went to great pains to show us what they were doing, and we were impressed by their work, but I am sure that we all felt that with a little more money they would have been able to achieve much more than they are achieving at present.
In this connection, it must be noted that if there is to be a contraction in what has been regarded as the normal fishing grounds, then money for research may make it also possible for our research department to find new fishing grounds in which our fleet can fish. If we fail to do that, we shall fail altogether.
If we are to have a successful industry. then, like all other industries, we must have training facilities for young people to make them fit for the industry in which they will work. There are spasmodic training schemes in different parts of the country. There is one in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). Incidentally, he will probably have something to say, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, about the closure of the research department in Aberdeen. There is a scheme in Aberdeen for the training of young people, as there is in Lowestoft. I was impressed with the Lowestoft scheme, and I can only hope that when the new Authority is set up, this is one of the problems with which it will deal. We have to train people in order to make this industry not only economic but worth while.
In conclusion, I should like to say a few words about the men in the industry. Whatever else it provides, this industry provides long hours for those who are engaged in it. The work is hard, the conditions are difficult and the casualty rate is very high. The casualty rate is higher, I think, than in any other industry in the country. That is a significant fact. 811 While I am the first to admit that living conditions for the trawlermen have improved considerably, I have no doubt that further improvements can and will be made. At the same time, the men engaged in the industry will expect better financial rewards for themselves. There are records of high salaries paid, but in the main they are confined to a small section of the industry, and when one works out what a trawlerman earns annually and converts it into an hourly rate, one finds that he is not as highly paid as one at first believed. If we are to have a successful industry, it is essential that the workers should be duly recognised and that their financial rewards should be greater than they have been so far.
We ought to note that as from April of this year 7,000 trawlermen in the Humber-side will for the first time be covered by a pension scheme. This is a great advance, but I regard it as only a beginning, because if we expect men to come into this industry, then, in addition to giving them a livelihood, we must give them security for the years when they are no longer able to work.
I have not gone into all the details, nor have I dealt with the prices of nets and so on. I thought that it was our duty this afternoon to consider the problem as a broad picture. But, after all is said and done, everything will depend on the speed with which the Government legislate to make the Fleck proposals a reality. I hope that they will take much less time to produce their proposals than Sir Alexander took to present his Report.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) quite rightly made a broad survey of the problems of the industry. Unfortunately, it took him an inordinately long time to do it. The rest of us must curtail our speeches, and I therefore propose to speak very shortly.
The only other comment which I will make on his speech is that I thought it a little odd to expect the Government this afternoon to comment on the Fleck Report. Sooner or later they must and, as I said earlier in the proceedings, we expect a very early opportunity to examine the whole scope of these new 812 recommendations. I do not know just when that can be done, although I hope that we shall have such an opportunity before Easter. By then we should have had time to consult the trade and our own constituents. I do not think that the time ought to be too far away. In any case, we ought to be able to offer the Government, before they reach final conclusions, such ideas as we have between us.
As the Minister said, the Bill and the Order are holding operations. That is quite proper and right. The Report for which we are holding the fort is of great importance and is the result of close study, and it must be examined with the utmost attention. For that reason, among others, I ask the Government not to be over-hurried about this, although I expect them to do it as quickly as they can. I have suggested the sort of timetable which we might have in mind. The Bill is unexceptionable and the provisions are clear for everybody to see. What matters is what will be done, what grants are to be made, what is to be the scale of the loans and what subsidies are to be paid. These are the questions which we should ask tonight. We make the money available, but the real question is: what use is the money to be put to by the Government?
Many questions occur to me. What subsidy is to be paid in respect of distant water vessels? The members of the Committee held different views about this. What is to be the Government's decision? It is very important, because what is decided will have an effect upon the subsidy paid to other members, of the fishing community—for example, inshore fishermen, in whom I am particularly interested.
The idea underlying the Report seems to be that some part of the subsidy should be withdrawn from the inshore men in order to pay for the subsidy to be given to distant water fishermen. If that is the intention and is to be the policy of the Government, many of us on this side of the House would be very cross about it and would have many criticisms to make.
I hope very much that it is not my right hon. Friend's intention to tamper with the inshore fishermen's subsidy. If there had been time, I could have quoted the figures which the Fleck Committee 813 presented to us of the earnings of inshore fishermen. It is common knowledge that they are not substantial. These men are not making fortunes. In my part of the world they are doing reasonably well, but there is nothing wrong in that.
These are some of the questions which occur to me. I must jump from one thing to another, because the time is so short. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why"?] Because at least a dozen hon. Members on this side want to speak, and I want to be fair and not take up much time in saying what I have to say.
I want to say something about reorganisation. I agree with the hon. Member for Leith on this topic. I have said for a long time that it was time to amalgamate the two fishing authorities which we now have. In my five years at the Scottish office I had day-to-day experience of this. I had the warmest and happiest personal relations with the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board, but it was plain to me during my period at the Scottish Office that there was duplication of staff at the ports. There was at times perhaps confusion of staff decisions. It would be a good thing to have amalgamation at the ports and at the central and intermediate stations. I am glad that the Sea Fisheries Authority is to be subdivided into two subordinate Boards, one for England and Wales and one for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As a matter of history it is interesting to reflect that almost thirty years ago today I moved a Motion in the House on the herring industry. Within less than a year the Herring Industry Board was established. I asked in that Motion for the establishment of just such a body as is now being established. I asked for a fishing industry authority with real powers to bring the whole industry together and make a great advance scientifically and in advertising and publicity. It is a considerable joy to me, after this long period, to see my suggestion come to fruition.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
It has taken thirty years for the Government to do this. Is this an example of Tory progress?
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
That is a stupid intervention. During the whole 814 period there has been a constant advance. What we all want ultimately has not yet been achieved, but there has been an advance. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) does not do himself any good by making such a comment. His comment was rather like my comment about the disappearance of the herring.
I do not find myself entirely in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) about herring, because such experience as I have, official and otherwise, indicates that we must recognise that no longer are there the vast shoals of herring that there were when I spoke in the House thirty years ago. There have been biological changes of tremendous importance. It is no use pretending that we need all these new boats when the catch is not available. Although I have great admiration for what the Herring Industry Board has done, I do not share its view that it would be right now to put a considerable number of new boats into service. It would not be justified.
§ Sir William Duthie (Banff)
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) suggests that I have agreed that there are fewer shoals of herring, and consequently less herring, in the waters adjacent to these islands. I have repeatedly stated in the House that I do not share that view. I believe that the herring have changed their feeding localities. It is up to us to find where they have gone, because other countries are fishing for herring in waters not far from our coast and doing extremely well. I shall have something to say about that later if I am successful enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
I am sure that my hon. Friend will have something to say. Therefore, I will not reply to him now.
I want, lastly, to say something about foreign trade, conservation and the European community. I am very sympathetic with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Leith. I do not see how we can survive in future, with all the problems which we face in Europe—the Six and the Seven, coupled with the problem of conservation—unless we at least try to bring about a measure of unity among 815 the European fishing nations. I suggest that the Government might think it wise now to set up another working party, corn-post d of representatives of the trade and Government officials, to examine the whole problem. Again I shall not quote from the Report, because there is not time, but we now know from it that the British Trawlers' Federation made certain proposals on the joint questions of trade and conservation.
The Government should meet the British Trawlers' Federation and sit down with the experts to examine what could or might be done. We must do something about it otherwise we may land ourselves in a very difficult position from which it would be almost impossible to extricate ourselves.
With these rather scattered remarks I express my own gratitude to the Fleck Committee for the work it has done. I commend to the Government the major part of the Committee's recommendations. I ask, and indeed beg, the Government to present the House with some kind of report on it as quickly as it is humanly possible to do so.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Captain M. Hewitson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
The fishing industry, especially the long-distance section of it, rather welcomes the suggestion made by the Minister that there should be subsidies for the long-distance fleet, but, personally, I have my fears about that. When a Minister comes along and offers a gift, that gift should be looked at twice. I have a grave suspicion that this offer of a gift to the long-distance fishing fleet is the red carpet on the way to the guillotine for the industry. The long-distance fishing industry has for a number of years been the shuttlecock of diplomatic moves. The Icelandic dispute, which is affecting the industry and especially the earnings of fishermen, skippers and officers, is still dragging on.
Ministers have asked the industry to have patience. The trawler owners have instructed their officers not to go inside the twelve-mile limit off Iceland. But we are reaching the end of the road—the fishermen are reaching the end of the road. Within the next six weeks spring fishing will start and that is when our fishermen will want to make the heaviest catches possible, for their own 816 benefit if for the benefit of no one else. In the next six weeks there will be the possibility of the trawler fishermen, not the owners but the officers and men, again demanding gunboat protection in order to go inside the twelve-mile limit off Iceland. Whether the Minister likes it or not, he will be faced with that demand.
At a meeting in Hull the trawler officers have already decided not to ask for but to demand gunboat protection while fishing when, in a few weeks' time, we get into the spring season. When the Minister today, rather with his tongue in his cheek, offers subsidies and asks for more patience, he knows full well that there is no hope of a settlement with Iceland in the near future. The Government have agreed to an extension of the boundaries off Norway and in the Faroes. We are now involved with Iceland, with Greenland and with Newfoundland, and we have to face the fact that this will bring greater hardship to our men at sea. It means longer turn-rounds, more days at sea and greater expense for the owners.
If the Government think that the offer of the subsidies will solve the problem, I can assure them that it will not. I think it ought to be said in the House that the dispute with Iceland is one of N.A.T.O.'s headaches rather than the concern of the fishing industry. If one mentions N.A.T.O. headquarters concerning Iceland, everyone shudders. Why? Because the real dispute with Iceland is not about fishing, although Iceland's economy is in a very parlous state at the moment. The real issue is who is to have the bases on Iceland, the American Air Force or the Soviet Union for rocket bases. That should be said in the House, and should have been said before this. I suppose that it is not diplomatic usage to speak in that language, but it is something that has to be said, and that is why I am saying it now. It is my firm conviction that that is really the dispute. Fishing is only one of the consequences of it. Our fishermen are suffering because of that consequence.
Ministers blithely go to conferences and issue reports that do not mean anything. This afternoon the Minister moved the Second Reading of the Bill about which he did not say anything 817 whatsoever. He merely mentioned subsidies for the long-distance fleet. He gave no explanation of how these subsidies would be applied. Are the subsidies to be applied day by day, taking as the datum line an uneconomic vessel and setting a particular day for the turn-round, or will they be applied on gross catches?
The Minister will have to be very careful about how they are applied. If they are applied on gross catches, that could leave the way open for some little things that would not be quite correct. That is putting it mildly. If the subsidies are to be given on gross catches and if machinery is introduced to abolish the free auction market on the quayside, it will mean that bulk-buying arrangements could again be made and those arrangements would be a cost against the taxpayer. We must be careful about all these things. The Minister has not said anything at all about how the subsidies are to be operated.
Between now and the Report stage it is to be hoped that something will come out of the Bill. We hope that legislation will be introduced at a very early date to implement many of the recommendations of the Fleck Committee. One of its recommendations, which I should like to see implemented, is that there should be a third deck officer on long-distance trawlers and also that they should have a qualified wireless operator aboard. Today long-distance trawlers go to sea without a wireless operator on board. We know that in the Arctic waters trouble can be met at any time of the day or night. Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Minister will favourably consider the Fleck Committee's recommendation that there should be a third deck officer and a qualified wireless operator on all long-distance trawlers.
Regarding accommodation for crews, the new long-distance trawlers have accommodation that is second to none in any trawler fleet in the world, but in some of our older vessels the accommodation is not so good. Instead of just refitting and re-engining the older vessels, the Minister should endeavour to have them scrapped altogether and provide assistance to replace them by a new fleet. This is important, because with the restrictions on fishing waters not only will a new technique in fishing be introduced 818 but we shall have to seek new fishing grounds.
I should like the Minister to say whether any research has been made into the possibility of fishing grounds off the Ghana coast where, I am given to understand, there is prolific fish very similar to the species found in the Arctic. The prospects of industrial fishing in that area are unlimited. There would be the opportunity for developing meal factories and that sort of thing in Ghana and for British fleets to operate from those coasts. These are all matters that must be studied, because our fishing fleet is going to be hard put to it to make a living for its employees, and that not in the far distant future. Our fishermen are very apprehensive concerning this threat. They can see their livelihood disappearing.
To a port like Hull, where the bulk landing is cod and where there is not the selective fish as at other ports, it means that with restricted cold storage space ashore, Hull is restricted in the matter of processing factories for fish and for other things which are available to Grimsby. Being so restricted means that any disaster to the industry would be a disaster to the Port of Hull, because every ship out of Hull is a long-distance vessel. Therefore, the Minister has a duty to perform in this connection with this great Fleck Report. The Minister can promote something that could be a milestone in the progress of the fishing industry. The Minister must now get down to it and, instead of the blasé promise 'we have had this afternoon, he should bring forward some legislation which would give the industry an opportunity to rehabilitate itself as it needs rehabilitating. The industry should be given an opportunity to make progress so that people in all spheres of the industry will be able to make a decent living, with assured jobs, assured pensions, and all that sort of thing.
The Minister must look seriously at the Icelandic dispute within the next six weeks. We cannot see any diplomatic settlement. Our men are demanding gunboat protection. They will be asking for that officially from the Minister some time in the next four weeks. I hope that the trawler owners will not say to the men, as they said previously, "Have forbearance and as the owners we instruct 819 you, in order to help the negotiations that are taking place, not to go inside the twelve-mile limit." We have reached the end of the road on that and, willy-nilly, we are going in and we demand from the Minister that gunboat protection which is rightly ours.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Sir William Duthie (Banff)
I do not agree with the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) of the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). I thought that the speech he delivered from the Opposition Front Bench fitted the occasion admirably. The discourse he gave us was an all-round one of the standard we would expect from him in dealing with matters relative to the fishing industry.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the manner in which he introduced the Bill. It was his first essay in leading us in a fisheries debate and he conducted himself most admirably.
I shall not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson). I do not take such an extreme view of the negotiations in Iceland as he does—and quite rightly, too—in view of the interests that he represents in this House.
I most heartily endorse the extension of the subsidy to distant water vessels, but I hope that it will go out from this House that it must not be taken as a sign that we are accepting any unilateral decision on fishing limits and giving these vessels a quid pro quo for the loss of these limits through any unilateral decision. That cannot be emphasised too strongly at this time and at this stage of the negotiations with Iceland. I approve of this extension of the subsidy to long-distance vessels for another reason. Clause 1 of the Bill says that payment of grants:… shall be exercisable irrespective of the size of the vessel or the nature of the voyage.I trust that this will be taken by the distant-water skippers and crews and by the owners, as an inducement and encouragement to fare further afield in the search for new grounds. I am sure that that will be read into the extension of the subsidy to these vessels.
820 Now we are to have the continuation of grants and loans for the acquisition and modernisation of vessels; that is to say, our seine netters, herring drifters, near and middle water trawlers. What will happen in grants and loans to distant water vessels? We hope that legislation will shortly be forthcoming on the extension of grants and loans to our distant water vessels. Apart from the distant water vessels, the subsidies on the landings would have continued for some time.
It is true that the Bill extends the subsidy to distant water vessels, but the chief urgency of the Bill at present is, as the Minister mentioned, the fact that the White Fish Authority's funds have practically run out and, secondly, that a guillotine had virtually fallen on orders in our shipbuilding yards. We had immediate unemployment in our shipyards in the North, particularly on the Moray Firth coast. We were given no reason why this happened. Simple accounting should have shown that the deadline in White Fish Authority funds was being approached, and I should like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to give me an assurance that the work which has been suspended in our shipyards—and he knows all about that—will be recommenced with a minimum of delay, and that there will be a speeding up of the scrutiny of orders that are in hand with a view to new building orders being given to these yards.
Splendid teams of workmen have been disbanded to a considerable extent. I had two apprentices in the House yesterday who had left engineering works in Buckie, where they had been building and installing engines in these fishing vessels. They are now seeking employment in Slough because there is no employment for them in their own yard. I trust that that position will be remedied—it should never have arisen.
Another point which is exercising our minds with regard to the Fleck Report is what are to be the rates of subsidy to the inshore and herring industries. We are assuming, and I should like an assurance on this, that the subsidies will not be altered until after a scrutiny of the relative figures and consultation with the associations. I need not point out to my right hon. Friend what has happened in the past when attempts have been 821 made to reduce the subsidy. On one occasion we felt that that reduction was unwarranted, and a protest from hon. Members representing fishery constituencies resulted in the Order being withdrawn, and a smaller reduction made.
Now we have the Fleck Report, upon which I would like to make some comments. Matters germane to the trawling industry—that is to say the long-distance, middle- and near-water vessels—will, I am sure, be dealt with in detail by hon. Members on this side of the House who represent trawling constituencies. So I will not go into that side of the industry in anything like the detail which the hon. Member for Leith did.
We have been looking forward for three years to the Fleck Report. Our requests for the betterment of the industry have been fobbed off during that time and we have been told that the Fleck Report was coming along. It is a splendid piece of work and I offer my sincere congratulations to Sir Alexander Fleck and his colleagues for producing it. While it is permissible to refer to it today, I would emphasise that we have not had time to study the Report in collaboration with constituents and, therefore, any opinions we may offer concerning the Report will, of necessity, be our own and lacking the backing of the collective wisdom of those among our friends and constituents qualified to make worth-while observations on the Report.
I believe that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that it is absolutely essential that time should be given for further debate. The Minister has told us that the Government are canvassing the opinions of all the associations and representative bodies concerned, and I would emphasise that once those opinions have been collected the Government should lose no time in making known their views in a White Paper. Whatever opinions the Government have about implementing the Report, it is absolutely vital that they should proceed at once to give effect to them.
This industry is changing virtually from day to day—indeed, some of the findings of the Fleck Report already savour of obsolescence. The Committee began its work three years ago, and the industry has seen a vast number of changes in that time. In almost every 822 paragraph, the Report underlines the changing nature of the industry, and it is essential that we should by legislative action pin down the recommendations as quickly as possible.
There is the question of the fishing limits and, once those limits have been determined by bilateral or multilateral action, there arises the immediate problem of our own domestic limits. Those limits have to be gone into, and revised. There is the subject of the scarcity of fish in hitherto prolific grounds. What are the causes of that scarcity? There are the mounting costs of the catching activities, the merchandising position, the position of the herring trade and so on. Action is needed now. We really have not a moment to lose.
I emphasise once again that what I say on a number of the recommendations in the Report, represents my own observations and opinions only. I agree entirely with the recommendation for a basic operational subsidy for all white fish and herring vessels, but I also agree that the application of these subsidies requires the most careful inquiry—and that will later bring me to the setting up of this overall fishing authority.
