HC Deb 03 April 1962 vol 657 cc263-78
Mr. Peart

I beg to move, in page 6, line 45, at the end, to insert: and for furthering approved schemes of cooperative research within the industry ", I hope that on this Amendment, which deals with research, to which reference has been made time and time again both on Second Reading and in Committee, the Government will not only express sympathy, but will agree to do something. I hope that what has been done on a previous Amendment shows that even hon. Members behind the Minister desire the Government to give firmer and more decisive answers.

When I moved a similar Amendment in Standing Committee the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that he would examine it and consider what could be done. He said: The case made out is something with which we are in general agreement. There was agreement in Committee that we needed somehow to co-ordinate research, to encourage co-operation, to encourage new organisation and, above all, to encourage development. Although the Minister argued that there was little to be gained by adding the words that we proposed, he said: On the other hand, while we have been considering the Amendment, some doubt has been expressed as to whether, in fact, Ministers would be able to grant aid to every possible form of co-operative research in the industry and there may be an advantage in looking at the wording of the Clause again to make sure that we have not left anything out which we would like to be included."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 12th December, 1961; c. 138–9.] In other words, the Minister admitted in Standing Committee that we had made a case and he agreed to reconsider the matter.

6.0 p.m.

I have argued throughout that anything concerning research is important to the industry. If we are to develop the industry and to give it aid through grants to the White Fish Authority, and if we give aid to the Herring Board and other organisations, it is right and proper that the Government should insist upon provision for research. In our Amendment we use the words: and for furthering approved schemes of cooperative research within the industry". I have referred time and time again in Standing Committee to the sections of the Fleck Report which deals with research. At paragraph 292, the Fleck Committee stated: Research into matters affecting the fishing industry is largely either in the hands of or financed by Government Departments, for the diffuse nature of the industry and its competing sectional interests have prevented the growth of co-operative or private industrial research on any large scale. Lord Fleck was not only Chairman of that Committee, but was a distinguished scientist and industrialist. He is still doing invaluable public service in another place and his comments on research must be taken seriously. In the chapter dealing with research and development, he pointed out how co-operative or private industral research had been prevented.

I could give many quotations from the Fleck Reort, but I do not want to weary the Committee. In paragraph 293, however, the Fleck Committee stated: Nevertheless, we are impressed by the fact that responsibility for fisheries research is divided among such a variety of agencies; and it seems to us doubtful whether under the existing arrangements relative priorities can be adequately assessed in the allocation of public funds for different purposes. In the same paragraph, the Fleck Committee went on to say: Nevertheless, we believe that there is room for more effective co-ordination of effort in this field. I could go on repeating Government statements and show how their views on research have been confirmed by the Fleck Committee and in their own White Paper, which I discussed in Standing Committee when I argued that we should have a research council. I admit that we are now discussing a much narrower point. We are discussing really how to encourage the White Fish Authority to encourage co-operative research within the industry. I would have preferred to have a research council co-ordinating the work. I know that the Government, through the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, gave a favourable answer in Committee, and I know that he and, I am certain, his Minister are both sympathetic to my main argument.

We should like to see the White Fish Authority, in the absence of a research council, giving grants for this purpose. I think that I shall have the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) in sympathy with me. If we can give grants for the making of ice and for factories, which he condemned on Second Reading, it is surely much more important that we should enable the White Fish Authority, if they so deem it—it is not obligatory—to stimulate research and co-operative effort.

The Government have said all along that they are anxious to do something about scientific research. In their own White Paper, The Fishing Industry, the Minister will remember these words: The Government agree with the Fleck Committee as to the importance of research and experimental work and propose to develop this considerably and make extra financial provision for it. The White Paper goes on to say: This arrangement will be reviewed to see whether it could be strengthened. Here is an opportunity for the Government to do something positive. Here is an opportunity for the Government to accept a limited Amendment, even though they argue, as they have argued throughout the Bill, that there is no case for a research council of the type that I sought to get when I moved a new Clause. The pattern of research, represented by our research councils, has grown into our lives and has served us well. I think that in the absence of such a council, even if it is accepted at a later stage when the Government have examined the co-ordination of research, this is a limited way in which the Government could accept our Amendment.

