§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.44 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 fact that there have been seven Bills concerned with the fishing industry during the last ten years might lead people to believe that the fishing industry has had more than its fair share of parliamentary time, but in view of the importance of the Bill to which we are today giving a Second Reading, and of its wide ramifications, I make no apology for introducing into this House the eighth Bill.
The Bill can be divided into four categories. The first has to do with the trawling fleet—that is, the near, middle and distant water fleets—and the inshore and herring fleets and our financial arrangements with them. The second part concerns a section of our shell fish industry around our coasts, to improve management and particularly to deal with the disease problem. The third part is restrictions on fishing to help towards conservation, with particular reference to salmon, and the fourth is a miscellany of matters to which I will refer at the end of my speech. I thought that I would say something on all these four aspects in introducing the Bill.
To get the financial arrangements with the white fish and 'herring industry into perspective, one has to cast one's mind back to pre-war days, when our fishing industry was in considerable difficulty by virtue of overfishing generally in nearly all waters and was having great difficulty in making ends meet. During the war, fishing was reduced considerably. Therefore, by the end of the war, although the vessels in our fishing fleet were old by any standards, fish in the sea were plentiful by virtue of so little fishing having been done during the war years. At the same time, the demand for fish at home was high because of a shortage of foodstuffs in general.
202 It was not many years after the end of the war, however, before overfishing by all countries who traditionally fish was occurring again and began to worry us. This was aggravated as time went on by waters in which our fleets had traditionally fished being denied to us for fishing by the extension of territorial limits by certain countries. It was not many years after the war before the Government of the day decided that it was necessary to give financial assistance to the industry, both from the viewpoint of a day-to-day operational subsidy and to encourage the industry to renew its fleet.
It was hoped that the introduction of modern vessels into the fleet, coupled with the conclusion of international agreements on conservation, would make the granting of Government financial assistance to the fleet only a temporary procedure and that the time would come when the industry could stand on its own feet. For various reasons, however —first, because our hopes regarding international conservation were not fully realised, and secondly, because of the unforeseen extension of territorial limits by the Faroes, Iceland and Norway—the hopes that were entertained for the fishing industry in the late 1940s and early 1950s have not been realised.
That was the situation which the Fleck Committee saw when it considered all these matters for us and gave us its Report. I should like once again—and I am sure that the House will join me—to thank Lord Fleck and all those who serve on his Committee for the helpful Report that they have given us.
The Fleck Committee took the view that because it was largely for reasons outside its control that the fishing industry was unable economically to make a go of fishing with the size of fleet then in existence, it was necessary for the Government to continue to give aid to the industry, but to a declining extent over the years, because the Committee felt that it was not only possible, but necessary, for the fishing industry to adapt itself to the situation with which, whether we like it or not, we are presented. The Committee accordingly proposed that the type of aid to be given by the Government to the fishing industry in the years ahead should be designed in such a way as to encourage 203 movement towards viability. With this the Government broadly agreed, and our proposals, based on the recommendations of the Fleck Report, were published in a White Paper just before the House rose for the Summer Recess.
There was a difference of opinion between the industry and the Government, not on the overall concept that the industry should work towards viability over a period of years, but over the manner in which the Government intended to give financial aid to the industry in order to bring this about.
Broadly speaking the difference can, I think, be summarised by saying that the industry felt that it should have a greater degree of certainty, that we should plan ahead with a greater degree of certainty than we intended to do in the proposals what should be the different levels of support for the different sections of the fleet as the years went on.
The Government, on the other hand, felt that although there was a great deal to be said for the point of view of the industry, that it should be able to plan ahead for the ten-year operation, and should be able to see ahead to make arrangements, at the same time felt it essential that we maintain some element of flexibility in our arrangements, because in giving aid two or three years ahead, let alone seven or eight or nine or ten years ahead, to the different sections of the fleet, there might be difficulty in fixing one in relation to another. I felt that there was a great deal in what the industry said. I think that the industry also appreciated that there was a need for flexibility.
Agreement has been reached between the Government and the industry on what the Government are now putting More the House, and these arrangements are incorporated from the legislative point of view in Clauses 1 to 9 of the Bill. They are enabling Clauses, enabling us to continue to give financial assistance to the industry over the next ten years. For the better information of the House we have published—and I have put in the Library—an exchange of letters between the Government and the industry. They set out the manner in which we intend to give this aid.
What it boils down to is that the trawling fleet will be divided into three 204 categories: 140 ft. and over; from 110 ft. to 140 ft.; and from 80 ft. to 110 ft. To give a measure of certainty for the future, which the industry required and felt necessary, without at the same time losing the flexibility which we think we should keep in these matters, what we have done is fix the rates, and these will be put before Parliament at the usual time next summer for the ensuing year.
But we have agreed with the industry already at this time what daily rates we shall be offering for the starting rates of the different length groups. For vessels of 140 ft. and over the rate will be £15, £2 less than the subsidy this year; for vessels between 110 ft. and 140 ft. it is to be £13, which is £5 more than the average subsidy this year; and for vessels between 80 ft. and 110 ft. it is to be £9, which is approximately the same as it is this year.
Then, for the next two years after that, the reduction in those subsidies will be at 7½ per cent each year. So the industry can look forward knowing full well what the rates of subsidy are to be for each length group of vessel for 1962–63, 1963–64, and 1964–65—for three years ahead. Thereafter, subsidy will be reduced by between 7½ per cent. and 12½ per cent. for each length group, but it will not necessarily be the same reduction for each length group.
At the same time, we have held in reserve, so to speak, a proportion of the money which we can devote to the fishing industry for these years in a supplementary fund totally in all £2½ million of which not more than £350,000 can be given in any one year. In other words, although we are binding ourselves to reductions on the basic subsidies over these years by 7½ per cent. in the first two years and by 7½ per cent. to 12½ per cent. thereafter, we are also keeping a supplementary fund with which, up to a total of £350,000 each year, we can supplement any particular section of the industry which, after consultation with the industry, we think are needing some extra form of support. We can use that money for that.
So much for the financial side of the subsidy arrangements, which, I hope, the House will feel do strike a fair balance 205 as between the need for providing certainty for the industry and, at the same time, keeping in the hands of the Government some flexibility of action over expenditure.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
Would my right hon. Friend just complete the picture for the white fish industry by explaining that the inshore fishing boats under 70 ft. will continue to obtain subsidies on the same basis as before?
§ Mr. Soames
Yes, I am coming to that in a moment. I was dealing with the near, middle and distant water fleets at the moment.
Now for the question of grants and loans, the other financial aspect of this part of the industry. The Fleck Committee recommended that we should continue with grants and loans, and with this, in principle, we agreed, but what we do not want to do is, by Government policy on grants and loans, to encourage the building of too big a fleet which inevitably will be chasing too few fish, because that would not really help any member of this part of the fishing fleet.
Of course, much the greater part of the fleet has already been modernised. There is not all that much which remains to be modernised. It was difficult to see where the balance should be struck. We have taken the view, after the best researches we can get, that the proper sort of approach to this is to enable the White Fish Authority to give grants and loans for the building of one new ton of vessel for every two tons which are scrapped.
Of course, it does not end there. The future of this section of the fishing industry, and certainly of the distant water fleet, does not rest purely upon the traditional trawlers. A handful of vessels, under a new concept of freezing part of their catch at least, has already been built. I do not believe that the industry is yet decided what would be the best type of vessel that it should build to meet the changed circumstances in which the industry has to live. We will continue for three years to give grants and loans to the traditional trawlers. At the same time, we will give help towards the building of the new types of vessels which are essentially in the field of research to assist the 206 industry in deciding what is the right type of vessel with which it should equip itself in the years ahead.
It might well be that before the three years are up the industry will have decided what is the sort of vessel it chooses to order, not just singly for research purposes but so as to turn a proportion of its fleet over to this type of vessel. We have in mind the "Lord Nelson", which has been at sea a short time, and the "Fairtrys", which have been at sea for some time now. It will be some time before the industry makes up its mind on this.
Those engaged in the industry are the judges of what type of vessel will best suit their needs, but within the three years, after they have had experience with these new vessels we will decide what should be the future policy on grants and loans for the building of the fleet. We believe that by that time the industry should be able to sustain itself the replacement of what it is still necessary in the way of conventional trawlers and that the grants and loans should be devoted to newer, more modern types of vessels.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the industry is to be responsible for new designs, but he will be aware that the Report of the Fleck Committee of Inquiry into the Fishing Industry mentions that the Fishery Department, in conjunction with the Fishing Research Association, the White Fish Authority and other bodies should also take the initiative in design.
§ Mr. Soames
I absolutely accept that, and Clause 5 contains power to increase from £1 million to £2 million the amount of money available for research in general, of which ship design is one important feature. Another important feature is the discovery of new and profitable fishing grounds.
Before I leave the near, middle and distant water fleets and move to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) about the inshore fishermen, I should like to say a few words about the fortunes of the trawling fleet this year which, I know, are in the minds of many hon. Members. When I introduced the Order last summer, spelling out what would 207 be the subsidy rates for the fleets this year, I said that there was much argument and that many anxieties were expressed about the out-turn for middle-water fleets and especially those fishing off the Faroes. I said that towards the end of the year we would ask the industry to give us figures and would see what extra assistance if any was necessary.
We agreed with the industry that it was right to make a proper assessment of this and to obtain figures for nine months. We have received from the industry figures for the period ending at the end of September. These are now being examined. When we have completed that examination we will discuss the matter with the industry. We shall then have to decide what, if any, action is necessary. If it is necessary to take action, we shall lay another Order before the House.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
Do the figures relate to near, middle and deep water vessels? In ascertaining the figures, did the right hon. Gentleman obtain any information about the operation cost per day of deep water vessels? If he did not, will he try to obtain them?
§ Mr. Soames
These are figures for the middle water fleet. They relate to the assurance which I gave to the House at the time, which did not cover the whole trawling fleet. It was intended to meet anxieties expressed from both sides of the House about the middle water fleet. These figures will be looked at in exactly the same way as we look at figures produced at the end of the year by the fishing fleet to assist the Government in deciding future subsidy rates. We shall go through exactly the same process now as if it were at the end of the year.
Something which could happen immediately and which could be of assistance to the middle-water fleet, inasmuch as it could relieve pressure on fishing around the Faroes, would be if the limitation on fishing by grant-aided vessels in distant waters was lifted. This point was made by many hon. Members in debate last summer. It would enable these vessels to fish off Iceland, for example, which at the 208 moment they are prevented from doing. We have included in the Bill a Clause which will enable this to happen. There is difficulty in allowing it to happen at the moment, inasmuch as it would involve retrospection which the statute does not allow for, but we have laid before the House an Order which we shall be discussing later.
It will enable me to advise the White Fish Authority to waive any claims on vessels making voyages to Iceland and to raise from three to five the number of voyages grant-aided vessels can make. The five voyages can be spread among vessels in the same ports in the way that is found to be convenient to the owner. I refer to the Order now only because it ties up with this issue of the middle-water fleet.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
While supporting my right hon. Friend's views, may I ask whether he recognises that there is a danger of over-fishing off Iceland being made an excuse by the Icelandic Government to push their limits out further?
§ Mr. Soames
I certainly do not accept that in any circumstances. The sort of restrictions which we are relieving now, as a first instalment, in allowing grant-aided vessels to make five voyages instead of three certainly do not raise that point. The Bill will relieve from us the statutory obligation of limiting the number of voyages to Iceland by these vessels and, therefore, over a period, we can progressively raise this limitation.
The inshore fleet raises a different issue. Whereas there is no doubt that over a ten-year period—and the industry agrees with the arrangements we have made—it is perfectly reasonable to look for viability from the trawling industry, it would not be realistic to deal with the inshore fleet in the way we have dealt with the trawling fleet. The inshore fishermen are scattered in parts in many parts of the country, and many of those are in areas of small population dependent largely for their prosperity on the fortunes of this section of the fleet.
We have decided that the arrangements for the inshore fleet will continue as at present. In other words, there will 209 be a review each year of the circumstances of the industry, as a result of which the financial aid from the Government for this section of it for the ensuing year will be decided upon. But we will hope over the course of the ten years to reduce the dependence of the inshore fishermen on Government assistance. We are not, however, laying down definite reductions each year as we are doing for the rest of the industry—
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
How does the Minister propose to reduce the dependence of the inshore fishery on Government assistance, and what financial effect will that have on that part of the industry?
§ Mr. Soames
I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to wait. We are leaving ourselves completely free to settle the figures each year and, as hitherto, they will be debated each year.
What I say is that the grants and loans will also operate for vessels below 80 ft., and we are hoping that as the vessels become more efficient—and, perhaps, as conservation measures become more efficient, and I will come to that later—it certainly will not prove impossible over a period of time for the inshore fleet to be less dependent on Government assistance than it is now. As I say, grants and loans will continue, and so, of course, will the grants for herring meal and oil.
The next section of the Bill with which I want to deal is that which affects certain types of our shellfish—
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Before the right hon. Gentleman goes to Clause 16, perhaps he will say something about Clause 15:Exemption for operations for scientific and other purposes.Will he take advantage of this Measure to amend or repeal that Section of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, which restricts reciprocal exchanges between the research vessels of the British fleets and those of other countries?
§ Mr. Soames
I had intended to deal with that at the end of my speech as one of the miscellany of items included in the Bill. There are other, earlier, Clauses with which I shall deal before I end my speech, but I think that it would be better for me to deal with the shellfish aspect next.
210 Broadly, the purpose of those Clauses dealing with shellfish is twofold. We are not at present even satisfying our home demand for cockles, mussels and oysters. This really need not be the case; there are great numbers of these shellfish in the sea. I know, of course, that there is a great deal of disease in some of the beds, and I also know that all the beds are not well managed, but the object of these Clauses is to ensure the better management and running of the beds, and also to enable us to work towards the exclusion of disease in order the better to be able to exploit our beds.
The first part, Clause 16, permits us to prescribe certain areas of water as clean areas for shellfish, and to make it an offence for diseased shellfish to be brought into those areas. We shall also be making grants and loans to regulated and several fisheries, that is, to fisheries mainly controlled by the sea fishery committees—the regulated fisheries—or those mainly controlled by private enterprise—the several fisheries, to enable those responsible the sooner and better to clean up their beds so that a better return may be obtained from them.
The second main feature of these Clauses is that the management of these fisheries is largely dependent on whether they are properly controlled, or are open to anyone to fish them. If anybody is allowed to fish them, they are apt to turn out to be nobody's baby; nobody will put in money to clean the beds, look after them, manage them properly, and put up the capital required.
Those fisheries that are properly run are the regulated and the several fisheries. Since, I think, 1868 we have had the ability to bring about regulated and several sea fisheries, yet there are still a number of beds that are neither regulated nor several. The reason is that an extremely complicated process, including special Parliamentary procedure, has to be gone through, and that can involve a great deal of expense and time.
We propose for the special parliamentary procedure to substitute a procedure of publication of intent, public inquiry, and reference to the Minister, and the Minister laying down an Order, subject to negative Resolution, before the House. The intention is to encourage 211 the bringing about of more regulated and several fisheries so that this section of our shell fisheries may do better.
I fully realise that many hon. Members have for a long time felt strongly that more assistance should be given to fishermen who go for other types of shellfish—crabs, lobsters, shrimps, and the like. Those hon. Members may feel disappointed to find that all the weight in the Bill in relation to shellfish is concentrated on oysters, mussels and cockels, and not on lobsters, crabs and shrimps.
Those hon. Members to whose constituencies shellfish are important have for a long time felt that the Government subsidisation of the industry should also include shellfishing. The Government took the view that a case could not be made out for the subsidisation of lobsters, crabs and shrimps as, for instance, it can be for white fish but, when the Fleck Committee was set up, my predecessor asked it to give special attention to this matter, to go into it quite impartially and to advise what the Government should do about it in future. The Fleck Report included the advice that a subsidy on shellfish should not be included in the Government's subsidisation arrangement for the industry, and against that advice we do not feel it right to go.
On the other hand, anything we can do short of that to give assistance through research, or in any other way thought to be reasonable and sensible to the shellfisheries we shall be glad to do. There are already two research stations which concentrate on shellfish—one at Conway and the other at Burnham—and together they cost about £40,000 a year to run. If, during the passage of the Bill, hon. Members would like to put forward suggestions as to what more we could do from these research institutes to help the shellfishermen the Government will gladly examine them.
I move from shellfishing to the proposals in Clauses 10 to 13, which are designed to strengthen ministerial powers to regulate fishing and so enable control to be exercised over fishing for salmon by drift net at sea. The Government already have powers to prohibit fishing by certain methods and in certain 212 areas where this prohibition is necessary to carry out the requirements of international conventions. They also have similar powers to license fishing boats and restrict the landing of fish in the United Kingdom.
These powers were taken in the interests of conservation, but there are certain gaps. For instance, while it is possible to prohibit all fishing for a particular type of fish—say, herring—in a certain area, or to prohibit all fishing by a particular method, it is not possible to prohibit fishing for a particular kind of fish by a particular method. Moreover, the powers are limited to taking action fallowing on international agreements even within territorial waters, where, of course, no question of fishing by foreign vessels arises.
Therefore, we are proposing to strengthen these powers by removing these limitations. This will enable the Government to take action in the general interests of fisheries within territorial waters, both in Scotland and in England and Wales, where there is a national case for taking action over a wider area of the country than is covered by a single Sea Fisheries Committee.
The provisions in these Clauses are also designed to confer on the Government the power, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already announced, to regulate fishing for salmon by drift net. The Clauses will enable us to make Orders prohibiting fishing for salmon by drifting, either within or outside territorial waters, or to license boats, or, in either case, to restrict landings in the United Kingdom of salmon caught by this means.
What are our reasons for seeking such powers? Drift netting far salmon off the Scottish coast has assumed large proportions only during the last two years. It has been increasing rapidly—so rapidly that it has caused great anxiety lest it should damage our valuable salmon stocks or at the very least harm considerably our established salmon fisheries, both the angler on the river and the netsman at the mouth of the river. The number of salmon caught by drift nets around Scotland increased from an infinitesimal quantity in 1959 to 28,000 in 1961.
213 Our salmon fisheries, particularly in Scotland, are world famous, highly valuable and a great world tourist attraction, and they provide employment for large numbers of people in the remoter areas. We could not stand aside and allow a new fishery to develop in such a way and to such an extent that possibly irreparable damage was done to other interests or, worse still, to salmon stocks. That is why the Government have felt it imperative to step in.
The powers we are seeking will enable us to take whatever action is necessary, after Orders have been laid to that effect before Parliament. It is not our intention to stop the traditional salmon fishing inside territorial waters round England and Wales, since this is already controlled through licences from river boards. That is the position there, but we will, of course, watch it. The powers will not extend to Northern Irish territorial waters, since the Government there already possess their own powers.
We appreciate full well that to deny to our fishermen the right to catch any species of fish on the high seas is a very big step, but we are confronted by an enormous increase in the space of a couple of years in the number of salmon caught in the sea as opposed to traditional methods—nets in estuaries and in river mouths on the one hand, and by rods on the rivers, on the other.
Since my right hon. Friend made his announcement before the House rose for the Summer Recess, to the effect that it was intended to restrict drift net salmon fishing by prohibition and licensing, representations have been made to us that a careful study should be undertaken into the laws governing salmon fishing and all the problems as they affect stocks and traditional interests by the catching of salmon by all known methods. A most valuable contribution has been made and advice has been given on this matter where inland waters in England and Wales are concerned, by the Bledisloe Committee. But the main problem is one of Scottish rivers and waters, and my right hon. Friend has decided to set up a committee to advise him on all the problems connected with this in and around Scotland.
It is a formidable work for the committee, and it is impossible to say how long it will be before it will be able to 214 furnish us with a report. In the meantime, it is the Government's resolve that damage which could be irreparable should not be done to our salmon stocks, and it is for that reason that we are taking powers to enable us, by Order, to restrict drift netting for salmon by prohibition, licensing or control on landings.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of 28,000. To give us some idea what that means, can he say what proportion it is in the total number of salmon caught in Scotland? What is the percentage? Clearly, that is an important matter.
§ Mr. Soames
I could not give an answer "off the cuff" about the proportion in Scotland, but 28,000 salmon were caught this year by methods not used up to two years ago, and by which fish had not been caught in any numbers at all up to that time. It is an appreciable percentage of the total catch, especially in certain parts and in certain rivers.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman twice, but while he is on this part of his speech would it not be logical for him to say why this new committee was not set up before the Bill was introduced? Would it not have been more logical to have had a report from that committee as a guide to the drafting of the Bill?
§ Mr. Soames
I will give hon. Members an example. The Bledisloe Committee took over three years to produce its report and the laws on salmon fishing in Scotland are certainly not less controversial or complicated or antiquated than the laws on trout fishing in England. It will be a considerable time before the committee is able to report to us, but this is a matter with which my right hon. Friend will be dealing at greater length when he winds up the debate.
I want only to add that, after the Bill is enacted, the Government intend to place Orders before the House to prohibit or licence the catching of salmon by this means, and when the committee reports it will be possible to revise these Orders after the Government have considered its recommendations.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of "irreparable damage". It is obvious that the figures and the facts are in considerable dispute. On what does he base his use of the words "irreparable damage"? Would it not be sensible to await the findings of this committee before taking these powers? This matter would have been dealt with very much better not on a United Kingdom basis, but on a Scottish basis.
§ Mr. Soames
These are considerable figures, and the Government have the responsibility to ensure the maintenance of stocks and that nothing is done which is irreparable. I cannot give the figures for the whole of Scotland, but I am told that one-third of the salmon catch on the Tweed this year was by drift netting.
In a paper which many hon. Members will have seen, sent round by the Tweed Commissioners, the Commissioners report the fact that, although this has been a good year, and there has been plenty of water for salmon to run up river for spawning, stocks of spring salmon in the Tweed are only 60 per cent. of normal.
These are figures the Government could not and must not ignore. While waiting for the Committee's report we have to take action which we consider, to the best of our lights, is necessary to ensure that the stocks are not irreparably damaged.
There are just two other aspects of the Bill which I want to mention. Clause 14 proposes an increase in the penalties which can be imposed on foreign vessels caught poaching within our territorial limits. I am sure that hon. Members will feel that that is a useful extension to protect our proper and legitimate interests and that all concerned will see in this an indication of the importance which the Government attach to the rigorous enforcement of our existing limits and the imposition of adequate punishments on those who contravene our laws.
Clause 15 allows us to authorise foreign research vessels to carry out scientific work inside our territorial waters. Our research vessels are allowed to work inside the exclusive fishery limits of other countries, and we felt 216 it right, purely in the interests of international scientific co-operation, to be able to give reciprocal treatment.
The Bill covers a broad range of fishing interests. Its main concern is to set up a blueprint for the white fish and herring industries to cover a ten-year period during which there will be a declining measure of Government support and during which the fishing industry will be able to see what the future holds for it and able to know unequivocally what future Government assistance will be and during which it will be able to work towards that viability which it hopes to achieve just as much as does the Government.
