HC Deb 04 March 1981 vol 1000 cc283-94


'(1) After section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 (licensing of fishing boats) there shall be inserted the following section:— 4A.—(1) The Ministers may by order provide that within British fishery limits or in any specified area within those limits the receiving by any vessel (whether British or foreign) of fish trans-shipped from any other vessel is prohibited unless authorised by a licence granted by one of the Ministers. (2)Such an order may apply to the receiving of fish generally or to the receiving of—

  1. (a)a specified description of fish; or
  2. (b)fish caught by a specified method; or
  3. (c)fish caught in a specified area; or
  4. (d)fish caught or trans-shipped during a specified season of the year or other period; or
  5. (e)fish caught or received by vessels of a specified description, including vessels registered in a specified country; and may provide for exceptions from the prohibitions contained in it.
(3) Where any vessel is used in contravention of a prohibition imposed by an order under this section, the master, the owner and the charterer (if any) are each guilty of an offence under this subsection. (4) An order under this section, if made with the consent of the Treasury given for the purposes of this subsection, may authorise the making of a charge for a licence under this section, and if it does so it shall specify a maximum charge and may specify different maxima in relation to different classes of licence. (5) A licence under this section shall be granted to the owner or charterer in respect of a named vessel and may authorise the receiving of fish generally or may confer limited authority by reference to, in particular,—
  1. (a)the area within which the fish was caught or is transshipped; or
  2. (b)the periods, times or particular voyages during which the fish was caught or is trans-shipped; or
  3. (c)the descriptions and quantities of fish that may be received; or
  4. (d)the description of vessel or method by which the transshipped fish was caught.
(6) A licence under this section may authorise the receiving of fish either unconditionally or subject to such conditions as appear to the Minister granting the licence to be necessary or expedient for the regulation of trans-shipment, including conditions as to the treatment on board the vessel of the fish received by it; and different conditions may be so imposed with respect to different vessels or vessels of different descriptions. If such a condition is broken the master, the owner and the charterer (if any) are each guilty of an offence under this subsection. (7) The Minister granting a licence under this section may require the master, the owner and the charterer (if any) of the vessel named in the licence and any agent named in the licence to provide him with such statistical information as he may direct, and a person who fails without reasonable excuse to comply with such a requirement is guilty of an offence under this subsection. (8) Any person who—
  1. (a) for the purpose of obtaining a licence under this section; 284 or
  2. (b) in purported compliance with subsection (7) above, furnishes information which he knows to be false in a material particular or recklessly furnishes information which is false in a material particular is guilty of an offence under this subsection.
(9) The licensing power conferred by this section may be exercised so as to limit the number of vessels, or of any description of vessel (including vessels or any description of vessel registered in a specified country) engaged in receiving fish to such an extent as appears to the Ministers necessary or expedient for the regulation of trans-shipment. (10) A licence under this section—
  1. (a)may be varied from time to time; and
  2. (b)may be revoked or suspended, if it appears to the Minister who granted it to be necessary or expedient for the regulation of trans-shipment.
(11) If a licence is varied, revoked or suspended, the Minister who granted it may, if he considers it appropriate in all the circumstances of the case, refund the whole or part of any charge made for the licence. (12) The Ministers may make arrangements for any of their licensing powers under this section (but not the power to make orders under subsection (1)) to be exercised by other persons on their behalf. (2) In the following provisions of the said Act of 1967, after"4," there shall be inserted"4A."—
  1. (a)in section 9(5) (exceptions for scientific investigations, etc,);
  2. (b)in section 20(2) and (5) (orders to be made by statutory instrument and subject to negative resolution); and
  3. (c)in the words in parenthesis in the definition of"sea fish" in section 22(1) (which relate to the inclusion of salmon and migratory trout).'.—[Mr. Buchanan-Smith.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

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

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take the following new clauses:

No. 4—Enforcement of provisions as to transshipment; No. 5—Offences committed by bodies corporate; and the following amendments:

No. 13, in line 19, at beginning insert— '(1A) Ministers shall take powers to regulate the numbers of off-shore processing vessels in British fishery waters and their operations in such a manner as to ensure that:

  1. (a)stock conservation and quota control is assisted,
  2. (b)the environment is protected, and
  3. (c)regard is paid to the current capacity of on-shore processing."
No. 14, in line 19, at beginning insert— '(IB) Ministers shall be required to implement subsection (1 A) above if the authority advises that it is necessary to protect the catching and/or on-shore processing sectors of the industry.'. Government amendments Nos 15 to 23 and 26 to 29.

