HC Deb 01 May 1962 vol 658 cc869-96

Port authorities may, after consultation with the Minister, make arrangements for the establishment of joint committees consisting of representatives of trawler owners, fish merchants and trade unions to consider matters affecting the welfare of workers in the industry including the provision of baths and canteens and other facilities.—[Captain Hewitson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Captain M. Hewitson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Clause is so tame and innocuous that the Minister must accept it. From time to time, he has made speeches in the fishing ports telling us how much he wants to see progress made in welfare in the ports. This Clause deals with welfare and the controversial aspects have been taken out of it. Originally, it included pensions, but that could be a controversial matter and it is not now in the Clause.

We are suggesting that baths should be provided similar to pit-head baths. There is one scheme in the country, run by a nationalised industry, which would be a model for our larger fishing ports. This is the Brecon Road. Gas Works. I am rather proud to mention these gas works and the welfare scheme there, because it was at that establishment that the union of which I have the honour to be national officer was originally formed one Sunday morning.

The gas works has also always been very progressive. It was the first in the country to have an eight-hour day in the gas industry. Today it has a welfare scheme with baths, changing rooms and drying rooms, which could be a model for industry throughout the country.

The Minister may argue that the difficulty in this tame Clause lies in the opening words "port authorities". He may say that there is a different authority in each fish landing area. In Hull, for instance, the port authority is British Railways, but at other places the authorities are different organisations. The argument will be that it will be difficult for port authorities, in consultation with the Minister, to start up welfare schemes.

I concede that difficulty immediately. The Minister may, and probably will, argue that the authority which is to develop a welfare scheme after proper consultation should be the White Fish Authority, which has the powers within its present set-up, but so far the White Fish Authority has not done very much in this direction. The port authorities could be given powers by the Minister so that they could be transformed into something like the White Fish Authority, although I suppose that in areas like Hull, the British Transport Commission would dispute that. I am not very concerned about the actual wording of this new Clause, and if the Minister would say that he would have a look at it, and then, when the Bill goes to another place, he would insert something that would cover the interpretation of "authority", that would be acceptable.

At present, in every port we have a different authority, and in the provision of welfare facilities in the various ports different things happen in different ports. The National Dock Labour Board has control over several of our ports, and where that Board is in control welfare schemes are going ahead. On the other hand, in other ports, where different interests control each port, there is a variety of welfare provisions.

If I may now refer to the port which I have the honour to represent—and my constituency of Kingston upon Hull, West covers our largest fish landing port—the industrial relationships there are second to none in the country. I am now speaking solely of the landing section of the industry and not of the fishing sections. For the landing section, we now have a unified scheme of pensions. This scheme makes it possible for a man to receive £7 5s. a week on retiring, and if we add to that figure the State pension we see that it brings that man's income level up to the level of industrial incomes. This means that a man on retirement need not have to change his standard of living, but is able to carry on as he did before. Although the question of pensions has been withdrawn from this new Clause, this kind of scheme is something that we should like to see in fishing ports throughout the country.

5.45 p.m.

On the subject of canteens, which are also mentioned in the new Clause, by the end of this summer we shall have a model canteen in Hull which will be an example to the whole country. Again, we Should like to see that kind of provision in all our fishing ports, and that is one of the reasons why we are asking that this Clause should be included in the Bill in order that the Minister may use has influence or give some directive to the fishing port authorities that welfare provisions should be brought up to a reasonable standard. In the fishing ports today, we find men working on the dockside in shocking conditions. I am now speaking of the landing section of the industry and not of the fishing section. The men working on the dock-side, in the fish houses and in the filleting of fish, are one of the finest types of workmen in the whole country.

Recently workers in factories have gone home because, they said, it was too cold for them to work. Last week, we had two warm days, and I think that it was somewhere in Lancashire where, according to what I read in the newspapers, people were going home because it was too warm to work in a factory. We do not find this sort of thing in the fish docks. We find men working in shocking climatic conditions, but we never hear of them going home, either because it is too cold or too hot to work. They are there, they do their job of work, and they are one of the finest types of men one could find in any section of industry in the whole country.

The industrial relationships between these workers and the employers are on a very high level indeed. Employers are prepared to do everything they possibly can to improve the welfare facilities for their workers. There are, however, several drawbacks. During the Committee stage of the Bill reference was made to the Transport Commission being the "dead hand" on the Hull docks. Of course, representatives of the Commission immediately replied, and we had a newspaper headline "Fish Docks 'Dead Hands' Charge Denied; B.T.C. Has Offered Sites for Welfare Facilities." When one remembers that the Hull docks are between ninety and a hundred years old, that some of the lavatories are ninety years old and that there has been no improvement in all those ninety years, that rather gives the Me to these local officials who are trying to Whitewash themselves.

Putting it mildly, these men are working in conditions that are not in the least pleasant, and all we are asking in the Clause is that the Minister should provide something extra. It is not asking anything extraordinary, because in industry today welfare schemes are regarded as one of the primary necessities. The fishing industry is one of our primary food producing industries and we ought to have the same facilities and welfare background which other industries have.

By the end of the summer, Hull will have a model canteen which will be an example not only to the fishing industry, but to industry generally. But is it not only Hull which needs such a canteen. Such facilities should be available in all the fishing ports. We feel that the Minister should give a directive or guidance to the fishing ports so that they go ahead with such welfare schemes.