I hope that the House will think that this is a valuable addition to our fishery legislation. It tackles the question of shellfish. Although I have said something about the disappointment which will be felt by some because the Bill does not include a shellfish subsidy, I believe that, nevertheless, it can lead to a worthwhile improvement in the exploitation of certain of our shellfish.
We are aware that those provisions of the Bill which deal with salmon are open to greater argument, but I hope that there will be a wide measure of agreement, at least, on the fact that the Government have a duty to protect our stocks of salmon and our traditional salmon fishing interests. I commend the Bill to the House for Second Reading.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
Even though he thought that he had taken a long time, I ought to thank the Minister for his very full explanation of the Bill. He was a little humble about it when he described it as a Bill, for it is two Bills. The first plans the future of the white fish and herring industries for the next ten years, and perhaps for the rest of its existence. The second—or the insertion, which has nothing to do with the Bill—contains proposals about the salmon industry.
The Minister has endeavoured to implement the proposals of the Fleck Committee. I do not want to restate our attitude to the Fleck proposals, for I did that on a previous occasion, but perhaps I should reiterate our thanks to Lord Fleck and his Committee for their work.
217 What we do not like about the second part of the Bill is the inclusion of the proposals to deal with drift netting for salmon. No matter what the Minister has said, we believe this to be a concession by the Secretary of State for Scotland to certain selfish, private, landed interests in Scotland. It should not have been included in the Bill. I will return to that later, but I want, first,, to deal with the sensible part of the Bill, that dialing with the white fish and herring industries.
Judging by the Press, and despite its eight Bills, the industry is becoming a popular topic. Only last week, there was a leader in The Times, albeit not a very good one, nor very well informed. On the same day, there was a much more interesting article in the Financial Times, by that newspaper's scientific correspondent, which made a reasonable contribution to the discussion of the industry.
I was a little surprised when, in the November issue of the Midland Bank Review, there appeared a six-page article on the fishing industry. It was well written, informative, instructive and constructive. It has been suggested that it was written to celebrate the succession of Sir Hugh Fraser to the chairmanship of Associated Fisheries; but others have suggested that the reason for it was the transference of his bank account from a Scottish bank to the Midland Bank. It is not for me to say what the reason was. All I say is that the article was very good and that we are grateful to the Midland Bank for producing it.
We are here dealing with an industry which is not large, but which is extremely important. Not only is it important to us economically, but in many other ways. It provides us with a first-class food and on many occasions we have been absolutely dependent on that supply. As the Minister said, immediately after the war, when things were in short supply all over the world, our country was largely dependent on what the sea provided. Fortunately for us, we had an industry which, even though outdated, was able to cope with that problem. In addition, it gives employment to 25,000 or 26,000 people directly and indirectly to many thousands of 218 others who gain their livelihood from it in the retail and other businesses.
The proposals before the House are mainly the result of the findings of the Fleck Committee, but they also reflect changes in territorial waters. It is as a result of political decisions, over which the industry itself has no control, that the fishing industry has lost considerable fishing grounds, and that fact is reflected in these proposals.
That applies especially to the distant water fleet. As I said in a debate immediately before the Summer Recess, proposals then made were compensation to the distant water fleet which had lost grounds around Iceland as a result of a political decision. I do not think that anyone would demur from that summary. It may well be that that is satisfactory to the distant water fleet, but there then arises the question of what is to happen to that section of the fishing fleet which operates from the Faroes. It is quite likely that the territorial limits there will be extended, with considerable effects on a large section of the fishing fleet, the middle water fleet.
If that is so, the middle water fleet is entitled to ask whether, in those circumstances, the Government propose to do for it what they have done for the distant water fleet. The middle water fleet could make a much more substantial case, because the Government already have returns from that section of the fleet, while proposals and agreements to pay subsidies to the distant water fleet were made without returns. I do not criticise that, but merely point out the difference between the two sections of the fishing fleet. Before this debate ends we should have a clear statement from the Government about their intentions if the territorial boundaries at the Faroes are extended with the consequent effects on this section of the middle water fleet.
The middle water fleet has passed through a very difficult time. The returns from Aberdeen and Granton are very discouraging. It was with interest that I heard the Minister say that they had now collated these returns and were going into them to see what action would be necessary to meet this situation. This is a fulfilment of the promise which the right hon. Gentleman made during our last debate on this subject. I was a 219 little sorry that on that occasion, although I made an offer on behalf of this side of the House to withdraw our opposition to it, we did not get a firm assurance that the Government would do this very thing.
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that they are going into this now, because I know that in the first nine months of this year considerable losses have been sustained by that section of the fishing fleet based in Scotland. It may be that to meet the needs of this section of the fleet over a long period application might have to be made to the Special Contingency Fund which the Minister mentioned, the £350,000 which is being set aside to meet special needs.
I make one suggestion which might be dealt with, although it might be regarded as a Committee point. In our Scottish ports, and in one or two other ports in Britain, there are trawlers—there are not more than 24 to 30 of them—which, for some reason, are just under 110 feet long. In fact, the average is about 108 ft. 9 ins. As a result of being 15 ins. short, their subsidy falls from £13 to £9 a day. Surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of the Government—and I hope that I am not stretching it too far—to introduce an Amendment in Committee to include this class of vessel in the £13 subsidy. I am fairly certain that this will not mean greater expenditure, because it will lessen the demand made by these vessels on the special fund.
We welcome the proposal in the Bill which enables grants to be made to the White Fish Authority for the provision and operation of fish processing and ice-making plant. It may be that the Authority will be able to use this grant to encourage smaller sections of the fleet in different parts of the country, although some hon. Members consider that this should not be extended to purely private sectional interests because they ought to be able to find the money themselves for this purpose.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Authority has been given the right to do this is an improvement, because, as the report from the Midland Bank pointed out, the growth of quick-freezing, processing and packaging of fish for sale has been quite remarkable. Only ten years ago the quantity of 220 frozen fish produced in this country was probably less than 4 per cent. of the total supply of white fish. Today, the figure is 15 per cent. This is a remarkable increase, and despite the import of quick-frozen fish from E.F.T.A. countries, the figure continued to rise.
Here is surely an opportunity to develop this side of the industry and provide greater supplies for the home market. In addition, as many countries in Europe are still fish importers, it provides an opportunity for the industry, if it is alive at all, to meet the demands of those countries, and I think that this ought to be encouraged.
As the Minister said, Clause 27 empowers him to direct the White Fish Authority to relax the restrictions on voyages to distant waters. I am certain that this will be welcomed by the industry, and will give an opportunity to that section of the fleet to make itself more self-supporting. The Minister has used the word "viability" throughout his speech. He has said that the industry must be viable. He is, in fact, saying that in ten years it will be self-supporting. That is what viable means in this context.
I was a little amused to hear so many hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies saying, "Hear, hear" when the Minister was talking about the industry being viable. I am sure that they will not apply this argument to the agricultural sections of their constituencies. They do not mind it for fishing, but they do not want it for agriculture, and I must, therefore, utter a word of warning to the Minister. While he appears to be getting some enthusiastic support from those hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies, and while he might even have the approval of the British Trawlers Federation and other sections of the industry, I caution him not to be too certain that at the end of ten years this industry will be entirely self-supporting and will require no further assistance.
The proposal about the replacement of vessels is sensible, but I was interested to hear what the Minister said about exchanging one ton of new shipping for two tons of old. Let the House be under no misapprehension. This is a form of control by the Government, and it is one to which we do not object. I think that this is where the Fleck Committee signally failed, because it made no effort 221 to outline a proposal for the future size of the industry. It contented itself by saying:Let us have the play of the market. The weak will go down and the strong will survive.We think that a Committee which has been working for three years ought to have been much more specific and constructive. From that point of view, therefore, we welcome the proposal in the Bill.
I regret that no mention is made of the status of the men engaged in the industry. One would have thought that when dealing with a Bill of this size something would have been done to stop certain things which happen at the moment. For instance, we might well have gone in for the decasualisation of the men in the industry. We might well have increased the status of the crews, because the vessels being used today are mighty different from the coal burners of a few years ago, and call for a higher standard of seamanship.
Despite all that the Minister said, there is one important factor which he did not mention. The agreement between the industry and the Government hinges of the maintenance of the minimum price agreement. It is true that the Monopolies Commission is inquiring into the legality or otherwise of this agreement, but, if the Commission rejects it, the industry will feel free to come back to the Minister for a new agreement. I think this has been made clear in the exchange of letters between the industry and the Minister.
§ Mr. Loughlin
If the minimum price agreement is a restrictive practice, in what way can the Minister arrive at an agreement with the British Trawlers Federation as a substitute for it? Can my hon. Friend clarify that?
§ Mr. Hoy
If it is held to be so, my information is that if an agreement were drawn up by the White Fish Authority this would get round the Monopolies Commission. I am told, and the Minister can confirm or deny it, that this is what operates through the Herring Industry Board. In any case, no matter what the effect may he, one thing which is quite clear is that if the Monopolies Commission rejects the minimum price scheme the industry feels that it is free to come back to the Government.
222 I want to say a few words on conservation. No matter what agreements we reach in this country, we cannot unilaterally make arrangements to deal with conservation. I have raised this before and I make no apology for raising it again this afternoon. With the aid of Scottish Office officials, about twelve years ago, I raised this problem at the Council of Europe and, as a result, Belgium and Iceland agreed to rectify immediately the North Sea Over Fishing Convention. Actually, it is about the one constructive thing that the Council has done. I recall it merely to let the House know that this matter has given us trouble over a considerable number of years.
What has happened, I should like to know, to the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention? This agreement was reached between fourteen European countries, three years ago. They met in London and drafted the agreement, but, so far, it has not been ratified. The conservation of fish is very important, but how can we have any confidence of anything being done if fourteen countries can meet, reach agreement and, three years later, have still not ratified the agreement? It has to be done much more quickly than this. So it is important that these grounds should not be over-fished.
I want to conclude my remarks on this part of the Bill by saying that I hope the proposals of the Minister and the proposals within the Bill will stand the white fish and herring industries in good stead. It is certainly a plan for a number of years ahead and we can only wish it well.
I want now, in the remaining part of my speech, to deal with these curious little proposals relating to drift netting for salmon, because I must say that they do not redound to the credit of the Government at all. I thought it most maladroit for the Secretary of State to announce all these proposals, with a great flourish of trumpets, and then, about ten minutes before the debate started, tell the House, through the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, "I am going to have an inquiry into the matter," after he had tabled the legislation in the House. Surely this is a most extraordinary proposal. It is on this that I propose to say some words, 223 because this part of the Bill has an extraordinary history, if that is the correct word for something that is so new.
Drift-net fishing for salmon in Scotland is a very recent development. It has been going on only for a few months. It had hardly started before a deputation appeared at St. Andrews House, in Edinburgh, headed by a representative of the Scottish Landowners' Federation, demanding action by the Secretary of State for Scotland to put a stop to this type of fishing.
There then followed a debate in another place on the 22nd June this year, when a whole shoal of Scottish noblemen decided to decry the workings of the Scottish drift-net fishermen. They never thought for one moment, in the course of the diatribes which they delivered that afternoon, to say a single word about the problems of this section of the fishermen. I was interested to read the reply of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I should like to quote from what he said in answer to all the criticism that was made that afternoon:Let me take the first point—the effect on stocks of salmon. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has cogently expressed the concern that is felt, particularly in Scotland, about the possible effects of drift-netting on the stocks of salmon. The Government recognised that, if this type of fishing developed on a substantial scale over a wide area, it could, in the long run, have an adverse effect on the stocks of salmon; but I am sure it will be appreciated, as the noble Lord was careful to say, that this is not a matter on which it is possible at present to make any firm predictions. There are many factors which affect the stocks of salmon, and it is difficult to disentangle the effect of any one of them. Moreover, in order to get any reliable information of what is happening to stocks, statistics over a fairly long period are required, and as noble Lords will know, until the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act was passed in 1951 there were no detailed statistics of salmon catches in Scotland. We now have the figures since 1952, but that is really a very short period in relation to the cycle of fluctuations which are commonly experienced in salmon fisheries, and it is not possible yet to draw firm conclusions.The Minister went on to say:For these reasons and bearing in mind the factors which affect present spawning stocks will not reveal themselves finally for several years, there is at present no reliable evidence to show whether the level of drift-netting which has taken place so far is likely to have a damaging effect on stocks. Research is being undertaken by our scientists on the various 224 factors which may affect stocks, including the environmental changes in the rivers, but it is bound to be some considerable time before any definite conclusions can be drawn. I think I should say, however, that our scientists have expressed the tentative view, on such evidence as is available, that it is unlikely that the scale of drift-net fishing so far practised would have any damaging effect on the stocks, even in the Tweed.This a Government statement. It was made on 22nd June. A later sentence which I might take from the noble Earl's speech said this:But it is not only a question of the conservation of stocks: this matter raises also the question of individual and public rights which have been long established… "[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd June, 1961, Vol. 232, c. 773–6.]There are some of us on both sides of this House who think that it is these private rights which have been the compelling factor which has made the Secretary of State put this into the Bill.
I think that the Secretary of State had made up his mind to do this, because a hurried conference was called on 10th July, by the Scottish Office, when representatives of the fishermen met the Joint Under-Secretary, who is with us this afternoon. Indeed, it was called so hurriedly that even the Joint Under-Secretary apologised, and thanked the fishermen for being able to come at such short notice. For a short time that afternoon the position of the fishermen was discussed. But, of all strange things, on 1st August, in reply to a Written Question, the Secretary of State intimated that he was to introduce a Bill, and that it was in preparation. What he did not say was that he proposed to insert in that Bill two Clauses relating to the salmon fishing industry, which has nothing to do with the remainder of the Bill.
Even more astonishing, in his reply on 22nd June, in the other place, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary had said that it would be a considerable time before our scientists, by their research, would be able to make any pronouncement on the matter. Six weeks later, apparently, the scientists had done two nights' overtime, making it possible for the Secretary of State to introduce the Bill. It will be understood why there is a good deal of suspicion in Scotland, not so much about the need for the proposal as about the way in which it has been put forward. 225 There is a strong suspicion that the Secretary of State has once more given way to the demands of a very small but very selfish section of Scottish interests.
The Minister rightly pointed out the fact that although we have territorial fishing rights up to three miles round our country, through private legislation passed in the latter part of the last century, the Tweed Commissioners have the right to operate a five-mile limit. But the proposals in the Bill go very much further than that. The Secretary of State for Scotland is saying, "I shall have a territorial limit not only of three miles, but of any distance beyond that." He might, therefore, deprive the whole British fishing fleet of considerable areas of sea.
The extraordinary thing is that he, of all people, should have introduced a proposal of this kind. Goodness knows, he has heard sufficient of what has happened in the Moray Firth, whose seas are prohibited to British fishermen but cannot be denied to foreign fishermen. But he proposes to do exactly the same thing. Surely this cannot be justified. I am certain that it does not commend itself to any hon. Members opposite. Many of them might want to deal with what they believe to be a problem but they certainly do not want to have it dealt with in this way.
We are not satisfied with the Minister's intimation about a belated inquiry. If an inquiry was needed in ought to have been held before these proposals were tabled. The effect is that a reasonably good Bill is being spoilt by the introduction of this subject. Since the Secretary of State has now come to the conclusion that an inquiry ought to be held, surely it would be right—and I am certain that this would meet with the approval of the whole House—for him to agree to withdraw the proposals dealing with the salmon fishing industry and allow the Bill to do what it sets out to do, namely, implement the proposals contained in the Fleck Report. He could then have an inquiry, after which he could table proposals dealing with the salmon fishing industry. I hope that he will say something about this matter.
Speaking on behalf of the fishermen, whose case has not been heard—it certainly was not heard in another place—I can say that they would be delighted 226 to join in any proposals for the conservation of fishing stocks. They say that they are even willing to make a cash contribution to restock the rivers. They are willing to have a close season. They are also willing to stop all fishing at weekends—from Saturday to Monday. They are prepared to do all these things in co-operation with the Government.
This offer having been made from the men in the industry, it is surely only reasonable for any sensible Government to accept it. If the Government want to act sensibly in this matter they should deal with it as they have been asked to do. I am sure that their stature will increase if they do so. This would make it possible for the committee to deal with what the Bill is really supposed to deal, namely, the white fish and herring industry.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Badmin)
I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) will forgive me if I do not address my remarks to what he called the curious little proposals in the Bill which relate to salmon and salmon trout. I share his view that these proposals should be part of another Bill and that this Bill should concern itself primarily with the sea fishing industry.
It strikes me as very strange that we cannot control foreigners fishing in the seas round our shores and yet, at the same time, we can introduce legislation to control the British fishing fleets operating in the same waters. I cannot accept that broad principle. Apart from that, I believe that the Bill is a good one. Its major provisions flow from the proposals of the Fleck Committee and the Government White Paper.
Having heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I should like to draw his attention to one thing that he did not mention and which might have escaped him. He rightly referred to the fact that, because fishing was very limited during the 1939–45 war, in the years after the war stocks of fish were very good. He also pointed out that, although many of our boats were old, the abundance of fish and the overall shortage of food resulted in substantial killing of fish.
227 I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the price structure, and the control which operated at the time. I well remember drawing the attention of the then Minister of Food, in an Adjournment debate in the 1940s, to the price structure for mackerel. I am glad to say that the Minister afterwards released mackerel from control, thereby enabling supplies to be increased. I would not like my right hon. Friend to think that profits were easy to make at that time. They were not, because of the price control then operating.
That part of the Bill concerned primarily with sea fishing has a resemblance to the Bill passed in 1957 to support agriculture. That is a good thing. Here we have a period of time, something which we can consider. The hon. Member for Leith doubted whether this help would not still be needed at the end of that period. I share that view. But I feel also that in framing a Bill of this kind one cannot legislate for a period of more than ten years because that would be looking too far into the future.
We do not know what may happen in ten years' time, or whether there will be need for another Bill, and I think that is something which would be very much better left to the Government of that day. The importance of the industry as an industry has been referred to. My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Leith spoke of the great part which the industry plays both in time of war and in peace-time. That part is greater than the number of people employed in the industry might suggest, which is something we should remember.
All hon. Members have doubtless studied the fishing problems from a global point of view, and have noted the increasing growth of the Russian fishing fleet. As time goes on the vast population of Russia will realise the importance of sea food to a greater extent than now and will require a greater abundance from the sea. Estimated in kilograms, the amount of fish meat eaten per head per annum in Russia is represented by a figure of 5.5. The figure for this country would be 10 and for the United States 5. I give those three figures because they show a realisation of the 228 importance of sea food and indicate that there may well come a time when other nations will appreciate the importance of getting more sea food.
I should like to hear from my right hon. Friend how much we could afford to spend and how much we actually spend on research into the biological side of the fishing industry, into the habits of fish. I should like to know to what extent the knowledge that we gain is shared with other nations and to what extent we obtain knowledge from international organisations interested in that subject.
We all know that a good deal of money has been spent on research into the catching of fish. That is a matter which appeals immediately to anyone engaged in fishing. In the fishing industry we are still, as it were, in the position of the hunter when the first land animals were hunted. It might be argued that we had progressed from the era of the bow and arrow to the gun, but it is still a question of hunting the fish, and I should like to know how much we can afford for research into that aspect of the industry and the production of fish in reservoirs, conservatories, fjords, and so on, so that there may be a greater abundance of fish, and a greater size of fish caught. Clause 15 would appear to give the Minister considerably more power in this direction if he cares to use it. I do not know whether I am right about that, but it would appear to me to be the case.
No doubt my right hon. Friend has studied figures which, in view of the limited extent of our island acres, are something well worth while studying. If we had no fishing industry and wished to retain our present standard of living, it is interesting to note that to replace the protein which at present we obtain from fish food we should need to increase our agricultural production; and the additional arable land needed to do that would be about 38 per cent. When we consider the building programme in the United Kingdom and how it encroaches upon our farming industry, a figure of 38 per cent. increase is something about which we should give considerable thought. The extra milk which would be needed would be approximately 52.4 per cent. and the 229 figure for extra meat would be 75.3 per cent. In Russia, 2.5 per cent. more agricultural land would be needed, 13.4 per cent. milk and 41.4 per cent. meat.
I should like to know what power the Western European fishing community has and is likely to have if we go into the Common Market and whether our influence is likely to be less. I appreciate the difficulties about extending the fishing limit, or, at least, I am aware of some of them. It is true that the 1882 Convention which we observe with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, prevents us from increasing the three-mile limit. It may well be, as was said the other day by my right hon. Friend, that we cannot consider these matters until we know more about what is to happen about the Treaty of Rome and the Common Market. But I can assure my right hon. Friend that a number of people think that if one is strident enough, if one makes enough noise, it is possible to get a greater sovereign limit.
From the point of view of the inshore fishermen especially, an extension of the limit from three miles to six might result in an improvement in conditions and, at the same time, prove reasonable. It is all very well thinking only in terms of three miles, but we have to bear in mind the activities of the Frenchmen and the Spaniards, too.
My right hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the fact that, although provision is made in the Bill about shellfish, this applies only to certain shellfish. I think it true to say—certainly in areas of Cornwall and Devon—that people think primarily of shellfish in terms of lobster or crab. Under the Bill there is no particular help for those. I was particularly grateful to hear my right hon. Friend say that if further research was wanted money would be made available for that. I hope that applies to the Plymouth laboratory as well as to the two he mentioned.
I should very much appreciate a reply by my right hon. Friend on one point. I understand that there have been some cases of late in which frogmen have gone under the surface of the sea and removed the catch from lobster pots. It has then been discovered that this is perfectly legal. That may well be so.
§ Mr. Peart indicated dissent.230
§ Mr. Marshall
I notice the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) shaking his head, but this is what was decided.
§ Mr. Marshall
If I am wrong I am delighted, and if the Minister says that I am wrong, I shall be even more delighted. All I want is this practice to be stopped. From what I have read, apparently prosecutions have failed.
The pilchard industry, in Cornwall, is suffering chiefly from increasing competition from the South African fishermen. I do not think that they can have it both ways. South Africa is no longer part of the British Commonwealth. I ask my right hon. Friend to look a little to the future to see whether something could be done to put duties on these particular cans which, so far as I am aware, do not include pilchardus, but rather sardinus. They are not exactly the same thing, but they compete with our industry in the United Kingdom. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend will look into that.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that the subsidies which concern inshore fisheries will be reviewed year by year. This industry adds a great deal to the national life of the fishing industry as a whole. It produces prime fish which is useful to the overall industry. It is important that it should not be over-related to the total amount of the catch. I feel that the Bill will be extremely helpful to the fishing industry as a whole and I have great pleasure in supporting it.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
Before the deluge starts and we get completely drowned in the subject of drift-net salmon fishing, I want to speak of that part of the industry which constitutes 99 per cent. in terms of employment and everything else—the near, middle, and distant water fleets.