I maintain that catching subsidies are as essential as agricultural subsidies. Agriculture and fishing are both food providers. I have had some experience in the Ministry of Food of the various problems affecting food production, and I am convinced that as long as agricultural subsidies are paid so also should fishing subsidies be paid. In the last analysis, a food subsidy is aimed at keeping down the price at the point of retail sale.
Grants and loans for vessels and equipment must be continued, but why are we reducing the 30 per cent. grant to 25 per cent.? Is this just whimsical? I confess that I cannot see any adequate reason for that reduction. I also agree that the sooner we get rid of coal-burning vessels the better it will be for efficiency.
The recommendation of loans to working fishermen for the purchase of second-hand boats is extremely good. A first-class boat is very often laid ashore because of death, or because of a disagreement among members of the crew. I submit, however, that the grant 823 should also be given for the purchase of second-hand vessels. The present paradox is that if a vessel comes up for sale within say, two years of her original launching, it may cost the purchaser more than would a new one just because he is denied any initial grant. Where a grant has been given in the first instance and has been refunded, perhaps even in part, the part that has been returned to the Treasury, or White Fish Authority, or Herring Industry Board, should be made available to the working fisherman or fishermen for the acquisition of the second-hand vessel. That is only fair and logical.
I strongly concur in the setting up of a Sea Fisheries Authority. I have advocated that for years—and not alone; it has been advocated from all parts of the House. It is only right to say that we have been disappointed with the separate activities of the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. The Authority has scarcely begun to use the powers with which it was endowed when it came into being, while the Board, as a solo effort, has not had sufficient strength to make itself felt. I strongly advocate the setting up of advisory boards for England and Wales and for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The success or failure of an overall Sea Fisheries Authority rests on its personnel. We must have the right people to run such a concern, otherwise it is better not to start. It is a question of leadership, and if ever an industry, or a collection of common activities, wanted real leadership today it is the fishing industry. There is no other collection of men in which there are more warring factions than there are in this one. The authority's executive powers must be all-embracing. I really think that a great many of the Fleck Committee's recommendations can be firmly planted in the lap of a really powerful fisheries authority, which can then be told to get on with the job.
I have congratulated the Fleck Committee, but I must also record what I consider to be some weaknesses in its Report. The first is the sketchy way in which the inshore industry is dealt. The Committee has been kind enough to agree that the brightest sections of 824 the industry today are in some of our small Scottish ports used by the inshore industry. There our people are doing reasonably well. On the other hand, I believe that quite a number of these ports were never visited at all. I am sure that there was a lesson to be learned from them by the members of the Fleck Committee and, through them, by the fishing community at large.
I believe that its treatment of the herring industry is the gravest weakness in the whole of the Report, but I will touch on that later. I am glad that reference is made to harbours, and that the Committee thinks that the Sea Fisheries Authority should look into the subject. Is the accommodation in the harbours adequate for the fleets they serve? I know some harbours that are not adequate, although they harbour absolutely first-class inshore fleets. I am glad to make it known to the House that through the help of my right hon. Friend the harbour at Whitehills has been extended and deepened, and will, I hope, be reopened in the course of the next few weeks. It is a case like that that emphasises the necessity for a general overhaul of the harbours used by the inshore fishing fleets. We must not forget that it was as a result of action by this House that many, if not all, of these inshore fleets came into being. It is our bounden duty to ensure that they are adequately housed in their harbour accommodation.
I come now to research, where I join issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East. I welcome the comments on research. This is a subject on which none of us who represent fishing constituencies has been silent over the years. We have clamoured for yet more and more research to remove as much as possible of the guesswork from fishing, particularly the incidence of shoal migration. I strongly believe that we shall find the answer to the depletion of the herring shoals in the North Sea. I believe they are not coming there because their feeding habits have altered.
At long last, when the shadow of the Fleck Committee was upon it, the Herring Industry Board decided, just a short time ago, to charter four Scottish herring drifters and four English herring drifters to discover new herring fishing 825 grounds. These vessels are now conducting a sweep using herring drift nets from the South-West of Ireland right up to the west of Muckle Flugga, which is the most northerly part of the Shetlands. So far, researches have taken place off the coast of Donegal and, in places where herring have not been markedly found before, they have been most successful. We know that the Russians, with factory ships each with about twelve catchers round her, have been fishing these waters and the near-Atlantic waters for some considerable time, not without success. That is probably where our herring shoals are, and it may well be that these exploratory voyages will do enormous good.
One thing which the Herring Industry Board has done which is entirely to the good is that, instead of having the usual fishery vessels manned by employees of the Departments, the Board has entrusted the job to four leading drifters from England and four leading drifters from Scotland, with their own crews, guaranteeing them a certain weekly income or intake, and has sent them forth to discover new grounds. The work accomplished by these crews will have infinitely more effect and will command infinitely more confidence among working fishermen than all that could be done by the official vessels manned by people ordinarily employed by the Departments. This is something—only a beginning—which might well be done in all branches of our fishing industry. Near-water, middle-water and far-distant trawlers could all benefit by working on the same lines in research.
Coming now to the herring industry itself, I do not agree with the Fleck Committee's findings at all. I say that advisedly. The industry is damned out of hand by the Report, and quite wrongly so. The herring industry fought its own battle without any subsidy until 1957. During that time, it was in competition with subsidised agricultural produce and subsidised white fish. It has been subject to economic pressure from these foods which have been subsidised. There has really been little or no research work done. With all due respect to our research departments in Lowestoft and elsewhere, which do valiant service, lack of funds has prevented them from coming to grips with the cause of the shortage of herring in our grounds. The fishing, 826 industry at large has been too apt to take the easy answer, that commercial fishing on the Danish coast and the Dogger has been responsible for the depletion of herring shoals in the North Sea. I believe that we shall find another answer, and I think that we are going the right way about it.
I must emphasise to the House that there is another factor which is too easily ignored. We have here a commodity for which Britain has a large unsatisfied overseas market. There is no question of the large unsatisfied market for cured herring overseas. This is something entirely lost sight of in the Report. Moreover, it is wrong for the Report to say in paragraph 48 that seine netters provide a large reservoir for herring catching. The Committee says:There is however a fleet of well over 700 seine-net boats (the majority of them over 40 feet in length) which, given the right nets. could be fitted out for herring fishing with only minor modifications.I will read no more than that. The Committee ignores completely the fact that, while the structural modifications may be slight, it would take anything from £3,000 to £6,000 to equip a seine net vessel with herring gear, and it would require tremendous bravery, hardihood, foolhardiness perhaps—call it what one likes—on the part of any crew to switch over from seine netting to herring, with such a tremendous bill to be met as things are today, unless grants are obtainable for essential gear for the transition. The provision of grants for this purpose is something which I strongly advocate, and I urge my right hon. Friend to give it close attention.
Last year, we imported 16 per cent. of our fresh herring requirements. The home market is still unsatisfied. Given the location of the shoals, and granted herring of the right quality, there is a fairly decent future ahead for the herring industry. But the herring industry is doomed if another suggestion in the Fleck Report is adopted, namely, the progressive abolition of the subsidy on herring for oil and meal.
I hope that the present situation with regard to Peruvian anchovy meal is a passing phase. I believe that world values will determine the true price of this Peruvian meal. It may be making an onslaught on domestic production in 827 the United States and here, and it certainly bids fair to succeed, but the Peruvians are producing fishmeal at a cost far lower than we can possibly face in this country, and I believe that the price will in time adjust itself and be seen to be a passing phase.
I should object with all the strength at my command to any reduction of the subsidy on oil and meal to our herring fishermen. Furthermore, I should insist that the fisheries body eventually taking over from the Herring Industry Board ensures that all ports where herring are landed become A ports, that is to say, ports receiving the highest subsidised price for surplus herring for the production of oil and meal.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he believed that the effect of Peruvian fish meal was a passing phase? I hope that it is so, and I should very much like him to develop that point.
§ Sir W. Duthie
I hope that it is a passing phase. My hope is founded on this. I believe that the Peruvian meal will eventually find what I would call a world value. I believe that it is inferior in quality to meal made from herring and from white fish. While it has made a tremendous onslaught on the market, I believe that commercial interests in Peru will progressively increase the price where an increased price can be obtained. This is largely a pious hope at the moment, but I think that that will be the trend.
I hope that the new Authority will go into the herring problem afresh because there I feel that the Fleck Report bas fallen down. There is need for the other proposals in the Report to be implemented without delay, because if we wait for, say, another Parliamentary year much of the Report will be obsolescent if not obsolete. The industry is changing from day to day. The order of priority is the setting up of the Sea Fisheries Authority to get on with the job of carrying out the Government's decisions with regard to such thing as what is to be the final plan of the distant water fleet, research, and still more research, marketing and hygiene, harbours, the inshore fishing industry and, last but not least, the future and fate of the herring industry.
828 In conclusion, I should like to quote the closing paragraph of the most excellent editorial in the Fishery News on the Fleck Report:The Report cost us £14,000. If it provides the means for greater stability it will be worth much more than that, although if it takes as long to implement as it has taken to produce the industry may need another war to save it".I pray that the Government will act in time.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart), without any reason, complained that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) was too long. I think that we have more cause to regret the fact that the Minister has been unable to attend more of the debate. I am sorry that he has not been able to hear the majority of the speeches so far.
I want to talk solely about the major part of the fleet—the near, middle and distant water sections. I apologise particularly to hon. Members who represent inshore fishing ports, about which I shall say nothing. Like other hon. Members, I wish to congratulate Sir Alexander Fleck and his colleagues on a Report which is extremely and unusually well written. It gives an excellent descriptive account of the industry. It offers many comparatively minor but nevertheless sensible recommendations, but for reasons which I shall try to explain, it is not as radical as it might have been when it comes to some of the major recommendations.
The Fleck Committee was set up to try to assess the size and pattern of an economic fishing industry in the United Kingdom. If our debate is to be fruitful we probably ought, all of us, to make some effort, however amateur, at assessing the future size and pattern of the industry. We know from the Report—we knew it already—that the industry bas contracted slightly, though not sensationally, since before the war. White fish landings are down by about 7 per cent. and herring landings by very much more—virtually 50 per cent., although, counting imports, total supplies for the home market are about the same as before the war.
The first thing that we have to decide is whether there is any hope that the 829 demand for fish in Britain will increase or can be encouraged to increase so that the industry has an expanding market to look forward to. I think that it is very optimistic to suppose that the demand for fish will increase very much. Consumption per head in this country is already, according to the Fleck Report, 17 per cent. below what it was pre-war. Moreover, it had been falling slightly during the whole of the inter-war period. I can see no reason to expect that people in Britain will in the future eat much more fish than they are eating today. We already have a per capita consumption of fish which is a great deal higher than that of the United States and most European countries. We have a population which is not rising very rapidly.
It is true that here, as has happened in the United States, the development of quick-frozen food, mainly because it increases the number of retail outlets through which fish is sold, may have some good effect on consumption of fish, and so may an improvement in quality. Yet it seems to me very hard to deny the first proposition in the Fleck Committee's assessment, which is that consumption of fish in Britain will remain roughly at its present level in the years to come.
On the supply side, the major change which the Committee had to bear in mind, and which the House has to bear in mind, is the extension of fishing limits. The near and middle water fleet was already subsidised before for various good reasons of past overfishing in the North Sea and the fact of an aged fleet. But like the recent development which has altered all our perspective has been the extension of fishing limits. This is something which, however optimistic we may be, none of us thinks probably has come to a final end. The consequence is that the distant water trawlers have to go further and further afield, and spend more and more time at sea getting to the fishing grounds rather than fishing, and their catches are less and less prolific. Their costs, therefore, increase and we now find a situation where, as the Fleck Report shows, and as most of us knew before, even the distant water sections, quite apart from the near and middle distance sections, are operating at a loss.
I have some sympathy with the minority comment of Mr. George Middleton, secretary of the Scottish T.U.C., that one has to see the losses in perspective. 830 All the distant water trawler owners are heavily engaged in quick-freezing, processing, distribution and many other activities, some of them in garages and goodness what else. Many of these other ancillary activities are still profitable. There is no point in ignoring the fact that the two largest firms in the distant water sections, the Ross Group and Associated Fisheries, have increased their dividends this year.
It is reasonable, in talking about subsidies, to take that into account. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leith said, the arrival of Sir Hugh Fraser in the fishing industry does not suggest that it is on the verge of bankruptcy tomorrow. In talking about financial aid, it is reasonable that we should keep all these things in perspective and recognise, at any rate, that the large integrated groups in the distant waters section are not starving.
Nevertheless, it is quite clear from the figures given in the Report, and from figures which probably many of us have seen privately, that the trawling operations of the distant water section are now running at a loss and that the bulk of that fleet, not the whole of it, is not able to pay its way. It follows from that—this is undeniable—that, in the words of the Fleck Report, thepresent fleet is too large in relation to available stocks or to market demand or both, to earn a reasonable return on its cost without a subsidy".I want to consider in more detail than any hon. Member has done so far what our answer to this should be. Many firms and many industries are liable to make losses in a particular period. Many industries suffer from over-capacity and yet they are not subsidised by the Government. I have tried to clear my mind on the question why, if there is a reason, the distant water industry, unlike other industries suffering from over-capacity, should ask for and expect a Government subsidy. Why should not the industry simply be allowed to run down to an economic size in the way suggested by the Economist in a leading article a couple weeks ago? I have never found that the industry is able to give what, to me at any rate, is a satisfactory answer to this question; and I was very disappointed that the Fleck Report also failed to give a really satisfactory answer to why the industry should be subsidised
831 Many arguments are often advanced, and I want to mention them briefly. First, it is said in the Fleck Report, as it has often been said by the industry, that we must keep the industry up to a particular size as a reserve for the Navy in war time. I cannot take this argument seriously today. I cannot believe that we are likely under any circumstances to fight the kind of long war in which the Navy has to be slowly built up from a reserve of trawler officers and crews. It does not make sense in a world of atomic bombs. One cannot take that argument seriously.
Secondly, the Committee refers to the social argument, which is a matter of local unemployment in particular areas heavily dependent on the fishing industry. This is a perfectly reasonable argument as applied to a number of small fishing ports, where, I imagine—I do not know those ports well—it would be almost impossible to produce alternative employment if the inshore fishing ran down to nothing. As we know, however, the bulk of the British industry is not in small inshore ports, but is in Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Aberdeen.
As to Hull and Grimsby, the two biggest fishing ports in England, although my constituency interest is in the opposite direction I cannot honestly say that there is a sufficient employment argument against somewhat running the fishing industry down. I would have thought that if the near, middle and distant water sections of Hull and Grimsby were to run down, and if this were to create some unemployment, the right answer would be, not to subsidise the industry for this reason, but to use the Local Employment Act and to steer new industry into these major ports. Therefore, ignoring, without disrespect, the small inshore fishing ports, where a quite definite social problem arises, I cannot think that for the bulk of the fleet the employment argument is a sufficient argument for a subsidy.
A third argument which is used was repeated again today by the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) and, surprisingly, was repeated by the Fleck Report, namely, that fish should be subsidised because it competes with subsidised agricultural products. Again, although arguing, possibly, against a natural constituency interest, I cannot see 832 why this argument applies. Everything competes with everything. There will always be some inequity about subsidies. We always subsidise one item, but not another item that competes with it. For example, we are to subsidise the Cunard Line to build a new "Queen" or two new "Queens", but to the other shipping firms, and the yards which do not get the contract, but which are competing, this is unfair. Nevertheless, we have to do it.
Again, Government aid has been given on quite a scale in recent years to the cotton textile industry. Cotton competes with wool textiles, but we do not subsidise wool textiles even though they are competing with subsidised cotton. Again, when we steer firms to areas of high unemployment under the Local Employment Act, we give Government assistance, as we have done to Fords and B.M.C. in the motor industry, who compete with other firms which do not get the subsidies. Once we give subsidies, a whole range of apparent inequities like this arise. It is not a sufficient argument for subsidising the fishing industry that agriculture is subsidised. I regard these as two different industries which must be treated separately.
Another argument which is constantly used is that if we do not subsidise the industry it will contract and our fish supplies will be reduced. We know that that is not the case, because in present circumstances most of the contraction would be made good by higher imports. Then, the argument goes on to the next point and becomes an argument about imports. It is said that we must subsidise the industry because of the threat of competitive imports. I do not regard import competition or the grcwth of imports as a sufficient reason for subsidising an industry. We have a host of industries which have more competitive imports than they would like, but we have never regarded this as a sufficient argument for subsidising them.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
Many of those imports are, perhaps, subsidised or helped in some way in the country of origin and, therefore, those imparts which come here have already been subsidised and might for that reason be cheaper here than they ought to be. All that we would be doing in that case 833 would he to bolster up some other country's fishing industry at the expense of our own.
§ Mr. Crosland
This country has always taken the view, and the present Government have taken it strongly, that if we are dealing with what, in effect, are export subsidies in other countries, the right way is not to play the same game ourselves by subsidising British goods in competition with them, but to get international agreement to stop export subsidies all round. Incidentally. I would not say that it was true that the bulk of our fish imports were clearly subsidised in the country of origin. It may be true of some imports, but not of the bulk of them now coming in under E.F.T.A. For my part, however, I do not regard imports or import competition as a sufficient reason for subsidising an industry.
Nevertheless, there is a reason, and a perfectly sound economic reason, for now giving aid to the distant water fleet. We in this House, and economists outside have always taken the view that industries may get into a situation in which they need a rapid, drastic structural adjustment of their size or shape, due to a long-term change in the size of the market or in supply conditions, and an adjustment that, if it were left to market forces, which operate slowly, would be prolonged, painful and highly inefficient. In these circumstances, there is a case for once-for-all Government aid for a limited period of years to speed an industry through such a major adjustment period, which otherwise would be very slow.
To take an analogy from the cotton industry, a few years ago cotton was an industry with a vast amount of overcapacity which needed to contract on a substantial scale. Had this contraction been left to market forces it would have been a long, painful and inefficient process, with a lot of high-cost plants left in production and with much under-utilisation of capacity. Therefore, both sides of the House justified Government aid to the cotton industry to get its structural readjustment completed quickly.
That is the argument for a measure of Government assistance to the distant water fleet now, because, due to circumstances outside its control—namely, the 834 extension of limits—it is faced with a major structural readjustment which, if it were left solely to market forces, would be slow, painful and inefficient. In other words, what the distant water fleet must do today is very largely to change the composition of its fleet. This is particularly ironical for it, because much of its fleet is quite modern. Nearly 40 per cent. of the distant water fleet is less than ten years old. There has been much heavy investment recently and it is particularly tragic for the industry that having invested so much so recently, it must now alter the composition of its fleet and treat a large part of it as increasingly obsolescent.