I do not see how the Amendment would restrict the work of the Government or of the White Fish Authority. Here is an opportunity where the Government could say, "We agree with the Fleck Committee. Something must be done. We must encourage research." I have no wish, as I have always argued in Committee, to criticise what has been done; but there needs to be a greater effort. I think that here and there we have fallen down. This, again, has been confirmed by the Committee which investigated our research facilities. I accept that we have conducted some very fine research in many of our establishments.

I pay tribute to the officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to others who have not only conducted research, but have disseminated that research in excellent publications to the interests concerned. I pay tribute to institutions like Torry and the institutions in our universities where important marine and biological researches have been conducted; the work of D.S.I.R. and other bodies which have co-operated with the industry at Grimsby, Hull and elsewhere; and to those which are conducting not only scientific research but economic research.

Despite all that has been done within the industry, the time has now come when there must be some attempt to have co-operation and a further measure of co-ordination. That is what our Amendment is seeking to do. We are arguing, as I have argued very often, that research is so diffuse that a lack of co-ordinated effort has resulted and there has been too much duplication. That is why we want to make an attack ion it, even from a limited point of view, in the Amendment. I have argued that we need a co-operative effort of research in the industry, and the White Fish Authority is an excellent body to do the job.

We need it for another reason. We have a shortage of skilled scientific manpower. The Government are still too complacent about this. On Thursday we are to debate the position of our universities and their development which, in turn, will affect the supply of scientific manpower. We have, I believe, only a limited amount of scientific manpower, however well-qualified, in relation to some other countries. We must see to it that our manpower is used wisely, that its work is not dissipated and that there is no duplication, if we are to make the best use of our scientific manpower in the fishing industry.

The scientists and technologists who are engaged on research in the various institutes and universities, and the various bodies connected with private industry, must be able to co-ordinate their efforts. I hope that every hon. Member opposite who supported me on this in principle in Standing Committee, like the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall), will support me again. I think that the Minister, and certainly the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, has agreed with me in principle. It is all very well for the Government to make a gesture, however. We want them to do something about this. It is all very well saying that the White Fish Authority and other bodies can do research and that they have responsibility. We want that put into the Bill.

The industry needs more research. It faces a great challenge. That is why we are giving more aid to all sections of it, except the shell fishermen—and I think that we could even encourage research in shell fishing. That, however, would not be a matter for the White Fish Authority under the terms of the Amendment.

Our fishing industry is hoping to make a challenge—but it also faces a serious challenge from foreign competition. It may have to seek fishing grounds in more distant and warmer waters. Articles and documents by those studying the fishing industry say that it may well be that Western European countries will have to develop these areas.

In view of what the future holds, research must be done. I know that it is already being done by bodies like the Institute of Oceanography. Our industry is faced by a challenge. It can meet it, but only through a co-operative effort, including research. Bodies like the White Fish Authority are unable to do the job of research. This is a fundamental part of the fishing industry. It is something we must not neglect.

While it was important to have virtually a major debate on the last Amendment, scientific research in the fishing industry is fundamental. It must continue and it must develop because of the challenge the industry is facing from foreign competitors. Those competitors are pumping much money and effort into research.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say that he is not only sympathetic, that he does not only agree in principle, but that he will accept the Amendment. It would in no way restrict the Bill, but it would enable the White Fish Authority to provide schemes of assistance for the co-operative research which is needed.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

As the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has said, we had more than one long debate on research in the Standing Committee. We found that there is little, if anything, between the two sides on this matter. We are all concerned to see that the organisation of research in this industry—which is in a more difficult position than some, since it is split up into a number of small units—is not, in consequence, unduly weakened.