In Hull, we are to have changing rooms where men can change out of their fish dock clothing into their walking-out clothes, leaving their work clothing in drying rooms for their next shift. As with other fishing ports, the old houses in Hull are being removed under slum clearance orders and men who used to live near the docks, and who had only to cross railway lines to reach their homes in the long industrial streets, now live on council estates three or four miles from where they work, and they have to travel home by public transport.

They start work at two o'clock in the morning, returning home between eight and ten o'clock in the morning. Anyone who has travelled on public transport with fish dock workers in their fish dock clothing will know that to do so is not very pleasant. The men have a pride in their appearance and do not want to meet people they know while they are still smelling "not so good". They want to have the opportunities, which workers in other industries have, of being able to have shower baths and changing rooms and drying rooms where they work so that they can travel home from work looking like other workers.

Knowing him as I do, and that he has gone to fish docks to see things for himself, I think that the Minister will be prepared to do everything he can to assist the welfare schemes I have mentioned. I do not think that we are asking too much. Many factories which employ large numbers of women employ hairdressers at the plant so that the women can look reasonable when they leave work. All modern industries have facilities like shower baths and changing rooms.

Most industries are organised in large units, but the fishing industry consists of small units. Apart from areas like Grimsby, Hull and Aberdeen, there may be difficulties about providing some of the suggested facilities. But we must make a start somewhere. Industrial relations are one of the primary factors of industry today, because good industrial relations lead to a happy and contented industry.

We have also to face the fact that a rough industry like the fishing industry has difficulty about attracting young men. Although wages on the quay side are good and although conditions and relations are good in the industry, young men seek work elsewhere. They do so not because of the wages—we pride ourselves on the fact that our wages are as good as those in any other industry—but because there are better welfare facilities in other industries. When I speak of welfare facilities I am not concerned with setting up boxing teams—although we have some good boxing teams in Hull. I ought to say that now in case there is a reference to my black eye.

But we have plenty of room for greater welfare facilities. Can the Minister tell me what ambulance facilities there are on fish docks throughout the country? Speaking from memory, I do not think that there is an ambulance room on the Hull docks. When one considers the possibility of accident, not of major accidents as much as of the sort of accident to which men who work as filleters with sharp knives are prone, there ought to be ambulance facilities. Hull is the largest landing fish dock in the country and it is deplorable that it should not have such facilities. It is not that we do not want these facilities. We want them and we can get them. Industrial relationships among employers, trade unions and workers on the Hull dock are the best in the country.

We are not asking for any money. Once we get the go-ahead for our welfare schemes we will put them into operation. We are pushing at an almost open door, but we want something written into the Bill to give us the authority to go ahead with these welfare schemes. It may be wrong to suggest that the port authorities should make arrangements for what we want, and if this is the case I hope that the Minister will suggest who should be responsible for making them.

I know that the Minister agrees with the provision of welfare facilities. There is nothing controversial about this suggestion, and if the Minister could put forward suggestions to help us in what we want to achieve, we on this side of the House would give him every assistance in carrying out any plans he formulated. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give us the go-ahead not only in Hull where we are progressive, but in all the fishing ports of the country.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) on his speech. He is a distinguished officer in an important union, and it is only natural that he should introduce a new Clause affecting the welfare of workers in our fishing ports. He moved a similar new Clause in Committee and received certain assurances from the Minister. As I have said, the new Clause affects the welfare of men in all our fishing ports, and although he has a black eye I am sure that all his constituents wish him well in his endeavours to write this provision into the Bill.

The new Clause is not mandatory. It merely asks that Port authorities may, after consultation with the Minister, make arrangements for the establishment of joint committeees consisting of representatives of trawler owners, fish merchants and trade unions … I believe that the Minister agrees with the principle of the new Clause, but I am not sure whether he will accept it. He may argue that arrangements exist for consultations to take place and that the various port authorities have power to make the necessary arrangements to improve welfare facilities in every port in the country. However, we await the Minister's reply and I am certain that it will be sympathetic because, when a similar new Clause was moved in Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary gave us a sympathetic reply and said that the Government would carefully consider the point raised in it if my hon. and gallant Friend undertook to withdraw it at that stage. Since then the Minister and his officials have looked at this matter again, and no doubt we will now be told the Government's intentions.

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that this matter is vital to the fishing industry. This is a major Bill which will inject capital into the industry. We are subsidising the distant and near water fleets. We are trying to make the industry viable so that it will be able to stand on its feet within ten years. We are proposing to give subsidies to private industry. We are not opposing this idea. We are merely saying that there should be a certain quid pro quo, that if we help the employers to make the industry prosperous, then the men who work in it—some of whom are the constituents of my hon. and gallant Friend—should have their conditions improved, and by the provision of welfare amenities we can do something positive to improve them.

Developments in the fishing industry and in our ports must match the developments in welfare services in other industries. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the nationalised gas industry in his constituency and reminded the House of the facilities provided for the workers there. In the steel industry, in my constituency, amenities are provided for the workers, and one finds similar amenities in all the nationalised industries, and in many of the smaller ones, both private and publicly owned. We are merely suggesting that in this important industry, which is vital to the production of food for the nation, an industry which provides employment for thousands of men and women, amenities should be provided for the workers.