It must now invest afresh in whatever it may be, whether factory ships, freezer trawlers, part-freezers or mother ships. Therefore, I am prepared to accept for a limited period of years the extension of Government aid to the distant water section provided that the motive is accepted as being to help the readjustment and provided that the objective is accepted that at the end of ten years, the industry should be viable and able to stand on its own feet.
If that the one justification, as I. unlike certain other hon. Members, think that it is, for helping the industry, certain corollaries follow. The first is that Government aid must be solely directed to this one object of modernisation and of a change in the composition of the fleet. Government aid must not be treated as having the general object of maintaining 'the income of the industry. Therefore, the Government should accept the ten-year limit when they announce their aid. They should say that the aid is definitely for ten years, that it is given with the object of creating a viable industry and that if, at the end of ten years, it has not created a viable industry, then, to put it at the least, the whole question should be looked at again.
Here, I have a worry on which I should like a comment from the Secretary of State for Scotland when he replies. It seems to me reasonable for the distant water section to say, as it now does, "Give us this help for ten years. Then, we shall be viable and the help can largely disappear." The question disturbing me is, if that is the case and if that is the reasonable hope of the distant water section, why this has not 835 been the case with the near and middle water sections, which have now been subsidised for nearly ten years on precisely the same argument that ten years' help would get them over their difficulties and make them viable at the end of it. The immediate objectives of the aid have largely been achieved. The fleet has been modernised and many of the old coal burners have gone out, and yet nobody ever regards it now as being at all likely that the near and middle water sections will be viable in two or three years from now.
In this case, I suppose, one could say that the increase in the limits around the Faroes, two years ago, introduced a completely new factor which prevented their becoming viable as soon as possible. However, the first corollary of this new aid would be that in ten years' time the distant water section should be able to stand on its own feet.
If that is the object of the aid, the second corollary is that the Government must take a view about the future shape of the industry and the composition of the fleet. In general, I have found myself in agreement with the Minority Report of Professor Campbell much more than with the Majority Report. Professor Campbell makes an overwhelming case for saying that the problem and the purpose of aid are completely different for the herring fleet, for the inshore fishing fleet, for the near and middle water sections and for the distant water sections and that, therefore, there is no logic in having uniform grants and subsidies for each separate section of the fleet.
The logic would be differential grants adapted to the particular purposes for which we are aiding that particular section of the fleet. The Majority Report simply says, when arguing against this, that differential aid, as opposed to uniform aid, would distort the natural working of the market or economic forces and would be a thoroughly bad thing. I do not think that that is a powerful argument. We are already distorting market forces when we decide to subsidise in the first place. In any case, the changes to which the industry has to adapt itself are very often not market forces at all. They are changes of limits, political forces, or social arguments in the case of the 836 inshore fishing ports, and so on. It is a mistake to suppose that the industry has to change for the reason of entirely normal market forces. In any case, the Government already take a different view about different sections of the fleet We have already had differentiation. The Government reduced the subsidy for coal burners, for example, because they wanted to reduce the size of the coal burning fleet more rapidly in the near and middle water sections.
The Government have already taken a different view about different parts of the fleet, since for many years they subsidised the near and middle but not the distant water section. It is quite untrue for the Fleck Committee's Report to suggest, as it does, that the Government cannot intelligently use subsidies to shape the pattern of an industry. In agriculture, subsidies and prices are deliberately used year after year to influence the shape of the industry, and, in my view, if that can be done in agriculture, it can be done in fishing. I hope that the Minister, before he decides on the basis of the grants, will seriously study the Campbell Report's suggestion that it would be better to make them differential and to use them in a rather more co-ordinated way to influence the composition of the fleet and the type of investment.
I do not think that a decision to take a rather firmer lead by the Government would be by any means unpopular in the whole of the industry. But it would, of course, depend very much on whether the Government and the White Fish Authority between them have the resources to carry out the sort of coordination and planning which I am advocating. Here, like many other hon. Members, I am instinctively in favour of setting up a new joint sea fisheries committee, but I doubt whether it can do all the innumerable things that it is asked Po do in the Report—about eighteen things on every page—with the number of personnel which jointly exists so far. I should have thought that a much larger staff was needed to carry these responsibilities through. I suspect, also, that the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—I do not know about Scotland—is under-staffed as a whole, and that the lack of lead which has come 837 from the Fisheries Department at the moment is largely due to the size of the Department.
I do not want to incur the wrath of the hon. Member for Fife, East, who accused other hon. Members of speaking too long, and who has been present for practically none of the subsequent debate, in case he may suddenly come back and see the time that I have been speaking.
My last general point is about the industry itself. The Fleck Committee's Report is very critical of the industry when it says:The fishing industry in many of its aspects is lagging behind many other industries in the adoption of modern equipment, methods and forms of organisation.All who know about the industry know this to be fair comment. Even on the catching side it is possible that the industry has shown less of the spirit of innovation than one or two other industries. It has gone in for stern trawling more slowly than the Germans, and Russia and Poland have gone in for factory ships far more rapidly than we have. However, much experiment is now going on, and it may be that this criterion is unfair.
The real weakness, of course, is in marketing. The one section of the Fleck Committee's Report which strikes anyone who represents a fishing constituency is its account of what goes on in the fish market. There is the congestion, old-fashioned equipment, bad handling methods, lack of icing, damage to fish, and deterioration in quality, which many of us know only too well. What is the answer to this? We must find an answer, for if the Grimsby and Hull markets go on as they are the chances of improving quality to the consumer is practically zero. Part of the answer will be the inevitable contract, selling and quick freezing at sea.
This means that more and more fish will go direct from the trawlers to the factory without spending the whole night sitting in the market? Despite this, however, a major reorganisation of the market will still be necessary, which will require a lot of money and a coordinating authority in the fish market. One of the reasons that nothing is done is the multiplicity of interests—the jumpers, the merchants, the trawler 838 owners and the British Transport Commission—none of whom will agree.
I feel very strongly, as the Fleck Committee suggests but does not recommend, that we shall probably not get the proper organisation we want at the fish market unless we set up in the major ports at any rate a single statutory market authority such as exists in Hamburg, Bremer-haven and most of the continental ports.
I know that the Report says that this proposal will run into the opposition of the B.T.C. and certain sections of the fishing industry, but I hope that the Minister before deciding against it will consider the case for it seriously. If this is left to the efforts of the industry. unco-ordinated as it now is, I have a horrible feeling that the Grimsby market will be the same in five years' time as it is today. I hope that the Government will go into that, bearing in mind the understatement of the Fleck Committee's Report about the fishing industry, that we cannot consider the industry remarkable for a sense of co-ordination or a sense of urgency. There is no industry in which the "buck" is more constantly passed from one section of the industry to another.
I shall not say anything about the question of the West European Fisheries Community except that I hope that the Minister will make some reply in response to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leith. One of the reasons why the industry, rightly in my mind, came out with this proposal, was an awful feeling about the passivity of the Government. I have some sympathy with the industry in feeling that Her Majesty's Government is always the passive one, reacting to the initiative shown by Norway, Iceland or the Faroes. It would be rather nice for a change if our Government showed some initiative of their own.
It is obvious enough to say that the industry is at the crossroads now. It is an industry, as the Fleck Committee's Report states, which needs a great deal of strong leadership from outside. I agree with the hon. Member for Banff on that. It is a remarkable industry—brave, tough, rumbustious, hard-hitting and lovable, yet parochial, arrogant, backbiting and unco-operative; an industry with great virtues and great weaknesses. 839 One of its virtues is not that of cooperativeness and for that reason we need a change of heart inside the industry but we must have, in addition, much stronger leadership than we have had in the past from outside the industry, namely, from the Government and the Authority.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I will confine my remarks to the inshore side of the industry. I welcome the fact, as other hon. Members have done, that we are able to debate the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Fishing Industry in general terms today. I also endorse the view that we must have time to go into this matter further, when the White Paper is issued, in the light of various representations from organisations which at present we have not had time to consult.
It is a pity that out of 156 pages of the Report the problems of the inshore industry occupy only 18. It is a very important industry. I shall speak of three of our disappointments—about shell fish, pilchards and day payments—and of our hopes for the provision of inshore ports and harbour facilities, and, finally, about fishery limits.
Year after year those of us who have shell fishery interests in our constituencies ask why shell fish should be considered a luxury when a subsidy is given for luxury fish such as turbot and sole. We have not yet been given an answer. If this is a luxury commodity, why is it that in 1959, apart from £1½ million worth from Russia, £2 million worth of tinned crab was imported from Japan? The total, with other countries having small exports, was £2,702,924. Is it necessary to import all this if it is a luxury? As we all know, the answer is that in public houses and places of that kind tinned crab is considered to be something which people enjoy.
As for pilchards, the Report says that these come almost entirely from South and South-West Africa at present. I do not think that this quite ties up with the figures. The import value in 1959 from South and South-West Africa was £1,343,432, whereas other countries out-'side the Commonwealth, mainly Japan and the United States, exported to us 840 £1,351,876, which is more than the imports from South and South-West Africa. This, therefore, does not make much sense.
As for subsidy, the Fleck Report says, in paragraph 358, thata daily rate of subsidy may be impracticable for certain inshore vessels, and for these we recommend that the subsidy should continue to be paid on the quantity of fish landed …that is to say, as at present.
We cannot understand this. We have in the ports extremely efficient fishery officers, and I see no reason why they should not be capable of administering the day payments as opposed to the present arrangements which have been mentioned so often in this debate that I will not comment further on them now.
As to our hopes, mention has been made today of various sections of the Fleck Report in which the importance of processing is emphasised. The Fleck Report says that many of these ports… are commonly situated in the regions where other forms of employment are limited or seasonal and in some areas even the smallest ports may make a noteworthy contribution to the local economic and social structure.The Report also says that where these ports are a long way from marketing centres it is obviously better to transport to those markets a processed product as opposed to a whole fish. I hope, for that reason, that in such ports as Newlyn the provision of processing plant will be considered. I hope that that is what is meant in that part of the Report to which I have just referred. This would greatly help employment.
The Report adds, and I welcome it, that the Government should do all they can to help with the modernisation and improvement of harbour schemes, and so on. The Government have provided a slipway at Newlyn in my constituency, which has been a great help. But there are other things. Some time ago we put up a scheme to include a fish market, that is, a place where fish is sold locally and to visitors. At present, the fish is sold on the slipway. We hope to have a small local covered market. This is the kind of thing that would help small ports.
I hope also that in this connection the Government will provide money to 841 secure better facilities for fishermen, including, for example, lights on the coast. We had a recent loss of a trawler exactly off the place where for the last five years I have been trying to get a light or a lighted buoy installed on the coast. Thanks to the inflatable rafts which were carried, no lives were lost, but the boat went down in ten minutes. These small vessels seldom carry radar or other modern aids and it is essential that assistance should be given for these things.
Finally, on the problem of fishing limits, we understand that on 1st April there is prospect of an agreement with Norway for a six-mile limit being ratified, but what are the Government doing about our inshore limits? Why are we always the last people to do anything for our own men? Why cannot we have a six-mile limit? It could be of inestimable benefit to our inshore fishermen.
I welcome the publication of the Fleck Report and I join with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in saying that it is one of the best written and most interesting Reports that anybody could possibly wish to read. I do not think that many of us have had the time to digest it in the way it deserves. We hope, therefore, that, while giving this welcome in rather general terms, we shall have the opportunity to give it at least a full day's debate later on when we have had further time to consider every aspect of these important problems.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) on the subject of inshore fishing. I shall confine myself more generally to the Fleck Report. But I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Member because of the peremptory way in which the inshore fishermen's problems have been dealt with in the Report. This, however, does not detract in any way from the great substance of the Report, the value of the observations made in it and the very solid research that has gone into compiling this massive document.
Two things are important about it and I am glad that it has been ruled from the Chair that we can discuss it with the Bill. The first is the suggestion that there should be a United Kingdom Sea 842 Fisheries Authority to embrace the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. In passing. when we are considering the abandonment of the White Fish Authority, I should like to pay tribute to the man who set it up and who is now wearing a coronet in another place, whose heart is very much with us and whose memory is very strongly with us on this side of the House. The suggestion was a good one and it should be acted upon as soon as possible.
The second important thing that emerges from the Report is the recognition that the industry is in a very dangerous situation and that that situation cannot continue. This is implicit in the fact that subsidies are recommended for the distant water fleet as well as for the near and middle water fleets. However, I have two criticisms to make of the Report.
The first is that I feel that a good deal too much trust is placed in the industry to sort out its affairs at what may be the expense of the taxpayer, bearing in mind that the industry itself is partly responsible for some of its present difficulties. My second criticism is that the Report does not look far enough ahead. It is all right as far as it goes, but, as many hon. Members have said, it does not deal with the long-term problems.
I always speak with diffidence on fishing problems in the presence of such Members as the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) who has spent a lifetime associated with the industry and serves it so well in this House. But, perhaps, as someone not connected with the industry, I can bring a fresh mind to the matter, and I might be able to make some observations about the long-term problems to which we must address ourselves with great rapidity.
First, there is a very considerable amount of overfishing in the Northern Hemisphere, due to the large populations and the comparatively high development of technologies and fishing fleets in this hemisphere. Secondly, there is the consequential problem of fishery limits—and it is an invidious problem. These two problems, in the absence of achieving an international agreement, are likely to get progressively worse as the years go by and, therefore, we would be complacent if we did not consider what 843 active steps have to be taken in order to deal with what is a particularly difficult situation for this country, because at the end of the day Britain is, broadly, a "have not" nation in terms of fishing when compared with countries like Iceland.
My second point, dealing with the catching side of the industry, is that the Fleck Report, as the hon. Member for Banff said, may be partly out of date when we are now at a period of rapid transition in the industry. For a long time our fishing industry has stood still compared with the general development of modern technology. Its technique has developed very slowly. At the moment we are at the end of one era and the beginning of another.
As research proceeds, as ships have to go further afield or become bigger, capital costs increase. and this also has a great effect on the industry's economic structure, because it vitiates against the small man and raises very important problems of servicing the capital in the industry. What are the possible solutions to these problems raised in the transitory phase of the industry?
Reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), and by other hon. Members, to a West European fishing union. This, of course, is the ideal and obvious solution for Europe. I appreciate that the Government are not very European-minded. They are having enough difficulty as it is, considering some of the "landlubbers" problems in markets. But I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he replies, will have something much more positive to say than those fierce words which we heard from the Minister of Agriculture.
The Minister said that his patience was becoming exhausted. At one stage, I thought that he was like Sir Anthony Eden on the eve of Suez. I would advise the Government Front Bench that it is always dangerous for men in weak positions to try to use strong words. Indeed, the Icelanders, though they have caused great problems for us, have a case, because their entire economy is largely dependent on the fishing round their coasts and they are going through difficult times.
844 The real solution, in addition to international limitation, is to seek new fishing grounds. The hon. Member for Banff has talked of looking for new herring grounds. But we must do a great deal mare in the whole range of the white fish industry. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) said, it is not just the North Atlantic that we must look to but also the South Atlantic.
For instance, from my own constituency there have been exploratory probes in the South Atlantic looking for hake in African waters. These probes were unsuccessful at the time, but I question whether they were wide enough or organised to deal with the particular problems of bringing fish through the tropics in trawlers designed to preserve fish only in northern waters, and whether the extent of research went wide enough.
I believe that the Government should be prepared to finance a series of explorations, through a sea fish industry authority, of the South Atlantic. Populations of South Atlantic countries are much smaller and fishing is much less. It may well be that this is where the long-term solutions to the problems of such things as factory ships lie. I should like to hear what the Secretary of State for Scotland has to say about the South Atlantic. If we do not do this work, other people will soon be doing it. The Germans may be looking at it, and the Poles and the Russians. There is no reason why they should not do so with the types of ships which they have coming alone.
Thirdly, reference has been made by various Members to fish factory ships and various types of development. So far as the "Fairtry" type of venture is concerned, these are already under way, and, of course, there is the new ship launched the other day. But there is also the other proposal to adapt aircraft carriers into fish factory ships. This raises very considerable problems of capitalisation. Are the Government prepared to look at this as an exploratory venture outside the terms of the existing grants for trawlers—possibly considering a fish factory ship based on a development area, such as my own port of Milford Haven?
Milford Haven is the kind of place which might be suitable to attempt such 845 a venture. It cannot be done within the normal terms of the subsidies and grants given under existing legislation, but it might be possible to look at it outside the fishing industry. What support are the Government prepared to give to such a venture or—as I appreciate that the Minister will have to go into it more thoroughly with the President of the Board of Trade—what consideration will they give to it?
The fourth thing which we must do on the catching side is to set our sights much higher in considering long-term methods of trawling. At the moment we are in the stage of the hunter in the fishing industry—rather like people 2,000 years ago chasing a Welsh boar over the Welsh mountains with a net. Sooner or later we must apply the ordinary principles of animal husbandry to the problems of fish rearing. That may be looking into the far distant future, but at the end of the day that is what we shall have to do.
There are all sorts of problems which we should know more about. In the present state of the industry only the Government can initiate the necessary research. There are suggestions, for instance, that there are a number of invertebrate predators feeding off the normal fish on the sea bed, and that there is not suitable food for the fish. It may be possible to limit the number of these invertebrate predators by positive action. Eventually, in the distant future, we must think in terms of fish farms under the sea.
I do not think that it is widely realised how much of the sea bed is smooth, especially round our coasts. For instance, in the North Sea, about 90 per cent. of it is sand, silt or gravel. That is an area which it may well be possible to develop as a vast fish farm with European co-operation.
There have been suggestions about the use of fertilisers in the sea. There were some experiments at the end of the war in some of the small sea lochs of Scotland, when fertilisers were dropped to stimulate the grcwth of plankton. I agree that it would be difficult to do that in the open sea—the sea is a big place—but it has been found by the Oceanographic Institute of Hamburg, for instance, that the weight of fish in the North Sea has considerably increased, apparently because of the vast amount 846 of sewage going into the North Sea through the Thames from London. There are various ways of controlling feeding fish instead of leaving it purely to chance, or an act of God.
I think that eventually we shall use not trawlers but underwater marine tractors pulling nets over specific grounds where the fish themselves have been husbanded. In addition to all that, there must be a comprehensive programme of research into marine ecology by biologists who are trained and who are prepared to spend a good deal of their time under water studying what goes on on the sea bed. Those are a few long-term thoughts about the catching side from someone outside the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) made a first-class speech which showed great knowledge of the fishing industry for someone who is relatively new to representing a fishing port. He spoke of the marketing problems. The marketing situation in the fishing industry is the other great cross which we have to bear I am not making any criticism of the people who are actually engaged in the marketing side of the industry. It is not a very pleasant job. Standing on Milford Docks at seven o'clock on a February morning is not as pleasant as being in the air-conditioned atmosphere of the House of Commons.