Mr Buchanan-Smith

I welcome the other amendments that are being taken with the new clause, because they cover the same general points.

This is the first of the substantial new clauses that we are moving at this Report stage. It stems directly from the useful and constructive discussions that we had in Committee. As those right hon. and hon. Members who were members of the Committee will know, at that stage several amendments were tabled which sought to introduce further controls over the activities of receiving vessels in connection with the transhipment of fish. By transhipment of fish, we mean the practice whereby our own catching vessels catch the fish and transfer it to another vessel—frequently a foreign vessel, which is moored in United Kingdom waters—and that vessel carries out the further processing of the fish and subsequent export abroad.

The practice has increased in recent years in our waters off the West of Scotland and the south and South-West of England. It has gained increasing attention in recent years and has caused increasing concern to the fishing industry and to the public in general. In Committee I gave an undertaking to consider the matter further. In particular, I said that I should consider whether we should bring forward some form of licensing control for the receiving vessels and also whether receiving vessels should be guilty of an offence if a transhipment took place in contravention of an order prohibiting such transhipments.

I have given the matter careful consideration. Although we recognise that some further controls over transhipment are necessary—the Bill already contains provisions of a purely controlling nature—I am satisfied that the power to acquire receiving vessels to be licensed could be a useful additional measure of control over transhipments. I am also satisfied that it is only fair and reasonable that receiving vessels, as well as fishing vessels, should be guilty of an offence if illegal transhipments take place. It is for that reason that we tabled new clause 3, which gives Ministers the power, by order, to prohibit the receiving of fish by way of transhipment, except under the authority of a licence granted by one of the Ministers. We also tabled amendment No. 15, which makes it an offence to receive fish by transhipment in contravention of an order prohibiting such transhipment.

We have drawn this enabling power as widely as possible to permit Ministers to react to the needs of any particular circumstance. Those right hon. and hon. Members who have direct experience of transhipment will understand that circumstances do change and have changed over the years. We cannot take legislative powers every year for new circumstances. It is for that reason, and also to deal with the present situation and to anticipate future developments, that we have drawn the powers relatively widely.

Unfortunately, the result is that the new clause is somewhat long and complex. Having introduced this enabling power and the amendment related to illegal transhipments, there are many consequential amendments that need to be made to other parts of the Bill and to existing fisheries legislation to introduce appropriate offences and penalties and to give British sea fisheries officers the same enforcement powers as they have in relation to other controls. At the same time we have taken the opportunity in new clause 5 to correct an anomaly in the treatment of corporate bodies under the 1967 Act.

4 pm

New clause 5 not only applies to the powers that we are introducing in new clause 3; it goes more widely in respect of penalities generally. The clause makes it possible for the officers of a body corporate to be prosecuted for offences in relation to transhipments made by those bodies. However, it goes wider, in that it extends to offences committed in relation to licensing and prohibition orders generally. It is therefore a clause that we would have introduced regardless of the transhipments issue.

I am pleased to be able to put the new clause before the House because since I have been responsible for fisheries matters I have been conscious that this issue has given wide cause for concern. Although I am reasonably satisfied that the controls in the Bill will help us more effectively to police transhipments, particularly on receiving vessels, we are aware that the position we are dealing with is not static. It has changed dramatically in recent years and it could change in the future.

Since we do not have the opportunity to introduce fisheries legislation every year, the pressure put on me from both sides of the Committee was only to be expected, and I am happy to respond to it. I apologise for the complexity of the clause. It relates however, to a complex matter. Bearing in mind the support the idea received in Committee, I hope that the House will accept the clause.