We had a debate in Standing Committee on an Amendment in the same terms as the Amendment now moved by the hon. Gentleman. At the end of that debate, I gave an assurance that, if the Amendment were not pressed, I would look at this matter with our advisers to make quite sure that we did not make the mistake of leaving the White Fish Authority without the power of grant-aiding co-operative research. I think that that is the narrow point that hon. Members wanted to ensure was covered when they put their Amendments down both in Standing Committee and now.

I have been in touch with the hon. Member and I am now able to assure the Committee that the White Fish Authority already has the power, set down quite clearly in the 1951 Act. Therefore, there is no need for us to repeat those words in the Bill. The power is there, not only for the Authority itself to spend money on research or experiment, but to make funds available for others, and I am advised that it also covers research carried on by others on a co-operative basis.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman has been very conciliatory, but the 1951 Act does not say anything about cooperative research. Such research may develop later, but it is not specifically mentioned.

Mr. Vane

There is a general power which, 1 am told, covers all forms of research. Since the power is already there, with a meaning which is perfectly clear, it is better not to start trying to specify particular sorts of research with, perhaps, the implication that, if a certain type of research is not cited in the Bill, it is not intended to be covered.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw his Amendment, because there is no question about the power. I know that he feels very strongly about this, and he is not alone in that. We all feel that we should do all we can, not only to provide the means but also to provide the encouragement. But this Amendment would not add anything to the power of the Authority. As the power is already there, it would be a mistake to specify it again.

Sir D. Robertson

I am glad that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) referred to the magnificent services which are available to the fishing industry at Torry, at the headquarters of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and at the Institute of Oceanography, covering almost every aspect, including trawler building and nets. But it would almost look as if we were ungrateful to Torry.

I have worked with Torry since the end of the First World War. Although I am not in the fishing industry now—having left it when I came to the House of Commons twenty-three years ago—I keep in touch with Torry and recently spent a happy day there. The people there are first class, and we do not need anything more. They advise on the latest and best means of freezing fish at sea. They played a tremendous part in helping the Mars Company in the construction of its great frozen fish trawler. "Junella", launched a few days ago. They were in consultation with Associated Fisheries over its big trawler, the "Lord Nelson", which is a combined freezing and fishing trawler.

This wonderful institution is ready and willing to help us. I shall see the people there in a week or two. They are experimenting in the defrosting of fish. We live in an age of frozen fish, but the merchants still like fresh fish to handle, and they will get it. A machine largely developed at Torry is available, together with other competing methods.

One can have too many organisations. Sometimes I feel that the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board are fifth wheels to the coach. I remember the fishing industry when only very small departments of the Ministries in Whitehall and Edinburgh were able to do many of the things which these boards do now. The one thing we cannot afford to do is to spend money which is not essential to be spent.

These cases are almost applications of Parkinson's Law. The White Fish Authority is created and it grows—as they all grow—far too big. I am told that there are far too many people in these organisations, wasting public money. Now the White Fish Authority is asked to take on research, although it cannot help the industry in any way.

Torry has been in existence since the latter end of the First World War. I met its staff then, and froze fish with them in a basement of Billingsgate Market in 1921, to see the effect. They are in touch with research in the United States and with other nations on fishery matters.

There is one very important matter, much more important than any additional research, and that is, where we are to fish? That is the basic problem. I said it on Second Reading of this Bill. I have been saying it since 1939, and I shall go on saying it. We have overfished the grounds. That is the reason Why white fish men have taken to salmon fishing. We are overfishing grounds rapidly to extinction and we have to find fresh grounds. That is what is urgently needed. There are miles and miles of fishing off both the east and west coasts of South America. There, there are rich fishing grounds. Let research be done on that matter. I know that there are talks going on between the Ministry and the industry to find grounds for expedition fishing. There is an emergency.