On the other hand, this is a system which is wasteful and which we have to study. There are far too many firms for far too few boxes of fish, and until this problem is dealt with, by the leadership of the Government, the industry will always be carrying an unnecessary millstone around its neck.
There is also the layout of the ports themselves to consider. I was very glad to see that the Fleck Report suggests an inquiry, port by port, into the structure, equipment and layout of the ports. Many of the ports were designed and laid out 100 years ago or more. We have moved a long way from that period. I would have thought that if the fishing industry is to be made economic, we cannot have antediluvian layouts and handling at our ports.
Then there are the methods of preservation. The industry has been very slow to adopt modern methods of quick freezing, but it is now coming on very 847 rapidly. Here the advantages of a factory ship are coming more and more into our minds. The ultimate target in this matter is that fish must become a non-perishable commodity in the same way that meat is. When we have made fish non-perishable, we shall have gone some way towards solving the major marketing problems of the industry. At the moment it is far too much at the mercy of inefficient methods of packaging, preserving and delivery, methods which are far below what the public has a right to expect.
These observations lead to one, and only one, conclusion. It is that, admirable though it is, the Fleck Report goes some way but not far enough. While we have time we should proceed on the lines of the Fleck Report to convert the fleet to a modem fleet, but use the time to set up another committee to go into the long-term prospects for the period twenty or twenty-five years from now to see what is likely to be happening then. Only if we do that in time shall we be discharging our duty to the industry.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I want, first, to say a word about the Bill itself. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was the only other hon. Member to do so. I welcome the Bill. This has been a subject with which I have been concerned for a long time. I have pressed for the distant water vessels to be subsidised. but I have always beer shot down. At last it has come about. I agree that circumstances have greatly altered, but it is nevertheless a good thing that this has come about.
There is no question but that the Icelandic troubles have hit the distant water fishermen hardest. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that a solution would soon be found, but I think that he might be too optimistic. All we can do is to wish him the best of luck, as we have to other Ministers engaged on this task.
I hope that the subsidy is to be applied to vessels which are less than 140 feet long but which fish in distant waters and which have never yet received subsidies or grants. They are usually to 848 be found fishing further North than 63° latitude North, and I trust that they will be included in the scheme. There are a few such vessels in Fleetwood and they well deserve to come within the scheme.
I was pleased to see that the Bill provides for increasing the money paid to the White Fish Authority, because lack of money has harmed not only the rebuilding of home water vessels for conversion to diesel, but the boat-building industry.
Every hon. Member who has spoken has praised the Fleck Report. We have waited for it for three years and now we have had to debate it only three weeks after receiving it. The time factor has not been very good, because in matters like this it is better to be able to go back and consult the experts in one's area. It is a grand Report and many hon. Members have said how well written it is. It may be good reading, but it is fairly heavy and it is impossible to remember all of it.
Anyhow, it now looks as though the industry has a chance to become a modern industry. Too much of our work has been a patchwork quilt, and when something has gone wrong we have rushed to put it right. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) that when the industry has had a chance to become modernised we ought to consider whether it can stand on its own feet. I agree at once that if it cannot do so, it should be helped, but we ought first to see what the position is once the industry has modernised itself.
As the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) said, our methods are old-fashioned. We must modernise our methods of catching fish. We must use all the money that we can find to discover new ways of catching fish, even though when one talks to people in the industry they say, "We may be old-fashioned, but we do it better and quicker than any other nation". I do not know whether that is correct, but I cannot help thinking that we should try as many experiments as possible during the next five years to find the best method of catching fish. The difficulty in the fishing industry is that as soon as one thinks one has a good scheme and puts it into operation it becomes out of date.
849 I know that we have had trouble with Iceland, the Faroes and Norway over the fishing limits. When the disputes are finally settled, the limits may go against us and we shall have to think again. If we were modern in our outlook we should be able to find new places to go trawling. Alternatively, as the hon. Member for Pembroke said, it might be possible to set up fish farms. We should then not be dependent on the whim of any other country.
When we provide subsidies for new trawlers to be built, I hope that the builders and designers will undertake research to develop new types of vessels and thus make trawling not only more profitable but more comfortable. I had not thought of using an aircraft carrier as a factory ship. If such carriers were used, it would be necessary to provide a big crew unless one could rely on the Navy to provide one. However, it is a novel idea.
Another consideration is the presentation of the fish in an attractive form to the housewife. Too often one finds that fish in a tin look rather unpalatable. Some tinned fish are dreadful and one cannot eat them. I know people who try to improve things, but we must ensure that fish are attractively presented to the public. We must make people feel that they want to eat fish. The fish must look attractive when they are taken out of the tin. Surely it should not be difficult to do this. After all, it is done with meat and vegetables, but one does not eat most of the tinned fish because it is so unpalatable
When considering how one can improve the fish presented for sale to the public, one comes back to the question of the modernisation of the docks. As hon. Members have said, if one were to walk round the docks early in the morning and see the state of the fish one might not always be so keen to eat them. A lot could be done to improve conditions at the docks. The time factor is not too bad, but the docks themselves are old-fashioned. They have not been improved since they were built. Other countries whose docks were bombed during the war now have modern docks, and I believe that such modernisation makes a great deal of difference to the comfort and amenities of the people who use thorn. I know that it would be diffi- 850 cult to start building new docks. That perhaps could not be done, but the existing docks could be improved.
I know that the fish merchants want the docks rebuilt. They say that a lot is being done by way of subsidies for trawler owners and for the crews of trawlers but that they themselves are being forgotten. On the other hand, many people say that there are too many merchants and that it would be better if there were not so many. However, the merchants have cause for complaint and I hope that they will be remembered in any scheme for improving the fishing industry.
The merchants have another cause for anxiety. They have been informed that it will not be possible for them to see my right hon. Friend to discuss the position with him. They seem certain that that information is correct. Naturally. I defended my right hon. Friend and said that he would see them. I hope that I am right.
I consider that the setting up of a single authority is a good idea. It will cut down a lot of expense, and I hope that able people will be appointed to it to enable it to do its work properly.
One knows the difficulties which the Government face over the Six and the Seven. Obviously fishing is a very much bigger industry in some of the smaller countries than it is here. ill because of that we have to allow more fish to come into this country and give rather good trade agreements to those countries, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not forget our fishing industry but will compensate it in some other way.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Usually our debates on fishing take place late at night. I hope that today's debate will create a precedent for the debate which we must have on the Fleck Committee's Report when the Government have considered it. The Minister did not say a word about it today. We must, therefore, have a debate on it to ascertain the views and the policy of the Government.
Early as it is, I do not intend to make a long speech. I intend to make one point about the Fleck Report. Before I do so I should like to say a word 851 about the Bill which contrasts in its smallness with the exhaustive nature of the Fleck Report.
The Bill, however, has great potentialities for the fishing industry. It would be an improvement if, in providing loans for the fishing industry, the Government could do so at a fixed rate so that the shipbuilders would know at the start how they would stand when their trawlers were built.
It would also be a good thing if it were provided that the interest on the loans would not only be low but would be determined at the time when the loans were made, instead of later. Businessmen like to know what their ultimate commitments will be. They do not know what their ultimate commitments will be under loans granted under the present scheme. It is advisable that they should be able to plan ahead and know what interest they will eventually have to pay.
I now want to draw attention to Chapter 9 of the Fleck Committee's Report which is being flouted by the Government. On that I base an indictment of the Government's illogical and extravagant conduct in relation to research affecting the whole fishing industry. This is bad for the industry. It is bad for the industry's subsidiaries, and it is bad for Britain.
I shall show how gross is the Government's repudiation of Chapter 9 of the Fleck Report by giving one example. This chapter gives justified praise to the great variety and value of the research work which is carried on at Aberdeen, Lowestoft, Conway and Burnham-on-Crouch by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
There are other relevant organisations, which are as various as the activities of this versatile industry. The Report points out that the work carried on by these Government agencies coupled with that done by other agencies, such as the universities, the Marine Biological Association, the Scottish Marine Biological Association, the Development Commission, the National Institute of Oceanography and the Medical Research Council is diverse and technical, and is 852 very valuable to the nation. The research work which they all do is, in the course of events, not planned. Nevertheless, it is dovetailed. Their work fits in, but the Government are spoiling the symmetry of the plan of the various organisations which are doing such good work.
It is important to mention the great variety of that work. It touches upon problems of marine biology, acoustic methods of locating fish, fundamental research into the physical backgrounds of all fish, commercial fishing, handling and processing, and the dehydration of fish. In paragraph 293 of the Fleck Report approval of this is shown. The Report says:It is clear that quite a large number of authorities are engaged in one aspect or another of fisheries research.On the same page the Report makes it clear that the sum spent is small compared with the great scientific work which is carried on, and says that the total amount spent on fisheries research for 1959–60 was only £1 million, to which should be added another £250,000 in respect of research into handling and processing fish by the two statutory bodies on development work of various kinds.
The Report expresses the opinion thatThe sum spent on fisheries research by the Fisheries Departments and the various independent institutes is certainly not excessive"—I stress that for the purpose of the reasonable argument that I am presenting to the House—including as it does provision for a certain amount of gear research, fresh water as well as marine research, the manning and maintenance of a fleet of fishery research vessels and the staffing and equipment of several laboratories. Indeed, we share the view which has been expressed in other quarters that a much more intensive research effort could profitably be directed towards the more effective exploitation of the resources of the sea.The Committee was apparently influenced by the great scientific and other advances made by foreign competitors of British fisheries, for the Report says:We also consider that at a time when the industry is faced with the necessity of making rapid technical advances if it is to keep pace with changing conditions, a substantially greater sum should be allocated to the development of improved catching and processing techniques.853 Yet at this time, and in these conditions, the Government have chosen to close down the famous research station at Aberdeen; to throw out of employment over 100 skilled technical workers, to break up a group of scientists who have worked together for many years—scientists who have achieved world prestige for their work—and to sell the station and the scientific apparatus, which cost the nation £131,000, at a gross undervalue, thereby inflicting upon the nation a fourfold loss, in science, prestige, employment and usefulness.
For some years, by speeches and Questions in the House, I have begged Ministers not to commit this wanton murder of a thriving and famous scientific station. Ministers have agreed that the station was famous and useful but have said, in effect—without giving a reason—that the law must take its course and that this scientific institute must inevitably go to the gallows. Those actual words were not used, but that was the effect of what the Ministers said. On 12th May, 1960, the Minister's predecessor said:I will agree that this institution has done very valuable work. In my opinion, that work is now over."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May. 1960; Vol. 623. c. 593.]The present Minister was not responsible for initiating this murder, and I am making this speech in the hope that he will reconsider the decision and reprieve this scientific station. Why is it being murdered? The reason given is almost incredible. Apparently it is because it cost £106,000 a year. Is it, therefore, any wonder that the Fleck Report goes on to say:Some of the rather ill-informed criticism which has been levelled against fisheries scientists might be disarmed if more time could be devoted to gear research and the study of fishing techniques.The anomaly—worse, the crime—of the action of the Government is that it deprives Britain of this useful scientific station, and does so in the face of a recommendation in the Fleck Report. When they initiated the destruction of the scientific station in Aberdeen it is true that the Government did not have the wisdom of the Fleck Report before them, but they have it now, and I therefore ask them to reconsider their decision and to save the station. En paragraph 298 the Report says: 854We recommend also that fisheries research in all its aspects should be intensified"—not destroyed or murdered, as is now being done—with the object of enabling the fishing industry to exploit more effectively the resources of the sea and of improving methods of handling and processing the catch: and that additional funds should be provided for these purposes.Paragraph 299 goes on to say:We recommend that the Fisheries Departments should make every effort to keep the industry informed of current developments in fisheries research.I commend those parts of the Report to the new Minister who, I am sure, will approach them with an open mind. If he does so he will realise how wrong his predecessor was in initiating this action, and will take steps to save this valuable and famous scientific station. If he does so he will save the prestige of that station and of Aberdeen, he will enhance his own prestige, and he will be doing a good turn to the fishing industry of Britain.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) is rightly concerned about the future of the Greyhope Road Research Station, formerly run by the Ministry. I was surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not seem to know that the research station had been bought by Unilever, which is to continue research work into food processes and, by so doing, will ensure employment for those employees who are not civil servants. Those who are civil servants have their employment already assured.
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is unfortunate that Parliament did not give a wider remit to the Minister when he establishes these research stations. Because what, in effect, is said by Parliament is that research can go on into one process or another but that, once a particular piece of research work is finished, it cannot be exploited for commercial purposes except by private industry. I happen to know that a great deal of work was done to try to interest commerce in the development of the production into which research was undertaken at Greyhope, especially in what was known as the famous Aberdeen meat bar.
855 There was a team from a very well known firm in this country which examined the whole process, but came to the conclusion that in time of peace it was impossible to develop it commercially with success. It is widely used in the Armed Forces and on Polar and other expeditions. It is for this reason that that work came to an end.
I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North that it is unfortunate that the Government, having assembled this team of scientists, could not give it other work to do. The team did consider that there were other branches of the work which it could profitably pursue. However, I do not want to take up the time of the House for too long by pursuing that matter further.
I welcome the extended financial assistance to be given under the Bill to provide grants and loans to the fishing industry, because in Aberdeen, which is the major fishing port in Scotland, the provisions of the Bill will prove of very great benefit. I should like to inform the House of the latest developments. Aberdeen has received more grants and loans than any other port in Britain for the building or the conversion of boats. So far the total is 99. Furthermore, there were seven grants approved for conversion from coal-burning steam to oil-fired vessels. Several years ago, as no doubt the Minister will remember, Aberdeen had 180 boats, of which only two were diesel and seven oil-burning. The rest were coal-burning vessels and some were of great age.
The Report of the White Fish Authority goes only to 31st March, but in fact we have now about 80 modern diesel engined trawlers; we have 14 oil-fired steam trawlers and we have only 13 coal-burning steam vessels of the old type left. I feel that this is an impressive tribute to the grants and loans scheme. There are already approvals granted for another 30 new trawlers, and if all these new boats are completed by the end of 1961, it will mean that Aberdeen will have a modern fleet of about 115 vessels.
There are now many people in the Port of Aberdeen who feel that it is time to have a rephased programme of rebuilding, at a slower pace. I wonder whether it might be wise to go so far as to have a pause, for several reasons. 856 First, I think that there will be a shortage of trained crews. In these modern boats it is important to have skilled fishermen, just as one must have skilled operators in the agriculture industry. While we have good facilities at the training college, I think that it might be worth while for the Minister to consider the possibility of establishing a nautical school in the City of Aberdeen. After all, Aberdeen is the major fishing port in Scotland, as I said, and I think that a nautical school, separate from the technical college, might be something well worth while.
The second reason why I am wondering whether it would be wise to have a pause, or, at any rate, a greater slowing down in the building programme, is the uncertainty about the best type of ship for our future fishing opportunities. We are still in the throes of the Icelandic dispute, and what affects Aberdeen more than anything else, is what is to happen round the Faroes. As the House knows, at the moment we have an agreement between this country and the Faroese authorities that there shall be a fishing limit of up to six miles. But if it were agreed, at any rate between the countries of Western Europe, that there should be a twelve-mile limit, presumably there would be a demand that this limit should be universal. Everyone in the Port of Aberdeen is seriously concerned about what would then happen to the fishing opportunities for our fleet.
I must say a word, in connection with that, about the provisions in the Bill. For the first time in history we are giving a subsidy to the distant water trawlers. I was disappointed when the Minister said he could not give any real reason why we are to have these subsidies at the moment. He was making provision for them in order that should the situation get worse—for example, the Icelandic issue—a working party could examine what ought to be the pattern and shape of the fishing—
§ Mr. Soames
May I interrupt my hon. Friend? It was not in any way in my mind dependent on the outcome of the Icelandic dispute and I tried to make this clear in what I said at the time. From the moment we went along with the Canadian-United States proposals at Geneva about a six-mile limit and phasing out to twelve miles, it was clear that so 857 much fishing ground would be lost that while the fishing industry reorganised itself to meet the changed circumstances it was inevitable that we should have to go through a period of subsidy.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I am sorry if I misrepresented my right hon. Friend. I thought that in the Western European countries we hoped to get agreement by perhaps phasing out to the twelve-mile limit. But, even so, when one is considering the granting of subsidies one is disappointed at not knowing what use is to be made of them.
As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) and other hon. Members, a large number of very good, modern fishing boats go out from Hull and Grimsby, and from Fleetwood as well, but particularly from Hull and Grimsby. It is in the minds of these members of the industry that they are going far further afield and will build different types of boats—factory boats, for instance. What are they proposing to do? That interests us in Aberdeen. Are they proposing to concentrate on the remaining water round Iceland, to which our boats will be driven if the Faroese grounds are no longer open to them? In Aberdeen, we have only a certain type of boat while many of the Hull and Grimsby boats, without any alteration, could go as far as Greenland.
This is important, because as things stand at the moment we have a limitation by the White Fish Authority on the trips which can be made by vessels from the Port of Aberdeen to the Icelandic fishing grounds. At present, we are allowed to make only two trips during the year. That was originally conceived for what were then thought to be perfectly fair reasons, that Aberdeen, being a middle water fleet, was able to receive assistance through the grants, and loans schemes and they were competing against boats receiving no Government assistance.
If the subsidies are extended to the distant water boats, surely the limitations on where Aberdeen boats go must be swept away, because one cannot have it both ways. I should be very glad if the Secretary of State could inform us in his reply on the question of limitations on the numbers of trips which Aberdeen boats can pay to Icelandic waters.
858 The second thing that I find rather disturbing is that we have only a fixed sum given to us under the Bill for all purposes. If the big ports are to start building factory ships at £1 million a time that, surely, will take a great deal away from the total sum available to the industry.
I wish to say a few words about the Fleck Committee's Report. I join with all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, in thanking all those who gave so much of their time to this very extensive study over a period of three years. I should like particularly to welcome the recommendation about marketing. It is that there should be a port-to-port investigation to help to bring all sides of the industry togeher to try to improve conditions. That, perhaps, is another reason why it may be wise to have a pause in the rebuilding programme to concentrate on the latest methods of processing and handling fish and its distribution.
It is true that if any working party report is to have any effect there must be great co-operation between the harbour board and all sides of the fishing industry. The harbour board is told that it has to make conditions pay and the fishing industry is, naturally, averse to any rise in charges. Therefore, I hope that this working party will be more successful, if it is established, than one which examined all sides of the industry in Aberdeen many years ago. It made a very comprehensive report. I should not like to think that another working party report did not get any further.