As my hon. and gallant Friend rightly said, there is the difficulty of deciding who is the responsible authority in each port. For example, in Hull the responsible port authority is the British Transport Commission. My hon. and gallant Friend criticised the Commission and quoted the reactions of local officials. I do not know the facts, and it may be that my hon. and gallant Friend is right in what he said. I hope that his speech and today's debate, and, indeed, the debates in Committee, will encourage port authorities quickly to develop amenities and welfare facilities in the various ports. If there are any black spots they should be removed, and we hope that the Minister, by whatever action he proposes to take, will ensure that a new era is brought in.

It may be that power should be given to the White Fish Authority to act as the responsible port authority. There may, of course, be difficulties about doing this, but perhaps the White Fish Authority, in consultation with the B.T.C. or the Dock Labour Board, could make the arrangements required by my hon. and gallant Friend. We welcome the new Clause and trust that the Minister will ensure that the necessary action is taken to bring about the desired result.

The Clause does not mention pensions, but reference has been made to them. I am pleased to know that in Hull there is such a fine pension scheme and I agree that my hon. and gallant Friend's union, along with the employers, has worked out satisfactory arrangements to enable a man to have a pension of £7 5s. on retirement. If to this is added the State pension, it will mean that a worker's standards will not be reduced when he retires. We would like to see this idea extended to every port.

The Clause deals mainly with the provision of amenities, particularly canteen and washing facilities. We support these proposals and expect that the Minister's response will be favourable. We also hope that my hon. and gallant Friend's speech and his propaganda in Committee will have their effect on those port authorities who may be regarded as somewhat backward. The responsibilities of port authorities vary considerably. We know that the Minister is setting up a Commission to investigate the structure of our ports and harbour facilities, and it may well be that this new Committee of "three wise men" will look into the provision of welfare facilities in the various ports. We expect the Minister to respond favourably to this proposal.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)

There is no difference between the two sides of the House about the worthiness of the sentiment which underlies the new Clause. Fishing is an arduous and exacting business, and we would all wish to see proper welfare facilities provided for those who earn their livings from the industry. But J do not think—and I hope that I shall be able to carry the hon. and galiant Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) with me on this—that the inclusion of the Clause in the Bill would get us any further.

What we are now discussing is the question of the facilities available at the major ports. One of the difficulties is that the docks are used by many different sections of the industry and, indeed, by different sections of the community at large. The requirements of the various sections are not always the same. There are mainly three classes of worker in the fishing industry. There are the fishing vessel crews, the dock labourers engaged in unloading the vessels, and the employers of merchants engaged in handling the fish. I know that the hon. and gallant Member realises as well as anyone that the needs of these three classes vary considerably.

The right way to proceed is to have discussions and negotiations about the provision of proper facilities through the normal contacts between the employers and unions in each section. As the hon. and gallant Member has suggested, there may be a need for some stimulus to get matters moving. This is probably what underlies the new Clause, but in my submission this is not the correct way to proceed. I agree that some stimulus is necessary to get things under way, and especially some machinery—which the hon. and gallant Member is probably groping for in the new Clause—to bring together all the interests concerned.

Nevertheless, in my opinion it would not be right to place the responsibility for this upon the port authorities. It is not primarily their concern, except that they will have to be brought in in most cases, especially where premises are needed on their land. They will then have to be included in the deliberations and discussions. But the status of port authorities differs from port to port, and I am sure that it would be wiser to rely upon ways which can be fittted to the circumstances existing at the various ports rather than to place this duty upon port authorities generally. In certain circumstances it might not be the port authorities Who would initiate action.

When this matter was discussed in Committee we promised to consider whether the White Fish Authority could play some part in this work. We have considered the matter and have also considered the problem generally, and we have satisfied ourselves that the Authority has the power to bring together the interests concerned. It is, therefore, in a position to take the initiative when one is needed. Furthermore, during our discussions in Committee the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) suggested that the small group which I have asked to look at the major ports should pay careful attention to this problem.

This is being done. The team has already visited Grimsby, and is at Fleetwood this week. I understand that in Grimsby canteen, first-aid and medical (facilities are adequate, and that the National Dock Labour Board provides changing and drying room facilities for registered dock workers, and is proposing to extend these facilities, but that there is no suitable changing and drying accommodation for filleters working in the market. Washing facilities are limited. These are only the immediate findings of the team, and after further consideration it will get in touch with the organisations concerned. I know that we shall be able to count on the active co-operation of the White Fish Authority and the port authority.

Since the team has not visited other ports, I am not in a position to comment upon them, but I have asked it to pay special attention to this matter when it visits other ports. I fully appreciate the interest of the hon. and gallant Member in the existing conditions, which have prompted him to move the new Clause. I do not know When the team will reach Hull, but Sir Robert Letch, the Chairman of the British Transport Docks Division, has said that he will make a special visit to see what can be done. In general, it would not be right to insert this provision in the Bill, legislating either for the White Fish Authority or the port authority to be responsible for this matter.