231 What the Bill does for this major part of the industry is to commit the Government to a long-term systematic plan of financial aid. It is important that all hon. Members should examine this matter critically. It is not our function simply to accept the industry's attitude, but to see whether the aid is justified and whether it is given in the right kind of way. We must decide that apart from whatever representations are made to us by different sections of the industry. The essence of the Bill is long-term financial aid to the fishing industry. I believe that this is justified on one argument only, namely, that it will assist the industry to undergo the structural adjustments which the Minister described—the adjustment to new conditions which have come about through no fault of its own. It is not intended simply to keep a lot of firms in business or to sustain the profits of employers, or even the incomes of the workers in the industry.
The Government subsidy can be justified only on the economic ground that it enables the industry to make a once-for-all structural adjustment to a new situation very much more easily than it could otherwise have done. From that point of view the subsidy to the inshore part of the industry, which is justified on social grounds, should be dealt with quite differently from the subsidy to the major part of the industry, which is justified on economic grounds and must be in the terms I have suggested.
If we accept a subsidy on those grounds—and those are the only grounds on which I personally think one is justified—a number of implications follow. In the light of those implications we have to examine this Bill. The first implication that follows is that we have to take a very firm view about the size of the industry. It is extremely important not to allow it to grow too large if it is to receive Government money because if anything is more lunatic than anything else it is to subsidise an industry to overcapacity. The Fleck Committee said that the industry should be broadly kept at its present size in terms of catching power. The Minister has shown himself very well aware of the importance of that both in the White Paper and in 232 his speech this afternoon. I hope that the Government and the White Fish Authority will be firm about this and will prevent any possibility in terms of grants and loans of the industry again becoming over-expanded in relation to the amount of fish which it is likely to be able to catch.
I do not think there is much danger of this in terms of the distant water fleet, but I think there may be a danger in the near and middle distant water fleets. I understand that there are fifty to sixty near and middle distant water trawlers building now, and fifty to sixty further applications have already gone in to the Authority, over half from Aberdeen, for new trawlers. Suppose that all those applications were granted by the White Fish Authority and we accept the Minister's principle—which I accept—that we must build only one to two, that is, that we scrap two old tons for one new ton. I doubt whether sufficient old tonnage exists to be scrapped in that proportion. Therefore, if the Authority granted all those applications we should get over capacity. I therefore hope that the Authority will take to heart the warnings of the Minister about excess capacity.
The second corollary, if the reason for a subsidy is to help structural adjustment, is—to put it mildly—that we must take a very strong interest in the pattern of investment in the industry. Clearly the whole structure of the British fishing industry will change enormously in the next ten years. The old rigid distinctions between near, middle and distant water fishing will disappear; indeed, the middle water fleet as we know it now will cease to exist once the 12-mile limit comes round the Faroes. The middle water fleet will spend part of its time in distant waters, part of the time in the North Sea and part of it in going to the Faroes outside the 12 miles. The tripartite pattern we have been used to in the industry will not exist as it does now. In a few years' time the trawlers will be doing different types of jobs.
Granted that we have to go further afield and maintain and improve the quality of fish caught, everything points to more and more freezing at sea. I agree with the Minister broadly when he says that he cannot decide exactly what type of experimental trawler should be used, whether the Lord Nelson type, the factory ship, the part freezer or whole 233 freezer. His Ministry is not equipped to decide that but, to use his phrase, the firms in the industry must be the judges of that. Nevertheless, the Minister can, of course, influence such decisions through the Advisory Group and in many other ways.
We must also remember what the Fleck Committee pointed out, with some asperity, that this is not an industry whose record of technical innovation in the last fifteen years has been the most striking in the country. It is an industry which, though it is now experimenting on a considerable scale, was slow to start as compared with some other countries Since public money is involved, I therefore think that it is the function of the Minister and the White Fish Authority to take a keen interest in what type of trawlers the industry should build. I think that it is the function of the Government to prod the industry very hard in the direction of experimenting with different types of trawlers. Although I know that, in effect, the Government only propose to give grants and loans for conventional trawlers for the next three years, I think that in those three years the White Fish Authority should look with an increasingly hostile and baleful glare at applications for new conventional trawlers of over 130 or 140 feet. I hope that the Minister will constantly use his influence in persuading the industry, as it is now doing, to concentrate more and more on experimental types of trawler.
The third corollary which I think emerges from this subsidy—and here I agree very much with the Minister—is that the whole pattern of financial assistance must be flexible. The dispute between the Minister the the British Trawlers Federation during the summer was very flexible, on the one hand, and against certainty on the other. In this I was rather on the Minister's side and against the Federation.
In my view, a great weakness of the Fleck Committee's majority Report was that it would not commit itself to any view of the future pattern of the fishing industry. It said that it must be left to market forces. If the industry only had to cope with market forces, things would be simple. But in fact most of its difficulties stem, and will continue to stem, from political decisions. There- 234 fore, it always seemed to me to be absurd to say that decisions must be taken as a result of market forces.
I much prefer the whole approach of the minority Report which adopted this more flexible attitude which the Minister has been advocating. Where public money is involved, it is important that the Ministry paying out that money should retain the ultimate decision as to the pattern of the industry. I do not believe that it should give it away in advance, as it were, by a very rigid decision for years ahead about the pattern of subsidies or grants. Therefore, I am glad about the freedom of manœuvre between 7½ per cent. and 12½ per cent., about the existence of the supplementary fund and about the flexible way in which the grants and loans are to be administered.
I turn now to another side of the industry which is occasionally mentioned but which I do not think is discussed quite enough in the House and which does not appear in the Bill as much as I should have liked, namely, the position of the workers of the industry. This was one of the greatest gaps in the Fleck Committee's Report. Although a lot of evidence was submitted to it, it had only a few modest and rather feeble remarks to make on the subject, sensible though some of them were.
I do not want to talk mainly about the skippers and mates because they had a case this morning before arbitration. I want to say something about the deck-hands. There is an illusion in the country that the ordinary deckhand in the fishing industry is a fabulously wealthy worker. The illusion gains ground because, having been at sea for three weeks, he comes back to port with the whole of his pay to spend in three days. He often does this in an unbelievably lavish fashion, thus creating the general impression that he is a very well paid worker.
Once, however, one works the matter out in detail one sees, of course, that he is not very well paid, taking into account the hours he works, with no overtime pay whatsoever. If we work out the pay at an hourly rate we find that the ordinary deckhand is one of the worst paid workers in the country. If we add to that the danger of his calling—in the two Humber ports in the gales 235 of the last four weeks we have certainly suffered over ten casualties, in Hull and Grimsby—and the long hours and immensely hard work we find that the deckhand is not a very prosperous worker.
Another unsatisfactory thing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) mentioned, is the totally casual and haphazard method of hiring and firing which exists in the fishing industry. There is no approach to decasualisation at all, the sort of thing which has obtained in the docks for many years. The whole method of hiring and firing is utterly unsuited to the general expectations and conditions of 1961. It is really a mid-nineteenth century method of going about the matter. In general, as the Government are paying out money on a large scale, I think that they might put pressure on the employers to take a greater interest in labour conditions than they have done in the past.
One particular point concerns the subsidies under this Bill. As the Minister knows very well, it makes a great deal of difference whether the subsidy is added to the gross earnings of the vessel or whether it is not. If it is added to the gross earnings of the vessel, then the deckhands, skippers and mates receive an increase in their remuneration. If it is not added to the gross earnings of the vessel, then only the owners benefit and deckhands, skippers and mates get nothing.
At the moment we have a curious situation in which the distant water subsidy is added to the earnings of the vessels so that the workers gain from it. In the middle water fleet the subsidy is not added so that the workers gain nothing from it. The justification given for this by the Government is that the subsidy to the distant water vessels was a compensation for the losses which they suffered when the Icelandic limits were extended whereas the subsidy to the middle water vessels is paid simply because their costs went up.
This distinction will not stand up to any examination at all. Part of the trouble from which the middle water section is suffering today off the Faroes is precisely similar to what the distant water section suffered through the 236 extension of limits round Iceland. These losses hit one section of the workers particularly hard. An owner, now that the matter is being derestricted, can send his trawler somewhere else, and even the ordinary crew can fish somewhere else. The real people who suffer are the skippers, the men who have been fishing that ground for thirty years or more. Their whole skill and expertise depend on their knowledge of these particular fishing grounds. I therefore think that the distinction now made whereby the near and middle water subsidies are not added to gross earnings cannot be justified, and I hope that the Minister will look at the matter again.
Another omission from the Bill, which I think is very disappointing, is that nothing is being done by the Government about the fish docks and markets. In the White Paper the Government virtually say that they are not going to take any action on this matter although the Fleck Committee rightly said that by far the greatest weakness of the industry is not on the production but on the distribution side. Anyone who has anything to do with one of the larger fishing ports knows this to be true, and the Fleck Committee was particularly damning in its description on this point, and it at least toyed with the idea of putting them under a new statutory authority. I do not say that that is necessarily the right solution. But I do say that the distribution of fish once it is landed is a very important part of the industry and I think that the Government might have given a little more leadership on this point and some idea of what they really think whereas, in the Bill, they have given none.
My last point concerns another reference by the Minister, not to the long-term future of the fleet but to the short-term problem faced by the Faroes section of the fleet. The Minister said that figures had been submitted to him and that he will shortly meet representatives of the middle waters section to decide the temporary aid which they are to have over the next twelve months. I do not want to prejudge this nor do I want to say much in detail. Like some hon. Members, certainly those from Aberdeen, I have seen the figures for the last nine months, and they are indeed serious. They are causing very 237 serious concern in the ports which have anything to do with Faroes fishing. There is nothing simulated about the seriousness. It is a very disturbing situation indeed.
It will be improved as a result of Clause 27 and the Order which we are to have, allowing five trips to distant waters instead of three, but it will only be improved and it will not be finally settled. I therefore hope that when the Minister meets the industry and discusses the temporary aid to Faroes section of the fleet he will be very sympathetic, if on no other ground than that when a section of the fleet gets into the degree of difficulty which the middle water section is in today there is a danger that only the giant, integrated units can stand up and that others cannot. Although some process of concentration of the industry over the last few years has been inevitable and desirable, it would be thoroughly undesirable if we suddenly found in five years' time that we had an industry with only three giant firms in it. This is a point which the Minister must bear in mind, and I very much hope that he will.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
My contribution this evening will be on the controversial and difficult subject of drift netting for salmon in England and Wales and in Scotland. I welcome the Government's proposals. I believe that this action now is justified, and I also welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has announced that he is setting up a committee to study the special conditions in Scotland. There is no doubt that evidence is building up, particularly in Scotland and in the Tweed area, that the actions of the drift-net fishermen are having a considerable effect on the stock of salmon in the rivers off the mouths of which they are concentrating at present.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
What evidence has my hon. Friend that stocks are suffering in the Tweed area?
§ Mr. Temple
My evidence is that 11,000 were caught and admitted to have been caught, off the Tweed this year, I 238 believe that that has brought about a considerable reduction.
§ Mr. Temple
I cannot give evidence about the stocks. I am saying that this must have had a considerable effect on stocks.
The Bledisloe Committee studied the position in England and Wales, and during its study it became clear that the fishing taking place at present has led to a precarious balance between existing netting interests and existing rod and line interests. I am talking here about England and Wales. I submit that my right hon. Friend was right when he said that if there were an extension of this drift netting irreparable damage might be done to the stock of fish. One has to recognise that the salmon is a unique fish in many respects. The particular respect to which I refer is the fact that salmon are tied to their own rivers and that if the stock of salmon in one river is eliminated then it will not be reproduced in that river by natural means. The only way of restocking that river would be by artificial means.
I think that I ought to explain my interest in this matter. I am president of the National Council of Salmon Nets-men of England and Wales and vice-president and on the executive of the Salmon and Trout Association. I am not a fisherman. I am not a riparian owner. I am not a Scotsman. But I claim through my various interests to have considerable knowledge of salmon netting, certainly in England and Wales.
On this occasion, the National Council of Salmon Netsmen and the Salmon and Trout Association are both very concerned about the stock of fish. My right hon. Friend made a point about this during his speech, and I think that this is the aspect on which we should concentrate in this debate. Speaking about England and Wales, I would mention that all the members of both the associations with which I have the honour to be associated pay licence fees to river boards, they all observe close seasons and they all record their catches. The licensed netsmen of England and Wales are subject to restrictions on their type of net or trap. In addition, they observe 239 a 72-hour period over the week-end during which they do not net for fish at all. To that extent, the netsmen of England and Wales are severely controlled, whereas the netsmen who have been operating off the coast of our country during recent years have been subject to none of these limitations nor have they observed a close season.
The Bledisloe Committee, which reported in May this year, produced an extremely valuable report. It examined the position of salmon netting in England and Wales and it could find no fault with the control which exists in respect of that type of netting.
I admit straight away that this is an enabling Bill. For the most part, I do not like a Bill which seeks to make orders which will regulate certain methods of fishing, and we do not know the Government's detailed proposals in this respect. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will go a little further than did his right hon. Friend and will tell us more specifically about the proposals which may be embodied in the orders.
In this instance, however, there is a good case for an enabling Bill of this nature, because the circumstances certainly differ substantially in England and Wales from those in Scotland, and circumstances also differ by areas. It may well be that different types of Order will have to be made for England and Wales from those made for Scotland, and there may have to be different Orders for different parts of the United Kingdom. But I hope that in the first instance my right hon. Friend will seek to impose a total prohibition on all "uncontrolled" drift netting which is taking place at the present time.
I will give my reasons for hoping that a total prohibition will be brought about. A piecemeal prohibition would be most unfortunate, because boats which were fishing in a certain area would automatically transfer their activities to another area which was not subject to a particular Order. Again, if there is piecemeal control of salmon drift netting the policy of this control will be an almost insuperable difficulty. I do not believe that there are sufficient fishery patrol vessels available at present, and I am sure that there are 240 not sufficient sea fisheries officers to police a piecemeal control by areas of waters contiguous to the British Isles.
I said that I welcomed this action now. On 4th January this year, salmon drift netting commenced off the East coast of England and Scotland. That salmon drift netting was taking place long before the ordinary rod-and-line men and the ordinary licensed netsmen were able to operate in those parts of the country. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will state that there will be consultation with all the various interests concerned before these orders are laid, because that is most important. Different circumstances obtain in different parts of the country. As so little is specified in the Bill about the exact form of legislation, it is only fair that full consultation should take place with all the interests which claim to be concerned with orders of this nature.
I turn now to a very important question which cannot be dealt with in the Bill, namely, the control of foreign fishing vessels. It is regrettable that we cannot control foreign fishing vessels in the same way as we seek to control our own. However, I have made investigations into this matter. I am informed that it is unlikely that foreign fishing vessels from Western Europe will find it profitable to cross the North Sea and take part in salmon drift netting close to our coasts.
There is, however, an aspect in respect of the western seaboards of Scotland and England. Have any consultations taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic? The membership of the Salmon and Trout Association is drawn partly from the Irish Republic. Recently, I had conversations with important salmon fishing interests from the Irish Republic. I think everyone will agree that the Irish Republic is extremely keen on the preservation of its salmon stocks. I hope that if Her Majesty's Government have not already had consultations they will now have consultations with the Irish Republic with a view to making reciprocal arrangements regarding the control of salmon drift netting round the coasts of the Irish Republic which could be operated similarly around our own 241 coasts. I believe that this is a fruitful field for exploration.
About a year ago, when I was in Japan, I had conversations with large salmon interests there. I learned that there is an international agreement between the Soviet Union and the Japanese Government regarding the control of drift netting off the shores of the Soviet Union and the Northern Islands of Japan. The agreement works well. It is re-negotiated annually. It works to the advantage of the fishermen in both those countries. The areas of the sea are clearly defined. I understand that the fishing vessels of the respective nationals keep to their own areas, which are clearly marked on the charts. Therefore, there is a precedent for a reciprocal agreement with regard to salmon drift netting. I hope that this question will be explored with the Government of the Irish Republic.
I take only a short time on this very important matter, because I know that many hon. Members on both sides wish to speak. I want to conclude my speech by quoting these words from the leading article in The Times of 7th November. entitled. "Fishermen's Gamble":The operators have a weak case. They profit from the stocking of rivers without bearing the burden of rates, river board assessments or licence dues.I believe that it has been a gamble and that drift netters seek to reap where they have not sown.
§ Mr. Temple
That may well be the case. I do not say that there were any approaches. I submit that we should seek to make an end of the dangerous depredations into our salmon stocks which will take place due to the action of salmon drift netters, if not controlled.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
This has been an extremely interesting debate so far. My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) gave a very wide and complete survey of the purposes of the Bill and covered most of the points affecting middle and 242 distant water fishing. I look at this matter rather from the public point of view than from any sectional fishery point of view, although my constituency represents a very important little section of the salmon fishing industry, namely, the region between the upper and nether millstones, where people fish out in the sea and fish up the river. My constituents have already been subject to a Bill, again very largely at the instigation of the rod fishers, who want to preserve rod fisheries. My constituents are subject to a great deal of restriction regarding how they can fish. They are allowed to fish only by sweeping. This Regulation was turned down by the Scottish courts, but it was finally imposed upon them by the House of Lords, greatly to the disgust of Scottish fishermen.
They are not allowed to drift or hang nets in the Firth of Forth. They must sweep it by employing three people—one on the beach and two in the boat—and they must sweep the net round to catch the fish. This is a restriction theoretically for the purpose of preserving the stocks of fish further up the Forth. As my constituents have been made subject to this imposition, I am naturally not averse to the preservation of the stocks of fish. I am sure that no one on this side of the House takes any exception to reasonable steps being taken to ensure that the stocks of fish are preserved.
One of the great dangers to the whole fishing industry—distant-water men, middle-water men, and everybody else—is that they will kill the goose that lays the golden egg, or kill the fish that lays the eggs any way. During the two world wars the stocks of fish were able to revive and recuperate. After both wars great quantities of fish were available in the sea which were not there when everybody caught fish as they pleased. One of the necessities facing the whole of Europe, if not the world, is to have some control over over-fishing in the North Sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith reminded us that when he was at the Council of Europe he secured agreement that this should be done.
This is a subject which must engage the thoughts and attention of any European Government. Looking ten years ahead I was surprised that the 243 Minister of Agriculture did not anticipate the success of the Government's application to join the Common Market and predict European legislation to apply to all European countries. That is the only way in which we shall be able to control what we call foreign fishing. There must be regulation of fishing on a European scale, if we cannot have it on a wider scale, so that fish, especially fish in the North Sea, will not be completely exhausted in a few years.
The industry itself does some things which may result in the fish being exhausted. I refer to the use of smaller meshes in nets. Such things as these ought to be looked after by the fishermen themselves, who are sometimes not too conscientious about trying to preserve their own fishing grounds. We in Scotland are especially interested in inshore fishing, because it preserves village life in places where it is very difficult to keep society alive. Inshore fishermen can fish only in limited areas, but they are subject to the inroads of people who should not fish in those areas. These "foreigners" come in with their seine netters and fishing boats. They take many fish from these grounds and, in turn, do much to prevent the fish population being revived and re-created in these grounds. In a way, they destroy their own livelihood.
I hope that the Secretary of State, even before it is known whether we shall enter the Common Market, will take steps to get some regulations established in Europe which will accomplish what we all want not only for British fishermen but for what I will call foreign fishermen outside the three-mile limit.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leith that it is a pity that more careful inquiry has not taken place into the reasons for the depopulation of the salmon stocks. The Forth is a very big river which could provide a big salmon population further up. The greater part of the destruction comes not from fishermen but from pollution. When a river is polluted, the salmon lie in the water as if they are dead, unable to get up the river, and until the oily froth is removed the salmon themselves cannot move. I wonder whether anyone has been able to calculate the number of salmon killed by river pollution. It may well be that we should save far 244 more salmon through eradicating river pollution than are lost by the fishing which takes place beyond the river in the sea.
The Tweed has been mentioned. No one has commented that there are grey seals which are supposed to be conducting fishing operations just outside the Tweed.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I do not know whether they have disappeared in the meantime. Only the drift netters are mentioned. There are other explanations for the disappearance of stocks, if they are disappearing. An hon. Member has asked who has said that the stocks are disappearing. Also, what is happening to the stocks which are being created by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board's fertilisation plants where salmon are bred and the rivers are refed? Has that scheme been working? We know that it will take some years to prove it, but we should like to know what is happening about the restocking of rivers.
This brings me to a very important part of the fishing problem. If we are over-fishing, is it not a fact that we are exhausting resources required by the fish without putting back into the sea what is required? I remember that when I first became a Member of Parliament an hon. Member, Sir John Graham Kerr, delivered a very fine speech in which he described scientifically how the feeding of plankton in the sea by fertilisation in the lochs would enable the stock of fish to be increased many times. During the war we were prepared to consider all these wonderful schemes, but since then very little has been done about it.
I believe that by feeding the lochs we should stimulate the plankton which exists and automatically create a means by which large multitudes of fish could survive. The number of fish bred is countless. The greatest loss which takes place is in those which die before they reach maturity. That applies to salmon as much as to any other type of fish. It may be that we shall have to appreciate that, just as we must put back into the land what we take out of it if we are to maintain good agriculture, so we 245 must also feed the sea and the fish breeding grounds if our fish are to survive. People wondered why the herring disappeared from Loch Fyne and the Forth. I very much suspect that it was merely because those areas were cleared of food so that the fish could not live and breed there.
I welcome the proposed inquiry, but I hope that it will have a much wider scope than the narrow one which seems to be implied by the Secretary of State's announcement. I am prepared to agree that steps should be taken to regulate fishing, not for drift-net fishing but for all other types of fishing, because if we stop one section of fishing we may be leaving in another section which will take up the slack. In other words, the aim of the inquiry should be to protect the whole of our fish stocks, to guarantee that fishing will not be exhausted through the despoliation of the breeding grounds and the food stocks on which fish live. The inquiry must be very wide and cover all scientific aspects. If that is its basis, I am sure that everyone will welcome the inquiry and support the carrying out of the recommendations.
I have a great suspicion—I am sorry to say that the Secretary of State seems to arouse suspicions in me these days— about the way in which such inquiries arose. When one wants to stop the Hydro-Electricity Board doing something, a small group of vested interests carries on a campaign and an inquiry is instituted to find reasons why it should be stopped. In this instance, a small group of vested interests applied a little pressure, and as a result this inquiry has been set up. It is not the inquiry in itself which is wrong. The suspicion is that the inquiry has been set up in order to achieve a result which is favourable to the people who initiated this move. In other words, the inquiry seems to be an attack on a certain group of fishermen, as an effort to discover reasons why they should be suppressed. It may be that they ought to be suppressed—-I will not anticipate the judgment of the court—but it is the wrong basis for an inquiry. The inquiry ought to be a more fundamental one covering the whole field.