As a consumer, I think it absolutely essential, if we are to overcome the fall in domestic consumption of 17 per cent. before the war, to concentrate on quality fish. Aberdeen has always been praised for the type of fish that it is able to land. It still has the reputation of bringing into the country the highest quality fish available. It can continue to do so and be successful as a fishing port only if, with the greater financial assistance and guidance from the Government, the industry itself will strive for agreement. which it must have if it is to survive.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
I hope that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) will forgive me if I do not follow her argument about the Bill and subsidies. 859 I wish to make one small point and I hope that I do not lower the tone of the debate by mentioning it. It might surprise hon. Members on both sides of the House that I, representing a constituency which has no fishing industry in it, should raise this point. I shall give my reasons.
I represent a mining constituency. It has a number of light industries also, but mining has a direct bearing on the point I wish to make. It would, perhaps, widen the debate too much to enter into a discussion of the whole process of coal versus oil, but I believe I am in order in making this point on the Bill, because I think one can speak on the Order and the Bill at the same time. The original Order was made in 1957 when a subsidy was given for the change-over from coal-fired to oil-fired boilers on fishing vessels. I quite agree that there may be a good reason for such a change-over, but the main point in the argument is that it is a very bad thing for a Government to give a subsidy to change from coal to oil burning, especially when the mining industry is experiencing great hardship. I do not know if anyone else has mentioned this in the debate, but there is an important principle here. Hon. Members opposite might laugh, but it is a very important principle when a Government subsidise one industry at the expense of a basic industry.
I feel tempted to suggest that there is something political in it. I feel it right to raise the objection even now. I hope that hon. Members will see how unfair it is, when we have had a coal crisis and stocks of coal we cannot get rid of, for the Government to subsidise the fishing industry to the tune of £14 million, some of which can be used to change from coal to oil. I make no apology for raising this point and I hope that some of my hon. Friends will support it.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) will not wish me to follow his line of argument, although I sympathise with the point he made, as representing a mining constituency. A little less coal may be used, but surely that is not largely relevant to the desire of the Government 860 to modernise our fishing fleet. That surely should be of much greater consequence than the loss of the sale of what must be a comparatively small amount of coal.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I can see the point the hon. Member makes, but I do not agree.
This debate has been particularly interesting. Although hon. Members have remarked that they did not have time to digest the Fleck Report and would like to have a White Paper giving the Government's views in it, all the speeches (have been greatly influenced by that very able Report, for which we have waited so long. I was pleased to read in the foreword to the Report:The fishing industry throughout the ages has long had periods of adversity when its condition gave rise to much anxiety".It certainly can give encouragement to those who feel a little despondent about the future of the industry to know that in past history it has gone through periods of fluctuations. This was touched on by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). The industry has had its ups and downs and various economic factors have continually disturbed it. It is difficult to make a really constructive long-term policy. With all these recommendations before the Government, something more concrete should be done. As the Fleck Report says that we want to see some degree of satisfactory continuity in the industry, which is basically a very desirable service for the community.
I see that I come from a more northerly area than any other speaker today—an area where it is most important to the community that we should keep the industry alive. Hon. Members have touched on the international problems affecting the industry, which must be settled, such as the Icelandic dispute, the importance of which the Minister has stressed, and the questions of the European Free Trade Association and the Common Market, which affect the price ultimately paid by the housewife in the shop. I welcome this holding Bill to extend assistance to the 861 fishing industry to ensure that the housewife gets this valuable food at as reasonable a price as possible.
Scottish Members are sometimes accused of taking a great deal of time in the House, but it must be acknowledged. as the Fleck Report acknowledges, that this industry is relatively more important to the economy of Scotland than to that of England. That point was made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy).
In order not to take up too much time, I will confine my remarks, in the main, to inshore fishermen, particularly those in my constituency. As the Fleck Report points out, these fishermen bring the greater part of the herring catch into the smaller ports in Scotland. That must not be forgotten. The greater proportion is landed in the small ports in my constituency. Hon. Members do not often realise that. The fish are landed at Ullapool, Gairloch and Kyle, on the West Coast of my constituency, and Avoch on the East Coast, although most of the fishermen in the latter area land their fish in Inverness. A greater part of the Scottish herring catch is landed at these small ports.
I welcome the reference in paragraph 178 of the Report to free training facilities now being given to fishermen in the Outer Isles and in the Minch area. and I hope that these new training methods, which will be given freely to fishermen in that area, will be extended to cover all those in the Minch area and even further south, if the idea is proved a success.
We also have our crofting problems in this part of Scotland, and these will be brought before the House when legislation is discussed shortly. In the past, crofters who could not make a living out of the soil combined crofting to a great extent with fishing, but it has been proved that under modern conditions it is no longer possible for crofter-fishermen to continue to make a living. It must be a full-time occupation.
That is why I welcome this scheme. The herring landed on the west coast of my constituency are landed, in the main, from boats from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie), from the east coast ports. We welcome them, as we have always 862 welcomed them, and the employment which they bring through landing their fish, but it is ridiculous that we have no fleet of our own from the Minch ports. The Fleck Report does not envisage a great increase in the number of fishing boats and rather discourages it. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Grimsby, who wanted the industry to be run down to an economic level—although he admitted that in some areas such as mine we must keep the industry going for social reasons. We must have a fleet in the area in order to achieve efficiency. I am glad that the Report stresses that the facilities at the ports must be reviewed in greater detail. I have read the Report carefully and it admits that the Committee did not go into the detail and recommends that that should be done.
I particularly stress that the Report points out that three-quarters of the total landing of herrings are processed in one form or another. Yet, although the greater part of the herrings are landed in my constituency, we have not one processing plant of any kind. There is not even an ice plant in any of the west coast ports. Yet, over and over again, the Report stresses the lack of sufficient ice in the major and smaller ports. It points out that foreign fish is often landed in much better condition because the icing has been done so much better. We should see that fish is properly iced and that it arrives in the shops in the freshest possible condition and the condition most attractive to the housewife.
I should like more processing plants in my area. That must be the right policy. At present these fish are transported for long distances unprocessed, at high freight rates. These freight rates have prevented development in the North, where we urgently need ancillary industries. All this ties up. We must try to process fish nearer the sources of supply if we want to present it to the housewife in the most attractive manner. Although I speak of my own constituency, this could be followed up in other areas.
As a member of the Highlands Advisory Panel, I know that the subcommittee on the fishing industry will make an examination of the problems of the western seaboard We must decide whether we want small processing plants at the various ports where the herring are landed or whether the plants should be a 863 little further inland, at such places as Avoch or Muir of Ord, which could be fed by the ports on the west and east coast and possibly even from the North. That prospect must be examined if the fish are to be processed near the source of supply. That ties up with the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) that we want fish of the highest quality. If we get fish of the highest quality, we shall give the fishermen near the source of supply the best possible price for the commodity they have worked so hard to procure.
I am sorry that the Report suggests that the meal subsidy should be gradually abolished. I say that despite the fact that fish meal comes in from Peru. South Africa did this at one time, but that is all forgotten. We do not know whether something will happen to Peru. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff talked about quality. I do not know about that. There may be other factors. After all the money we have spent for oil and meal, it would be a mistake not to keep the industry thriving and in the background, to be used should the occasion arise. Pet foods are playing an important part, particularly in absorbing surplus herring. Despite that fish meal and oil are still important factors.
To ensure high quality I suggest, as have suggested before in the House, that we should close the Minch during March and April for an experimental number of years. It is not very much to ask. I understand that in the past fishermen did this voluntarily because they knew that during that period they would catch immature fish. This question was touched upon by the hon. Member for Leith, who pointed out how using fish for industrial purposes encouraged people to get fish because they wanted them all the year round and they did not care what condition they were in. I plead with the Minister to look into this very carefully It has been suggested for many years, since the industrial use of these fish began.
I suggest also that the Moray Firth and the Minch should be closed to foreign trawlers. This suggestion has been made many times. I do not think that we want to see our own trawlers in the Minch and the Moray Firth, but it 864 is absolutely ridiculous that they should be denied whilst foreign trawlers go there. We have made concessions to Iceland, although an agreement has not been reached, and to Norway and the Faroes. We should protect our own fishermen to a greater extent by making this comparatively small extension of the limit, although I would go so far as to extend the limit altogether.
I welcome the suggestion of the Fleck Committee that subsidies should continue for a much longer period. All that can be dealt with when the Government put forward their own proposals on the Fleck Report.
I also agree with having one Sea Fisheries Authority. I do not think that I need read the rather scathing remarks made about the Herring Industry Board on page 136 of the Report. The Committee points out that the Boardhas evoked more active opposition than the Authority usually encounters.I will leave it at that, because in the past the fishermen have said it much more dramatically than that.
However, it is ridiculous that two authorities should give subsidies for the same reason. For instance, many dual-purpose boats are now being used and they receive subsidies from different authorities.
I welcome the Bill. Everyone agrees that on national, social and economic grounds we should give this further assistance to the fishing industry.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
Unlike those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate so far, I do not represent what is usually considered to be a fishing constituency, although I have within my constituency a very old and admirable fishing community. Unfortunately, it has been dwindling over the past twenty to thirty years. About half the number of boats now leave my constituency which used to leave it twenty years ago. I am therefore interested in this subject.
I am interested in it also from the wider Scottish point of view, and it is in that respect that I wish to make my remarks. Like other hon. Members, I agree that we have had far too little time to consider the Report, which is nearly 865 200 pages long. It contains many recommendations, which are scattered all over the place. It is difficult to understand them and all their implications.
In the Bill the Government are implementing one of the very important recommendations of the Fleck Committee. I wish that we had had more time to consider it and all its implications. The Minister of Agriculture was rather cavalier in his treatment of this matter and in his treatment of the Report. In fact, he said nothing about the Report, which was not a very helpful attitude.
In the Bill the Government are for the first time introducing an operational subsidy for the distant water fleet. I am very much attracted by the reservation about subsidies made by Mr. George Middleton, which appears on pages 172 and 173 of the Report. One cannot escape from his last sentence:However, the recommendation to subsidise the distant water operators, and in doing so to include those firms who are not only prospering in the industry but proudly boasting about it, runs contrary to the whole idea underlying the provision of financial aid to any industry which is being helped towards a viable future.I think that there is something in that, but I recognise the arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, the very special problems which now confront the distant water fleet and which will face it for some time to come. That does not mean that I accept all the arguments which have been adduced in favour of the subsidy. I am very chary of the subsidy. Tory philosophy is that a subsidy can always be given to private enterprise without a means test but it can never be given to an individual without a means test. I do not accept that philosophy. We should discriminate more than that.
I was attracted by the arguments adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in his very lucid speech. The one he adduced as being a justification for the subsidy seemed to me to be the only relevant argument in favour of it. It was that the subsidy was necessary in order to meet the very radical changes and adaptation of the fleet itself that are now needed. Of course, he also said, I think, that it should be limited, and when he said that it occurred to me that whilst 866 it is all right arguing for this subsidy for that purpose it is rather difficult to make up one's mind about how the subsidy is to be used when one does not know the pattern of the industry into which this distant water fleet has to fit. Nobody, not even the Fleck Committee, has said anything about the future pattern of the industry, and that is what alarms me about the Report as it relates to Scotland.
What the Report really suggests—and within its terms of reference the Committee could not do otherwise—is that the future pattern of the industry must be left to the free forces of private industry. Paragraph 351 points out… that the fleet as a whole is unlikely to attain economic operation at its present level and with its present structure"—that means that it is likely to be smaller, and I want the House to bear that in mind—but that with the modernisation of its vessels and the rationalisation of its structure—including an increasingly close connection between the catching and the processing and distributive sides of the industry—there is reasonable hope of its future prosperity.It goes on to say:The form of the fleet must … be left to the commercial judgment of its owners …I hope that the Government will not accept that statement because, if it means anything at all, it means a very serious threat to the ports about which the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) was speaking just now. The whole of the inshore fishing is seriously concerned in this, and the inshore fishing is important in Scotland. I believe that the same fears were in the minds of the hon. Members for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) and for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). Half the Scottish catch is landed at inshore ports, but less than one-tenth of the English and Welsh catch is so landed. Therefore, this is a very important matter for Scotland.
The hon. Member for Fife, East asked the very important question: where is this subsidy for the distant-water fleets to come from? Is it to be at the expense of the inshore fishing fleet? We have not been told anything. The noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) pointed to the same thing when she mentioned that the subsidy was fixed. Where is it to come from? 867 We must have answers to those questions.
In this respect, the Secretary of State for Scotland has a very special responsibility—a much greater responsibility than has the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—and I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not' now present. The right hon. Gentleman said, I believe, that he was to set up a committee to inquire into which of these ports could be made most viable—
§ Mr. Soames
Perhaps it might help if I were to intervene now. First of all, there is the point about whether this subsidy is to be at the expense of the inner and middle water fleets. I went into that in some detail, saying that, by Order, we had the power to extend the amount to a further £2 million but that it was already apparent that at least that sum of money would be required for those parts of the fleet that already attracted subsidies, so that it was necessary to have power to go beyond that. That is why we say £3 million for any one time.
The hon. Member has referred to a committee that is being set up. It is really a study group, which is to go into all the many questions that are naturally in the minds of those who are studying the problem today—types of vessel to be used, new types of fish that might be caught, fresh fishing grounds that might be found. That is the sort of thing that we envisage the study group examining.
§ Mr. Willis
Then the study group will have a lot of work to do, because the number of questions arising even the Report is very great. I refer the House to paragraphs 183 and 186. They will see that the Committee recommends that a working party or committee should be set up to examine the inshore ports. It says:An examination of the inshore ports as a whole should be undertaken at an early date to determine which of these ports offer reasonable hope of a viable future.How will that affect Scotland? We are entitled to know what the Government have in mind. These questions cannot be determined simply in economic terms. There are much wider aspects than that, and they are aspects that can be dealt 868 with only by the Government. What is the Government's view of the social importance of the industry in, for instance, the Highlands? If at precisely the moment when we are told that the size of the fleet is to be smaller, although the catch is to remain much the same, we are to give a subsidy to the biggest, the best off and most powerful section of the fleet, the smaller men will find things exceedingly difficult. There is a very serious threat here, and it is one which, as a Scottish Member, I shall watch very carefully when the necessary legislation comes forward.
I have heard a number of fears expressed by people who have some knowledge of the Scottish fishing industry. It has been said to me that this means the death of the herring industry in the Firth of Clyde. The stopping of the oil and meal subsidy seems likely to do considerable injury to some of the smaller ports, and might possibly adversely affect the fishermen in my constituency.
As the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty said, we want an assurance from the Secretary of State—who should be very concerned about this matter—that he does not intend simply to apply this Report in the purely economic terms in which it is presented. Throughout the Report the terms are purely economic—quite rightly, in view of the terms of reference. The Committee is limited to judging the matter in that way, but we want some indication that the Government take a much wider view than that.
The economic aspect is important, but there are important social aspects as well which must be fully borne in mind whenever any changes are made. Unless we get such assurances—and get them quickly—there will be much concern and worry in the industry at the smaller ports on the East Coast of Scotland—and on the West Coast, too. I therefore trust that the right hon. Gentleman will say something about that when he replies.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) was born in Norfolk, as I was, although he now represents a Scottish constituency. I hope that he will not expect me to follow him in his arguments, which were chiefly directed to 869 inshore and herring fishing. Although I am myself much concerned with herring fishing, I intend to address my remarks tonight principally to the trawling side of the industry.
As a farmer, I find it quite a change to consider subsidies for an industry other than agriculture, and in that respect the debate is some relaxation for me. It is the first debate on fishing in which I have taken part, and I hope that it will not be out of place if I pay tribute to the hard and devoted work of my predecessor, the late Mr. Edward Evans, who not only led his party in fishing debates with great success and with considerable skill, but managed also to maintain the all-party tradition which we have established in the House when dealing with fishing matters.
I feel that we are tonight concerned with the principle of subsidies. In my view, a subsidy is justified in general terms on one of two grounds: first, when Government policy is deliberately designed to allow other countries to exploit the British market, often with subsidised products in the countries of origin; secondly, where circumstances either within or beyond the control of the Government render an industry temporarily at a great disadvantage. The latter, of course, is happening now in distant water fishing.
Near water fishing, about which I know a little, has been subsidised since 1950. The purpose of the subsidy—which was said to be temporary at the time it was introduced—was to tide over the fleet in a difficult period and to encourage the building of new vessels. The end of the war found the fleet in a very bad state and without the necessary capital to rebuild. Hence the subsidy. I feel that it was quite justified.
What has been the effect of the subsidy? Here I can do no more than speak from experience of my own port. In Lowestoft there are now no steam trawlers or drifters operating at all. During the last seven years, 70 or 80 new ships have joined the fleet and there are between 16 and 19 vessels to come. When they arrive, the fleet at Lowestoft will have been built up to about 120 or 130 vessels, a very considerable size indeed.
These developments at Lowestoft have many effects on the economy of the town, not least upon employment in our local 870 shipyards. This is something we should do well to remember. The small shipyards throughout the country have enjoyed considerable benefit from the grants and loans scheme. I come now to a question which, I hope, the Minister will firmly answer. It seems that Sweden is under the impression that, under the E.F.T.A. agreement, Swedish shipyards should be entitled to the same financial grant as is available for the building of trawlers in British shipyards. I should have thought that that was quite outside the purpose of the grants and loans scheme, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to confirm that there is no intention of allowing Sweden to have such a grant.
Another effect of the grants and loans scheme and the subsidy scheme at Lowestoft has been to bring in many young skippers and young crews. We have now one ship operating from the port where the average age of the deck crew is 21, and that includes the skipper and mate as well. This is, indeed, a good augury for the future. I think that the process has been helped to a large extent by the training school at. Lowestoft where young boys immediately they leave secondary modern school can go and spend a period, after which they go to sea. I gather that this situation is in direct contrast to some ports, particularly Aberdeen, where there is already a definite shortage of crews.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), in what I thought was an extremely good speech, raised the fundamental question that, if the near water fleet has had the subsidy now for ten years, why is it necessary to go on subsidising it, and why should we believe that by subsidising the distant water fleet for the next ten years we shall make that a viable unit? I want to deal with that point, because I regard it as a very fair and important one. One of our troubles is that conditions have changed very much since 1950, when the subsidy was introduced. The fish have become scarcer. Limits have become more pronounced. We are denied many of the fisheries we used to enjoy. We are suffering also, or beginning to suffer, from the effects of imports under the European Free Trade Association.
In addition, there are still in existence many steam trawlers, coal burners, which 871 ought to have been thrown out by now. I say that with all deference to the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey). In any event, I do not really believe that it would have been in the interests of the coal industry or of the miners for the Government to subsidise something so inefficient as the steam trawler. We shall have to find better methods of supporting the coal industry than trying to put coal into steam trawlers.
I gather from the latest returns that there are still 340 steam trawlers in England and Wales and 102 in Scotland. Those trawlers are still being subsidised and, as a result, they are putting on to the market fish at an uneconomic price. If they were cut out, it might well be that the near water industry would be better able to stand on its own feet.