Mr. Strang

We regard the clause and the Minister's statement this afternoon as representing a great Labour victory for the fishing industry. When we embarked on these proceedings in Committee we had no doubt that our most important achievement for the industry would be to persuade the Government to license these vessels. The Government had received representations from many quarters before they drafted the original Bill but they steadfastly refused to incorporate these important new elements in it.

The licensing of these transhipment factory vessels—"Klondikers", as they are colloquially known in the industry—is an immense advance for that industry. It is not simply a question of achievement by Labour Members. We are grateful for the support that we received in Committee from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie). Other members of the Committee may also have been persuaded by the arguments that we advanced of the need for the change.

There is no doubt that the operation of these"Klondikers" has been something of a national scandal. I refer particularly to the mackerel fishery. The 1979 figures showed that two-thirds of all the mackerel caught in United Kingdom waters were sold directly to these factory ships, and therefore were not landed in British ports.

I should explain why it is so important to control and restrict—some might want to go as far as virtually to eliminate—the operation of these vessels. First, the transhipment operation, particularly involving mackerel in recent years, has involved substantial abuse of conservation measures. There is no question but that the landing of mackerel on these factory ships involved a flouting of quotas and of conservation measures. There is no doubt also that the unrestricted fishing of mackerel would have led to the decimation of these stocks in the same way as the herring stocks were allowed to be fished out. It is crucial that we protect them.

We welcome the Minister's announcement that fishing vessels over 40 ft long will have stopped mackerel fishing off the Cornish coast on 1 March. I know that the freezer trawlers will still operate in the area, but surely that provides all the more reason for having the type of licensing proposed in the clause.

The black economy has been manifesting itself in the sale of fish by our fishermen to these factory ships, which come predominantly from Eastern Europe. A somewhat remarkable report has been produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies arguing that the black economy can be beneficial in some circumstances. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that the black economy—or what I might term"black" fish—has been good for the fishing industry.

The second reason why it is tremendously important to license the Klondikers is the enormous loss of employment and production as a direct consequence of tonnes of fish being sold directly to the factory ships and not being landed in British ports. There is an enormous wealth creation process between the stages at which fish is landed and when it is marketed. The process covers the fish market, the transporting of fish from the market to the freezer depots, the work at the freezer depots-one small such depot in my constituency has been paying off workers recently—and the transport of fish from the depots to the processing factories. There is also work in the factories and in subsequent transportation and marketing.

Therefore, the fish processing industry has been taking an enormous hammering in the past couple of years, partly as a direct consequence of the Government's monetarist policies—involving high interest rates and an overvalued pound—but partly because United Kingdom fish has not been landed in British ports or processed in British factories.

The case for licensing the Klondikers is overwhelming. There is no reference in the new clauses to balancing the amount of transhipment against our processing capacity. That approach is pursued, for example, in Canada. I hope that the Minister will say that the allocation of the licences and the extent to which he will allow transhipment to take place will be influenced by the degree of under-utilisation of our fish processing facilities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton) raised that issue with me. A firm in his constituency—Frigoscandia—carried out a survey in 1979 and 1980 which indicated that fish processing plants in Scotland were operating at less than 20 per cent. utilisation, and that many were in danger of permanent closure. We have seen the results in Associated Fisheries. We have seen the significant decline in the British processing industry.

Another reason why the clause is a victory for the industry relates to the catchers themselves. In the short term some fishermen may feel that their opportunity to sell fish directly to factory vessels will restrict their market and will have an adverse effect on their prices, but in the long term it would be very much against their interests if our processing industry continued along the road of almost terminal decline. We need such an industry and such a market in Britain. I hope that in future we shall need that market more and more. If we begin to catch herring once again in large quantities, and a market in herring develops, I hope that the work that once existed in Scotland in the herring industry will return.