If we are to protect fishermen, we ought to protect the inshore fishermen 246 from the ravages of the middle-distance fishermen and others who embark upon a little incursion into the inshore fishing grounds. My feeling with regard to inshore fishermen is that there is no finer quality of fish in the world than that which they gather. Therefore, to drive out of existence the man who gives us line-caught fish would be a tragedy from the point of view of maintaining fish quality. Just as we maintain Rolls Royce, at great expense to the nation, to maintain the standard of engineering, I am all in favour of considerable expenditure to maintain the quality of fish so that we can show what fish can be like if properly handled.
How are we to get such quality in the middle-water and distant-water fish? This is another subject for scientific investigation. Undoubtedly, if the fish can be quick-frozen as soon as they are caught, one can maintain that quality. If the Government are to give subsidies to improve fish quality, this will help the fishing industry to become viable, because if the quality of fish improves people will buy it.
There is always a great reluctance to regulate anything, whether it be fishing or anything else. While I was responsible for the Scottish fishing industry, the question arose whether there should be some slight regulation of the market. It was suggested that instead of ships coming into port just when it suited them, perhaps a number of them on the one day or none coming in for a fortnight, it would be possible, with the aid of wireless, to give the fishermen guidance as to when they should come in, to ensure that they came in not en masse but in rotation. I understand that the fish auctioneers did not like the idea of scarcity being caused in the market. Some people prefer a glut and bargains. That outlook may have disappeared since that time.
I am very glad to hear it, but there was great resistance to the idea when it was first put forward. Sometimes we go back to old methods. In agriculture we had regulations for the marketing of cattle and sheep, but we have now gone back to the old system. I am very glad to be assured by my hon. 247 Friend that the bringing in of fish is now regulated.
I give my support to the Bill because it aims at preserving the industry and making it viable. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby that it is always undesirable to subsidise inefficiency. Through the subsidies, the Government should have power to insist upon efficiency and to impose regulations on the fishing industry. That surely is a reasonable condition to impose if the industry is to be subsidised to the extent it is. I believe that this industry is a valuable part of our national life, and it is essential that it be kept in existence. I do not think that it could be kept in existence as a matter of war against other nations. Sooner or later we must come to an agreement with the rest of Europe about the terms on which our respective fishing industries are to use the sea.
I should have thought that there was not a more suitable subject for an early European agreement than a regulation of the fishing industry, even to the carrying out of agreements that have already been secured in the Council of Europe. Thus I welcome the Bill and hope that the Secretary of State's inquiry into salmon will take a wider form and not be designed to oust one kind of fishing. There is no reason why this kind should not be regulated—and I understand that it is willing to be—and the simple question is what is the proper way to do this to see that everyone concerned with salmon gets a fair deal, including the fishermen of the Forth.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Sir William Duthie (Banff)
This afternoon we should be concentrating our attention on a Bill dealing with the recommendations of the Fleck Report. That Report was promised for many years. Finally, a Committee was set up in 1957 and spent three years completing its deliberations. The White Paper was issued in August and the Bill was published in December last, so the Government and hon. Members have had ample opportunity to digest the recommendations and to consider whether the Government are taking the right line.
The Fleck Report, we had hoped, would be a charter for the fishing in- 248 dustry. It was to tie up the loose ends and reconcile all the differences in the industry and, believe me, there are many conflicting interests. It would make the industry strong to face the new restrictions of fishing grounds and to prepare for possible participation in the Common Market, we had hoped.
I agree entirely with and support the points made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). His speech was admirable. I would add one further point to the recommendations he made; the unification of the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority, for this would lend great strength to the fishing industry. After all, this is an age of concentration in which we need the best possible brains at the centre and I believe that it would be advantageous for each of these two bodies to function as an advisory committee to the central governing body.
I am speaking today on behalf of the fishermen of Britain and, in particular, those of Scotland who, naturally, are coming under the microscope in this debate. We find that the Bill, instead of dealing exclusively with the recommendations of the Fleck Report, is used as the wrapping for another Measure which should be a different Bill, but which, I believe, would have been condemned outright from the beginning by the people of this country.
I was sorry that a Minister of the Crown had to make such outrageous statements as did the Minister of Agriculture today, because this unilateral ban on drift netting for salmon is completely outrageous. It will confer powers on the Secretary of State both inside and outside territorial waters. That is going one better than King Canute, who contented himself with the inshore variety. The Secretary of State's attempt will most certainly meet the same fate as that of Canute.
What is the history of this ill-begotten and short-lived late move? We had a lot of silly propaganda, obviously inspired by the shore interests who indulge in netting in our estuaries, rivers and lochs. Then followed the debate in another place in which the noble Earl the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Earl Waldegrave—as the hon. Member for Leith indicated—said that 249 there was no necessity whatever for any trepidation over drift netting. Then we had this Bill.
I am speaking today as a Unionist. One of the most important speeches in another place urging immediate action was that of the noble Viscount, Viscount Stuart of Findhorn, who, incidentally, is Chairman of the Unionist Party in Scotland and he, in no uncertain terms, virtually ordered the Minister of State to incept immediate action to ban drift-net fishing.
It may have been thought that all this propaganda was a bit silly, but I can assure hon. Members, through my business contacts in Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, Belgium, and even France, that the fishing interests in the coastal parts of those countries are saying, "If all this hullabaloo is being raised in Britain, then this is a lucrative departure in which we might indulge," and are already offering to buy the nets of our fishermen so that they may take their place when the ban becomes effective.
I urge hon. Members not to forget that other countries are as sorely hit for new grounds as are we. They are searching the world over to find new outlets for their fishing activities. In the debate in another place not a single voice was raised on behalf of the fishermen. As the hon. Member for Leith said, here was a collection of noble lords, some of whom probably never see the other place from one year's end to another, all with one song to sing and each with a common interest.
In that debate—and this is equally true of the utterances from the Government benches today—there is an underlying consideration that the salmon belongs, by divine right, to the privileged few. That is quite wrong. In this day and age we must get away from such beliefs. In that debate in another place I am absolutely certain that some of those noble lords who took part knew perfectly well that the salmon population has been going down year after year, due to the activities of coastal netting and netting in estuaries, rivers and lochs. For those who have not seen the nets there employed, they are the most destructive engines imaginable. I refer, of course, to the nets that are used and I use the term "engines" loosely; 250 and I mean the term to represent the catching net.
There was a great deal of play in the debate in the other place about salmon being found with drift net marks on them. It was not pointed out that the mesh of the drift net is four times larger than that of the stake net or that used in the Forth or in other places, as a sweep net. From the bag net and sweep net there is no possible escape but there is from the drift net. In that debate it was not underlined that the drift-net fisherman works for a relatively few hours in the dark, while the stake netter works 24 hours and the estuary sweeper during daylight.
A deputation of Unionist Members of Parliament waited upon the Secretary of State on 18th July. Did my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), for instance, who was co-opted to the deputation, disclose to the Secretary of State how many salmon his interests had captured in his river during the present season? Was my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), who also accompanied the deputation, asked the same question and did he give the facts? I am sure they did not. The noble Lord, Viscount Stuart of Findhorn must have known that thousands of fish were slaughtered at his own door by nets. When one considers that the total catch by drift net-ting in the Moray Firth was less than 1,000 fish this year, I say that the ratio of fish caught by drift net to those caught in the estuaries is something like ten to one, and those are probably generous odds for the drift netters.
I oppose this Bill. I do so because I think that it is completely iniquitous and I would not have been able to face my fellow men had I not taken this action. During the Recess I pleaded with the Secretary of State for an explanation of his statement. None was forthcoming, and I had to make my position clear before a new Session began. I have resigned the Whip of the party because I cannot support a Government which is indulging in one-sided, unilateral iniquitous and unfair legislation such as is implicit in this Bill relating to drift netting for salmon. I support the Prime Minister in his great work for peace and for the Commonwealth, but, so far as 251 this business is concerned, I am at variance with my party in the House of Commons.
On the question of saving salmon stocks, the Minister today stated that 20,000 had been caught in drift nets. The number caught otherwise must be at least 300,000, and probably a great deal more. I should like to know whether, in all this negotiating that took place before the introduction of the Bill, the netters who are working in the estuaries and the rivers offered to cut down their catching power, for therein lies the secret of the salvation of the salmon stocks.
It has been mentioned that this drift netting has had a very serious effect upon salmon stocks. The Scotsman, of 16th October, carried a report on the stocks in the rivers and, dealing with the Tay, it said:Conditions continued good until the end of the week, and there is a great stock of salmon now in the river for future spawning stock. Similar conditions have prevailed in the Earn—plenty of fish, but difficult to catch. The Nith and Annan have been rather better … The Tweed does not appear to have much of a stock of autumn salmon fish yet …But the autumn run has nothing to do with drift netting. If there is a decrease in the autumn run, the conditions are affected by what happened a year or two ago when there was no drift netting at all.
One must be logical and not jump to hasty conclusions. If anything had to be done with regard to the salmon stocks, the whole question of salmon survival should have been considered. We should have conned over what is happening in Japan and Canada, where drift netting is the accepted form of catching salmon. Bearing in mind that the fishermen have as much divine right to the salmon as have the proprietors on shore, the whole matter should be put in balance—both drift netting and river netting as well.
It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that he is to have an inquiry. Let us have an inquiry first. I have heard nothing in this House today to prove that there is not plenty of time for an inquiry to be held after which we could have legislative action. I saw the Secretary of State immediately before I resigned the Whip, and I promised him, 252 on behalf of the fishermen, that if he would impose a standstill order there would be no further developments and close times would be observed by the fishermen. I promised all that; but no, his mind had been made up—though not by him. It had been made up for him in another place. I hate to say this of a colleague, but it is a tragedy that we have not got a man with backbone at the Scottish Office.
As I say, this was an opportunity to put the matter in order. If this Bill goes through, we shall have foreigners over here as sure as night follows day. I have seen it suggested in a report of one of the river boards that the landing of salmon will be banned. Have people never heard of expedition fishing? That is the type of fishing with which we shall be faced in our waters. Fast carriers will be coming here. They will not stay outside the three-mile limit, because the tide works in and out and if they shoot their nets at the beginning of a flow the nets will come inshore. We shall be infested with foreign netters for salmon if our own people are driven off the seas.
I implore the Minister, even at this late stage, to withdraw this part of the Bill. If he does not, I can tell him now that the great support that my party— and I am still a member of the party— receives from the fishing communities in Scotland will go, and rightly so. This Bill is promoted by a favoured few, and the public know that full well. I sincerely trust that the Government will have second thoughts on this matter and that they will have an inquiry into all aspects of salmon fishing. Let the inquiry be carried out by competent people.
To say that the inquiry would take three years is nonsense. It could be carried out well within a year, even by the time that another netting season is upon us. If the inquiry is carried out properly, justice will not only have been done but will have been seen to be done. I and all fishermen will gladly accept the dictum of the committee of inquiry, and the eventual legislation. But the inquiry must come first and legislation afterwards.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
In general, I welcome the proposals in the Bill so far as they give 253 what the Minister calls—to use that blessed word—viability to the fishing industry.
In moving the Second Reading, the Minister did so in a logical order which was peculiarly appropriate to a Bill dealing both with fish in the ordinary sense of the word and with shellfish. He dealt first with Clauses 16 to 23 which relate to shellfish, and then he went back to deal with Clauses 10 to 15, which relate to the other kind of fish With great artistry, the Minister went backwards, like a crab I am sure that he did that intentionally for the purpose of applying the order of his argument to the nature of his subject.
The right hon. Gentleman gave the House an admirable historical review of the vicissitudes of the fishing industry as an instructive preface to the Bill itself. He made perfectly clear that the Bill has much to be said for it, like many another Bill, although it has much to be said against it. I hope that the defects in it will be capable of cure in Committee. The Minister omitted certain points against the Bill, unintentionally no doubt, and I am sure that he will be one of the first to realise the defects and take steps in Committee to see that they are cured.
Unlike the criticisms advanced by the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie), my criticisms of the Bill are not criticisms of principle, but are directed to matters which can, perhaps, be dealt with in Committee. The Minister told us in a very interesting way about certain magical words or signs, but I submit that these require some definition. He told us about the correspondence he had had with the fishing interests before the Bill was drafted, when there was controversy between himself and the British Trawlers Federation about whether the Bill should be of a "flexible" character or should give "certainty" to the industry.
In my submission, the two words seem contradictory. What is "flexible"? What is "certainty"? What will give certainty to the industry? The Bill will not give it, because, for one reason, it is a ten-year Bill. I looked at the definition Clause in vain to find a definition of either of those words, "certainty" and "flexibility", or of the other word the Minister used so frequently, "viability" They are not mentioned in the definition 254 Clause, and I hope that, when the Bill reaches Committee, that defect will be remedied.
The Minister told us that the object of the Bill is to give confidence to the fishing industry. Will it do that? I have my doubts about it. Put briefly, my criticisms are these. First, the Bill does not fully recognise that the industry is one of Britain's most important industries, almost as important, if not just as important, as the coal industry or the agriculture industry. The agriculture industry receives many subsidies. If that industry is to have what is called certainty or viability and be given subsidies, why should not our great fishing industry be given equal certainty, viability and subsidies for a period longer than that envisaged in this Bill?
This brings me to my second criticism. The problems characteristic of the fishing industry, of which the Minister spoke so eloquently and instructively, ought to be dealt with in a permanent way. I have said that in the course of our consideration of many other fisheries Bills coming before the House. The fact that there have been so many fisheries Bills coming before the House from time to time shows the impermanent nature of the attempted cures or solutions of our problems. Those Bills did not deal with matters in a permanent way and this Bill also deals with them not in a permanent way but in a transient way, covering only ten years. The proof of the need for a permanent solution is that there has been, over the years, a series of fisheries Bills, yet the problems have kept cropping up from time to time unsolved.
The difficulties and problems of the fishing industry spring to the mind of anyone who knows anything about it. They relate to financial inadequacy, to catching, to research and various other matters. The terms on which subsidies, grants and loans have been and are to be made available to the fishing industry have been too burdensome and have gone far to negative the benefits which a long series of statutes was, apparently, designed to confer on the industry.
Not enough provision is made for the relevant research. The present Bill is another example of what was referred 255 to in the observation with which the Fleck Committee began its Report:The fishing industry through the ages has long had periods of adversity when its conditions gave rise to much anxiety.It seems to me that these periods of adversity will continue and will give rise to much anxiety even after the Bill has been passed. The Bill does not solve the industry's problems; it merely diminishes some of them, leaving many others undiminished, unsolved and left over to recur later. If I may change my metaphor, the industry is not yet out of the wood and it will still have periods of anxiety in the years to come.
What is needed, if not this kind of Bill? I say that a permanent Bill is needed, a Bill in the grand manner to deal with the problems of a grand industry. This Bill is not in the grand manner which the industry deserves to enable it to compete on equal terms with other fishing nations which are its rivals in every sphere, in scientific research into the habits of fish, in catching, in the freezing of fish, and so on. The duration of the Bill is not permanent; it is a short-term thing, for only ten years, and the benefits it purports to provide will dwindle from year to year. Indeed, it is expressed in the Bill that the benefits are dwindling benefits.
The fishing industry deserves better and more permanent treatment, better and more permanent legislative attention. Here we are, an island nation, purporting to be a great fishing nation competing with the other maritime nations of Europe, but we are unable to compete with them on fair or equal terms because of the inadequacy of the legislation relevant to the industry's condition.
If any special reason for our present concern were needed, it is to be found in the Fleck Report, in the quotation from Cunningham in "The Growth of English Industry and Commerce",'The fishing trades had always been regarded as the great school of seamanhip'.That school of seamanship was of great importance, not only in replenishing the British Navy, in defending Britain's shores and in supporting Britain's export trade, but in feeding the British people. 256 Perhaps this is a mundane and commonplace thought, but it is an essential service which is amply recognised by rival nations which land foreign catches to feed the British people and make profits out of the British consumer. The Bill will not place the fishing industry in a position to compete on fair terms with those nations. I make these points not for the purpose of defeating the Bill, but to show that there are matters which should be dealt with in Committee.
The Minister referred to correspondence between his Department and the industry. He spoke of a letter written by the president of the British Trawlers Federation and of the Aberdeen Fishing Vessels Owners' Association to his Ministry. That letter stated, among other things:When the Government's financial proposals, as set out in the White Paper, were put before us, neither the Federation nor the Association felt able to accept them.No doubt they did not feel able to accept them for very cogent reasons. We should like to know what were those reasons.
The letter continues:We considered that they would not provide the industry with the certainty or confidence necessary to plan ahead over a ten year period. Since then we have had discussions with you and with officials of your Department, when you have emphasised to us the importance you and the Secretary of State for Scotland attach to preserving sufficient flexibility"—a blessed word—in the arrangements to enable the varying conditions of the different sections of the fleet to be met over the next ten years, while we for our part have stressed the importance we attach to a greater degree of certainty"—another blessed word—especially in the early years, than was envisaged by the White Paper. In the light of these discussions we are prepared to modify our previous suggestions, hoping"—yet another blessed word—that, in so doing, the Government and the industry would be enabled to go forward with agreed proposals for the ten year period".I am sure that the House would like to know why the industry changed its mind. What arguments did the Government put forward? None is indicated there. What was the reason for this sudden, inspired, pious hope? There is a mystery about this matter. Why did the trawler owners take one view at one 257 time and then suddenly change their minds and take another view at another time?
I am in favour of the Bill, subject to the criticisms that I have made. I think that it is up to the Government to explain this sudden change of front. How did they get over the contradiction between what is called flexibility—that blessed word—on the one hand, and certainty—blessed word—on the other? What is the mystery? The Ministers owe the House an explanation either now or in Committee.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I feel rather like a poacher. I feel that I am poaching some of the time of Scottish Members. We hear a lot from Scottish Members in these debates. With the salmon season coming in, they seem to have become even more voluble.
I wish to talk about the provisions of the Bill which relate to white fish. Here I should like to congratulate the Minister on the Bill. There is no doubt that the people in the industry to whom I have spoken are delighted at what the Bill proposes to do. It sounded rather like a gastronomical talk when my right hon. Friend the Minister spoke about salmon and oysters, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) referred to pilchards we came back to reality.
I am pleased that the Government are hopeful—I suppose they could not be much more than that—that we shall not have any more subsidies for white fish in ten years' time. I think that the industry itself is a little optimistic here. I have an awful feeling that perhaps in eight year's time the Minister will come to the House and say that, because of a financial crisis or something like that, the Bill must be extended for another five years. I feel that the Bill will put the industry on a very sound footing.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that trawlers could make five instead of three trips to distant waters. If a firm had four new trawlers, one could do twenty trips while the other three concentrated on middle-water fishing. That is something which the industry particularly wants.
I now turn to the question of replacement. I know that the Minister thinks 258 that for every two tons of shipping which is scrapped one ton is built. There is a firm in my constituency which believes that if it can sell a trawler for export, having paid off all its grants and loans, it should be allowed to apply again for another grant and loan for a new vessel. It feels that in this way it would be helping the export trade.
I should now like to say a few words about Icelandic fishing. Could not boats fish there the whole year round? Obviously they cannot fish all over the Icelandic fisheries, but I think the industry would like the chance to fish in certain parts for twelve months of the year.
I agree that there must be a minimum price for fish. No doubt when more fish comes into this country the price will take a nosedive. Many of the trawlers will come back with uneconomical catches. That leads me to say that I do not believe that the trawling industry as a whole does nearly enough propaganda. In many large villages inland, even in some very small towns, there is not a fishmonger. Fish is not like other produce, such as milk, meat or vegetables, which is sold from lorries which travel round the villages and towns. I have never seen that happen with fish. It is true, perhaps, that not all the fish can be carried around, but if the van called on, say, a Tuesday or a Friday, orders could be taken for what people wanted in two or three days' time. By doing this, much more fish would be sold. Therefore, if the additional fish come in and are available, by selling them the industry can be made as prosperous as we want it to be. I regard the Bill as an excellent one.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
I congratulate the Minister on his presentation of the case for the Bill. I am sure that he impressed the whole House. He certainly impressed me when he spoke for the first half of his speech without reference to a single note. Obviously, during the years when he has had to present fishing Bills to the House, he has become thoroughly acquainted with the history of the industry and its possibilities.
259 The Minister certainly impressed the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), so much so that the hon. Member implied that he would like to see his right hon. Friend in office for another eight years to present the next fishing Bill to extend the subsidies which are designed to end in ten years' time. I am sure that that was not the hon. Member's intention. Nevertheless, the implied compliment can be echoed throughout the whole House.
The analysis of the industry which the Minister gave in introducing the Bill pointed definitely to the fact that the industry is only just beginning to emerge from a sort of temporary period during which it has been trying to catch up and modernise itself after having been out of date for quite a long time.
We look upon the Bill as the beginning of a new era in the fishing industry. No longer does it have to depend upon temporary expedients. Now, to use a fashionable word, it can look forward to being viable and, within ten years, to being self-supporting and either to compete successfully with fishing industries from other parts of Europe and of the world or, as I hope will be the result, to co-operate successfully with the fishing industries of European countries. I should like to see a European or even a world fishing industry co-operating throughout the whole world in order to supply to the peoples of the world the fish that they require as food. I hope that our fishing industry will be able to play its part in that way in the years to come.
In the past, fishing has been based upon freedom to fish where trawler owners pleased and to sell where and what they pleased. The Fleck Report, which took about three years to come before us, gave a frank assessment of the past life of our fishing industry and hoped that in future it would be reorganised to take account of modern conditions.
There are different conditions today in the catching of fish and in marketing. We 'have heard little today about marketing, but we have heard quite a lot about catching and about the new organisation and the new kinds of vessels required to deal with the new 260 advances in all countries in the catching of fish.
We have been faced with a new problem by the imposition of the 12-mile limit and much of our fishing industry has bad to seek new grounds to procure fish. The process of factory ships and quick-freezing at sea has confronted us with new problems, and the industry will have to think rapidly and progressively during the next few years during the time when it has the cushion of the subsidy to support it to meet these new problems.
Marketing has become a different problem again. Processing, prepacking, cooking and freezing and the large organisations that are now taking over the marketing and distribution of fish present another new problem. It is no longer a simple problem of catching the fish, distributing it through the auctions at the quayside and then of the wholesalers distributing the fish to the retailers, who put it on their slabs, and the housewife buying it in any condition in which it happens to be. We now know a little more about how fish ought to be sold and marketed and how it should look, feel and smell when it appears on the fishmonger's slab. There has been a great deal of education of the housewife in recent years and it is a good thing that the industry should have to face this greater knowledge on the part of the housewife in order to present this good, wholesome food in a good wholesome, appetising and fresh condition.
Slowly, the industry has been modernising itself. It has had considerable financial assistance to do this from every Government. All Governments have continued the process of helping the fishing industry to modernise itself. At the same time, we still have far too many vessels of pre-war vintage and there are far too many men going to sea under primitive conditions in those prewar vessels, in which they have to work hard, long hours and under dangerous conditions which we who are shore-based the whole time do not always appreciate until we read of the gales and of the tragedies and learn from our constituencies or from the ports nearby of the tragedies which occur.