We agree with the sentiment behind the Clause, and we are satisfied that the White Fish Authority already has power to deal with the matter. We do not need an amendment of the existing legislation to this effect. I am sure that we shall be able to see considerable progress in the matter. We have had a good deal of discussion, both in Committee and on Report. I believe that what I have suggested is the right way to tackle the problem, and in the light of my remarks I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will be willing to ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

I detected a slight lack of urgency in the Minister's speech, which I put down partly to the fact—I do not say this offensively—that his visits to the fishing ports have been brief, and, as far as first-hand knowledge is concerned, took place in the middle of the summer. Like Hull, Grimsby was flattered when he paid it a visit last August. It is true that the mayor, whom he omitted to visit, was less flattered, but we are glad that he saw the port, on a fine summer's day.

But the occasional visitor on a day in August is apt to obtain a completely false impression of the work which is carried on in our fishing ports. The time to visit the ports is at four o'clock in the morning, on a bitterly cold December day. The visitor should watch the lumpers and filleters working on a bitterly cold December morning. One gets a better impression of what goes on than one does on a fine August day, when everything is rather fun, and the work is quite colourful. One does not then realise what it is like to work in the extreme cold, on slippery floors, in smelly conditions. These ports are 100 years old, and in many ways 100 years out of date.

I take issue with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) on one point. His criticism of the British Transport Commission is unfair, first, because it is not the Commission's job to provide these facilities, and, secondly, because all our ports are being operated at heavy losses. Even if it were the Commission's responsibility, it would not have the money to carry the job out. If Dr. Beeching goes on fulfilling his present aims all these ports will be closed during the next five years. There is no prospect of their operating at a profit in the next few years.

Captain Hewitson

The Commission owns the land, but up to now it has not been willing to give up land for welfare schemes.

Mr. Crosland

In that case the position in Hull is different from that in Grimsby.

The Minister has mentioned his three-man team and the fact that the port has a considerable number of facilities. They are not all adequate, which is why I support the Clause. Nevertheless, the port has a considerable number, and land is provided by the Commission. The main lack concerns the changing and washing facilities for the filleters.

The Minister ought to take up a more positive attitude. He is correct in saying that these matters should be negotiated between the unions and the employers, but this country has long since accepted the principle that in the case of industries which are in some ways considered as being backward the Government are willing to intervene in collective bargaining. That is why we have wage councils in many industries Although it is late in the day, I hope that the Minister will agree that these ports must be dragged up to mid-twentieth century standards. That is not happening at the moment, and a definite stimulus from the Government is required if it is to happen.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

The Minister has made some sympathetic noises, largely echoing the sympathetic noises made by the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee. The Minister was not present then, but he has been similarly briefed on this occasion. He gives us very little satisfaction. Men who work at the fish docks cannot get themselves changed and dried merely with the aid of words of sympathy. The Minister has said that this Clause does not provide the right way to achieve what he regards as a desirable result. But he does not tell us what is the right way.

That is on parallel lines with the main arguments that we have in the House or in Committee. We are often told that the reforms that we desire will not be achieved in the way in which we seek to achieve them. The Minister has said that the authority we designate as the authority for these reforms is not the appropriate authority. We are never told which is the right authority, or what is the right way to do these things, or whether the Minister will intervene to get these reforms expedited.

This brings me back to the Fleck Committee's Report. Paragraph 141 states that various things demand . . vigorous and enlightened leadership; and the fishing ports seem to us to be suffering from a lack of such leadership. In spite of that, we are told by the Minister that this must be left to the ports to decide, each for itself, by negotiation and discussion between the employers, the workers and the trade unions. How often have we seen the employers playing off one union against another and trying to create divisions amongst the various workers in the industry in order to slow down necessary improvements?

The Minister said that the needs vary from port to port. Do they? Do not all the ports need baths similar to the pithead baths that we have at every coal mine? The workers all need baths after handling fish—gutting, filleting and dealing with it—before they go to their homes, which may be two, three or four miles away from where they work. Slum clearance in the areas of the docks has meant that workers have to live some distance away. They have to travel to and from their homes by public transport. It is disgraceful that similar amenities to pithead baths should not be made compulsory at all fish docks.

Do not all the workers need baths and lavatories, or do the needs vary from port to port? Do not they all need medical facilities and canteens? Of course they do. These are all fundamental needs. They may vary from port to port according to the number of people that has to be catered for, but the actual needs at all ports are exactly the same. Facilities should be standardised and repeated in larger or smaller patterns according to the requirements at the docks.

The Minister quoted the team now investigating the ports as telling him that the Dock Labour Board provides for the needs of registered dock workers. Does he not know that the fish dock workers and the fishermen are not registered? That is one of our complaints. I moved a new Clause in Committee to do away with decasualisation and to have the fishermen registered. Now we find the Minister quoting, as though he approved of it, that the registered workers are provided for under the Dock Labour Board. That is what we want to see extended. The way in which the Dock Labour Board operates should also apply to the fishermen.

Captain Hewitson

I wish to point out to my hon. Friend that the fishermen at Hull have no desire to be registered with the Dock Labour Board.

Mr. Jeger

That is as may be. I was referring to the fact that the Minister had quoted, in support of his argument, that the Dock Labour Board catered adequately for registered workers. Knowing that, I should like to see the decasualisation and the registration of dock workers at Hull and elsewhere so that they might benefit from the very good organisation specified by the Dock Labour Board.