I come now to imports, a very serious matter indeed. Under the European Free Trade Association, the tonnage of fish fillets which can come in goes up to 24,000 tons at the end of ten years, representing in all about 72,000 tons of wet fish. That is a very considerable quantity, and, combined with an increase in ordinary imports, is having a big effect on the market now. Imports in 1938 were 82,000 tons, and they have now gone up to 98,000 tons, a really considerable rise. In addition, if one compares the months of December, 1959, and December, 1960, one finds that there has been a considerable increase indeed in that one year in respect of cod, haddock and plaice. To take plaice alone, in December, 1959, 21,000 cwt. came in, and in the same month of 1960 45.000 cwt. That is more than double. This also is having its effect on near water fishing and making it harder for it to become economic.
The hon. Member for Grimsby said that imports were no excuse for a subsidy, that other industries overcame their difficulties without subsidy and fishing ought to be able to do the same. Other industries, however, have much greater support in the way of tariffs than fishing has, and I do not think it is fair to say that the fishing industry is being favoured by a subsidy in this way. I would support very strongly the Western European Fishing Community as being by far the best method of finding for Western Europe as a whole an answer to our 872 conservation and marketing problems, particularly the difficulties we have in marketing our fish without the aid of a subsidy.
I turn now to the article in the Economist, already mentioned by the hon. Member for Grimsby. The article was entitled "A Fishy Case". From my point of view, representing Lowestoft, it was a very fishy article altogether. It presented a picture of depression in my constituency, something which I could not possibly accept, particularly at a time when my constituency is more prosperous than ever. This rather made me feel that the gentleman who wrote the article had not taken the trouble to go into his facts very carefully.
If we allowed the industry to run down, as is suggested in the Economist, what would be the repercussions? The first repercussion concerning the near water fleet would be that the money which the Government have injected into the industry would be wasted. I refer to the £9½ million already granted and the £23 million loan. The Government would be very lucky if they got the loan back again because, if the industry were depressed, it would not have the necessary money to repay the loan. A slow contraction of the fleet would give rise to a small increase in the price of fish.
It might not be very marked, because there would be increased imports of fish, but I do not see any reason for supporting imported fish at the expense of the home industry, particularly when much imported fish is produced as the result of the imposition of fishery limits and other means of hidden subsidies to compete with our own industry. I have not mentioned the social and strategic arguments, but I think that they are considerable and should be borne in mind.
I wish to turn for a minute or two to marketing and to the references in the Fleck Report to methods of marketing. Obviously, there is plenty of scope for modernisation at the ports and for selling fish. The Fleck Committee states that the consumption of fish has fallen by about 15 per cent. since the war. I am not certain that the Fleck Report is not already a bit out of date, because I have been looking at the figures showing the increase in frozen fillets and fish cakes in the last few years. If 1956 is taken as a standard year. the increase between 873 1956 and 1960 is as much as six times. If there has been an increase of six times in the last four years in the production and consumption of fish fillets, frozen fish fingers and fish cakes, then I feel that there is plenty of scope for an overall increase in the consumption of fish.
Half the battle is to ensure that fish is fresh and that when it is cooked it is not allowed to smell. One of the things which I shall always remember on first coming into the House was the dreadful smell of fish which always issues from the cafeteria. It puts everyone off eating fish. One does not even like to eat the Westminster sole which is produced in the Dining Room. At present, the smell of fish is slightly outweighed by the smell of paint.
What can we do to improve the quality of fish to make certain that when it reaches the housewife it is really fresh? The Fleck Committee goes a long way to help in this matter and makes certain suggestions. I believe that the best thing that we can do is to have much more rigid standards of inspection and hygiene at the docks and market. In my constituency there is a firm which has gone to enormous expense in setting up special fish processing rooms. It has equipped itself with proper boxes for holding the fish and insulated wagons for distributing it all over the country. When it tries to sell its fish to the retailer, the retailer will take it provided that it is no more expensive than anyone else's.
However, directly the price goes up, the retailer goes down the road and buys fish of a lower quality in a dirty old wooden box which has been handled at the market goodness knows how many times. He will buy it in preference to other fish because it is cheaper. We must have a high quality product on the retail market so that the consumer has a chance to eat good fish. If we tighten up the standards of hygiene and work for the men who do the filleting at the market, there will perhaps be an increase in price, but the housewife will be prepared to pay a higher price for a better article.
My impression of the marketing side of the industry is that there are certain sections of it which are behind-hand. Certainly, the conditions under which the men at the market work, and the 874 pay which they receive, are not as good as they ought to be. We need to tighten up our standards, and I hope that, if the new Sea Fisheries Authority is set up, that will be one of the first things to which it turns its attention. That is an extremely important point. If the housewife cannot buy high quality fish, obviously the amount of fish which we shall be able to sell is bound to diminish.
I should like to say a few words about the great work done by the Ministry's research department, at Lowestoft. One of the most exciting developments is the fascinating experiments with plaice. Scientists are trying to breed and develop plaice under conditions resembling as near as possible those in the North Sea. Here there is in the making a great experiment which could have an immense effect on the future fishing policy of the country. We should give it every support we possibly can.
I wish to end on a note about the drifting side of the industry. The exploratory voyages which are being carried out with the backing of the Ministry are extremely important and valuable. We hope very much that in the next few years the herring season off the East Coast will once more come into its own. For the time being, the herring have disappeared. I think that they are likely to return. I certainly hope so. Meanwhile, it is essential that we should look for other grounds to fish. Any assistance which the Ministry can give in that direction is always welcome.
I believe that the fishing industry has a good future before it. I should like to see marketing improved enormously over the next few years. I welcome the Fleck Report. I also welcome the Bill and hope that it will be followed by a long-term Measure which will put the industry on its feet.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
It has been some time since I took part in a fisheries debate, although I was faced with these problems at the time after the war, to which reference has been made, when we tried to see if we could find a way of bringing about an efficient fishing fleet and making it economic. One of the problems which we came up against was 875 the dilapidated condition of the fleet. Admittedly, part of that was due to the war, when the fishing fleet was playing a very valuable part in the life of the nation and when, like every other industry, questions concerning replacement and improvements and keeping up to date were bound to be neglected. Therefore, the Government of the day were faced with the problem of how we could have a good fishing fleet.
It is right that reference should have been made to the strategic value of the fleet. It is clearly vital in these days that this country should have a fishing fleet if ever, which God forbid, we become involved in war. Unfortunately, after the last war the fishing fleet was handicapped by many other considerations—for example, the price of fish. While the consumer wants fish cheaply, obviously the fishing fleet cannot live if it supplies fish at less than an economic price. When fishing boats all came into port together after a big catch and prices fell, the result, as at every other auction sale, meant that the fleet did not get enough to keep it going and to keep it alive.
A suggestion was considered that, with the aid of modern wireless ideas, it might be arranged for the ships to be brought in in a more regular manner and that, instead of all the fish being held up to the auction sale business, in which it was a case of the devil take the hindmost and usually, as at a cattle sale, the people who came last got least, the fish would be brought in and graded and sold at a proper price. Those who wanted cheap fish for certain purposes could have it, the quality fish would be sold as such and the whole thing would be done on a planned basis.
That is why I am a little disappointed in the Fleck Report, which rejects any idea of having a pattern for the industry. The Fleck Committee states:We have come to the conclusion that this should be left to economic forces, and that any financial assistance which is given to the industry should aim, not at forcing or persuading it into a pattern believed to be good for it, but at distorting as little as possible the structure which it assumes as a result of economic pressures.This country departed long ago, I should have thought, from that idea of laissez-faire. I cannot imagine any industry today being left to the play of economic 876 forces. Shipbuilding, for example, gets subsidies. In the motor-car industry, which is, perhaps, the most highly developed in production, we are spending £30 million in diverting some of the industry to a part of the country to which economically it would not go. We have spent many million of pounds to take steelworks to places where otherwise they would not be.
In referring to agriculture, the Fleck Committee properly states that some of its members cannot imagine that we can ever stop subsidising fish if we subsidise cheap prices in agriculture, which is one of the competitive industries. If the Minister adopts that idea of the Fleck Report, he should give us some idea why this industry should be the one that is put out on a limb to face the full blaze of economic forces.
Moreover, as the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) suggested, those economic forces are not quite normal competition. They are subject to all sorts of unfair competition. For example, some years ago at the Council of Europe, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), who delivered such an excellent speech at the beginning of this debate, got agreement in regard to the conservation of fish in the North Sea. Most of the nations agreed that the fish should be conserved. We all know, however, that a lot of blacklegging goes on in fishing—in the way of nets and other things, for example—and that some countries are not as strict in the supervision of their fishermen as we are.
Therefore, when we talk about the full play of economic forces, apart from the question of subsidies there is the problem of the different nets, the breaking of rules and the poaching that might take place with the encouragement of other nations. First, therefore, I regret that the Fleck Report suggests that the industry should not be patterned in any way, that there should be no public policy concerned with it and that it should be left to sink or swim.
It is true that the fishing industry is suffering from the same difficulty as agriculture. With the ending the war and now that people are better off, they buy a much greater variety of foods and do not confine themselves to any one food. They want a change. I am sure that the 877 hon. Member for Lowestoft has never been very hungry, or the smell of fish and chips would have got around his heart. He is the only man in the world who, when starving and feeling hungry on a cold night, did not find the smell coming out of a fish and chip shop when he was passing through a village in his motor car so tempting that he went in and had some.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The remedy for that is to put the hon. Member on to the Kitchen Committee, when he would be able to deal with it.
Concerning the quality of fish, I agree with him that great damage is caused when people who eat fish come across bad quality. Occasionally, I am a little doubtful whether the fish was cooked just before I got it downstairs or whether it was cooked the day before. If I get a bit of tough fish downstairs and I am not sure whether it is steak or fish, I am off it for a long time down there. I simply do not buy any more unless it is fresh. I often feel like taking my hon. Friend the Member for Mother-well (Mr. Lawson), who is an expert on fish, down with me to get his advice, because he could tell me right away whether the fish was cooked yesterday or whether it was about six days on the journey before it reached the House of Commons. I hope, however, that the Secretary of State will say something about the question of laissez-faire and leaving the fishing industry to fight all the economic forces.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leith dwelt a good deal on the proposal for a European fishing community. Without expanding on that, I agree that it seems to be an obvious way to get a ruling authority that would be able to control fishing. The Fleck Committee is a little optimistic to think that there is a whole lot of undiscovered fishing grounds that the fleet could discover. The sea is a big place, but the fishermen have done a lot of scouting. Science would help us—
§ Sir W. Duthie
We have been circumscribed heretofore with an otter trawl for trawlers, a drift net for herring and a 878 seine net for inshore fishing. There are other methods of catching. One of which I have spoken about before is the floating trawl.
§ Mr. Woodburn
To get more efficient methods for catching a limited amount of fish is contrary to conservation principles. One cannot have it both ways. If we are to leave enough fish in the seas to breed, we cannot clean the place out with more efficient methods. I was referring to the suggestion that somewhere in the world there might be new, undiscovered places to catch fish to replace Iceland and the other grounds that we are losing.
Nor do I think that there is a great deal of hope for the herring. Nobody is sure why they have disappeared. There is a suggestion that it is due to the change in our climate. The herring came here with the change in the climate. Some historians have traced the greatness of Britain and the development of the fishing fleet which defeated the Armada to the simple fact that herring drifted into the North Sea. Now, the herring have moved out. It may be because of the climate, which is a subtle matter concerning fish, but we have been waiting forty years for them to come back to Loch Fyne.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If one remembers the Loch Fyne herring of many years ago, it is a great sadness that they were over-fished and that some of them were not left there to breed.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The Secretary of State agrees with me. They were wonderful. They have disappeared and nobody knows why. So we should not count too much on that.
There is a great deal to be said for the recommendation that marketing should be improved. I commend what the hon. Member for Lowestoft said about putting the fish in suitable form for housewives. It is noticeable that housewives like vegetables and other items to be packed and clean. They like them to be ready for use. Housewives are not so keen about cleaning out fish and doing all the things they used to 879 do. They like them to be ready to put in the pan. If they are fresh and in good condition, they welcome them. It is somewhat expensive to buy them in the frozen form in which they are sold today, but with a greater development of technical efficiency it should be possible to bring down the price.
The most remarkable development of this kind has been in regard to coal. Coal is now being sold in packages. One places a bag on the fire, puts a match to it, and the fire lights. One does not touch the coal. The National Coal Board tries to sell this coal at so much a ton, but it is sold in packages at about ten times the price that the Coal Board charges for it, simply because the housewife want to make a handy fire. In shops in Glasgow there are great piles of coal in packages, like bags of potatoes, which are sold to the housewife for the kindling of fires. The same thing is done with vegetables and with other forms of catering. People want cleanliness and efficiency, and I am sure that there is a great future for the fishing industry if it can devise methods and ways of providing this.
I should like to say a word in support of what has been said about in-shore fishing. One of the difficulties about the driving back of the distant fisheries, the middle fisheries and other fisheries is that some of the inshore fishers find that the other fellows are poaching their fish. We have a fisheries patrol which is supposed to keep an eye on them, but is not always very successful in doing so.
Along the coast of Scotland, inshore fishing is a part of the way of life. I cannot see why, when it is considered necessary to maintain the agriculture industry for the sake of the way of life of people in remoter parts of the country, it is not equally desirable to do the same with fishing. I hope, therefore, that in considering inshore fishing the Secretary of State will not be led away by this "economic man" theory and forget that there are problems concerning the fishing industry all round the coast of this country, which are far more important than a mere question of economics. Indeed, the fishing industry is part of our life. Seamen have built up our nation, and I hope that the fishermen around our coasts will not be allowed to die 880 merely because of the economic theory that has been put forward.
I hope that the Secretary of State when reading the Fleck Committee's Report will keep in mind the problems of the inshore fishermen, including the social problems connected with fishing, and also the necessity for at least having some plan about fishing, apart from the mere handing out of subsidies. I also ask him to consider whether the subsidies will be in any way dependent on the fishing industry helping by pulling up its own socks. During the early periods when we tried to do this, there were some cases of gross inefficiency and of capital being taken out of the industry because it was not ready to put any of its own capital into it.
Some people who have built trawlers, including some in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leith, have gone ahead by using every kind of science to ensure the best trawlers in the fishing industry. I hope that the Secretary of State will encourage the fishing industry to do this and not encourage it to sit back and let the State do everything. It is as necessary for this country to have a fishing industry as it is for it to have an agricultural industry, and I hope that the Secretary of State will plan with that in mind.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
In following the right hon. Member for Clackmannan, East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), I recall so well how just under sixteen years ago we used to take part in debates on inshore fishing, more especially in connection with the Inshore Fishing Act, 1945. I wish to deal primarily with the inshore fishing industry and I am therefore glad to follow the right hon. Member in his remarks.
In opening the debate the Minister said that the Bill had been prompted as a holding operation and drafted more or less before the Fleck Report was available to him. I noticed as did other hon. Members, that he did not mention the Report at all. It is also true to say that we have not had much time to consult on the Report people who are interested in the industry. In the main, all we have been able to do is to burn the midnight oil on this ourselves and to draw certain conclusions from it.
881 The whole tenor of the debate has been, quite rightly, one of anxiety about the question whether or not the new principle of subsidies for far distant fleets is right. Attention has also been drawn to the Minority Report. I was very interested in what the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) said about research into the "farming" side of the industry. This is most important. Hon. Members should remember that through countless generations different countries in time of war have had to do everything possible to increase their agricultural production. The utmost thought has always been given to this problem. At the same time, in conventional war, the sea was the danger spot, with the result that never during these periods has any real money been spent on research on the fishing industry.
The total amount of money spent on research in the industry has been extraordinary small in the world generally, let alone in this country. But now some very interesting experiments are being carried out. I saw some of these experiments a few years ago on the research farms in Israel. Equally interesting investigations are being carried out in the fjords of Norway. It would be of the greatest benefit if more money could be devoted to this study and if we considered whether the time has not now come when we should turn away from the conception of the hunter and think in terms of ploughing the sea and thereafter gathering the harvest.
Hon. Members have already mentioned that the total catch in this country at present is worth, roughly, about £52 million. Total imports more or less balance that sum, though it has been pointed out that a great deal of these imports are the results of processing and canning.
Reference has been made to the fore-ward to the Fleck Report and how it dwells on the long history of the fishing industry and the industry's difficulties at all times. This is perfectly true, but I wish that more attention had been paid by members of that Committee to the needs of the inshore industry and that they had been aware, in referring to the history of the industry generally, that they were speaking, in fact, of the inshore industry, because that was the only industry during the historic times to which they referred.
882 A number of questions which should be asked of the Minister arise from Chapter 5 of the Fleck Report which deals with the inshore industry. I trust that if we do not have those questions answered today a Government spokesman will reply at some later stage. Page 67 of the Report refers to the value to the inshore industry of small harbours. The value of small harbours is very great. None of us can be absolutely certain about what future defence needs will be. If we could be certain, we might get rid of all conventional forces overnight. These small harbours are alternative ports, and consequently play a very important part. If the inshore fishing industry went down, then these harbours would silt up and nothing could be done.
The Committee also mentions that employment in the areas which contain the inshore industry is rather limited or seasonal. That is also true. There is thus a social question involved. The Report skimmed too lightly over the question that in future, from the defence point of view, the industry would not be so important to the Royal Navy, because if such a ghastly thing as war were to break out there would not be sufficient time to train the men.
That is not the point, however. These men, who really know the holes of the sea—indeed, know more than the charts—are, in such an emergency, immediately employed on a number of operations. They can spot, they can see, they can understand shades and movements. That ability is not something which can be suddenly acquired, and it is something that we as a seagoing nation have in reserve.
On page 69 of the Report there is another rather strange statement about which I want to ask the Minister. It reads:It is however impossible to tell how many of the smaller inshore boats are used regularly for fishing …I cannot think that the members of the Committee studied the modern arrangements of small ports with the fishing vessels attached to them. At these ports there are fishery officers and markets. How does the Committee think the National Insurance Acts operate in dealing with unemployment? The Committee must know perfectly well that there is an arrangement whereby the officials 883 of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance know which vessels are fishing, which are, from time to time, used for pleasure purposes, and which are laid up. It is not correct to say that this is something that it is not possible to find out.
There is a most astounding statement, also on page 69, about the capital value of the fishing gear in inshore fishing vessels, which, it says, is extremely small. It reads:(We are informed that the capital value of fishing gear … is relatively small for white fish vessels.)That is wrong. The capital value of pilchard nets, for instance, is extremely high in relation to the vessel. We have debated that point again and again in this House. I do not follow how the Committee managed to reach such a conclusion.