The Fleck Report and the Government are quite right to insist upon replacing the old ships by modern ones, 261 but I am not so sure that the policy of "scrap and build" which they have laid down—of scrapping two and building one—will meet with the approval of, say, the shipbuilders in my constituency. They naturally want to be building as many trawlers as possible. If the supply of new trawlers is to be restricted, this will create a problem for those who build the trawlers and it will create a problem not so much for the large combines and associations but for the small trawler owners. If we have to scrap two in order to build one, the smaller trawler owner or groups of trawler owners will be in a difficult position. The take-over bids, associations and amalgamations are going on all the time. The small men already have to compete with them to make a living in their fishing.
All this will mean a smaller fishing fleet. Will it mean that less fish is caught and brought into the country? Will it create artificial scarcity of fish of a permanent nature and will that mean permanent high prices for fish? Last week in Hull there was a scarcity of fish. The local Press referred to it as a desperate situation in which prices were doubled and a number of fish shops were forced to close because they were unable to buy fish and retail it at the high prices which prevailed during a time of scarcity. That happened only last week. If scarcity of fish occurs frequently or becomes a permanent feature of a smaller fishing fleet, it will be reflected in higher prices to the community. That will not be welcomed by the housewife.
Do we know exactly what size of fishing fleet we are aiming at? This is not referred to in the Bill, nor is it referred to directly in the Fleck Report. The Fleck Committee said that it should be left to market conditions of the future. We should like to see more of a plan for the fishing industry, something which was envisaged during the three years or so when we anticipated the arrival of the Fleck Report, when we expected that we should all be able to indulge in a little planning for the future of the industry and when we were told that the Fleck Report would contain all the answers to our questions.
One of our questions remains unanswered—what is the future of the 262 fishing industry of this country going to be? Is there any plan for its future, or is it to depend on the state of the market? If there are going to be fewer trawlers—as, indeed, there must be, as that is envisaged in the Bill—fewer crews are going to be needed. Is that going to mean unemployment among the fishermen and even in those ports where traditionally fishing has been the main occupation? Does it mean that wages are to be forced down owing to unemployment locally? Or does it mean leaving the industry? Or will both those things happen? Have we any idea how many men we shall need in future for the smaller fishing fleet?
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may well say that that is not his problem. However, it may be; because I would remind him that it is a problem which the Minister of Labour will have to meet in the future, and the present Minister of Labour is a past Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Who knows what exchanges or what doubling up of Ministries may take place in the future? So the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today may well be concerned about the problem of the Minister of Labour tomorrow.
Consequently, we must give some thought to the size of the labour force which will be required for the new fishing fleet which is envisaged. If there is some sort of plan for the size of the fishing fleet, should there not be some sort of plan for the size of the fishing labour force? We do not want to lose good men out of the industry, but I think that some provision should have been made either in the Bill itself or in the form of letters, letters which have taken so prominent a place in the formation of the policy of the Government, with regard to the position of the fishermen.
It is long overdue that there should be laid down a minimum size of crew for definite types of vessels. It is long overdue that there should be more certificated officers and that big trawlers, in particular, should carry three and not two certificated officers. It has long been demanded that engineers should have Ministry of Transport certificates which would put them on a high technical level.
263 And most important of all is the end of the casual system of employment of fishermen and the registration of the men who work in the ships. That would mean that they would have proper maintenance when they are unemployed. It would bring stability and give more security of employment, which would keep the best men in the industry. I notice that the British Trawlers Federation spokesman has said about the Bill and its proposals that they will bring stability to the industry. I am afraid that he was speaking only of the trawler owners and not of the men who work in the trawlers, for the present system of employment does not bring stability to them but only to the trawler owners.
It may be said that this system of registration would not work, but it does, in fact, work at two ports, where it has been watched closely. At Aberdeen and Milford Haven they have a system of registration, and it has been working very well. I should like to have seen some provision whereby a system of registration would have been extended to other ports. We want to see the end of the system of the odd, casual picking up of men just to expedite sailing—sometimes men who are useless, sometimes men who are passengers for the whole of the voyage. We want to end the de-casualisation and really put employment on a practical basis.
This brings a social problem, too. In Hull, which is the largest single catching port in the country, there are about 3,000 fishermen who are more or less regularly employed. There are several hundreds more who fluctuate between employment, unemployment and National Assistance. In the port of Hull the fishing industry gives employment directly and indirectly to about 50,000 people, including dependants. Therefore, it is a social problem, and not merely a very narrow labour problem, exactly how many people should be registered and relied upon to keep the fishing fleet at work in order to give us efficiency in a streamlined industry. The problem of labour cannot be separated from the problem of reorganising the fishing fleet, nor can it be neglected.
As the industry becomes more organised on a large-scale basis, the question of labour relations looms 264 larger, too. We all know that in the small firms, and in a small ship, the relations between a captain, the officers and the crew can be very pleasant, very friendly, but when they are all working for a large organisation and there is no real connection between one and another labour relations can become somewhat strained. I think that this is a side of a large industry, which this is becoming now, which needs greater attention than before. The problem of labour relations, of relations between management and men, just as in agriculture it had to be tackled, must be tackled here in the fishing industry. Since the Government are providing money over the next few years they should take advantage of that in order to insist on reforms and reorganisation of the labour policy of the industry.
Nothing has been said so far in the debate today about proposals for getting a better quality of fish. We have had strong complaints in the Fleck Report, and in the discussions in the Press since on the marketing conditions, of fish being stale. This is a time when the Government can insist that during the next few years better quality fish should be provided to the housewife.
The fishing industry of this country is facing great competition. I saw in the Press only a little while ago that exactly what is happening here is happening in West Germany. I quote a Press report:The West German fishing industry has begun a campaign to get 100 million marks"—which is £8½ million—in Government subsidies to finance fleet modernisation and the search for new fishing grounds. The High Seas Fishing Federation has distributed a memorandum to M.P.s and to the Parliamentary Budget Committee saying that Government support is vital to the future of the industry.It is the same picture as we have in this country, and we can expect from Germany and from the E.F.T.A. countries greater competition, if they are proposing to modernise their fleets, than we have had in the past.
The future, I think, is a challenge to the industry. This Bill gives the industry the opportunity to meet the challenge, but I think that the industry needs greater support from the point of view of labour relations if the crews as well as the trawler owners are to meet that challenge in the future.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. Coulson (Kingston upon Hull, North)
The first thing I should like to say, speaking from the point of view of the distant water section, and without reference at all to either shellfish or salmon, is a word of congratulation to my right hon. Friend on the way in which this Bill has been brought forward and the Clauses have been formulated. Of course, it does not go the whole way towards meeting the objections of the British Trawlers Federation when its members read the White Paper, but at least it does represent a compromise, by which I do not mean merely a line drawn between opposing views, but a reasonable compromise which should lead eventually towards putting the industry on a viable basis.
Perhaps the biggest advance which the White Paper has effected, and as the Minister outlined this afternoon, is that for the first three years at least of the subsidy period there will be a basic subsidy platform, from which there will be 7½ per cent, reduction from the end of the second year. It does go at least some way towards removing the uncertainty which otherwise might have existed in the industry. The industry would undoubtedly have liked throughout this period to have had the reduction fixed for every year, and I suppose at first sight one would have thought that this would have appealed to the Minister, with his experience of agricultural affairs, since by it he would have been able to avoid another annual haggle such as goes on between the Government and the farming industry.
When one looks into it more seriously, one can see that there are considerable advantages in the flexibility which is proposed in this Bill. It allows the Government—and no reference has been made to this—to take into account the economic situation of the country. It also allows variations to meet exceptional possible temporary hardships, and, if they occur, exceptional possible temporary advantages, in the fishing industry. This, also, is the purpose of the supplementary payment of up to a maximum of £350,000 a year. It gives the Government a chance of drawing the attention of the industry, as the Fleck Report suggests, to the various sections in which the Government think that the 266 industry can make progress on practical lines.
This seems to be the crux of the matter of subsidies to the fishing industry. If money is paid merely because one section, one port or one firm, is in financial difficulties, the object of a viable industry will not necessarily be achieved. In fact, the reverse will probably occur. There must be a chance of the aid leading to a viable industry.
Let us be frank about the position in the industry. It is well known that fishing is becoming more and more difficult as time goes on. Apart from the obvious disadvantage of the extension of fishing limits by Iceland, Norway, and countries like that, fishing fleets of all descriptions are having to meet increased competition from the challenge of foreign fishing fleets, many of them operating with lower operational costs, because wages are lower, and the supplies of fish are nearer their shores. If one sets against this the fact that the consumption of fresh fish is going down every year, one is often tempted to wonder whether one can put the fishing industry on a viable basis at all, let alone put it on a viable basis within ten years.
What are the chances of being able to do that? I know that the industry would hate to see itself in receipt of an annual regular Government dole. Anybody who knows anything about the independent-minded attitude of the British fishing industry knows that it wishes to set its own house in order and come to the Government for only such help as is necessary when it is necessary. I am sure that that is the right attitude for the industry to take.
Nobody can discern what the position might be in ten years' time, but I am sure the distant water section has a chance at the end of ten years of at least knowing what the future will be. It will have a chance to set its house in order and see what the future is likely to hold for it.
The industry is spending large sums of money on new vessels and new techniques for fishing and marketing. The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) referred to a certain amount of research which is being done into the keeping and handling of fish. In my constituency there was a conference last week on this problem of the care and handling of fish. It 267 has been agreed by the Hull Fishing Vessels Owners' Association that new measures will be taken in the Hull fish markets for the control and handling of fish to produce a better type of article for the housewife. This is an example of a scheme which the industry is putting in hand and which should lead at least to the sale of more fish in a better condition. I hope that the provisions of the Bill will enable the industry to have a breathing space to set its house in order.
I end by referring to fishery limits. Feeling on this is very intense, not only among the sections directly affected by the fact that other countries have extended their territorial limits, but among the smaller inshore men who find their livelihood jeopardised by foreign vessels fishing close to our shores. My right hon. Friend was approached by interests representing the inshore fishermen of the East Riding of Yorkshire. He was approached by representatives from Bridlington, Filey, Scarborough, and Whitby, and he knows their feelings about this matter.
We have achieved what concessions we have from other countries which have extended their fishing limits partly at least by the fact that we have been unwilling to extend our limits, which has put us in a good bargaining position. We are considering the possibility of joining the European Common Market, and it would be a great pity to ruin the possibility of happier relations with the fishing community in Europe by pushing out our fishery limits at this stage.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not underestimate the strength of feeling throughout the industry on fishery limits. I hope that he will give earnest consideration to this problem and will not hesitate to recommend extension of our fishery limits as and when the time is appropriate.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I have listened with great interest and attention to all that has been said. I can find little to quarrel with in anything that has been said so far on either of the two Bills incorporated in this Measure.
268 I was particularly interested in the reasons for dissent given by the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). If I address myself to some of the points he made, I shall be speaking on what is an important part of the Bill, even if it is not the main purpose of it.
Ostensibly the main purpose of the Bill is contained in Part I, but, as the hon. Member for Banff said, Part II is something which the Government wrapped in later to get it through in a Bill which as such could not reasonably be opposed as a whole. This is becoming a habit of the Government in their legislation, and it is a little shoddy. If the Government want a bad Bill, they should have the courage to bring in a bad one and let it face the criticism of the House. They should not continually wrap up bad little bits of Bills in Bills which are themselves almost unexceptionable and which would commend themselves to the general approval of the House. It is a device which is so blatantly practised that everybody is beginning to rebel against it, and I hope that we shall not see much of it in future.
If the hon. Member for Banff had made his outspoken speech from this side of the House in the terms which he used, it would no doubt have been taken as a personal attack on the Secretary of State for Scotland. I would not dissent from that. One could hardly call it otherwise, but when he calls him a "disgrace to the Unionist Party" and tells him that "he has no spine" that is a level of criticism which we must leave hon. Gentlemen opposite to use when they disagree with their hon. Friends. I am concerned more with the issues involved in the Bill than with the Secretary of State for Scotland. Leaving the right hon. Gentleman in his fall from grace or his new "bad eminence", I pass to the implications of Part II of the Bill.
If I may momentarily contradict myself slightly by referring to the Minister again, he, rather than the Government as a whole, was obviously influenced—and influenced in very recent weeks—by purely self-interested sections of the community in the salmon fishing industry in Scotland. There is no doubt that the Minister has changed his mind under strong pressure during the last few weeks, and, in my view, has come to the wrong conclusion. This has happened 269 before to this Minister, and on each occasion his wrong conclusions have been embodied in the wrong type of legislation.
It happened not long ago in the Deer (Scotland) Bill, and there the pressure originated from virtually the same source. It came from their Lordships in another place. It came ready-made to the Scretary of State for Scotland, and reached us here as legislation fully endorsed by the Government. There again we had a Bill which, in some of its broad purposes, was quite acceptable to most people in Scotland; but it had wrapped up in it all sorts of objectionable features intended to satisfy the various sectional interests which the Secretary of State for Scotland was concerned about appeasing.
I think that in the view of the man in the street we greatly over-rate the importance of the salmon industry. I know that it has its own limited importance in feeding some people in this country and in providing employment, but my goodness, to the man in the street we are grossly exaggerating the importance of this very small section of the national and international fishing industry. When we have the picture of Her Majesty's Government sending out fishery patrols on to the high seas of the world to make sure that no British fisherman is catching migratory salmon or trout, it becomes almost as pompous and silly as the expeditions that we sent out, not so long ago, to Iceland. All this is going a little bit too far in elevating this purely self-interested narrow section of the salmon fishing industry, mainly in Scotland, to the position that this legislation is giving it.
It has its importance in local employment, but there again the figures are greatly exaggerated when they are flung at us in argument. The offences, as they have been called, of the drift net fishermen in netting salmon recently have been proved to result in catching, according to the Minister when opening the debate, about 28,000 salmon. That means nothing—28,000 out of what total? Did he remember the weight of fish before he threw the 28,000 at us? Weight will be one of the most important parts to the solution of the whole question of overfishing, whether in salmon or white fish. I am talking of 270 the weight of landings. It will come to a question of what we are to admit as the total optimum landings in this country by all methods and by all parties. We have to come to that solution.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about conservation. This party and each one who is individually concerned with the fishing industry have always preached conservation. We are not getting a policy of conservation in this Bill. When the Minister in 1959 was commending the Sea Fish Industry Bill he said that it was onlya holding operation to enable the Government to continue arrangements for grants and subsidies beyond the present financial limits.After referring to the Fleck Committee's, Report, he went on to say that they would beable to review the long-term policy for our fishing industry when we have the Committee's Report."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November. 1959; Vol. 612, c. 1031.]We are not doing anything of the kind. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. Coulson) put his finger on a very important point in saying that we were not offering here a full long-term policy of any kind. Ten years is not a long time in the life of the fishing industry. The Minister, in 1959, did not want to look ahead of the Fleck Committee's Report, which he estimated would be in before 1963 and which came, in fact, within 1960, because he hoped that the next time he appeared before the House he would be able to put forward Measures based on the Fleck Committee's Report and would be able to commend to us a real long-term policy for the fishing industry. The assumption, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) said, that in ten years' time with the dwindling subsidies, which are going to be gradually reduced in phases by the percentages mentioned in the Bill, the industry will be viable—I must use the word—and able to stand on its own feet, is a pretty bold assumption. As my hon. Friend has said, who would dare in this House to apply the same assumption to agriculture? The same vicissitudes apply, indeed more violently, to the fishing industry as to the agricultural industry. I do not think that anyone would deny that that is the case. To base our whole policy on a system of reducing subsidies—that is what we are doing here—in the 271 next ten years is not to present to the house or to the industry any serious long-term policy for the industry.
Conservation is something which we shall have to come to eventually on an international basis. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) had the full solution. He assumed that in the Common Market we might find the ultimate solution to the problem of conservation, fishing and over-fishing, marketing and all the rest of it. I am not sure that I can picture Dr. Adenauer digesting happily anything as pink as a salmon. The solution of the Common Market has come in as a neat little bit of propaganda for the Common Market without providing a serious solution for these problems of the industry. I doubt whether mere entry into the Common Market would solve the problems of our fishing industry, any more than the partial solutions offered by our own country, unilaterally, during the past few years.
There has been no lack of attention given to the fishing industry by various Governments in legislation, but we cannot hit upon a solution to this problem merely by going on subsidising it year by year, and by the occasional reviewing of inshore fishing. Subsidy provisions alone over ten-year periods are not going to solve these problems.
There are social as well as economic problems of organisation and marketing which have been hardly mentioned in the Bill and hardly touched on in the speeches of the Minister or other hon. Members. There are many problems in this industry which have hardly been looked at yet in spite of all the legislation passed by this House and all the attention that the industry has had.
I am sorry that the Minister was so brash and foolhardy as to bring in this Bill first and then talk about ordering an inquiry later to see whether the second part of the Bill was worth while or justified. The very illogicality of this situation should persuade the right hon. Gentleman still to have second thoughts and to withdraw that part dealing with salmon from the Bill. Let us get on with what the Bill itself says is the main purpose of this legislation and get general 272 agreement on that instead of having a long dispute in Committee, as we must have on many parts of Part II. Why not take what is acceptable to the whole House and get it through quickly as useful legislation which would commend itself to the whole of the industry, and which is sensible in itself, and forget about the miserable salmon and trout provisions of Part II which can only cause dissension and ill will on both sides of the House?
I commend that seriously to the Secretary of State. We hoped that he might have interrupted the proceedings to say that he was prepared to consider that because this party, as well as hon. Members opposite, are offering him a very fair bargain. I am sure that we could get this legislation through with minor Amendments to Part I; but certainly not with Part II wrapped up in it.
In Scotland particularly we have too many associations with the interests concerned with salmon in Part II. We have seen the private fishery monopolies in Scotland frustrating, thwarting and holding up to ransom the Government themselves and public Departments on almost every development on issues of what they consider to be their monopoly rights. We have seen this with regard to the hydro-electric schemes, the roads and in almost every public development in the Highlands, in particular, but, indeed, all over Scotland. Always the projects concerned are held up, delayed and frustrated—and sometimes completely abandoned—and in nearly every case it is the fishery interests which come in to cause the delays and arguments and to create serious problems.
There surely can now be very little popular sympathy in either of the political parties in Scotland for this situation. It is as well for hon. Members opposite to know that. The hon. Member for Banff reflected that attitude in his speech tonight. Against all his instincts, experience and loyalty to the Tory Party and the Secretary of State, he was compelled to speak out in the most forthright language that I have heard addressed to a Cabinet Minister by an hon. Member on that side of the House for many years. He has been forced by public opinion to do this, simply because the public are concerned at the fact that private interests, merely for their own welfare, are frustrating the 273 rights of ordinary drift-net fishermen who require this type of employment if they are to get any real share of the benefits of the salmon industry, and to derive a decent livelihood from fishing.
This does not detract in any way from what I said about conservation. I agree about the need for it. The Labour Government, indeed, went too far in that direction in their own Salmon Fisheries Act. They wasted time which could have been better employed on other subjects, and many have regretted it since. I think that we went wrong in that legislation.
In my constituency, because of the salmon interests in what is a very rich salmon river, I have seen the frustration of what might have been a first-class hydroelectric scheme, with the result that electricity in the area has to be generated by diesel, at three or four times what it would cost if water power were used. There is something very wrong when the interests of a whole community, and the possibility of industry and employment coming to an area of heavy unemployment, are frustrated by a monopoly interest as they were in connection with a Grimersta river in the Isle of Lewis.
It is a very good salmon river, but even after the hydro-electric scheme has been frustrated, and even after various other potential developments in the area have been prevented, the salmon are not being conserved. Thousands are taken out of that river all the time without much regard for conservation, except for what is absolutely necessary for the continuation of the profits of the private owners. There is little regard for the national or public interest in the conservation of salmon in the exploitation of that river.
The Secretary of State could have found much better advice on this salmon question than he has received during the last few weeks. He could have gone to one of his distinguished predecessors, Mr. Tom Johnston, who proposed a solution in this House which commended itself to at least one well-known National Liberal Member, who did not leave the party in protest against the Government's policy, but who strongly advocated the same solution as that proposed by Tom Johnston. I refer to Sir Murdoch MacDonald, then the Member for Inverness. Tom Johnston said: 274… I would add, along with the Forestry Commissioners, the Crown Lands Commissioners, and every other public and semi-public board which is owning and controlling land in the North of Scotland—should get a public utility body formed at once to take over all the fishing rights for the State. If that were done the poor man could be given a chance to enjoy the sport of angling, and it would be possible to attract thousands and thousands of people to the Highlands of Scotland every year, certainly during the summer months. Something on a big scale could be done quickly for the tourist traffic.It surprises me to find the Scottish Tourist Board coming out with the very opposite point of view from that expressed by Tom Johnston, one of its most distinguished chairmen of past years, and one of the people most responsible for developing and popularising the tourist industry in Scotland. Tom Johnston said, here, in 1936:… what are we doing that we allow a mere handful of people—many of them aliens at that—a mere handful of people for whom the nation should have no concern whatever, to put up notices: 'The soft-nosed bullet carries far and inflicts a nasty wound'. Why should we be hunted off the land of our forebears? Why should the North of Scotland be a sportsman's paradise for a few?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1936; Vol. 318, c. 2574–5.]That is also the point of view of at least one Tory Member in the House tonight. Whether he has been recently converted, or whether this has been simmering in his mind for a long time, I do not know, but if he continues to take the stand he took tonight he will be not a temporary but a permanent absentee from the Tory Party—whether he becomes an Independent or, more sensibly, crosses the Floor.
This was also the point of view of the hon. Baronet who represented Inverness for many years, and knew the Highlands and Highland problems as well as any living man. Sir Murdoch MacDonald said:There are hundreds of Highland lochs and I would like to see these taken over from the proprietors and made public under, say, the county councils. … We live in a democratic country and we shall continue to use democratic methods as long as we possibly can in developing the resources of our country. The fishing in the Highlands could be made to give pleasure to vast numbers of people who, today, when on holiday there, are debarred from fishing because, in every place, the sporting tenant has the sole fishing rights."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1936; Vol. 318. c. 2549–75.]275 The purpose of Part II of the Bill is not to remedy but to extend that state of affairs, and even to carry it out on the high seas of the world. It is an incredible position to find in a fishing industry Bill. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman is not wearing a skull and crossbones and all the rest of the paraphernalia of the people who used to exercise their depredations on the high seas. With this Bill such operations are now to be legalised. It is a gross interference with the rights of the ordinary fishermen to operate such a provision on the high seas and try to prevent their earning a living in a perfectly legitimate way, and one that has long been practised in other parts of the country and the world.
There are better ways of going about conservation than this. Tom Johnston has given his way; and his is a very respected voice in Scotland. It is respected by all parties, with good reason. He was once Chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board. He was to a large extent the creator of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, which had a special interest in the matter, in its study and research particularly into the salmon and salmon and trout fisheries. In every way he was a man of great knowledge and of very high standing in Scotland. That was the stand he took in the matter.