Over and over again in the Fleck Report, and the deductions which may have been made from it by the Press and public, the need for the hygienic handling of fish has been stressed. Fish should be handled more quickly, and should be brought to the consumer in a cleaner and much better condition than is the case today. Various reports which have been made about the fish docks by medical officers have been horrifying. Surely we desire to improve the conditions there, and how better than by improving the circumstances under which the workers do their work—by improving the washing, changing, lavatory and other facilities? The fish which these people provide is part of the food of the nation, and we want to see it handled in a cleaner and more hygienic way so that it will arrive at the fishmongers' slabs in a better and a cleaner condition.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

I regret that I was not able to be in the Chamber in time to hear all the comments of my right hon. Friend on the proposed new Clause. I wish to support the Clause and the case which has been submitted by hon. Members opposite so far as I have heard it. I do so with some personal knowledge of the conditions in a fishing port, having worked at Grimsby for about two years with fishermen and fish lumpers at the docks.

Everything that has been said about the conditions in a dock like Grimsby is perfectly accurate. The dock is out of date. The fish dock workers have to work under unhygienic conditions of considerable discomfort. Reference has been made to filleters. Anybody who has not been round the fish dock in the early morning when trawlers are being unloaded, and seen the filleters at work, would be horrified at the conditions under which food is prepared and handled. There is a great deal to be said for having an organisation which would bring together trawler owners, fish merchants, port authorities and all those concerned with work at the fish docks so that they might consider providing the right kind of facilities.

I do not wish to say more except to make one reference to the possibility of registering fishermen of which mention has been made. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) said that fishermen at Hull did not wish to be registered. I can say from experience that the fishermen of Grimsby would not wish to be registered. I have found fishermen to be independent-minded people who, up to now, have seen no necessity for coming under the same kind of scheme as applies in the case of the Dock Labour Board. I do not think that fishermen would respond with enthusiasm to such a suggestion. I believe that they would reply to it in a well-known form of trawlermen's vernacular.

Mr. Jeger

Is the hon. Member aware that at Aberdeen and Milford Haven registration schemes are being successfully carried out?

Mr. Hall

In Grimsby, there is a scheme and registration is operated through the Trawler Owners' Association. This enables crews to be found easily. There is a record of names and addresses of men. It is a method of facilitating their signing on with certain trawlers. The problem is not finding a job for a fisherman, but finding a fisherman to go to sea. I repeat that I support the proposal. The new Clause may not necessarily contain the right words, or be in the right form, but I think that the idea behind it is worthy of support.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I wish to support the Clause for the reasons given in the speeches of my hon. Friends. I commend to hon. Members the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall). It contained a great deal of sense and was in remarkable contrast to the speech of the Minister. I do not wish to be offensive to the right hon. Gentleman. He made a good speech, but it was unconvincing. He opposed the Clause, although he admitted the reasons for it. That is a non-sequitur.

The right hon. Gentleman admits the necessity for the Clause, but says that it is unnecessary because there is existing legislation to deal with the matter. He did not tell us what was the legislation to which he referred. Nor did he mention a single Section of an Act of Parliament. The Minister thought that the Clause did not provide the right way to deal with the problems, but he did not tell us what is the right way. He did not suggest any alternative, beyond referring vaguely to existing machinery.

The Minister said that existing authorities have power to deal with the relevant problems, but he did not indicate the authorities to which he referred. I submit that the Bill would be incomplete without this Clause, or some similiar provision to deal with the relevant problems. The Clause is designed to bring into consultation those persons who have theoretical, practical and financial experience of the industry. They would then be able to pool their experience and endeavour to find solutions for the problems.

The people concerned are those who earn their living from this industry and who have spent many years and have invested their money in it. There are also those who go to sea, take the risks and bring home the fish. The third type of person envisaged in this Clause is the merchant who handles the catch and who sells the fish in the market. Obviously, these three classes of people are, day by day and month and month, confronted with the very problems to which this Clause relates. The Clause states that port authorities, after consultation with the Minister, may be empowered to establish joint committees. The word used in the Clause is "may" and not "must". It is not coercive or mandatory.

The port authorities, may, after consultation with the Minister"— there is a limit to their power— make arrangements for the establishment of joint committees consisting of representatives of trawler owners, fish merchants and trade unions to consider matters affecting the welfare of workers in the industry including the provision of baths and canteens and other facilities. These are the people who are conversant with the problems and the needs of the situation. They are in the best position to strive for solutions to the problems involved and to deal with the needs and with the welfare of the workers in the industry.

There is nothing objectionable in the Clause. It is fair and constructive, and the Minister has revealed no reason why the Government should not accept it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again and to realise the value, the importance and the reasonableness of this Clause. He may then change his mind and decide to accept it.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am a little uncertain how far my right hon. Friend the Minister intended to go. I am also in a little difficulty because, so far as I can make out, the Opposition have not entirely decided how they want to make what appears to be soma very necessary progress for fishermen and other interests at the various ports. That raises some difficulty in trying to decide what is the proper machinery.