On page 83 there is another rather astounding remark. It refers to the Cornish pilchard industry. It says that pilchard landings are practically confined to Cornwall, and mentions the Cornish ports of Mevagissey, Looe and Polperro. I have the honour to represent both Looe and Polperro, and Mevagissey is just over the border from my constituency. There are other ports further west which are important to the processing part of the pilchard industry but no mention is made of them.
I gained the impression that the Committee had not gone into this matter very closely and I doubt whether its members went to the area to study the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) pointed out that a number of us have asked that the pilchard levy should be paid on the voyage as against the catch, and there is a very good reason for that. Some strange language is used in the Report which leaves the matter open, but which rather suggests that that would be an extremely difficult thing to do. The Committee rightly does not say why it takes that view, because, in fact, it would be extremely easy.
The Report goes on to say that it might be a very good thing to concentrate on certain ports and to close down others connected with inshore 884 fishing. Can the Committee possibly have studied the subject? Hon. Members who represent fishing ports know perfectly well that, although they may be only short distances from each other, the personalities and characters of fishing ports are such that they could not possibly be merged. Some of us happen to admire the inshore fishing industry and the men who work in it, but, whether we admire them or not, they have an individuality of character which does not permit mergers. We cannot expect these people to agree to having their ports closed while they themselves are transferred to another port. It was rather foolish of the Fleck Committee to have made that suggestion.
I can quite understand the reason, but it seems to me that the Fleck Committee looked at the fishing industry as a whole and said that, firstly, it represented only about 1 per cent. of the national product, which is true. It then found that only 5 per cent. of the fish actually landed came from the inshore industry and so it decided to concentrate on the remaining 95 per cent. and to skim lightly over that 5 per cent.
However, the Report makes no mention of the fact that, apart from harbours and the individual character of fishing ports and the fact that this industry is a part of our national life, for years it has been recognised that if fish is to be sold there must be a variety of kind and quality. It has long been understood that unless there is that variety and quality and freshness, however small in quantity the variety may be, the total amount of fish consumed will fall. That is exactly what has been happening. The amount of fish consumed per head in this country has gone down, and I contend that this 5 per cent. of the total is a vital 5 per cent. because it gives that essential variety. We have also to remember the importance of the different vitamins in fish. I do not want to over-stress this consideration, but Vitamin D is to be found in fish and it is specially important to growing children.
I do not wish to keep the House any longer although I have other things to say. After one has sat here for six hours most of the things that one had to say have been said more ably by one's colleagues. I hope that my hon. Friend 885 will pass on what I am now about to say to my right hon. Friend.
It is perhaps arguable whether it is right to provide subsidies for deep sea vessels. I think that, overall, it is right when one takes into account political diplomatic considerations. However, if that meant that the subsidy to inshore vessels would be decreased that would be definitely and fundamentally wrong. It would be wrong not only because of the earning capacity of our inshore vessels but wrong because the part that they play within the fishing structure is larger than the actual figure of 5 per cent. which they represent.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will make it crystal clear that, whatever does happen in the future, one thing that will not happen will be that an increased subsidy in one direction will mean a diminution in the other.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I welcome the Bill and the Order, but 1 do not wish to deal with them. I prefer to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) in some of the matters to which he referred when talking about inshore fishing, though I will, naturally, leave his pilchards to him.
The difficulties of inshore fishermen have been extremely capably dealt with in paragraphs 151 to 153 of the Report, but there are one or two aspects by which they could benefit at virtually no cost to the taxpayer. Paragraph 152 deals with the complaints of inshore fishermen. Undercutting by the part-time sportsman who gets his boat registered under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, without being a serious fisherman, is unfair competition to these very good trades people the small bona fide fishermen.
I consider that we could take a useful lesson by following the lead of the Irish Republic, which has abolished the Fishing Register as a separate entity. A boat on the Irish Register, whether she be a fishing boat or an ordinary merchant vessel, is shown on one common register. The whole registration problem of small British boats needs reviewing because the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, was never designed to deal with the vast multiplicity of small craft which are today being registered under that Act.
886 I will now deal briefly with shell fish. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) said that shell fish are no longer a luxury. How right he is. Large quantities of crab and other shell fish are imported from Japan. There are large unexplored sources of lobsters off many parts of our western coasts, and I welcomed the announcement made on 14th July, 1960, by the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when, in answer to a Written Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), he said that a subsidy was to be paid for repairs to Boscastle Harbour, which has good potential for lobster catching. Some small ports on the west coast have very great potential if they can be improved and maintained.
I now turn briefly to the subject of oysters. Some people would say that they are not a serious subject for debate this evening, but the Fleck Committee spent a considerable amount of time in dealing with them because they represent the only serious attempt at fish cultivation. I think that we were all very much attracted to the somewhat forward-looking speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), who mentioned the possibilities of fish farming. Oysters are the only fish crop which is farmed today, and I should like to see the implementation of the recommendation of the Fleck Committee, in paragraph 165, suggesting that the Sea Fisheries Act, 1868, should be altered to make it easier to establish private fisheries.
We have these oyster fisheries all along the south coast. In some parts, notably the Duchy of Cornwall, they have been substantially extended in recent years and are now very profitable, and in Kent they are yielding at about the same level as before. It is interesting to note that of the fish harvest landed in Kentish ports in 1959, worth just under £50,000, oysters were the largest single item.
Further, this relatively small sum, as contrasted with the large sums mentioned by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and others, is spread between seven ports, and I am sure that hon. Members who represent big ports will realise the other areas containing small ports have special problems. Shell fish 887 culture offers a real prospect of establishing sea bed farming at a relatively low cost to the nation, and by the simple mechanism of altering an old Statute it could be made easier for the private fishery interests that are involved in this matter.
I also very much welcome the recommendation that second-hand vessels might be made available, subject to grant and loan, to practical working fishermen. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to the calibre and stature of working fishermen, and have said what a fine body of men they are. It is, therefore, desirable that they should be enabled to buy second-hand vessels through the grant and loan schemes.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) urged the Minister to answer the question about the subsidy which may or may not be payable on Swedish-built vessels. In our last fisheries debate, on 20th July, I raised this matter fairly late at night, and I have not had an answer since. The fact that I have mentioned the Highlands in the course of my remarks will, I hope, attract the Secretary of State, and even if I do not get an answer today I hope that the fact that the hon. Member for Lowestoft and I, as two English Members, are interested in this matter, may result in our getting an answer before too long.
Speaking as an ex-associate of the Institute of Marine Engineers I am very attracted by the idea, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), that there should be further special training for crews of all sorts, but I think that we ought to give special consideration to the recommendation, in paragraph 111 of the Fleck Report, that there should be a new type of examination, at a lower level, in marine engineering, available for members of the trawling fleet, who would not quite reach the standards of the normal ship's engineer in a reasonably large modern vessel.
I do not think that it is desirable to scale down the standard of the British marine engineer. I go some way in doubting the wisdom of having second-rate engineers. I am sure that any engineers who go to sea do so with the highest traditions of their service behind 888 them, and I should like to see that maintained.
I am delighted to be a personal friend of one of the members of the Fleck Committee and I feel sure that we are all very glad that so many distinguished Scotsmen have served on it. Monetary matters are obviously of great importance and I think that the fact that Mr. Ian Macdonald, chairman of the National Commercial Bank of Scotland, was able to find time to serve on the Committee has brought the special economic needs of Scotland very much to the fore.
The Report of the Committee has been praised for its readability, and I join in the expressions of appreciation of such a useful and readable Report.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I join with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in saying how interesting is the Report and how well written. I also hope that the Government will express some opinion on the possibility of increasing our oyster farms. I look forward to the day when oysters are again the meal of the poor man as they were in Dickensian times and I think that there are worse things with which the Government could occupy themselves.
I have heard all of the debate, with the exception of forty minutes, and nearly all hon. Members who have spoken have referred to the contributions made by their constituencies to the fishing industry. Underlying most of the speeches has been a wish that there should be a greater consumption of fish. I do not represent a fishing constituency but a cathedral city, and hon. Members may expect me to say something about what my constituents do for the fishing industry. One might look at it from the cathedral point of view and hope that they might seek some way to revive the sixteenth century practice of compulsory fish days, not only on Fridays but on Saturdays, and, later in the century on Wednesdays. However, the contribution from my constituency is not made in that way but by the provision of engines which are used in the trawlers of the fishing fleet.
It so happens that Ruston engines have been used in trawlers since the 1930s, but it was only two years ago that a 889 significant partnership was formed between Salveson and Company of Leith, and Ruston in the Fairtry II and Fairtry III. That is a happy example of front-bench co-operation. This is not confined to Leith. Engines from my constituency have been used in many new trawlers, including those for the large Ross undertaking which was a pioneer in the use of Ruston diesel engines and which has used them since 1934. Last year one-third of the engines used in trawlers were made in Lincoln. Now Rustons are working on a more economical low fuel consumption engine.
It is not only for the sake of my constituency that I welcome the grants and loans which have been discussed today and which encourage the building of new trawlers and the provision of new engines. Of these the building of new trawlers is infinitely more important for the future of the industry if it is to face the difficult times that lie ahead.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), I believe that the justification for the ten-year subsidy is the modernisation of the fishing fleet. This applies particularly to the distant water fleet. I see the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) looking at me. She made the point that the fleet based on Aberdeen has been largely modernised, but we have to think much further, especially about the distant water fleet. For freezing at sea, I have heard it argued that the cost of building these ships is too great. It may be £1¼ million. Many may argue, however, that the cost is outweighed by the resulting value, and it has been realised that even a conventional distant water trawler costs a sum getting on for over £300,000 today. When we consider the advantages and disadvantages it may be found that the distant water fishermen will go for the larger unit and develop their fishing on those lines.
I have been much impressed by what I have learned in recent weeks about the way in which the industry is looking to the future. I am not so impressed by the way in which the Government look to the future. Today we have been told nothing about the way in which the Government are planning to meet the political and technical problems which are now arising. If there were a com- 890 parable body to the National Farmers' Union for fishermen, it would be a case of all hands to the plough, or the pump, or whatever is the appropriate symbol. The fact is that the fishing industry as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) pointed out, is a small industry. It has not the lobbying power and pressure power of so many other industries.
The O.E.E.C. countries take one-third of the fish which are taken from the sea We in this country take the greatest amount in value, although we take only the second greatest amount in volume, yet it is a small industry in this country. Of the O.E.E.C. countries, only in Iceland, Portugal and Norway has it a significant influence on politics. I was worried by the Minister's reference to a study group. As I looked back over the last few years of fishing debates in this House I was worried because it again seemed to be a case of putting things off. In July, 1958, the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) said:It is to be hoped that the Fleck Committee will soon report, and that its Report will be acted upon immediately it is received."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1958; Vol. 592, c. 617.]In 1959 he was again pressing for this Report. I quote him because we all agree that he knows as much about this industry as any hon. Member. Today he again pressed for action. I was worried about what was said about the study group. It looked as if once again we were being put off.
What are the Government going to do to meet the new political structure in Europe? I have found little discussion of the tremendous problem, except that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) mentioned today and what he has said in the past. We know that the Six are importers of fish and the Seven are exporters. If the Germans decide to expand their fishing industry with their efficiency, what will the Norwegians and the Portuguese want to do with the fish they used to export to the Six? What about our obligations under the E.F.T.A. Treaty? Will they not result in considerable pressure, particularly from Norway and Portugal to send fish here? I should like to know what the Government are thinking about this. After all, we are members of the Seven. I commend this subject for study 891 and debate at the Council of Europe, which is the only body of which I can think where the Six and the Seven meet and discuss these matters. There was a debate in 1958 and 1959 on certain aspects of European fisheries, but not on this aspect, which did not then arise.
Again, what do the Government intend to do to meet the new fishing restrictions by foreign Governments? Our traditional grounds are being contracted. What will the Government do to encourage the finding of new fishing grounds? We must think not only of different areas. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) talked about areas, but we must also think in terms of different depths in different areas. Deep down in the sea in new places there may be species of which we do not know. We must think of new frontiers, and we must not be afraid to tackle these problems.
My right hon. Friend referred to the herring leaving the Baltic in the fifteenth century. He said that some people argue that our maritime greatness in the next century, when we had to fight the Spaniards, followed from that. This may be so. but what is certainly true is that as a result of the herring leaving the Baltic in the fifteenth century, the fishermen of Continental Europe completely changed their methods and grounds and went into what was then an entirely new fishing ground for them. For the first time they went in for deep sea fishing in the North Sea. We must be flexible and adjust our fishing methods and places to new political and natural conditions.
Later, the Western Europeans—the English. the French, the Basques and the Portuguese—went across the Atlantic and fished off Newfoundland, as a result of the discovery of Cabot and others, who pointed out that there were enormous shoals of fish off Newfoundland. Always they were seeking new grounds.
Not only must we look in the South Atlantic, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) said, but we must think in terms of going deeper to see whether there are different species of fish to be caught. The Fleck Committee seemed anxious to encourage this because it pointed out that we must use publicity to educate not only the consumer—and this is important—but also 892 the retailer in the value of new species which we may discover as profitable for fishing.
Again, what are the Government doing to encourage the new methods of marketing which have been mentioned today? What are their views on contract sales instead of auctions? What will they do to encourage the use of freezing methods such as Bird's Eye, Eskimo, Mudd and Ross have used for the benefit of the consumers of fish?
My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby hoped that the Government would step in and sort out the chaos in the marketing at certain ports. I have no faith in what the Government will do about that, because it would involve fighting vested interests—municipal, institutional and private—and one thing which this Government have shown is that they are cowards when dealing with vested interests. They have a large majority and some years to go, but the Covent Garden Bill is an example of their complete cowardice in this matter. All they did was to hit one private firm and to ignore all the vested interests of public bodies and others. I fear that if this is left to the Government, Grimsby will be in the same position in five years' time.
Again, what is the Government's policy about fishing generally? May I refer to paragraph 29, page 264, of the O.E.E.C. Report on the Fishing Policies of Western European Countries and North America, of September, 1960:The principal objectives of the British fisheries' policy thus seem to be (i) to maintain a high level of food supplies from the sea; (ii) to keep alive the interest in seamanship and the interest in the search for a livelihood from the sea; (iii) to support efforts by the industry to modernise the fishing fleet and rationalise the trade in fish.Is that a correct analysis? If it is right, I want evidence that the Government are working to fulfil these objectives.
Hon. Members will agree with me that running through the debate, whatever hon. Members have been arguing about, has been a desire to increase consumption. I referred to it in connection with my constituency. My own taste is such that I would willingly live entirely on fish. I have eaten them grilled, boiled, stewed, fried and every other way, including raw. I have eaten a great deal 893 of raw fish in my time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Kippers."] No. I refer to unsmoked raw fish, which can be the very best.
The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), whose constituency includes Fleetwood, said that there was a great deal of unattractive packing. The Fleck Committee said that this country should develop an attractive canned product to compete with imported salmon. I like pilchards canned. I am very happy with them, but apparently not everyone likes them. It should not be beyond the ability of the fishing industry, encouraged by the Government, to develop a product to be available at every small shop in this country, as canned salmon is available today. I am glad that in paragraph 253 the Fleck Committee picks this item out as a means of increasing the volume of consumption of the canned product.
As I said earlier, the Committee refers in paragraph 54 to the importance of educating the retailer as well as the consumer if we break through into unfamiliar species. If we can exploit them, the exploitation must be accompanied by publicity directed at retailer and consumer. Strange looking things will come out of the water, and it will take a long time to educate people. It took me years to realise that if I ate an eel I should like it. I eat eels now. They are my favourite food, but it took me years to pluck up courage to eat one. I am sure that that reluctance on my part is typical.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leith, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) and other hon. Members stressed the importance of research. The Fleck Report was quoted in support of that. I was surprised to hear that the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland had broken up the Aberdeen research team which had been doing such fine work. If we are to begin to implement the part of the Fleck Committee's Report dealing with research it seems fantastic that the Government should now be engaged in breaking up research teams.
When I began to prepare myself for the debate I went into the Library, among other sources, and looked up a 894 number of recent reports. I was struck by one of the reports resulting from the research done at this station. If I, with only a limited knowledge of this industry, can in the first few days of applying myself to it see the value of this station and the work done there, it must be much more valuable for those who are well versed in the industry and deal with the subjects day after day.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is my hon. Friend aware that this month's Reader's Digest has a most interesting article on the discoveries of this research station which, according to the magazine, are creating new industries in America and other countries, all at the expense of £110,000?
§ Mr. de Freitas
I am amazed to hear that, and I am delighted to have that information. I did not know that. I think that the Government should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Perhaps if the Reader's Digest gave a subsidy to the Government we might have a joint Reader's Digest-Her Majesty's Government research unit. I understand that these American publications are extremely wealthy, and we might get a subsidy in that way. I understand that the work went to Unilever but, of course, the research unit had been broken up.
However that may be, I believe that the Government must give us some explanation for the breaking up of that team. Anybody who has had anything at all to do with research or investigating teams like this knows how hard it is to build them up, and how much the results are the results of team work. To destroy a team like that overnight for the sake of £100,000 is extremely shortsighted.
I said a moment ago that we must seek new species deep down in the sea. We really must think in terms of looking for new frontiers, not only in different corners of the ocean but deep down. As a result of modern diving and photographic equipment, even the man in the street realises that beneath the surface of the sea there is a fascinating world, full of a life completely unthought of a few decades ago.
That world is unusual and unexpected. How unusual it can be I found a few years ago when swimming one day in the Mediterranean. I dived into a quiet 895 cove where I had been assured that I would see unusual and unexpected sights. I did—after a while I found that I was examining the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher).
The greatest subject for study in the next twenty years must be the farming of the sea to which so many hon. Members have referred, and which was also brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke. In itself, this is not a new idea. I can remember discussing it some years ago with other hon. Members who have studied the subject for longer than I have, and I remember a discussion on it at the United Nations eleven or twelve years ago. Even then it was not new, but each year it becomes more discussed, and I welcome the emphasis that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke put on it.
I shall take up the subject only in the sense of planning and conservation. We must farm the sea in the same way as timber is farmed—and I think particularly as it is farmed in the North-Western States of the United States—and that is on a sustained yield basis. Today, the world's fishing industry is still in the ruthless, robber baron mood of the timber firms of the last century. They hunted the timber with their axes right across the North American continent; they cut, burnt, and moved on.
Then, early in this century, enlightened politicians like the first Roosevelt, and enlightened public servants managed to get their influence across to private enterprise that was running the timber industry and, voluntarily—not by legislation—these big timber firms agreed to farm timber on the basis of sustained yield. As a result, the leading firms cut and plan, and look fifty or sixty years ahead. These are not public corporations. They are private firms which, by the influence brought to bear on them, are able to justify to their shareholders the fact that they are not receiving the maximum return on capital today because they are looking far ahead. Whatever the Government can do internationally, of course, in establishing the principle that we must farm the sea, not for returns for just next y ear or even the next five years but for the years that lie ahead is of the greatest importance.