We shall yet have to come to the point in regard to conservation where, after an inquiry, we shall have to arrive at some sort of optimum in relation to the total bulk and weight of catchings, landings and all the rest by all catchers; and try to make our arrangements within those agreed total limits. I know that it is not an easy thing to do. It may equally be said that it should apply to the herring fishing—and certainly white fishing industry. But we must come to it ultimately.
Can it be done? I have looked for examples, and all I can find is an arrangement that has been in operation for five or ten years between Canada and the United States. This arrangement limits the total weight of landings of halibut. I do not know whether this has ever been extended to other classes of fish, but it was found desirable in the case of halibut, because of over-fishing and other factors, to come to this 276 sort of arrangement. It operates, admittedly only on one coast, between Canada and the United States, but as far as I am aware it has worked well, the overall object of the arrangement being to limit the total weight of this type of fish landed by all and every method along a given line of coast, in the interests of conservation, of the industry, and everybody engaged in it.
I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) will have the good fortune to catch the eye of the Chair, because he is an expert in this matter and is one of the pioneers of fish processing. For a long time he has been an advocate of fish conservation along lines which commend themselves to some of us. I know that he does not agree with much of what I have been saying, or with what was said by Sir Murdoch Mac-Donald, Tom Johnston or the hon. Member for Banff. We shall, nevertheless, be glad to hear what he has to say about the matter, and especially about the Canadian-American weight restriction arrangement. I think that that is one of the solutions or part of the solution, but I must not spend much longer on the point.
The Minister himself would admit that the weakest point in the speech with which his right hon. Friend opened the debate was his reference to the inshore fishermen. The right hon. Gentleman glossed over the special problems and avoided mentioning them as far as possible. He sympathised with the industry and said that attention would be given to it and the position reviewed from time to time. That is a phrase which we have heard before and it leaves us in the air. I am concerned with the inshore fishing problem as a whole. As we increase the areas from which the fleets are excluded in Iceland and the Faroes and throughout the fishing areas of the world, they tend to be driven back on to the home fisheries and to the nearer waters; in some cases back to the inshore waters.
The experience of past years has shown that it is possible to do in the sea very much the same as happened in the American dust bowl. It is possible to overfish and to deplete the fishing areas to such an extent that it is almost impossible to revive the stock again. 277 In past years trawler owners and catchers generally imagined that by modernisation and greater efficiency when fishing in the same waters they would make up for losses which had been caused to them by sheer shortsighted greed. There is no doubt that that word can safely be applied to them without fear of contradiction. They went to the nearest inshore waters in order to get the fish. As a child I saw them within territorial limits around the coasts of Scotland and the Islands scraping the bottoms of the bays regardless of the future of those people engaged locally in the inshore fishing industry.
The damage was permanent for the local people. It was impossible for them to fish the middle and distant waters and make a living there. They could not afford the expensive equipment necessary and they had to stay where they were and try to eke out an existence in the areas which had been raped by the big owners from Fleet-wood and Grimsby. I apologise for what I have had to say about Grimsby to my hon. Friend who now represents Grimsby, but none the less it is true of past years.
The result hit the Grimsby people ultimately almost as hard as the local people had been hit, in one sense, at least. They had thought that with greater efficiency they could obtain greater catches with the use of costly modern gear and new methods. But having swept the waters they found that a large part of what had been spent on modernisation and increased efficiency was wasted. The catches quickly became smaller and smaller again as the local waters were further overfished. In many cases the trawl fishermen forced themselves out of business or found it necessary, if they had the capital, to re-equip themselves yet again with a new kind of craft and gear in order to fish the distant waters.
Had we had the sense even then to legislate regarding the total landings allowed in this country and to limit them within an estimated optimum we might have got somewhere. Limiting the size of the mesh alone, as was said by the hon. Member for Banff, is meaningless. I agree that it may have some meaning in relation to drift-net fishing where the 278 smaller fish can escape, but it has no meaning in relation to trawl fishing where the fish are enclosed in what is virtually a bag and cannot escape whether they be large or small. In any case, the argument about the limitation of the mesh, which used to be regarded as the whole solution at one time, has now been virtually abandoned because in practice it has not worked out.
I feel strongly about the neglect of protection for the inshore fishing areas. In the last few weeks the Secretary of State for Scotland has sent me some of the most depressing and negative replies to correspondence that I have received from any Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman may look surprised at that statement, but nobody else will. They were the most impossibly unhelpful letters.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Maclay)
I thought that the earlier letters must have been worse than that from what the hon. Gentleman said about them.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I did not catch that interruption completely. I am sure that I have lost a pearl of great price.
However, there it is. We have tried to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to bring the fishery protection service up to date in the context of modern methods of trawling, and modern illegal trawling. But he has not made one gesture in that direction.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State sits on the Government Front Bench smiling happily. At Stornoway, he met the town council in May and went away with the same happy smile on his face. The local councillors noticed that he was smiling happily, but I could have told them that that was merely his usual pleasant, charming smile. It does not hurt anybody at all, but it does not mean anything. He has the same bland smile when he is saying "No" as when he is saying "Yes," and we do not know where we are.
Having only met the hon. Gentleman for the first time the local councillors fully believed that they would get some new modern type of protection cruiser or vessel. But time went on and they did not hear anything. August passed and September, October, and here we are in November; and I have had to put down 279 a Question to find out whether he had been thinking about the matter at all. I am afraid I do know where he has been all that time. He has been to the Treasury. That is why we had no result.
The Minister has produced a Bill which he hopes will become an Act of Parliament and has been using the time of this House which could be much better employed otherwise than merely for the protection of private salmon interests, as is done by Part II of this Bill. While he has been able to do all these things for the salmon interests and to go to all the trouble of framing this legislation and provide for the expense of seeing that it is carried out, he cannot afford the cost— because of the economic difficulties of the country, for whom no one is more to blame than himself—of one extra modern type of protection vessel to protect inshore fishing in the Minch. Does that make sense to any hon. Member in this House?
Had the right hon. Gentleman asked for the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House for a Bill—I do not think that such a Bill is necessary—but if it were, and if he had asked for the support of hon. Members for a Measure for the purpose of improving and modernising the fishery protection service, he would have received the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House; because there are hon. Gentlemen opposite who are just as worried as are we in the Western Isles about this problem. I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider these two points and will take note of the pressure put upon him—a good deal of which comes from his own supporters— and consider withdrawing the "salmon" part of the Bill, if one may put it in that way, or what has been called Part II of the Bill. He will then find that the rest of this legislation would receive an easier passage.
I put that proposition to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that everyone in the House would stand by him if he agreed to it. If the right hon. Gentleman will take that decision, and say that he will consider having a full inquiry into conservation of salmon and trout, everyone would take that seriously and seriously consider the report which would ultimately be made. Will the 280 Secretary of State consider that proposition which is made in all good faith from this side of the House? He would have a much easier passage for the rest of this legislation if he did; and it would be an act of greater wisdom.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) referred to me in connection with the Canadian-American halibut agreement and wondered whether I would comment upon it. That agreement was entered into a few years before World War II broke out. The halibut is the No. 1 fish in the Pacific and the most prolific of all. It was being fished out, but these two nations worked out a system of quantitative control. They divided the Pacific Oean into four parts, from the Aleutians to California, and fixed the number of halibut which could be caught in each of those areas. They stopped fishing altogether for some months and resumed at a date which was announced about a fortnight previously. I think that it was in March.
Within one year an improvement in the catches was seen. The fish were bigger, the average weight was greater and the total weight increased. I have not heard much of the agreement in recent years, but I have every reason to believe that it was most successful. It would be well worth our Government's attention because there is, in my opinion, nothing which is more important than conservation.
I wish to congratulate the Minister on the magnificent Parliamentary performance he gave today in opening this debate. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) and I am glad that it has been appreciated by hon. Members opposite. It was an outstanding performance in an age when so many Ministers speak at the Dispatch Box as if they have to stick to the written word. He revealed that he knows his subject and he spoke for half an hour without referring to notes at all.
I spent twenty years in the fishing industry, I was a joint managing director of Associated Fisheries. I had to give that up when I came into this House twenty-two years ago. During all that 281 time when I was in the industry the whole of the industry was self-supporting; there were no subsidies at all. Although I feel that what the Government are doing with this ten-year period is probably the only thing that can be done, I am saddened to think that this once great industry—which was a contributor not only to the wealth of the country but to the taxation of the country—has now become a subsidised industry.
I am rather amazed to see in one of the Clauses of the Bill that some of the money to be raised will be used for ice factories—ice factories at a time when the catch of fish is declining. Ice factories are not required, or, if they are required, they can be paid for by those who get benefit from them. At the end of the World War I, when I came out of the Army I worked in the Ministry of Food for a time. A scheme was put forward by the London Fish Trade Association for the Government to build an ice plant at Billingsgate Market. The then Minister, the late Mr. Clynes, met a deputation and passed on its views to the Financial Secretary, who asked me to investigate the matter. I investigated it and in a couple of hours I telephoned my chief and said, "This is a grand idea. This is urgently required, but the people who should pay for this are those who will get the advantages." I was asked to pass on the bad news to them, which I did. They were so greatly encouraged by what I said that they came to me a year later when I left the Civil Service and asked me to form a company for them, which I did.
For the White Fish Authority to hand out grants for the building of ice plants at this time is utter folly, a gross misuse of public funds which no one on this side of the House should support. It is only an instance of what can follow. Of course, the fishing craft require subsidies because of over-fishing, but this proposal is totally unnecessary. I urge that it should not be resorted to at all.
I feel that the Minister was a little too hopeful when he talked about things coming right in a period of ten years. That was the only part of his speech which I thought wholly unconvincing. Over-fishing has got to a desperate state of affairs in our country. It first appeared in 1913. At that time steam trawling was only about thirty years 282 old. For millions of years the North Sea and other fishing waters had been there, but there had been no steam trawling and nature protected the fishing. In calm weather the smacks could not pull their nets fast enough to catch fish with. In rough weather a smack could not keep the trawl boards, which keep open the mouth of the net, on the ground. Then the steam trawler came along. Deep-seated in the water, with powerful engines pulling a trawl net, it could overcome almost any weather conditions. That spread the inevitable result of over-fishing, taking out and putting nothing back.
The Creator put all these things in the seas and on the land, but mankind has to look after them. Someone has referred to the dust bowls in America. We have created a "dust bowl" in the North Sea. That is what we are paying for. That is what this ten-year subsidy is for in an industry which was never subsidised in the old days. It will not do to adopt a Micawber-like attitude and to hope for the best. Something has to be done. The thing to do is to extend our limits. We have been pushed out by other countries because of over-fishing there. If that is right for them, it should be right for us also.
I do not think this would have the slightest effect on the Common Market because the whole fishing industry is behind the Common Market. It wants the fish to go where it is required when it is required, to any country in Europe. The fishing industry works very closely with its opposite numbers on the Continent, at least the trawling side of it does, and I hope that will continue. We must take these steps. I think a six-mile limit should come in at once. That would solve many of our problems about salmon. I also feel very strongly about the Moray Firth, that great breeding ground of shallow sea with rich vegetation in it, the Minch and the Clyde, which we deny to our own fishermen. We should go to The Hague Court quickly and ask that those waters be denied to foreign trawlers.
We should do that not only in our interests but in the interests of all the fishing nations because the North Sea and other waters are a common heritage. They are not only Britain's but all the nations' which fish in those waters. That 283 might well be a prelude to getting the conservation which I and, I think, most hon. Members hope for, without which there can be no prosperity for the industry. If we do not do this, when the ten-year period is up we shall be worse off instead of better off because we are now catching the mothers and fathers and wondering why there is no breeding stock.
Why have Scottish fishermen turned to salmon netting? It is because they have fished out their own grounds and cannot earn a living in their own calling. After playing their part in this destruction, they come into the best regulated side of this fishing industry in Scotland, which leads all countries—with the possible exception of Norway—in salmon production and quality. England is nowhere in salmon fishing compared with Scotland. I am not in any way hostile to England—very much the reverse—but I am stating a fact. I developed the salmon fishing side of Associated Fisheries, visiting rivers in Scotland, in England, in Ireland, on the Continent and in America. Throughout those countries I found that over-fishing of salmon was taking place.
Thanks to wise legislation, Scotland saved the industry from going the same way as it has gone in other countries. In New England one gets Penobscot salmon. The River Penobscot is still there. It was once a great salmon river, but the salmon are no longer there. They are Canadian or Newfoundland salmon. The Rhine used to be the greatest salmon fishery in Europe, but that is merely a memory today. One can still see Rhein lax on the menu in Germany and something else on French menus, but they are salmon from the Tay or other Scottish rivers.
We saved them, and now God-fearing fishermen—who well know what they are doing is wrong—because of their need to earn a living have taken to drift netting, one of the crudest and most wrongful ways of fish catching. Salmon are born in the river; they are not sea fish. They have to return to the river of their birth to reproduce their species. They have to leave the river of their birth in about a year and a half as smolts. They go down to the sea and out to the Atlantic shelf. They are all 284 Atlantic salmon. Our salmon are members of the Atlantic salmon family which feed on small crustaceans on the top of the Atlantic shelf. They come back great, rich fish, well-fed, shining magnificent fish. They have the instinct which is even more remarkable than that of the homing pigeon—they come back to the river of their birth, the very stream or burn where they were born, to the same spawning beds.
The drift netters come along with their 1,000-yard nylon nets and set them across the flood tide as near to the river mouth as they can. Make no mistake about that. Within seven years there will be no salmon left in Scotland if this is allowed to continue. The Secretary of State has done the right thing. I am sorry that he is wasting time on an inquiry.
Let me tell the House the story of the Tay, the greatest of all salmon rivers in Scotland. In 1899 the Tay salmon had fallen to an annual value of about £7,000. It was almost destroyed. The late Mr. P. D. Malloch, who was not a landlord but a small sporting gun-and-rod man in the City of Perth, went to Lord Ancaster, the great-grandfather of the present Earl, who was a colleague in the House for some years, together with Mr. William Coats, a member of the linen thread family from Paisley, and got these two men to help to form the Tay Salmon Syndicate. They set about saving the Tay.
The farmers and every riparian tenant had the right to fish for salmon. Perth was the city of the infamous farm servant hiring agreement, and it will be recalled that there was an insistence that the workers did not get salmon more than twice a week. The chances were that they were getting a lot of kelts. But that was the situation. These men—Ancaster, Coats and Malloch—were hailed as Tory reactionaries, and public meetings of protest were held in Perth, but they saved the Tay. They bought, at a fair price, the rights of the farmers and they gained control of the river.
The first thing they did was to close down two-thirds of the salmon fishing stations. They made the situation worse before they could make it better. I imagine that the annual value of the Tay today is nearer £1 million. They maintain a magnificent breeding stock. 285 They have to pay for this, for they keep a large number of men on the watershed, on all the streams which run into the major river, ensuring that there are no natural obstructions such as trees and other wreckage and keep down the poaching. They have done a magnificent job.
This is the greatest of all salmon rivers. Could there be a better example of conservation? Of course not. Yet hon. Members on both sides of the House have suggested that there is nothing wrong in drifting in on the flood tide as close as possible to the river mouth. That is a very different thing from the legal nets which exist on the wings of the estuaries and the coast. The Crown, which is the Exchequer, owns the bulk of the shore stations where the stake nets with bag nets operate. These are the fixed engines to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) referred.
§ Sir D. Robertson
They catch all the salmon that the public need. That is the only salmon which is available to the public. Some hon. Members seem to think that this is the case of a lot of predatory landlords doing something wrong. It is nothing of the kind. Are hon. Members seeking to deny salmon to the public? I fought a case very hard when the Helmsdale River was threatened because fishermen abandoned their legal calling and took to catching salmon at the mouth of the Helmsdale—due, again, to over-fishing because they could not make a living in their own trade. The new proprietors of that river had no nets at all at the mouth. When the Duke of Sutherland sold the river in 1900 the proprietors, sporting estates in the valley of the Helmsdale, did away with salmon netting and put the men out of business. They stopped an industry, which was a very wrong thing to do. Happily, they agreed to my request to restore it, and I hope that it is still going on. That was twelve years ago. But the angler does not produce salmon for anybody but himself and his friends.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Member has explained how the drift nets prevent the salmon from going up the river to breed. Do not these other nets also stop the salmon going up the river to breed? If 286 so, which stops most? Do the Crown nets stop more salmon and are they causing depopulation?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am surprised that the right hon. Member asks me that, because I gave him the story of the Tay. There used to be salmon nets both North and South, on the Fife side and on the Angus side, but they have done away with them. It was felt that they were a hindrance to the free passage of fish going up the river. It was also felt—and this is rather more important—that the best place to take fish out, the surplus not required for breeding stock and available for sale, was in the river. I have never agreed with that. I think that they were wrong and that once the fish get into the brackish water of the river they should be left, with their only enemies being the angler and the otter. There is a different view, honestly held, by my friends on the Tay. I hold another view equally honestly.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
The hon. Member said that enough salmon were caught for all purposes. Does he seriously maintain that? Does he maintain the proposition that enough salmon are obtained under the Crown offices?
§ Sir D. Robertson
If I said that, it was wrong. I meant that the only salmon which the public can buy is the netted salmon, and it is the business of the salmon fishery proprietors to try to meet that demand. I was closely associated with the Tay for twenty years and I am certain that that is what they try to do. Many other rivers do it in Scotland. This is the fulfilment of mankind working with nature in a way which will ensure that there is breeding stock and that the reproduction of the species will go on. It has gone one and the value has risen and risen. The Tay was saved.
I have mentioned the Penobscot and the Rhine, and I have shown how the salmon in rivers in Canada and elsewhere are decreasing in numbers because of drift netting. Let us stick to the methods which we have. I do not suggest that everything is perfect; there may be a better way of catching salmon 287 for human consumption. But a much worse way would be to allow drift netting. The fishermen see salmon coming along in daylight. The salmon come in from the Atlantic shelf at a point between Orkney and Cape Wrath. Those going to the South of Scotland swing to the South; the others go round Duncansby Head and down the East coast. The Irish fish go directly to the west coast of Ireland. The Norwegian salmon take a northern route and go to Norway. These fish are all going to the rivers of their birth.
The two horrors of the drift net are, first, its size and, secondly, the fact that the fishermen see the salmon coming in. We could not see the salmon, unless we were expert, but I actually saw them when standing at the junction of the Bundrowes River one summer night many years ago with the Irish proprietor. The Bundrowes runs into the estuary of the Erne in Ballyshannon. The Irishman said, "There is a shoal of salmon appearing". He pointed. I saw nothing except a roughing of the water. He said, "Wait a minute and you will see them come right into this little bay. Note what they do". Then I saw them. There were thirty, forty or fifty of them. They were clearly visible. Some were large salmon and some were small. The small salmon were Bundrowes salmon. They detached themselves from the main shoal and shot up the Bundrowes River. The other salmon were from the River Erne, which I knew to be much larger fish, averaging about 20 lb. each. They swam up and away under Ballyshannon Bridge. That was the finest example I have ever witnessed of salmon going back to the river of their birth.
Fish are visible at night also. They come up in what are called "heads". They come up head and tail. There is a phosphorescent glow just as with herring fishing. Therefore, the fishermen have to keep their eyes open. By day they get into the way of the shoals coming in; on a calm day they see the roughing of the water. At night they see them in the way I have described.
Netting on rivers is done with a sweep net. The nets are never fixed. The drifting net is a fixed engine. It is a curtain-like wall which drifts in with the tide. It 288 is buoyed up with corks and weighted down with a heavy rope at the bottom.
For these reasons I strongly support what the Government are doing. I hope that the House too will support it, because the whole history of wild life at home and abroad has been destruction. That is the risk we are running in regard to salmon also.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
In a way, I regret that I am following the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), because I could not possibly make my speech so fascinating as his or exhibit such wonderful knowledge of the habits of salmon. I hope that he will forgive me—this is the first time I have used this stock phrase—if I do not follow him in my speech.
I am in a unique position in the House in relation to the fishing industry and the Bill. I am always diffident about talking about the fishing industry because I represent Gloucestershire, West. My only qualification for making these remarks about the Bill is that at one time I had a very long and intimate association with the industry.
Although the Minister, the spokesman from the Opposition Front Bench, and hon. Members on both sides may have differed in incidentals, on the main provisions of the Bill there has been a good deal of unanimity. I feel something of a dog in the manger, because what I have to say will certainly not be in support of certain parts of the Bill. The British Trawlers Federation has said, and the Minister has repeated, that it hopes that within the next ten years it will be in such a position as not to require additional Government assistance. I am not convinced that this will be so. I am not convinced that in ten years there will be absolute efficiency in the British fishing industry.
Much emphasis has been placed by some hon. Members on the possibility of over-fishing. What do they expect? I think that over-fishing will become more acute in future than in the past, because we are repeatedly reading in the columns of the Fishing News of the enormous catches which are being made by trawlers, particularly in distant waters, because of more modern fishing aids.
289 Decca echo-sounding equipment is being used, and the more efficient each ship becomes the greater becomes the degree of over fishing. There is also the insistence on the part of other Governments that territorial waters be extended. Therefore, the problem will be more acute in future than it has been in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) referred to the fishery protection vessels. His reference jogged my memory about a trip I had on one of the fishery vessels last year. I went as a result of the invitations we all receive to see the Navy at work. The vessel I went on was, in my view, many years out of date for the work it was doing. It had a wonderful crew. There was a very young lieutenant-commander in charge of the ship. It had a very young first lieutenant. The other lieutenants were also young. They were doing wonderful work. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will take note of what I am saying, because he may be able to whisper in the ears of those responsible for fitting these vessels.
I was amazed that the vessel had no searchlight. On one occasion when I was on the bridge late at night there were panic stations because they saw an object on the radar screen which they could not see visually. It had no lights, obviously. It happened to be one of the herring fishing vessels, which was fishing without lights in order to save its batteries. The only way they could find out what it was was by using the signalling lamps. Everyone knows that the beam of a signalling lamp is very limited. I hope that the Secretary of State will take note of this. I was amazed at the absolute, I will not say uselessness, but poor quality of the ship's radio receiver. I hope that this will be drawn to the attention of the appropriate authorities. The name of the ship, in case the Secretary of State requires it, was H.M.S. "Soberton".
The last time we debated the fishing industry I asked whether it was appropriate for us to give subsidies to the deep-sea part of it. The Government and hon. Members opposite must be prepared to be consistent about the expenditure of public money. When talking about subsidies for housing, welfare foods and so on, they have per- 290 sistently argued that it is wrong to give them to people who can afford to do without them. If that is the test on which they base the spending of public money in this fashion, they ought to apply precisely the same test to the fishing industry. It is no good someone saying to me that a man should not receive council house subsidies simply because he is earning £20 a week. That is the argument which has been advanced from the other side of the House. Yet, at the same time hon. Members opposite are prepared to spend a large amount of public money on an industry which, in my view, cannot establish a claim on the basis of economic need.