I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the power was already in the hands of the White Fish Authority. I should have liked to have heard a little more about how the Minister envisaged the Authority dealing with this matter, because that seems a proper way to proceed. A number of hon. Members opposite have rightly referred to the establishment of pithead baths at all the main coal pits of the country. I have seen a great deal of that development over many years. It occurred to me that, as in the past the national body of coal owners established a welfare fund for the purpose, similar machinery might be employed by the White Fish Authority. It was a voluntary arrangement in the mines. A fund was established.

I am not trying to lay down how this should be done, but I am trying to see how machinery could be established. When the welfare fund had been established by the coal owners they considered what each colliery undertaking needed in the establishment of pithead baths. There would be different arrangements at the fishing ports. The miners had their local meetings and decided whether they wanted baths at the various collieries. If my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I suspend the sitting till news be brought to me.

Sitting suspended at twenty minutes to Seven o'clock.

Sitting resumed at ten minutes to Seven o'clock.

Dame Irene Ward

I am sure that the whole House will hope that our hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), who has just collapsed, will soon be back with us again, and, in his characteristic fashion, be able to make further contributions to the debate on behalf of the fishing interests which he has so much at heart. We shall be glad to hear that he has recovered from his collapse and that he will be back with us again soon.

I was saying that I was a little puzzled about how far my right hon. Friend the Minister wanted to go in this matter. If it is the Government's intention to oppose the new Clause, I hope that my fright hon. Friend intends himself to take an active part. The way in which the establishment of pithead baths at the various colliery undertakings has been dealt with represents a useful way of making progress in an industry in which there are a variety of interests and a variety of ports.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give a little more indication of what he has in mind. He told us that he was satisfied that the White Fish Authority had the power to take action. What I should like to know is whether, through his Department, my right hon. Friend will stimulate the White Fish Authority to examine the whole question to find out the best way of dealing with it. Before we part with the Clause, perhaps my right hon. Friend will make some further observations in that regard.

The various comments from the benches opposite were made in a variety of directions. One hon. Member said that the Transport Commission had given the land at one of the ports. Am I to understand that that land was given by the Transport Commission without rent as a free gift to the port for the use which had been made of it, which appears to have been of great benefit to the fishing industry there, or was there negotiation between the Commission and the port or fishing authorities? If it is, so to speak, a free gift from the Commission, one would like to know whether, where Transport Commission land is involved, we shall be able to look forward to the same kind of treatment by the Commission in other ports where a similar circumstance might arise.

My right hon. Friend's reply was sympathetic, but, as hon. Members opposite have pointed out, we have got to the stage where we want sympathy converted into action. If we allow these ideas to fade away without action being taken, perhaps the White Fish Authority will either not wish to make further progress, even though it has the power, or it may not be able to bring all the interests together. Most of us who follow these ideas of promoting a modern, up-to-date welfare always know that some people in an industry want to make progress and others do not.

I cannot see why my right hon. Friend cannot say definitely that he will recommend the White Fish Authority to use all its powers. He should call together all the various interests and should have a discussion with a view to ascertaining the best method of establishing the proper machinery. Although the port authorities, according to what my right hon. Friend said, may not be the right type of authority through which to make this progress—it was obvious from what he said that he favoured the White Fish Authority as being the most responsible authority in the matter—he did not say that he would ensure that the Authority made use of its legislative powers. Although my right hon. Friend might not want to tie the hands of the Authority, it must be obvious that as the Government are subsidising the Authority, and have a large part in its general financial background, anything that he said to the Authority would necessarily carry great weight.

Can my right hon. Friend make it just a little more clear that as soon as the Bill becomes law, the White Fish Authority will set about getting all the interests together to establish a proper machine, which all of us who are interested in the fishing industry and who know anything about the workings of the ports would welcome? I hope that before we leave the Clause we shall hear exactly what my right hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has pointed to the great weakness of the Minister's reply. He gave no indication whatever that he intended to do anything about trying to achieve the things that hon. Members on both sides so obviously regard as desirable. I do not wish to repeat the arguments which have already been adduced about the desirability of providing the facilities indicated in the new Clause. That is self-evident at this time of day. I should have thought it fairly evident that, by and large, those conditions do mat exist. Whilst there are exceptions and certain provisions have been made in various ports of different kinds for various purposes, the conditions envisaged in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) do not generally exist.

As the hon. Lady has pointed out, we have to bear in mind that we are financing this industry at a substantial cost. We are contributing to it millions of pounds a year. Therefore, Members of this House have a right and a responsibility to try to ensure that these conditions are provided.

That brings me to the question of how it should, be done. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend, the Minister said that the White Fish Authority already has power to do these things. We would like somebody to be given the responsibility for doing them. These two things are rather different. Plenty of bodies have all sorts of powers, but some of them never use their powers. We want somebody to be given responsibility for trying to bring this about.

7.0 p.m.

If the White Fish Authority were considered to be the most suitable body, it is obvious that it would take into account the conditions at the ports and pay regard to the various interests concerned. In carrying out its responsibility it would seek to co-operate with the bodies concerned. This is what we would like to see written into the Bill. We are now financing and guaranteeing the industry for the next ten years. As we are doing that, it is not too much to ask that the necessary steps be taken to ensure that responsibility is placed somewhere—either upon the White Fish Authority, if it is considered to be the best organisation, or upon the port authorities—to have the necessary consultations and take the necessary steps to bring about the state of affairs which my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite desire.