It is more a question of investigation than of research, but it is something which should be done. To give the White Fish Authority a research department within its own organisation seems to me to be wholly unnecessary.

Mr. Loughlin

I do not want to quarrel with the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), nor do I want to criticise any of the research organisations, but while the hon. Gentleman was talking I could not help but remember the post-war period when our trawling industry was, quite rightly, re-equipping, but made the mistake of re-equipping at that time with traditional trawlers.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are a number of primary factors to look at when thinking of research. First, we have to think in terms of where the new fishing waters are to be, and expeditionary research is of vital importance if we are to achieve the object of making this industry viable in the next ten years. I do not want to evoke smiles from the Government Front Bench, but we spent a considerable time talking about waters to which our ships would have to go during the next few years, and about overfishing, to which the hon. Gentleman has made some reference. After having determined the fishing waters we shall have to determine the types of ships to go to those waters, and the waters themselves, to some extent, will determine the types of ships which we shall have to build.

I am not decrying in any way the effort which the existing research organisation has made, even though I do pinpoint this salient fact, that the real problem is the error which we made in the immediate post-war period in the construction of our trawlers. But I do not see why, if one or two firms get together and decide to carry out one or two projects of a research character which would be of value to the whole of the industry, the White Fish Authority should not to some extent finance the research in that direction. I hope that some of the private companies in the industry will continue to foot the bill for their own research, but there may be circumstances in which this assistance may be desirable or necessary.

I am glad that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has told the Committee tonight that there is no need, in practice, for this Amendment to be made to the Clause, but I would make this plea to the hon. Gentleman. I know that we can have a sort of political defence mechanism about this word "co-operative" or "co-operation." I do not think that there is any political connotation in it at all, but I should like to see the Minister and the White Fish Authority stimulating to some extent cooperation in the fishing industry. Those of us who have any association with it know that this industry is particularly individualistic.

If, for instance, we could persuade skippers to pool their ideas on the correct parts of the fishing grounds to go to, that would be an improvement to the industry. I am not criticising the skippers. I have argued this before. There is no selfishness in this. Knowledge acquired by a skipper is passed on from father to son. In my view, that is part of the capital of a fisherman. Therefore, there is no selfishness in his refusal to disseminate information which he acquires. No one asks anyone else in any other industry to spread his capital amongst his competitors. However, at the same time, I think that it would be, in some instances, an advantage to the fishermen themselves if there were greater dissemination by the skippers of information about fishing grounds.

I am particularly pleased that the Minister was able to assure the Committee that the intent of the Amendment may be achieved, without our making the Amendment itself.

Commander Courtney

I should like to support the spirit of the Amendment, and to echo many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin). I particularly liked his expression "expeditionary research". I feel that the urgency of asking the Minister to pay, perhaps, greater attention to this kind of research is highlighted by the international competition which we now face, and which I mentioned in Standing Committee. We are very inclined to be rather parochial in our thinking, and generally seldom mention the great degree of competition arising from overseas, more particularly, of course, from the Communist countries.

I wonder whether the Committee realises that the Soviet Union plans a gross total of takings of fish in 1965 of over 3½ million tons. I wonder whether the Committee appreciates—this has a bearing on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D, Robertson)—that this very day the Russian fleet is now off the west coast of Africa, on the ocean shelf, not only investigating those new grounds but fishing, too, and with long-distance factory ships of which they plan to build more in East Germany during the next five years for this sort of purpose. I suggest that this underlines the necessity for some urgency in this matter of research.

On the question of expeditionary research, I should like to touch on one side of the matter that has not yet, so far as I know, been touched on, and that is the possible use of our present long-distance and middle-water fleets in conjunction with shore refrigerating establishments and processing plants on the west coast of Africa—Nigeria itself—so that processed fish might be carried from there to the markets of this country. That is explicitly left out from the Bill, I see, by the fact that the money available for research is for projects in the United Kingdom. I should like to feel however, that the Government would cast their eyes farther afield and perhaps develop this idea of expeditionary research.