In our debate on 28th March, 1961, I devoted some considerable time to showing the build-up of the industry as it affected deep-water vessels at Grimsby. The following day Fishing News criticised me in a leading article. But it did not refute my figures about the industry or my statement that three companies controlled fifty-four of the seventy-one deep-water vessels then sailing from Grimsby. That periodical also did not attempt to contradict the statement that the persons with whom we are concerned are not merely trawler owners. Reference has been made today to the incursion of Mr. Fraser, the financier, into the fishing industry. This is not an industry in which we are dealing with one or two men owning a ship. This side of the industry is a vertical chain covering trawling, curing, inland wholesaling, inland retailing, frozen foods and, in some instances, even fish and chip shops. Are these types of people on whom we want to spend public money on a basis of need?
In the past I have argued that if the Minister wants the Government to spend public money in this way it is incumbent upon him, particularly as he subscribes to the theory that public money should not be spent unless there is an element of need, to come to the House and describe the economic basis on which the industry or section of it requires assistance.
I do not wish to argue against the inshore fisherman. His is an altogether different type of problem. I do not wish to argue against the near-waters section of 291 the industry, nor against the middle-waters fishermen, who will be in extreme difficulties in the near future. I doubt very much whether the allowance of five trips to Iceland as against three will solve their problems. It is reported in the current issue of Fishing News that a firm at Milford Haven which has been doing a lot of pioneering work fishing in the middle waters has gone into liquidation. It is likely that unless some assistance is given to that side of the industry more economic difficulty will arise. I emphasise that, particularly with an industry which has contributed to the defence of the nation on more than one occasion, I am not opposing assistance provided that it can be clearly shown that the expenditure of public money is justified.
I understand from Fishing News that deep-water vessels will receive £15 per day in operational subsidies. Making due allowance for in-dock periods and refits, I estimate that a vessel may fish for 280 days a year. At £15 per day, it means that each ship will receive £4,200 in subsidy per year. What is the amount that will be received by the three combines in the Port of Grimsby with 54 ships? Hon. Members have not been given the figures. Perhaps they are available, but we certainly have not been given them. When I asked the Minister today for the figures he made a very good Parliamentary speech and, from his point of view, did a wonderful job without referring to any notes for the greater part of his oration.
What I am trying to make the right hon. Gentleman realise is that if we had the operational costs of the near water, middle water and deep water vessels it would be easier for us to reach satisfactory conclusions. As it is, the Minister said that he did not have the figures. And if one is to base one's subsidy on a daily basis, how can one arrive at that figure except on the basis of the operational cost?
Further, from which source does the Minister fish out the figure of £15? It may be that the operational costs are such that £15 will not be sufficient—even though I consider it to be far in excess of what is needed. On this question let us consider whether this is the poor section of the industry. I learned something today; that we in the trade union 292 movement are not quite as clever when it comes to the question of restrictive practices as are the Government, hon. Gentlemen opposite and employers.
We in the trade union movement have been castigated time and again by hon. Members opposite about the operation of restrictive practices. I realise that we cannot teach hon. Gentlemen opposite anything about this because the question of a minimum price for the sale of fish at the dockside is at the moment before the Restrictive Practices Court. It may be that the decision will determine that it is, in fact, a restrictive practice and that it should stop. If so, the industry and the Minister will no doubt get their heads together to make it legislatively possible. And they talk about us—the trade union movement and the lad on the factory floor—indulging in restrictive practices. Really!
I recall that it was about 1937 that the fishing industry first had a minimum price introduced to it. It was introduced because of the enormous amount of fish being dispatched straight from the dockside to the manure industry. It was not a question of people not wanting fish; this was at a time when people could ill afford to buy it. It was not a question of over-production but of under-consumption.
The minimum price figure then fixed—and I speak from experience of the Grimsby area, although I am positive that it was adopted generally—was 2s. 5d. per five stone box. So it became 5s. 6d. at Hull for a ten stone kit, since somewhat different methods are operated at the various ports. I understand that at present—and I get my figures from the B.T.F.—the minimum price is £3 6s. per ten stone kit. Yes, they are doing fairly well because if one takes the depreciation in monetary value compared with pre-war there is a wide margin of difference between 5s. 6d. and £3 6s. per ten stone kit.
This is where operational costs become important, for if we had the operational costs per day or per trip we could assess the matter, which, after all, is our job. That is what we are here for. If we are to ensure that public money is expended properly we should be given the figures, the operational costs, to allow us to assess whether it is right that £15 a day should be paid.
293 What is the effect of the minimum price on the receipts of a given trawler? In my day in the industry, trawlers rarely got back into port from deep water in under 14 days, and more often they were out for 21 days. Today trawlers fishing between 10 and 18 days are fetching 2,000 kits of fish into port. On the minimum price alone, the receipts for those 2,000 kits would be £6,600. I do not want the Secretary of State to tell me that I am wrong, because I would refer him to the Fishing News, the current isue of which is in the Library and deals with the question of the number of days and the quantity of fish brought in. This sum of £6,600 may be a very small figure when related to the operational costs of a 12-day trip, but on the basis of the minimum price, which never obtains—and that is the important thing—the receipts from fish caught on this type of trip in the matter of 10, 12 or 14 days, is £6,600.
The Secretary of State has not been prepared to give the information, for which I have asked on several occasions, to enable us to assess correctly whether or not this expenditure is justified. We have recently discussed the question of Surtax payers. I referred recently to the Silver Cord Award for last year, and on that occasion, if my memory serves me correctly, it was presented to a skipper who had earned in one year £10,000 as his share of the catch. It is true that he had not earned the £10,000 in the preceding year, but the report that I read indicated that he had earned £8,500 in the preceding year. We recently heard of a case of a skipper in his first command making £4,500 annually.
The other night the Leader of the House chided us on these benches and said that we did not understand what we were talking about when we referred to the subject of Surtax. The Leader of the House was talking about trawler skippers paying Surtax. These are not the trawler skippers of the near water or inshore fleets. They are the trawler skippers of this section of the industry which I challenge the Minister to prove is really so poverty-stricken that it needs this type of subsidy. The trawler skippers do not get any profits from selling the fish. In Grimsby, I understand—I have sought to check this information—they receive £5 15s. per £100 gross. If the 294 trawler skippers are earning anything up to £8,000 and £10,000 a year on the basis of lower than 6 per cent. poundage, it would be interesting to find out what the trawler owners are earning. From my experience of the trawling industry, I am convinced that if the skippers, on the basis of 6 per cent. or less than 6 per cent. on the poundage, are earning the figures they are today in the deep sea side of the industry, the trawler owners must be prosperous indeed.
I understand that the Bill allows for grants and loans for the building of new ships on a scrap and build programme. That is what it is: one is built for every two scrapped. I want to know whether full precautions are to be taken to ensure that, if the taxpayer's money is used for this type of programme, the ships resulting from it will be built in British shipyards. I invite the Secretary of State to cut short this part of my speech by giving a "yea" or "nay" to that question at once. We are entitled to know whether money spent in this way will flow into the British shipbuilding industry. During the past two or three years, several trawlers have been built in foreign yards. I should not subscribe to the view that money secured from the taxpayer's purse, either in grants or loans on very favourable terms, could be taken elsewhere so that the ships were built in foreign yards at a time when our own shipyards were so much in the doldrums.
My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) dealt very ably with the subject of manpower in the industry. I emphasise the need for decasualisation, the need for registration in the industry, and the need for the right type of certificates of officers, particularly third hands and engineers. The days when we could have the insurance certificates have long passed. There should be the right type of certificates for the chief officers on the ships.
Decasualisation is very important. I know that there have been difficulties in the past. There has been the practice of picking up someone to make up a crew. At one time, of course, this was the only way a man got into the industry. If a man was not prepared to accept a number of tide jumps, as they were called—when a man failed to turn up, someone was prepared to jump abroad the ship at the swing gates and go straight out to 295 sea—there was no other way to enter the industry. There was no apprenticeship. There were not even deckie learners or galley boys at that time. It is time that the conditions applicable to fisherman at sea who have a very difficult, arduous and dangerous job to do were put on a proper basis.
As far as I can see from the experience that I have of the fishing industry, the only possible way to achieve this cleaning up of the industry is by legislation. Also it is incumbent on the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland to ensure that subsidies are given solely on the basis of need.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
In view of the time which remains, I shall not take up the time of the House in discussing the question which as occupied a very large part of this debate, except to say this. As a Northumbrian fisherman said to me this morning, "Give the Scots the chance of getting below the Border and they will all be on us." We see that far too often in these debates. I hope that the Minister will ensure that adequate protection is given to our own inshore fishermen in England. That is bad luck for the Scottish fishermen, but I should like to make that plea.
I should like to praise what I think are the objects of the Bill. If it is to be a matter of scrap and build, which I believe is the Government's object, I hope that they will encourage new methods of fishing. We have heard a great deal in this debate about over-fishing, which is a very serious problem. We know the trouble about the limits and what it means to the fishing industry. It is up to the fishing industry—and I think that what the Minister said was right here—to decide in which way it should go with its new methods of fishing. If a firm is experimenting on a new type of trawler—be it of the "Lord Nelson" type, the "Fairtry" type or any other type—the grant which it gets is £50,000 for a ship costing £500,000. This puts a very heavy burden on the person who has to decide whether work on the ship should go ahead.
A good deal has been said about research into the habits of fish, where 296 they go, and so on. I hope that the Government will tell us that they propose to co-ordinate thoroughly and efficiently the work which is done by various bodies, like the Torry Institute, or which is done in Plymouth and Lowestoft. It is most important that this work should not be duplicated, and that it should be available to the industry and used to the best possible advantage.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that he proposed to increase the penalties. In many cases, the penalties which are imposed are derisory. Fines of £20 and the confiscation of gear do not mean a thing one way or the other. To enforce the increased penalties, I hope that the Minister will stress the necessity for more fishery protection vessels. From what we have heard today, that will be necessary.
Much has been made of the question of increased fishery limits—base lines, and so on. I accept the view of the Government that perhaps this is not a good time to press the point in view of possible embarrassment in forthcoming negotiations. I wonder, however, how largely the Common Market negotiations are looming in this matter. I have a feeling that they are a large factor in the Government's fear of embarrassment.
The defence arguments are untenable. For people to hide under obscure arguments that, if we alter our limits, somewhere in the Far East might be affected, is not tenable in this day and age. From many defence points of view, it is essential for us to stop Russians monitoring some of our secret establishments. It would be far better to extend our territorial limits.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) about the minimum price. If the matter is before the Restrictive Practices Court, I hope that the Government will consider that this matter might well be looked into by the White Fish Authority in the same way as a similar procedure has been followed by the Herring Industry Board.
We are, of course, disappointed about the shellfish industry, but we welcome what my right hon. Friend the Minister said about a further look at it. Without being too derogatory to all the hard 297 work put in to the Fleck Report, I must confess that the part of it devoted to the shellfish industry was derisory. I should like to bring my right hon. Friend's attention to an inquiry which has been carried out by World Fishing, in its September and October issues. I have with me figures from a shell fishermen's organisation in the North of England, showing that over the last five years the average earnings of these men are £8 15s. a week. That is not enough.
Where the Government are wrong is that they are probably influenced by the fact that only a small portion of the popular commodity known as scampi is produced mostly by some of the big groups—for example, the Ross group, which has bought up Young's and is interested in a big way. Whereas to these big groups, however, it represents only 10 per cent. of their output, it is 90 per cent. of the output of the small men to whom I have referred. We welcome the help for oyster fishing—and there are plenty of oyster beds in my part of the country—but we must ask the Government to look again at the shellfish question, about which I hope to have some convincing facts and figures before we reach the next stage of the Bill.
I welcome the proposals concerning processing plants. They show that the Minister has listened to the representations that some of us have been making for some time. If in places like west Cornwall, where transport costs are high, we could get a processing plant, it would do nothing but good.
It is fashionable to run dawn the White Fish Authority, but few people speak of the good things that it does—for example, the research which the Authority is carrying out with the ship "Madeline". What has happened, however, to the Banks Report, and when will we be able to see it? I hoped that before this debate we might have had some indication of what the Report says, but, unfortunately, it is not yet forthcoming.
Most of these points can be dealt with better in Committee, when I hope that we shall have time to make what is in many respects a good Bill a great deal better. With those words, I welcome the Bill and hope that it will have a successful passage.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), because I know he has always had a deep interest in fishing matters, not only because of his constituency, but because, I believe, he does care for the industry.
I would endorse what the hon. Member said about shellfish. When one reads carefully the Fleck Report one can see that there that part of the industry has been rather sketchily surveyed. I think there is some strength in the argument that this industry must again be looked at carefully, if not by a committee of the standard of Fleck, by a committee which the Department itself may set up.
I agree, also, with the hon. Member on minimum price. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), in reply to one of my hon. Friends, did say that there was something here which probably could be solved by a White Fish Authority approach, just as the Herring Industry Board has itself dealt with the problem. So, without getting involved in reports from the Monopolies Commission, it might be well that the White Fish Authority should have a look at this matter.
As to the argument about the Common Market and the question of limits, I am not certain whether this was a factor. Only the Government can give the answer. Of course, the Common Market looms again in a debate of this kind. All I would say about that is that irrespective of whether we join the Common Market or not all of us on both sides of the House want to see a good fishing industry. We want to see our fishing industry prosperous for various reasons.
I myself have doubts about the Common Market. Indeed, my natural instincts are to oppose it. That is my personal point of view—and for agriculture, too. That is why I hope that the Minister, who is responsible for both industries, will be cautious. However, I am now expressing my own personal view and not a party view on this. Even the Minister expresses only a personal view because the Government, too, are being cautious, even in relation to fisheries, and can well understand that in answer to questions about this the Secretary of State for Scotland will be cautious as well.
299 Irrespective of our views on the Common Market, all of us, on both sides of the House, wish to build up a prosperous fishing industry, for good reasons. I am not going into the details which have been dealt with so often in debates of this kind. Anyone reading Fleck, or anyone following many of the fishing debates we have had in this House over a long period, will recognise that this industry has a major contribution to make. Mention has been made of its importance in providing food for the nation. It also gives a livelihood to many people who are engaged in catching, in distributing and in processing. Moreover, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) said, emphasising what the Fleck Report said, this industry provides a great school of seamanship.
We have often paid our tribute to the men in this industry and that tribute should be paid again tonight. Both sides of the House generously give it. These are the men who provide the basis for the Royal Navy. Also, our inshore fishermen man our lifeboat crews. For all these reasons, political, economic and social, it is essential that we should have a prosperous fishing industry.
Whether there should be subsidies for this industry, and, if so, to what extent, is another matter. I know that there are differences of opinion. I wish the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) had been here, for I should have liked to have heard his views on the need for private industry to be subsidised. I remember that on many occasions the noble Lord has attacked subsidies from the State to private industry, and especially farming subsidies.
Even on my side of the House there have been hon. Members who have deplored giving State money to private industry where there is no adequate provision for control over that industry. However, I believe that in certain circumstances it is necessary to inject a subsidy into some industries, and tonight we are dealing with a Bill which provides a subsidy for the fishing industry.
As I have said, this important industry makes a major contribution to our economy. It is a complex industry which 300 takes various forms—the distant water fleet, the middle water section, the near water section, and the smaller boats round our shores. It is a complex industry in which those firms engaged on the catching side are also engaged in distribution, and one sees the classical case of how capitalism is changing considerably through vertical as well as horizontal integration.
§ Mr. Peart
Even on the transport side. I mentioned distribution, and we have here a complex industry which is changing, which is important, and which has important political repercussions outside this country.
Despite its complexity, the industry must be subsidised. We have here a social problem as well, and I shall develop later the formidable argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland).
I add my tribute to the Minister. As has been said from both sides of the House, he excelled himself today, and, if I may modestly do so, I congratulate him. I was glad that his father-in-law was here to hear him. His performance was a fine Parliamentary one. One hon. Member said that the Minister did not read his brief. I am glad when Ministers come to the Box and do not try to read their briefs, just as I am glad that right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition do not read prepared briefs. The Minister was at home with the main provisions of the Bill, but I was interested to see that he read a good deal of the brief dealing with Part II of the Bill. It was interesting that he read the part which will impose penalties on our fishermen who catch salmon on the high seas.
That was rather significant, and I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who has a great knowledge of the fishing industry, will be logical in his approach to the Minister and will realise that the Government have a good case in that they are providing subsidies for the industry, and that in Part I of the Bill they are providing subsidies for processing, ice factories, and so on. But the Minister was not at home on an important matter which deeply concerns some of my Scottish hon. Friends.
301 I believe that the right hon. Gentleman carefully presented his case and proved that the Bill was necessary. Tonight, we are, of course, discussing the broad policy and principle of the Bill, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in Committee we shall critically examine the details, the incidence of the subsidies, and their effect on all sections of the fleet. We shall also critically examine the regulations outlined in Part II, and the provisions for the shellfish industry. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) mentioned that. I applaud the broad principles of the Bill. We shall not oppose them, although in Committee we shall deal with that part of the Bill which I have criticised.
The aim of the Bill is to make the industry self-supporting. I know that this argument has been produced time and again in fishing debates. It was put forward at the end of the last Session, when we were discussing more aid for the distant water fleet, which was essential because of a political decision and political difficulties over Iceland's fishing grounds.
Fleck has said that this industry must be given aid for ten years. I am not sure whether we can really say that within ten years the industry will be self-supporting. I know that all hon. Members on both sides of the House have had documents from the British Trawlers Federation. They are no secret. They have been published and are known to the Government. The Federation has accepted broadly the policy of the Government. To quote from its document of 31st October, 1961, it said:We accept the basic principle that the trawler fleet should be self-supporting within ten years and will co-operate fully with the Government to that end.Our friends in the Trawlers Federation, which is an important section of the industry, honestly believe that it can be self-supporting. That is the view of the Government.
The Government have called the Fleck Committee's Report in aid. I am sure that the Minister, if he carefully looks at the recommendation of the Report, will see that the Fleck Committee did not act dogmatically. It was not certain. I have argued this with my friends in the Trawlers Federation. I have here a section dealing with the economics of the 302 fishing industry in regard to which the Fleck Committee's Report, in page 144, states:The industry is, therefore, not likely to have any easy time ahead of it, and it may be all it can do to hold its own at about the present level of profitability, or an only slightly higher one, even if the subsidies continue as at present.It went on to say:Any reduction of the fleet to a completely economic level, such as must eventually follow the withdrawal of the fishing subsidies, might lead to a decline in the supply and a rise in the price of home-caught fish.It may be necessary for the Government to say that they will give a subsidy for a ten-year period, but in no way does the Fleck Committee's Report come out with the main argument that the industry will be self-sufficient. I therefore trust that the Government will not be dogmatic about it. It may well be, as one hon. Member opposite said, that it will take a much longer time and that the Government may have to come to the House with further legislation and ask for further aid. However, we hope that the industry will be more viable. This was the argument cogently put forward in an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby. He said that if we are to have that the industry must make "structural adjustments". I think that that was the phrase he used. How right he is. Inevitably, a new situation is arising in which the industry will have to make structural adjustments, and in the application of Government aid by subsidies we must look at what structural changes ought to take place.
The Government cannot go on arguing that we must subsidise sections of the fleet where there will be a period of over-capacity. That would be absurd. So, inevitably, the financial arrangements must be flexible. I am glad that the Minister concedes that argument; indeed, in his financial arrangements there is some measure of flexibility. On the other hand, I feel that the incidence of a subsidy must inevitably affect the structure of the fleet.
I shall not forecast the future development of the fleet. There are many hon. Members on both sides who come from large fishing constituencies and who are better qualified to do that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), and others representing Scottish ports. It could well be that the middle 303 water section of the fleet will change and that some of the graduations between the distant, near and middle water fleets will also change. I accept that. But I will not be dogmatic. I would rather leave it to the industry to meet this challenge to see how the incidence of the subsidy will apply and what encouragement can be given.
I do not agree with the Minister that it should be entirely the responsibility of the industry to make these structural arrangements, or that the industry should be solely responsible for the changing pattern of the fleet. The taxpayer, through the Government, must see that we have the best possible fleet in the circumstances. The initiative must come from the Government. That is why I challenge the Minister on the question of research and fishery design. It is not a matter merely for the industry, because the industry has not faced the challenge. It has been lagging behind in new scientific developments.
I know that some may resent this charge, but the Fleck Report provides evidence of apathy in this respect. It is, therefore, right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) said in his admirable analysis of this side of the industry, that the Government should have some idea of the future pattern of our fleet, and should use the subsidy to see that the right developments take place in each section. The Government have at their disposal not only the advice of the industry, but the advice of an important body of experts built up in the fisheries departments, and they also have their contacts overseas, in respect of new developments taking place in other countries. When the Minister presents his detailed proposals and tells us of the aid to be given, I hope that he will not argue that this matter must be left to the industry.
The aid to be given under Part I will be of benefit to the industry. The argument put forward by the Minister, that for every two tons of old stock there should be one ton of new, is a good argument, and is the correct approach, although I hope that he will not accept the advice of the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), who said that we ought to go into the redundant trawler export business. The hon.
304 Member should stick to bloodstock exports. He is not here at the moment, so I will not pursue that point in detail. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind by the Minister, and we shall certainly wish to consider it carefully in Committee.
I have been generous to the Minister, and I hope that I shall be generous to my hon. Friend the Member for Leith. All hon. Members will probably agree that my hon. Friend's speech was one of the best that we have had from this side of the House on fishing matters. My hon. Friend carefully analysed the details that I have dealt with, and I want now to argue forcibly the case of the Scottish fishermen. I am amazed that the Government have climbed down on this, in view of the Ministerial statement made in another place. Hon. Members who support the Minister in this matter must take what was recently said there by the Ministry's Joint Parliamentary Secretary as authoritative.
I will repeat what he said in reply to this argument:… this is not a matter on which it is possible at present to make any firm predictions ".This is from a Minister who is responsible to the Secretary of State, and who has access to all the expert advice available in Government Departments. He went on:There are many factors which affect the stocks of salmon and it is difficult to disentangle the effect of any one of them. Moreover, in order to get any relevant information of what is happening to the stocks, statistics over a fairly long period are required …I point this out to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who spoke so eloquently about the need for conservation. We all want conservation. The hon. Member gave examples of what had happened to the salmon rivers in New England and Maine and he referred to the Rhine and to other great rivers of Europe which were once salmon fishing rivers. We do not want to see something similar happen in this country. I think that the hon. Member will agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and with me that before we commit ourselves to legislation, or make any rash decisions, we must have proper information.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of what happened to the 305 Tyne, in the North of England? The fishing was destroyed by drift netting and the history of other places is similar. I do not wish to repeat my speech, but I stand by everything I said.