We have not heard from the Minister that he intends to do this. He merely told us that his three-man team is now examining conditions at the ports. He said that the team has reported on Grimsby and would soon report on the other ports as it visits them. That is all very well, but it merely gives us a picture of what there is. It does not follow that When a report is made the report will be followed by the necessary action. Therefore, the Minister's speech did not mean much. We have been told that we do not need to bother because the White Fish Authority already has the power. The responsibility should be placed somewhere. I cannot see why the Government do not agree to insert the new Clause in the Bill, the object of Which is to guarantee the industry for the next ten years. Some body should be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that these services are provided.

This is a modest request. I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend was rather too modest in his demands when he moved the Clause. In these days these facilities are almost a right. They are what we expect. We expect them even more from an industry which is receiving such large sums of public money. I ask the Minister to give us much better undertakings than he has so far. I should like to see a provision in the Bill placing the responsibility definitely upon some organisation. If it is necessary to vote against the Government to persuade them that this should be done, 1, for one, will be quite willing to vote against them.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

There is considerable merit in the Clause and I am surprised that this is the first time that we have heard anything about this subject in the House. I was in the fishing industry for twenty years up to 1935. I am still in the business at Grimsby as chairman and managing director of the principal cold storage company. The excellent industrial relations prevailing at Hull have been mentioned. Similar good relations prevail at Grimsby. I believe that we are pushing at an open door. The principal filleters in Grimsby—the Unilever subsidiary, Birds Eye; the Associated Fisheries subsidiary, Eskimo, and the Ross Group, which do a vast amount of filleting at Grimsby—have first-class premises, with adequate washing and changing facilities, and so on.

The same sort of thing is true in London at the oldest fish market of all—Billingsgate. Great improvements have been carried out at Billingsgate. A new quay has been built. Hot water baths for porters, changing rooms, lockers, and so on, have been provided. These things did not exist at the market before, but they are right and proper in this day and age. Men who are working among fish smell of it. Their clothes get damp and soiled. They should be provided with changing facilities.

I am confident that they will get them, but I am not certain that a provision in an Act of Parliament is the quickest way of bringing about this desirable state of affairs. If hon. Members representing Hull and Grimsby talked to their local authorities, which are the health authorities, they would find a very willing response. As one of the larger employers in Grimsby, I will raise this subject and do everything I can. I know the merchants' associations and the trawler associations, as does the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). At Hull and Grimsby the latest and greatest trawlers have been built—the "Lord Nelson" and the "Junella" of Fleetwood—with first-class crew accommodation.

This objective could be achieved in a matter of weeks, because we can turn to the White Fish Authority. We have a right to ask the Authority to take the lead in this matter. The Authority was formed to take some of the burdens away from the Government. Goodness knows, they have plenty of them. This is one problem which could be solved through the trade unions, the local authorities, the merchants' associations and the filleting people. I am certain that there would be a very ready response.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I was surprised to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). If he had made a speech of that kind twenty years ago, we could have appreciated it. Good employers should not be asked today to provide welfare facilities for their workers. The facilities should already exist. If the Minister does not accept the Clause he will really be telling the industry, especially the employees, that he is not interested in their welfare.

Today, we are arguing about whether baths should be supplied for people working in the fishing industry. We are arguing about whether changing rooms should be provided. We have even heard about the lack of ambulance facilities. All this does not say much for the employers. I am certain that the trade unions have wanted these facilities for a long time. I am shocked that the Minister, in this day and age, will not accept the Clause, even in principle.

We have heard about welfare facilities in the mining industry. Some good employers built baths before nationalisation, but many did not. One of the first actions of the National Coal Board was to ensure that baths were erected at every colliery. The Board, in comparison with the White Fish Authority and the merchants in the fishing industry, has proved to be a good employer. I cannot understand why the Government do no) definitely tell the Authority that welfare facilities must be provided as quickly as possible.

Ports without lavatories have been mentioned. I saw a little article in the paper the other day on this subject. The article asked what they were called. Were they W.Cs? Were they lavatories? Were they toilets? Were they retiring rooms? Were they "the small rooms"? Their original name was W.Cs. Today, "toilet" seems to be the most preferred description. The Government should look forward, not backwards, and accept the principle behind the new Clause, which was moved so well and ably by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson).

We should realise that the people who do a wonderful job for the country are just as much entitled, at the end of their working shift, to have good welfare facilities as are any other workers. What embarrassment must women working as filleters feel when going through the streets and travelling in public transport when wearing their working clothes. How they must feel that they are not welcome to sit beside someone who has not been doing that work.

The Minister should instruct the White Fish Authority to take immediate action to overcome these difficulties. I very well remember that at one time the miner was criticised by the public for travelling in public service vehicles in his dirty clothes. That is changed; today, a miner need not go home in his pit clothes. There is probably no aroma quite as bad as that resulting from handling fish, and I hope that the Minister will realise that.

Another important point about changing facilities is that many of the women workers are married. They have to shop for their families. From their place of work, they must travel by bus to their homes on the outskirts of the port. They pass the very shops at which they want to buy the goods necessary for their families, but, because of their working clothes, they have to go home, change, and return to the shops. I hope that we will do something about that.

There is also the hygienic aspect. There should be facilities for the laundering of working clothes. These people are handling food, and any doctor would say that from the hygienic point of view such facilities are essential.