I was recently in Morocco—I must admit, on other business—when I was able to visit two or three of the ports, and, in particular, Mogador and Agadir, and it struck me that in the warm Mauritanian fishing grounds we might establish, in collaboration with wet fish catchers, refrigeration and processing bases, in conjunction with the Moroccan Government.

I am sure that there is a great deal to be done in this respect. We have an advantage over our Communist competitors in that we are able to go ashore and establish such processing establishments, whereas the Communists, for reasons best known to themselves, are notoriously unwilling to go ashore. In that way they have greater costs in remaining afloat in those far distant fishing grounds which they are exploiting. I urge the Minister to look at this matter and give it some of the urgent attention which has been reflected in the debate on this Amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Vane

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) spoke about research within the United Kingdom, but research can be done anywhere provided it is for the benefit of the United Kingdom industry. Furthermore, I should like to make it clear that any form of co-operative research within the industry can be given financial support now by the Authority, and the Government can give grants to the Authority in respect of such expenditure. I think that this covers the point which the hon. Member made and also covers the Amendment.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on that a little further? The Fleck Report says that additional funds should be provided for these purposes. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the additional funds are already there for such schemes and that the only thing required is the will to expend them? Will he give an undertaking that even if he has not provided more money he is providing far greater efficiency and drive in order that the money may be expended and the research projects co-ordinated and not continued in isolation?

Mr. Vane

I assure the hon. Member that we are satisfied. He will be asked to approve an Order which I am sure will have his support.

Mr. Peart

The purpose of the Amendment was not to encourage us to indulge ourselves in Parkinson's Law. It was to try to avoid duplication. My whole case in moving the Amendment was that we needed co-operative research in the industry to avoid duplication. In other words, the Amendment was designed to fulfil the spirit of the Fleck Committee recommendation. I disagree with the view that we do not need research in directions other than that mentioned. The Fleck Committee, in paragraph 297 of its Report said: There is, therefore, scope for research and development on many fronts … and went on to argue the need for cooperation.

I accept what the Parliamentary Secretary has said about his advisers having looked carefully at this matter. He has given us a careful answer and he says that the White Fish Authority already has the power, but the question is whether it has the will. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger). If the debate stimulates not only the Authority, but also the Government, to review carefully once more the administration of research and to consider whether there is need for a major change in the structure, I should be satisfied. I believe that we have had that assurance and, because of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said on this and previous occasions about the Government looking into the whole administration of research in the industry, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Loughlin

I presume on the patience of the Committee to say a few words on the Clause. I am a little worried by the reference in the Clause to the powers relating to the provision, acquisition, equipment and operation of plants for processing white fish … This must be looked at with particular care. I do not want to see the Minister spending money on building of plants for processing fish. There is adequate provision already for all types of processing throughout the industry in Britain.

I have given this matter particularly careful thought, because when we were considering ice-making plants, to which the Clause applies, we accepted that it might be necessary to have these powers and to relate them to the very small ports. I considered whether a case could be made out for processing plants at small ports, but I cannot see how it can be possible to make out a case for the expenditure of money on processing plants other than ice-making and defreezing plants. The difficulty about the Clause is the wide definition of "processing". In looking at this subsection, will the Minister be particularly careful that he is not unnecessarily duplicating matters? I ask him to assure the Committee that these powers will be used sparingly and only where it can be clearly established that they should be used.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

I shall have to ask the Minister to do something rather different from what my hon. Friend advised. One of the things for which we have been clamouring in my constituency in particular is an outlet for processed white fish and herring at the nearest points to the points of catching. Our fishermen have too often had to cross the whole of the South Minch or the North Minch to find a market and by the time they have done that and lost the fishing time and paid the transportation costs, it has too often not been worth while landing the catch at the processing price they can obtain at the mainland ports.