§ Mr. Peart
I am as jealous as the hon. Member for conservation. I have the River Derwent in my own constituency, a very fine salmon river and I should hate to see it spoiled. But before any action is taken against fishermen, who will be put into a worse position than foreign fishermen in our own waters; before we come to any major decision, I ask the Government to be careful and to have a proper inquiry.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirling-shire)
Is not it a fact that industrial effluent has played an important part in denuding our rivers of salmon? Is not industrial effluent, rather than drift-net fishing, responsible? Take the example of the River Forth, in my constituency.
§ Mr. Peart
That is my argument, that there may be other factors. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:… that is really a short period in relation to the cycle of fluctuations which are commonly experienced in salmon fisheries and it is not possible yet to draw firm conclusions.The Joint Parliamentary Secretary went on to say:… here is no reliable evidence to show whether the level of a drift-netting which has taken place so far is likely to have a damaging effect on stocks.He also quotes other factors including environment. I do not wish to be accused of propaganda, because I am quoting a representative of the Government. He said that the various factors include… the environmental changes in the rivers, but it is bound to be some considerable time before any definite conclusions can be drawn. I think I should say, however, that our scientists have expressed the tentative view, on such evidence as is available, that it is unlikely that the scale of drift-net fishing so far practised would have any damaging effect on the stocks, even in the Tweed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd June, 1961; Vol. 232, c. 773–4.]Here we have a Minister, who has the advantage of scientific advice on this matter from experts—men who advise the Government Departments—making a responsible statement. I want to know why the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has changed his mind. In an important Bill of this kind, 306 dealing with our sea fish industry, why should the Secretary of State inject a matter of controversy? Why should the Government not have waited for an independent survey? I agree with the Minister that we had an excellent Committee dealing with the question of salmon and fresh water fisheries in England and Wales—the Bledisloe Committee. Its Report is worth reading by any hon. Member interested in the conservation of salmon stocks. I should like something similar to be done for Scotland. Why should there not be a careful survey and evidence given? Why should the Government ignore the representations of an important section of Scottish fishermen?
My hon. Friends have argued strongly—and I think that they are right—that the Secretary of State for Scotland has caved in to landlord interests in Scotland. The matter is as simple as that. I am not the only one who says that. The hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie) has said it. His speech was far stronger than that of any Left-winger I have heard on this side of the House. He said that salmon belongs to the privileged few. This was the phrase which was used by a Conservative hon. Member who has had the courage to defy the Whip, but the Government have given in because of pressure of noble Lords in another place. This was the cry raised in the last century—Scottish landlordism and how ordinary men and women suffered because of their power. It is true. The leopard has not changed its spots. The Scottish Unionist Party must be a very strong party.
When dealing with England and Wales, the Minister was at home on the main part of the Bill, but when he had to deal with the Scottish part of the Bill he had to read a brief, no doubt prepared by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sorry that the Minister, for whom I have a great respect, should fall for Scottish pressures. I am hesitant to intervene in a Scottish debate, but I am sorry that he has intervened in something which does no good to Scotland.
I hope that even at this late stage we may have an assurance from the Secretary of State for Scotland that he will look at this question again. I assure him that we shall fight it very strongly in Committee. We shall give him no rest; we shall harry him, to use the 307 words of a former Scottish Tory Member. I ask that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw this provision. I say again to the Minister of Agriculture that I wish he would try to put a little pressure on the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is acting against all scientific opinion.
I want to pass to other parts of the Bill. I was glad that my hon. Friends the Member for Grimsby and the Member for Goole mentioned the importance of labour relations. My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby argued that there is an opinion abroad that many men in the fishing industry are rich men. That is not so. It is a hard, uncertain life, an arduous occupation. Unfortunately, the Fleck Committee did not go into enough detail on this matter.
I am glad that my hon. Friends have stressed the need to look carefully at the labour position in ports and ships. I wish that in the Bill the Government could have stressed this and that the Minister could have mentioned it in greater detail. No doubt in Committee we shall pursue it. There is the problem of casualisation of labour and the need to give men security—the need to end some of the practices there and bring about an improvement for the men.
There is also the question of providing in more modern vessels more skilled technicians. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Goole said that there should be three instead of two certificated officers on larger trawlers and that every engineer should have a Ministry of Transport certificate. That would all add to the safety of fishing, the safety of the men and improvements in seamanship. I hope that this matter will be considered by the Government and that they will give it careful thought. The industry must help and co-operate with the trade unions and the Government on labour relations. There are still some black spots in the industry. I know that there are some good spots. I am informed that labour relations are good in Aberdeen, although they had a strike there at one time.
§ Mr. Peart
No doubt matters have improved. Milford Haven is another example of improved relations.
308 But even if we improve the catching side of the industry and give aid to the industry in this respect, it will be of no avail without proper distribution. Anyone who reads carefully the evidence given to the Fleck Committee and examines what happens at our great ports will see the need to improve the marketing of fish. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), who knows the port of Hull well, will confirm that. There is a great need to improve the marketing arrangements. I have here quotations on the subject, but I will not weary the House with them. In particular, we need to improve the administrative arrangements of our docks and dock-side sales, and we need to see that the auctions operate properly and that fair prices prevail. As the Fleck Report said, there should be a proper code for the operation of our markets.
What are the Government doing about this? Have they any proposals to improve the marketing and distribution of fish? What is their answer to the argument that we should have one single dockside authority? I know that it is not an easy problem, but what do the Government propose to do? Will they take the initiative? If this is to be a major Bill something must be done about marketing and there must be some radical reforms.
The Minister is anxious to encourage research in the fishing industry—research into catching, processing and even the distribution of fish. The D.S.I.R. have conducted various studies in Grimsby which have already brought great benefits to the industry. Is there to be an even bigger drive in research? The Minister is aware of the Annual Report of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. In the last major Report, in October, I read:Our review has shown one important gap in responsibility: there is no clear general responsibility for the conservation of our natural resources whether of minerals, water, land use, biological resources or fisheries.The Report said that there was need for a re-examination of the research organisations and the administration of research.
I am not belittling what has been done by such institutions as Torry and many of our famous marine biological 309 institutions and by the marine research in our universities and research at the National Institute of Oceanography. All this research is vital to the industry. We should have a proper research organisation. Will the industry also do something more about research? When we look at the Fleck Report the industry does not come out well in this respect. Will there be an effort to co-ordinate research in this great industry?
We on this side of the House broadly welcome the Bill, apart from Part II. Various reasons have been given for aid being provided to the industry—political reasons, such as the possibility of the extension of the fishing limits, the Icelandic dispute, the problem of the Faroes, and the need for true conservation leading to international agreements. For these reasons inevitably there must be aid to an industry which contributes so much to the life of our nation.
In welcoming the Bill we on this side of the House hope that the Minister will not stand only on the Bill, but will take the initiative in market research and research into the other problems of the industry. We hope that we shall be able, at long last, to have an industry which, after ten years, will be a viable self-sufficient economic unit providing cheap food for the consumer and giving a livelihood for a very important section of the community.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)
In the time at my disposal I will try to deal with as many as I can of the very large number of detailed questions which have been asked, but I shall also have to deal at some length with the major issues which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides, particularly by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), on Clauses 10–12. This has been an extraordinarily interesting debate to listen to. Fishing debates always are. It has been remarkable for the unanimity of view on the proposals the Government have put forward, with certain exceptions, in which I seem to be rather involved, in the opinion of hon. Members on both sides. I will deal with that when the time comes.
I am glad that a tribute was paid to the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). It 310 was an admirable speech, if I may say so without any condescension on my part, even the parts where he was being rather rude to me. I am quite prepared to deal with them when the time comes. I want to pay a tribute also to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for his remarkable achievement in speaking without notes, a thing about which I shall be very careful at this stage. If I did not use notes, I should not remember some of the questions I have been asked to answer. I am always asked to copy my right hon. Friend in everything I do, but I shall not risk it to that extent. If the hon. Member for Workington thinks that I sit down and write my right hon. Friend's speeches for him, he must have a very odd opinion of both my right hon. Friend and myself.
§ Mr. Maclay
That is another gloss on what happens. The hon. Member for Leith asked a specific question about what would happen if territorial limits at the Faroes were extended. He will appreciate that this is a hypothetical question. It would not be wise in anybody's interests for us to begin discussing that kind of subject at this stage. It is a situation which has not arisen and we cannot tell what will happen or when it will happen, if ever. It would be better if we did not discuss it in detail.
The hon. Member for Leith also raised an interesting point about ship lengths and about ships which are of a marginal length and do not quite fall into the category into which he would like them to fall. This is a matter for the schemes, but he will probably realise that lengths were discussed with the industry and were included in the exchange of letters of which he has knowledge. They are a matter for the schemes. They are not laid down in the Bill.
The hon. Member also asked about minimum price agreements. The Fleck Committee recommended that the industry should continue to operate its own minimum price arrangement, subject to the approval of the White Fish Authority. The Distant Water Development Scheme, which includes minimum price arrangements, is, as lie and another hon. Member pointed out, shortly to come 311 before the Restrictive Practices Court. We know that the trawler owners attach a great deal of importance to the minimum price arrangements, but here again I am sure that the House will agree that we should not say anything in detail until that case is decided.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), in an interesting speech, approached this problem in a rather unexpected way. He will not expect me to follow it up in detail. It is clear that all concerned are worried about the situation which may arise, and we are very much aware of it.
The hon. Member for Leith also asked about the North Atlantic Fisheries Convention. Four out of 14 countries have not yet ratified it. They are France, Germany, Ireland and Portugal. They are, however, expected to ratify it this winter. We hope that the Convention will come into force next year. That is our hope on present information.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) spoke about research, which was also touched upon by the hon. Member for Workington. The present position is that the Fisheries Departments spend about £700,000 per year on research, and a considerable part of that is on biology. It is very difficult to give a separate figure for biological work. For example, much of the research on catching to which my hon. Friend referred is really biology, since it involves the habits of the fish themselves. Increasing attention is being paid to this subject.
The so-called independent institutions at Plymouth and Millport are doing a great deal of work in biology. There is very close collaboration with fisheries scientists in other countries through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, of which 16 European countries, including the U.S.S.R., are members. There is a very free exchange of information, which itself accelerates progress. Where necessary, the Council sponsors joint investigations. Consequently, a good deal of attention is being given to research at the moment. We shall certainly note the strong views expressed by the hon. Member for Workington.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin also suggested—I am not sure that 312 I quite understood him—that a frogman who was alleged to have taken lobsters out of pots could not be convicted of stealing. I am advised that in a recent case to which my hon. Friend referred the court was convinced by the defendant that the lobsters were not taken from the pot but were taken from the bed of the sea, and, therefore, the court did not convict. It is an interesting point. I shall follow up with interest the precise state of the law about lobsters in pots and lobsters out of pots.
§ Mr. Marshall
As my right hon. Friend says that he will follow this up, am I correct in thinking that he feels that at the moment the position is not quite clear?
§ Mr. Maclay
These lobsters were not in a pot. As far as I can make out, there is no doubt about these lobsters. If there has been anything unclear, it may only have been the expression of my views, but I will check the matter carefully and if there is anything that we should do to make the situation clearer to my hon. Friend, I will write to him.
A number of other points arose but they very quickly got linked up with salmon. It will probably be better if I now say a word or two about salmon.
§ Mr. Maclay
No, Sir. I shall return to the other points after I have dealt with the salmon. There are a number of other matters with which I wish to deal.
A good deal of fuss has been made about the fact that we have included in the Bill provisions dealing with salmon fishing. I will explain straight away why this has been done. First, it is clear that the problem with which we are dealing here occurs in the sea, and the salmon is a fish which spends a large part of its life in the sea. Indeed, it is a very handy fish, for it could be included in almost any kind of Bill. Secondly, we have covered salmon by adapting provisions in earlier Acts which we wanted to amend in any case in relation to ordinary sea fishing. The earlier Acts gave Ministers power to prohibit specified forms of sea fishing 313 or to licence sea fishing in certain circumstances.
As my right hon. Friend has explained, we found that those provisions were not wide enough in two respects. First, they might not enable us to give effect to all measures which might be put forward by the international bodies concerned with conservation. Secondly, they limit the action which can be taken inside our territorial waters to what has been agreed internationally in respect of the high seas. In some cases it may well be that we shall want to apply regulations in our own waters where foreigners cannot fish even though the regulations are not being applied on the high seas.
Clauses 10, 11 and 12 would have appeared in the Bill had there been no question of controlling salmon fishing. It therefore seemed, to us appropriate to extend them to cover the control of salmon. Incidentally, two of the earlier Acts we are debating—the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1948, and the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1959—applied to salmon as to other sea fish. So hon. Members should drop that one because there is no reason at all why this should not have been done.
As the House appreciates, one of the objects of the Clauses in the Bill which deal with salmon is the situation which has arisen within the last two years in relations to drift netting for salmon off the Tweed and other Scottish rivers. The proposals have been severely criticised by hon. Members today and also by people outside the House. I freely admit that this is a very difficult question and in many ways has set a special problem; the more so because we are unable to find a parallel set of circumstances on which we might call for guidance.
This involves the future of a very valuable national asset as well as being concerned with long-established legal private rights and a public right which has only recently been exploited. Several hon. Members have commented on the inquiry which, as my right hon. Friend has mentioned, I propose to set up and I must give the House the background to this drift netting problem. First of all, the legal position in Scotland and England differs considerably and that may not be appreciated by the hon.
314 Member for Workington. In England drift-net fishing is a public right inside territorial limits, subject to control by river boards and, where not prohibited, it is allowed under licence.
In Scotland, however, fishing within territorial waters—within three miles—whether by drift net or otherwise is a private right, as it is in rivers, and up to one mile from low water mark it is a statutory offence, as it is in rivers, to fish without the written consent of the person with that right. Outside territorial waters in both countries there is a public right to fish by drift net or any other method. The Tweed is subject to an estuarial limit of five miles and drift netting is prohibited in that area. It is, therefore, a complex problem.
Although this fishery only started in 1960 on any scale at all it has developed extremely rapidly. My information is that in 1960 only twelve boats operated from an English port and in the Tweed area the total catch was estimated at 9,000 salmon. There were no boats operating from Scottish ports. By 1961 the activity had spread and, in addition to the twelve English boats, twelve Scottish boats were engaged in the Tweed area and a further 62 elsewhere.
They caught between 13,000 and 15,000 salmon in the Tweed area, about 12,000 off the Angus coast and a further 1,300 in the Moray Firth, making a total catch of 28,000 salmon. I must point out that this is a cautious estimate. It is difficult to get accurate figures, but as far as one can be sure—where there are not statutory returns—these figures are correct, although the total may be greater.
This, however, does not give the whole picture. Towards the end of the summer—after that date of 22nd June which has been quoted so often in the debate—I was reliably informed that many more boats were being fitted with drift nets and that the orders were such that there were long delays in the delivery of these nets. Expansion was spreading fast.
For the Tweed area the drift-net catch of about 14,000 fish is equivalent to one-quarter of the average annual Tweed catch of salmon and grilse for the last nine years. This is more than one-third of the average Tweed salmon catch. It is fair to leave out grilse because the 315 catch was made before the grilse run began. Off the Angus coast there is rather more room for doubt as to where the fish were going, but the total drift net catch of 12,000 fish, which, in this case, included grilse, is more than 10 per cent. of the annual average catch for the Tay, the two Esks and the Dee taken together. That fishing was not going on for very long, either. I know it has been suggested that drift netting may not spread, but the figures which we had and still have are that it could well spread and expand to other areas.
Hon. Members have made a great deal of the speech made by my noble Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in another place, but not one of the hon. Members who quoted from the speech read the relevant passages. The following passage was read:I think I should say, however, that our scientists have expressed the tentative view, on such evidence as is available, that it is unlikely that the scale of drift-net fishing so far practised would have any damaging effect on the stocks, even in the Tweed.The hon. Member did not read out the very next sentence:So far as it goes, that is reassuring. But we must be cautious on this matter, because it is clear that drift-netting for salmon in the sea could develop to such an extent that it might eventually affect the stocks of salmon.Then the speech went on:I can assure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government are very conscious of the fact that it may be necessary to take steps to prevent a situation developing which it would be difficult or impossible to remedy." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd June, 1961; Vol. 232, c. 774.]I understand that it is not in order for me to quote from members of the other place who are not Ministers, but if hon. Members care to read the same Report a few pages on and refer to a very interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, the former Lord Provost of Dundee, I think they will find that it is not only people who are normally supposed to be on our side of politics who hold a very strong view on that. I must not quote the noble Lord, but he said in the strongest terms what a tragedy it would be if we allowed this great national asset to be wasted through lack of action.
316 I should like to emphasise that in coming to this difficult decision the Government had to take into account a number of different factors, and that it was weighing these up in aggregate rather than basing our decision on any one of them that forced us to conclude that prohibition in Scotland is right. First, there is the conservation argument. It has been argued that there is no evidence that stocks are being affected by drift-net fishing and that there was, therefore, no need for the action proposed. I accept for the moment that there is no direct evidence one way or the other whether drift-net fishing so far has affected Scotland's stocks. It may well be the case that this new fishery, added to the established methods of capture, is reducing the number of salmon reaching the spawning grounds in some of our rivers, but I agree that that does not necessarily mean that the stocks—that is to say, future runs of salmon—will be reduced. It would take four or five years to establish this. Hon. Members argue that we should wait and run the risk of an irretrievable loss to our stocks, but our scientific advice is that if drift-netting developed on a substantial scale over a wide area round our coast it would be damaging to stocks.
§ Mr. Hoy
The right hon. Gentleman must not say that it was said by any hon. Member in this House. What has been argued from both sides of the House is that in view of the Government's own statement and the fact that the Minister himself has agreed to set up an inquiry, we should have the inquiry first before we come to a decision.
§ Mr. Maclay
I will deal with that later.
The second factor is that established salmon fisheries in Scotland are of considerable importance. Angling is a recreation to many and extremely important to the tourist industry. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, our salmon fisheries are extremely important employers of labour in areas where other jobs are not easy to find. The commercial net fisheries employ from 1,600 to 1,700 men, who have been extremely concerned about the possible effects of drift-netting on their employment; and 317 perhaps there are more than 1,000 others employed as bailiffs and ghillies. The annual value of the catch is very high and is an important element in the Scottish economy.
Also, of course, the salmon is a very special kind of fish with a river life and a sea life. The owners of the private rights to which I have referred not only pay for these rights but contribute through the assessments of district boards for the protection and management of the salmon in our rivers during the vital spawning and rearing period. In addition, the rod fisheries pay rates to the local authorities. I submit that it would have been wrong to ignore the effect of the new drift-net fishery on these important established fisheries.
We have decided that an inquiry is necessary. This inquiry will take time, with the best will in the world. It will have to examine the existing law—much of it nearly 100 years old—and the existing practice in most of the rivers of Scotland. It will have to examine the available scientific evidence. It will have to consider whether a proper balance can be struck between the different methods of taking fish which is fair and reasonable to the established fisheries and which is enforceable.
As I have said, this will take time, and perhaps a considerable time at that. Hon. Members have argued that we should postpone action of any kind until after the inquiry is completed. I submit that that would be quite wrong and irresponsible because, with the best will in the world, the committee could not report quickly if it did a proper job on this highly complex problem. If we were to run the risk of large numbers of fish being taken out of the spawning stock year after year, there could be no possible doubt about the risk of grave damage.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland made a most interesting speech from his great experience of this type of fish. It would have been perfectly simple for me to take the easy way, just sit back, appoint a committee, and do nothing. Hon. Members have talked about giving way to pressures. This is absolute nonsense. We have had to obtain what evidence we could. We have listened to representations from all the people who have come to us, some 318 of them expressing strong views in regard to the matter. We had to decide on what we believed to be right to protect in the long term a very valuable Scottish asset.
I have listened very carefully to the speeches which have been made, and I have paid close attention to the representations we have received. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the Bill is flexible, and nothing can happen, of course, whether by way of prohibition, licensing, or a ban on landings until an order is laid after the Bill becomes law. Hon. Members will have another opportunity of considering the matter then. Moreover, any order which is made can later be varied in the light of the report of the committee when we have it. It may well be that, at that stage, a satisfactory solution of another kind may be possible. I must make it clear, in the meantime, that I remain of the opinion that, certainly for the time being, the prohibition of drift netting off the coast of Scotland and the Tweed area is necessary, for it is of paramount importance—I re-emphasise this—that we should not leave at risk this important national asset. However, as I say, I have listened carefully and will follow up the various remarks which have been made during the debate in the time between now and the laying of the order.
§ Mr. Temple
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be consultations with the interested parties before the regulations are laid?
§ Mr. Maclay
There certainly will be consultations before that stage is reached. I had it in mind to comment on one or two points which my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr Temple) made in his helpful speech. That is one of the matters I intended to deal with.
Clearly, we are bound to have a lot of consultations with many interests before the Bill becomes law and before we get round to laying the regulations. Nevertheless, I want to make absolutely clear that I remain of the opinion that, at the moment, the risks to this industry are too great for us to take any chances.
I return now to the subject of white fish. I spent a good ten minutes on it 319 at the beginning because I knew that the other point would take a bit of time.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West asked me whether grants and loans could be used for ships not built in this country. At the moment, this is covered not by the Bill but by the schemes. The present position is that the scheme lays down that the money cannot be used abroad. That is a matter which will have to be considered between now and the time that the schemes are made under the Bill. The point that the hon. Member made is very much in our minds and will remain so.
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) gave us an interesting disquisition, as usual, on the problems of fishing. I think that he will agree that, by and large, it looks as if the interests of the boats in which he is most interested are very well protected by the proposals in the Bill. That goes also for what the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) said. He referred to the inshore boats. My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that, with regard to the inshore boats, we carry on as we are now, with annual examinations of the subsidy level. The hon. Gentleman cannot sustain the remark that he made that we are paying no attention to their interests whatsoever.
The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) commented on an important matter, namely, improved marketing. We all agree with what he said. I am grateful to him for the way in which he dealt with a problem which is of immense importance to the whole industry.
The right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) referred to river pollution, which I know is one of his favourite subjects, and quite rightly. He realises that a great deal is being done in Scotland to get going efforts to stop pollution. What has happened in the Clyde, and what could happen in the Forth, is a great tragedy. Other rivers that the right hon. Gentleman and I know have been good clean rivers which have been going wrong for natural reasons, but because the process was spread over a very considerable period, it is difficult to get 320 them tidied up now. But legislation is in existence to deal with that matter. The purification boards are working on this subject, and we hope that in measureable time we shall see real improvements. The right hon. Gentleman. like other hon. Members, referred to seals. Seals constitute a big element in fishing. A study is being made to see whether they can be brought under control in a humane way to protect salmon fishing and other types of fishing.
It has been difficult to cover all the points raised by the Bill. I am sure that the Bill is a useful one. I sincerely hope that the House will give it a Second Reading and that we shall see it on the Statute Book with the minimum of delay. All its provisions are extremely useful, and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).