I hope that the Minister will take these things into consideration. The new Clause is reasonable and moderate; its powers are permissive. A committee should at once be set up and welfare facilities provided immediately for the people who work in this very important industry. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept at least the principle of the Clause.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

We have had a very good discussion on this new Clause, and I should at once like to associate myself with the kind wishes expressed by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). We all hope that he will soon be with us again.

Replying to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson), the Minister showed a great deal of sympathy. I know that he, like us, wants to do something about this matter. The one thing about which we must not get mixed up in discussing this Clause is who is to provide the land, and whether or not it will be given by the British Transport Commission. This has nothing to do with the Commission. The industry itself must deal with it, and the Clause asks that the same provision shall be made for the men in the fishing industry as has been made for men in so many other industries. In other words, it asks for the provision of facilities so that these people may enjoy the ordinary amenities of life. That is all that is asked.

The Minister said that this three-man team which is now inspecting the ports will report back to him, and that it had reported on Grimsby. What every hon. Member wants to know is what is to happen to the reports. We have no doubt at all that this team will make reports, and that it will make very good reports, but what will happen after those reports are made? The Minister has said that the White Fish Authority already has the power to do this. If that is so out doubts are fortified, because the Authority has not so far used its power. Therefore, before we part with this new Clause, we want to be assured as to whose will be the responsibility for doing this job.

That is the point as shortly and as simply as I can put it, and it is on that that we want a reply from the Minister. I am sure that every hon. Member feels that this job has to be done, that these people are entitled to these amenities, and that we expect the Minister to tell us on whom he intends to fasten the responsibility. Only when he does that can we be assured that the work will be carried out.

Mr. Soames

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Captain Hewitson) appreciates better than anyone in the House what it is that is required. He has worded his new Clause extremely carefully. He appreciates where the responsibility for providing these facilities lies; it is for the employers, the industry, to provide them. That is why he has used the words: Port authorities may … make arrangements for the establishments of joint committees … to consider matters affecting the welfare … It was not for nothing that the hon. and gallant Gentleman so worded his Clause, because he realises full well that the responsibility rests with this industry, as it does with every other industry.

The difficulty springs here very largely from the fact that there are a number of different employers, doing different jobs, whose men require different facilities. Some of the facilities are quite common, of course. The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) tried to mock this, but the types of facilities and their extension vary in different ports, as I think is generally appreciated. There are different employers whose men require different facilities, but it would be foolish, say, to put up a canteen that would be used only by the filleters in a port. That sort of thing requires some "get together" between the different branches of the industry within the port, and what the new Clause seeks is some form of voluntary co-ordination.

It would be a great mistake if, as a result of this debate, the country got the idea that there are not welfare facili- ties in the ports at present. We have heard many heart-rending remarks about men not being able to change, or take baths, and Chat it is all very terrible. There are gaps, of course, and in Hull there are very special gaps, in the welfare facilities, but our case is that it is not for the port authorities, as the Clause seeks, to make arrangements for the establishment of joint committees.

When this matter was considered in Committee we said that we would like to see whether it was necessary to legislate to enable the White Fish Authority to undertake this work. When I spoke earlier I did not refer to the relevant Act, but it is the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951. In Section 4 (1, j) the White Fish authority has the duty to … encourage, by means of publicity and by advice and instruction, the improvement of conditions in the white fish industry … We are thus quite satisfied that the White Fish Authority has the authority of Parliament to take co-ordinating action.

It is not only for the White Fish Authority. In different ports, in varying circumstances, port authorities might well come in—perhaps letting a bit of land, as has been done at Grimsby.

The team which is going round the major ports is not waiting for the Bill to go through. That is not necessary. It does not stem from the Bill. The team consists of the Chairman of the White Fish Authority, the Chairman of the British Transport Commission Docks Division and the Fisheries Secretary from my Department. The intention is that the team should not only find out what the facts are, but, in each port, see the problems, see what is lacking, and what is the best way in which problems ought to be tackled. It will be mostly a question of bringing together the different employers in the ports.

The White Fish Authority has legal power to initiate action in this respect. It is very well aware of this. At my request the team is looking into this specific part of life in the fishing ports. When we have got the reports and have seen what is lacking and what needs to be done and how best it should be done then the White Fish Authority will, I know, do whatever should be necessary, and get together those interests which are responsible for providing these things within this industry—in just the same way as these things are done in every other industry.

It is a great mistake to suggest that nothing has been done. Of course, there will not always be perfection, but I must say that, apart from Hull, we have not had complaints to any marked degree from the major ports on this. I think that it would be a mistake to say nothing has been done, but this is a particular aspect to which the team will be paying attention, and I can assure the House that reports which it makes and the suggestions which it makes will be considered within my Department. They will come to me from the Fisheries Secretary. Certainly, that is the spirit which the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to provide for in the Bill.

However, we believe it is not right to legislate for this, and that it is certainly not for the port authorities to do it, but we fully agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman what has to be done, and it certainly will be done. I hope, therefore, that he will feel able to withdraw the Clause.

Captain Hewitson

In view of what the Minister has said, and especially that Sir Robert Letch was to see what could be done, and of the possibility that some authority will be looking after the welfare of the fish dock workers, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.