896 I was disappointed that the Minister of Agriculture said nothing about the Fleck Report. I did not expect him to give us an advance sight of the White Paper indicating the Government's views on the Fleck Report. I look forward to seeing that in due course and, of course, we shall have to have it and consider it before we debate it; but I think that none of us expected total silence from the Minister. As he knows. the Report is good reading. I hope he will study it and come before us soon with his White Paper.
I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is to wind up the debate and feel that I must raise one particular Scottish point now, at the end of my speech.
§ Mr. de Freitas
The right hon. Gentleman says that I shall give him no time for a reply. He may acquit me of any such intention because the matter has already been raised by his hon. Friends the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) and the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod), who represents the most northerly of the constituencies from which Members have spoken in the debate today. I shall quote a few words from a letter from somebody in an area which is much affected by the removal of the stabilising basic price for oil and meal. It is a simple point:The Peruvian fishing"—which, as hon. Members will know, was relevant to the whole of the discussion about the removal of the oil and meal subsidy—may not last, dependent as it is on the Humboldt Current.I have no way of knowing whether that is correct scientifically. During the speech of the hon. Member for Banff, I intervened to ask about this very matter, and the hon. Gentleman said that it may not last, giving what seemed to me to be good economic reasons why it may not last. If we can agree that it may not last, surely we should take account of the fact that we cannot in one moment destroy something which has enormous social importance in the West of Scotland. It is the backbone of the industry there.
897 If we do not consider specially what happens in the West of Scotland, in Cornwall and in some other parts of the country, we shall be treating the people directly concerned merely as "economic man" would treat them and "economic man" would make desert islands and deserts on the coasts of our prosperous mainland. No one wants that. No one wants desert islands for our people. We want living communities. This is not an economic problem; it is a social problem.
Later, during the early part of the year, we shall have a full debate on the Fleck Report, when we are able to consider the Government's opinions about it. Tonight, at the end of what has been, for me, an extremely interesting debate, we still have to hear from the Government about some important matters, and I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is most anxious to reply.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
I think that I should make one thing clear at the very beginning of my speech. Several references have been made to the Fleck Report, including the reference just made to it by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), as if there was a debate on it definitely fixed. This, of course, is quite beyond the province of my right hon. Friend, just as it is beyond mine. I can by no means guarantee anything in that respect, and I did not want my silence on the matter to be taken as acceptance of an accomplished fact.
§ Mr. Donnelly
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how it is quite beyond his province and the province of his right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Maclay
As the hon. Gentleman must know, from his years in the House, these matters are not generally fixed by individual Ministers. They are fixed by the Leader of the House after all the consultations which go on through the usual channels.
I was very interested in the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Lincoln. I was, of course. interested in all his 898 remarks, but he contrived in the first five minutes to make an impassioned plea for oysters, to which I completely subscribe, and then made a very interesting constituency speech. I have, of course, heard of Ruston engines, and also of British Polar and Kelvin. I want to get all square with the hon. Gentleman straight away. I congratulate him on the skill with which he turned a cathedral city speech into a speech on fish in that admirable way.
I hope to cover a great many of the points made by the hon. Member and by many other hon. Members, but I wish to try to put some shape into my speech by dealing consecutively with some general matters at the beginning of my remarks and then by dealing later with individual points as far as I can.
The debate has been exceptionally interesting and there have been some very impressive speeches from hon. Members who have known the industry all their lives and from hon. Members who have not. My right hon. Friend and I are extremely grateful for the approach which we have had to the problems of an industry which, I entirely agree, is a great industry not only of economic importance but of great social significance to England and to my own country of Scotland.
If hon. Members consider all the things which have been done concerning the fishing industry in recent years, they will realise that we are fully aware of the social significance of this industry. For example, there are the very strenuous efforts which we are making at this moment, of which the hon. Member for Lincoln understandably may not be aware, to persuade the fishermen of the west coast of Scotland to change from their traditional inshore line fishing and to learn how to use Seine net techniques.
§ Mr. Maclay
I was trying to include a tribute to the Scots of the east coast and others who are most willingly helping in this work. In view of remarks which are sometimes made about the allegedly predatory habits of the east coast, this gesture of east helping west is something which we in the Scottish 899 Office welcome, because we are anxious that this training scheme should be a great success.
My right hon. Friend was criticised by certain hon. Members for not saying more about the content of the Fleck Report. The prime purpose of the debate concerns the Second Reading of a Bill, but I agree that it was made clear that the debate could range fairly wide. It would be wrong for my right hon. Friend or I, only a relatively short time after the publication of the Fleck Report, to try to tell the House what are the Government's views on the various matters raised by it. It is extremely fortunate, and rather by chance of a Bill being necessary for quite different reasons, that we have had this early opportunity to hear the views of many hon. Members on the subject.
This is a Report which it has taken a great deal of care to produce and which must be looked at by many outside bodies as well as by the Government, and it would be wrong to try at such an early stage to state categorically the Government's views on its details. It is an extremely important document which will take its place in the succession of exhaustive and informative studies of this very important industry which have been made over the years. The reason we have had all these Reports over the years is the tremendous significance which we in the House attach, and which successive Governments have attached, to the industry in the life of Britain.
I add my tribute to those already paid to Sir Alexander Fleck and his colleagues for their careful study and for the effort which has gone into the preparation of the Report. It is the result of three years' intensive effort by a very eminent and gifted team. Undoubtedly, it calls for the most careful study. I was a little bit sorry that a number of hon. Members implied criticism of Sir Alexander Fleck and his colleagues for taking three years over their Report.
I would point out to those who are of that opinion that deliberately the Committee did not comprise people who knew the fishing industry backwards. It comprised outside people who were most likely to bring dispassionate and extremely well-trained brains to consider 900 the problems of the industry. I remind hon. Members who took that line that during the time the Committee was sitting, some fairly rapid changes took place over the whole fishing scene, what with the conferences which have gone on at Geneva and other things that have happened. We can all be grateful to those eminent people for the time they gave to the work and for the Report that they have given us.
After listening to today's debate, it is clear that there is wide agreement with a good many sections of the Report. Everybody, I think, would endorse—I certainly do—the Committee's conclusion that every effort should continue to be made both by the Government and by the industry to promote the study of conservation problems, upon which a number of hon. Members lightly touched, and to further the international control of fisheries. That is an immensely important part of the work that we as a Government must do with other Governments on a matter that is essential to the industry. These are objectives which we have consistently followed for years and will continue to follow.
There will be no disagreement with the stress laid by the Committee on the importance of improving the quality of product offered to consumers and in making progress with methods of handling and processing fish. I have considerable sympathy with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) about fish, but all is not as bad as he made out. Recently, I went to a freezing plant in Stornoway and saw there the extremely attractive frozen fillets that now go on to the market wrapped in cellophane, polythene or whatever they are wrapped in. I would only make a plea to those responsible for putting things in cellophane or polythene bags to make it possible for one to get into the bag with relative ease instead of taking hours to find a way in. If care is given by the industry to the packing and attractive selling of fish, I am not so sure that the market for fish has reached its peak. I, like all hon. Members who like herring, still hope that sooner or later somebody will find a way of dealing with the bones in the large herring. If that could be done, the sales would leap I commend as one of the most delicious fish the smaller herring, in which the bone 901 is not troublesome, but they are difficult to get. I do not know why that should be so.
A number of the recommendations of the Committee, such as the need for greater use of ice, changes of practice in the conduct of auction sales and publicity with the object of interesting consumers in new species of fish, are to a large extent matters for consideration and implementation by the industry itself. I am sure that all sections of the industry will give careful attention to these recommendations as well as to other matters, such as the basis of future financial assistance to the industry. Although this aspect did not have as much stress laid upon it today as I expected, it is clear that there is some divergence of opinion and it has been valuable to hear the views expressed. We have noted with great care the reasoned and careful speech made by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who rather went to the fundamentals of the whole theory of fish subsidies or methods of assisting the industry.
As my right hon. Friend indicated, we have circulated the Report to the principal organisations concerned in the industry, to the White Fish Authority and to the Herring Industry Board. Clearly, we must give them all reasonable time for reflection and we must consider carefully what they have to say before reaching any final conclusions. I assure the House, however, that we are not delaying our own consideration of the Report on that account.
Before I turn to the detailed questions which have been asked, I can, perhaps, cover a number of problems which hon. Members have raised if I summarise again exactly what the Bill will do, as distinct from what will be done by the Order to be moved later tonight. In so doing, I shall clear one or two of the problems that have worried hon. Members. First, the Bill enables subsidy to be paid for distant water vessels, that is, those over 140 ft. and—this point was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and North Fylde—for other vessels making voyages to distant water grounds. At present a vessel over 140 ft. is not eligible for subsidy irrespective of where it fishes and a vessel under 140 ft.—for example, an Aberdeen trawler fishing off 902 Iceland—is not eligible for subsidy if it fishes in distant waters. The Bill removes these restrictions. I want to make that clear because there has been some misunderstanding about it.
Secondly, the Bill increases the money available for subsidy because the present funds would not be sufficient to cater for the distant water subsidy. That point meets the anxiety of hon. Members who were frightened that because we are including the distant water boats, the subsidy would be taken off the near and middle water boats. One of the purposes of the Bill is to make that unnecessary, because we are increasing the total sum available in order to make it possible to pay the subsidy to distant water boats. The present limit is £22 million with power to increase it by Order to £24 million.
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
Does that mean, for example, that the inshore fishermen's subsidy will not be altered?
§ Mr. Maclay
I am coming to the point about the detailed subsidies. I was making clear the fact that we are including distant water boats and that that has made it necessary to add to the money which is available, and which probably would have met the needs of near and middle water or inshore boats.
The Bill does away with the £24 million limit and enables the £22 million to be increased from time to time by Order by not more than £3 million a time. The fact that the upper limit has been abolished does not mean that more help will be paid out than is absolutely necessary. The Bill does not determine the actual rates of subsidy, which will be embodied in a statutory scheme submitted for the approval of the House after the Bill has been passed.
While the Bill makes is possible to pay subsidies to distant water boats, or boats under 140 feat which go outside near or middle waters, the actual authority to pay the money will follow on the subsidy scheme which is to be presented to the House. In other words, these payments are not possible tomorrow, but will be possible after the scheme has been laid before the House. I need not go through the details of payments under the Bill any more than that, but I wanted to clear up points that were causing misunderstanding.
903 A number of hon. Members have referred to the fishery limits and the situation with regard to Iceland. They will, I am sure, not expect me to go into any details of this very difficult and delicate matter. I know that Ministers have had to ask for holding off in debate on these matters before now, but the position is still difficult and delicate, and I do not think that public discussion about it would help matters very much. We are most anxious that the negotiations with Iceland, which have been going on for some time, should be brought to a successful conclusion and we are making every effort to that end. As my right hon. Friend said, we have been helped very greatly indeed by the restraint, patience and moderation shown by the House and by all sections of the industry. I am sure that it is right that we should go to all reasonable lengths to resolve this protracted dispute with one of our allies, which we have greatly regretted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) raised questions about extending the United Kingdom's own fishery limits. This is a very important question which affects our fishing interests both off our own shores and elsewhere, and also—I emphasise this—our general interest as a major maritime nation. All I can say to hon. Members is that Her Majesty's Government will keep well in mind the question of the future of United Kingdom fishery limits in the light of all relevant factors which may develop as time goes on. I will not go further than that this evening. If hon. Members will think for one minute they will realise that if I were to answer the question at all it was bound to include the phrase "all relevant factors".
Hon. Members have not asked but the question has been inherent in some speeches whether the sums provided will be enough to meet the needs of the fishing industry of Scotland and elsewhere pending consideration of the Fleck Report. The provision of an extra £2 million for grants by the Order for which we seek approval, and the extra £5 million by way of loans under Clause 2 of the Bill are, as my right hon. Friend explained, in the nature of temporary stop-gap operations. We are quite satisfied that they should be 904 sufficient to tide the White Fish Authority over for the next eighteen months or so while we are considering the long-term position.
No doubt inevitably, the rate of building new vessels in the coming period is liable to be less than hitherto. That is not surprising and need not give cause for concern to the fishing industry. Since 1953, grants have been approved for 330 new near and middle water vessels and 750 inshore vessels of which 250 near and middle water vessels and nearly 700 inshore vessels have already been completed. There has also been a substantial reduction in the numbers of old steam trawlers, though, naturally, progress has varied from port to port.
I make no apology for giving some further figures, because they meet points made by those who doubted whether we were doing enough for the fishing industry in the process of modernising it to meet future requirements. In Scotland, we started, in 1953, with the deliberate principle of modernising the fishing fleet with help from grant and loans. Since then we have built in Scotland 94 new near and middle water vessels and 370 new inshore vessels. Whereas, only four years ago, we still had 175 coal burning trawlers in Scotland, including 146 at Aberdeen, we now have 20, including 13 at Aberdeen. There are now 110 diesel trawlers fishing from Scottish ports, including over 90 from Aberdeen.
A total of 370 new inshore vessels have been built in the past seven years and, together with others built under earlier grant and loan schemes since the war, this means that the great majority of the 800 or so seine net vessels in Scotland are modern. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that this is a considerable achievement and that in many ways we have broken the back of the main job of modernisation on which we set out seven years ago.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree that this is most satisfactory, but in my constituency we have many small vessels which should be replaced by larger ones. I hope that nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said can be taken to indicate that this process of replacement of vessels is over.
§ Mr. Maclay
No, the hon. Member will realise from the Bill and the Order 905 that this is a continuing process, but it is only right to point out that we cannot expect quite the same impetus. There is, however, still a great deal more to do and we are getting on with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South referred particulaly to the position in the shipyards which specialise in building fishing vessels. My information is that, while unemployment among these workers has increased at some Scottish ports, increases are not generally widespread and serious. I am, of course, concerned about unemployment in these areas and we are watching the position closely with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. But I am sure that it would be generally agreed that it would not be right for the White Fish Authority to encourage the building of vessels whose prospects as fishing vessels would be open to doubt.
In reply to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff in his very interesting speech, I can say that the hold-up caused by the fact that the Authority had run out of funds has now been removed.
I hope that the House will approve the additional provision which we propose and that the employment problem will not become too difficult. That does not mean that every single ship that has not been successful in getting a grant or loan will necessarily be approved. There may be other reasons for not getting a grant or loan.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why publicity has suggested that trawlers built abroad are far superior to anything built in Britain? Who was responsible for that publicity?
§ Mr. Maclay
I have not seen that publicity, but it is quite absurd—as anyone who has seen our own trawlers, built in Britain, will know.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff, and a number of other hon. Members, expressed concern about the Fleck Committee's attitude to the herring industry, and the hon. Member for Lincoln raised, in particular, the question of the meal and oil subsidy. I realise that this issue is one of special concern to herring fishermen, who, as has been pointed out, 906 constitute a very important part of the inshore industry, especially in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) made that point strongly.
We will, of course, weigh very carefully everything that we are told by the industry, and take into account any views which either the Herring Industry Board or the fishermen may express before we come to any decision on the Committee recommendations. That is one of the objects of holding this debate. We must consider all the arguments put forward, but no one could maintain that it would be right or proper to encourage the unlimited catching of herring if there were no market for them.
I now turn to the question of Peruvian meal. I am advised that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation is convening a conference in Rome in March to consider ways and means of expanding demand for fish meal and for stabilising the market. That is, at least, a step towards getting an international agreement on this difficult subject. I am tempted to get into the Humboldt current tonight, but I had better not do so.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member will remember that a good deal of action was taken by the Government, following representations about this, to try to gauge whether that claim was correct, and to get the dumping stopped if possible. That is at least something. The conference in March is to get down to this problem, which is very difficult.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), in an interesting speech, referred to a European fishing community. His ideas are extremely interesting, and I am aware that exchanges on this subject have been taking place between our industry and some of its European colleagues. It is a good thing that such exchanges are taking place, but the suggestion raises difficult issues, because such things as fishing limits, conservation and trading areas are involved.
907 Every one of these issues will repay further study, and they are all questions which we are ready at any moment to consider and to exchange views with the industry about. Whether some such proposal as that will emerge I could not say at the moment.
I now turn to the research station at Aberdeen, which has come in for some comment. I want to make the facts clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South gave most of the answers, but there is confusion about what has happened. There are, or were, three separate research stations in Aberdeen. One is run by my own Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. That is the Marine Laboratory at Torry, which is next to the D.S.I.R. Laboratory and which undertakes research into fish in the sea, that is, research into their environment. Research on fishing gear was never done at the station which closed, but was always done by the Department's research station which in addition covers biology and hydrography and abundance and distribution of commercial fish stocks. It covers also the behaviour of fish—a fascinating subject—and if hon. Members have not seen it I commend a picture, taken under water, of flat fish folding themselves up to pop through the meshes of a net. That is a very instructive sight.
The D.S.I.R. research station in Aberdeen is concerned with fish after they have been caught. It deals with handling, preservation and processing. Both stations are at Torry and no doubt that is why the confusion has arisen. They are next door to each other. I assure hon. Members that they are very much alive. The station to which the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) referred is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's experimental food station, which was never primarily a fisheries research station, although it did some interesting work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South rightly said, that station has not been closed down, but has been sold to Unilevers, who will continue research there.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
I am referring to the station at Greyhope Road, which has been closed down and sold.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member referred to research into fishing gear. Perhaps I misunderstood him, but I distinctly heard the word "gear" and I cannot think of any other kind in this connection.
Hon. Members asked why a working group should be set up after Sir Alexander Fleck and his Committee had spent three years compiling their Report. The working group will not delay consideration of the Fleck recommendations. It will advise on experiments and development, such as exploratory voyages to new fishing grounds and on the design of new vessels. Those matters can be decided only in the light of what we learn about the new fishing limits and the different areas to which the boats will have to go. The working group has arisen largely from the decision to establish new fishery limits and it would not have been possible for the group to have been set up earlier.
Shell fish have been mentioned. I have already made it clear that oysters are among my favourite foods and I applaud anything that can be done to encourage the production of oysters in this country. This is an important matter which has often been brought to the attention of the House, but I think that it is a matter on which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture could answer in more detail.
That is all I can say in the time at my disposal. I hope that I have answered the questions addressed to me. It is with confidence that I commend this admirable Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the research team which was employed by the Ministry of Food at the research establishment in Aberdeen had been largely dispersed before the establishment was sold to Unilever?
§ Mr. Maclay
I do not know what has happened to the various individuals, but it is clear that continuing employment of a similar kind is being made available.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.