We have been asking for the establishment on the island of Barra and Scalpay in Harris—traditional herring grounds in an area with the longest herring fishing season in the world—of processing plants so that the fishermen can concentrate on their own job of catching and landing the fish as quickly as possible.

Mr. Loughlin

What kind of processing has my hon. Friend in mind? Is he thinking of canning, curing, kippering machine plus curing kilns?

Mr. MacMillan

My hon. Friend must be thinking of something rather different from what we are asking. We are talking in terms of reduction of fish for oil and fish meal, for smoking, freezing, and so on. This is what the Herring Board is prepared to do in its own field in the larger centres and is doing very efficiently. We welcome the way it has done it. If it were not for the Herring Industry Board, goodness knows where we should have found an outlet for a great deal of the catch. When the old traditional markets for cured herring in the Baltic and Russia disappeared for political and other reasons there was no great amount of processing until the Herring Industry Board—and, in other areas, pioneers like the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson)—started to establish fish processing plants.

For many years there was no cured herring outlet. The Herring Industry Board then set up plant at Wick, Storno-way, and so on. Fishermen could then bring in catches of, say, 300 to 400 crans a day to a plant and the Board has been prepared to take them over at a known price, even if it is not always the price that the fishermen want.

We would like to see places like Castle Bay, in Barra, where they used to land the finest early herrings in the world, herrings for which there used to be a tremendous demand—not least in America—restored. We would like to see ports like Loehboisdale and Scalpay restored, because these were once busy places which employed almost all the male population of the area, and many of the women, too.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Loughlin) is at one with me on this. We would like fish processing plants in these areas. There is no question of duplication here. The Herring Board and White Fish Authority refuse to go in because they cannot, they say, operate on a large enough scale. I would not prevent anybody who was enterprising enough to want to go into these places from doing so. I would be sorry if assistance was not given to enterprising people who were prepared to go to these outlying places. I have already advocated a Government policy of differential inducements to people prepared to go to difficult areas of persistent unemployment and areas of special geographical difficulty where costs are higher than in the more centrally situated areas.

I know that this suggestion runs contrary to the traditional policies of Governments of both parties; but the time will come when they will agree that the only way to solve unemployment in these areas will be to offer additional special inducements to people who are enterprising enough to go to these distant places and set up processing plants even at extra cost.

I hope that I have not misrepresented my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West.

Mr. Loughlin

There is no quarrel between us. This Clause does not relate to the herring industry, but to white fish.

Mr. MacMillan

I am aware of that. I used the familiar herring industry as an illustration and example. We are concerned with reviving these places and reviving an interest in all kinds of fish—white fish, herring and lobster. We have already had evidence of the neglect of these areas, and evidence of the Government's intention further to neglect them by omitting them from the benefits which other sections of the white fishing industry are to receive.

Processing plants are, in some ways, all the more important for white fish. It is not worthwhile these men fishing for white fish—apart from catching what they require for their own domestic needs and the needs of the neighbouring villages—because by the time they transport relatively small quantities of white fish across the South or North Minch the catch is a dead loss to them. It is essential that processing plants be set up as near as possible to the catching points in the islands.

Lobsters can be sent long distances, because they are transported alive. There is no need for them to be processed before sending them to, say, Billingsgate. But the processing of white fish or herring to which I have referred must be carried out quickly and locally if the industry is to be saved. If anybody turns up in the Outer Hebrides and decides to set up a processing plant, I hope that he will be given more encouragement than is given to the man who proposes to set up a plant to duplicate one in a location which is easier to reach.

Mr. Vane

I do not think that there is any conflict between the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin). I am sure that we are right in drawing this Clause widely, but I think that most of us have the small ports in mind in this connection. The White Fish Authority is most unlikely to support ventures when there is not a good case made out. Nor is it likely to embark on a venture of this sort in competition with somebody who is there. It is our intention to fill in the gaps, and the Herring Industry Board has the same power. This is to put the White Fish Authority in something like a comparable position.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; as amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.