When the Minister replies, will he say something about the withdrawal of licences? The Government, if they mean business, must be prepared to withdraw licences from Klondikers that contravene British regulations. Will the Minister elaborate on the offences and penalties that will be imposed and tell us how he can make them effective against the large East German and Russian vessels and, indeed, vessels from all over the world? May we have an assurance from the Government that the licensing scheme will be established quickly? It will require an order. I trust that its drafting is now in hand. Will the Minister give undertakings about the speedy and effective implementation of the new scheme for licensing the Klondikers? It is important to the whole industry. We welcome the Government's change of position. The whole House wants to see the matter advanced as quickly as possible.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

If there is any great victory on this series of amendments, anyone who reads the report of the Second Reading debate will see that it is shared impartially by both sides of the House. I am wholly in favour of the new clauses. I want to ask the Minister one or two questions about administration. How will the clauses be administered when they become law?

The Minister knows that the distant water fleet is in a bad condition. It has been saved during the past two years only by mackerel fishing off the Cornish coast. However, we are thinking more of foreigners when discussing these clauses. British industry does not obtain much profit by selling to Eastern bloc Klondikers. My figures show that they pay about £50 a tonne for mackerel, while the fishmeal price is about £45 a tonne. Frozen mackerel sells at between £180 and £190 a tonne. Clearly we should be aiming at that. Therefore, it is a good suggestion to introduce licensing. How does the Minister intend to administer the scheme for British vessels?

4.15 pm

I wish to quote one sentence from a letter that I received from a major firm in Hull. It states: A positive Government policy would have enabled the United Kingdom vessels to have their freezing capacity increased allowing them to spend part of the year fishing and part klondiking. Such production would, obviously, have increased the period of time during which UK mackerel would be available to supply world demand. Transhipment is important for the distant water vessels. How does the Minister intend to help them through his legislation? Does he agree that if we had better processing and freezing facilities in Britain more mackrel could be landed and it would not need to be sold to foreigners?

Mr. Grimond

When the Minister drafts the orders, will he watch two points? First, the new clause as drafted is complicated and lengthy. It also goes very wide, as the Minister admitted. Will he take care that it does not catch ordinary fish carriers trading between the Islands and other ports? It is not necessary to license them, but the clause would give him the power to do so. Although licensing may be necessary, administration expenses should be kept to the minimum.

If the order is introduced, is the Minister confident that he will have the means to enforce it? The order could refer to fish caught by a specified method. There is already anxiety in the industry about the enforcement of limits. It is doubtful whether there are enough fishery cruisers and other methods of enforcement. Is the Minister satisfied that there will be the means to enforce the orders if they are passed?

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I want to say two things to my hon. Friend the Minister. First, I very much welcome the proposals that he has brought forward this afternoon. He was reacting directly to the wishes of the Committee. I congratulate him on the speed with which he did so. Secondly, I was astonished that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), who is usually so moderate and generous in these matters should talk about the new clauses as a Labour victory. I tabled an amendment, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie). We both spoke to the amendments.

I was under the impression that both sides of the Committee had pointed out how, first, conservation had been damaged; secondly, how the British processing industry had been damaged; and, thirdly, how essential it was to license the Klondikers. When my hon. Friend the Minister replied in Committee I received the impression that he took the argument as an all-Committee point and that he would bring forward a new clause at the appropriate time. He has done so. It is what we on the Conservative side pressed for. To talk about it as a Labour victory is not only ridiculous; it is demeaning to the industry. We have all worked together on this issue. We have all been successful. The industry has benefited. We should take party politics out of the matter.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

As I sit on the Opposition Benches these days I am happy to welcome any Labour victories. Let us be sensible and say that it is a victory for common sense on both sides of the Committee."Klondiking" is a somewhat poetic and romantic word, but in the past few months it has acquired almost an evil connotation.

I speak as a Hull MP. We in Hull have had some stick over this, not merely from fishermen off the South-West peninsula but from ill-informed people all over the country who seem to think that Klondiking consists of Communist vessels coming into the English Channel, mooring 12-15 miles, or sometimes 6 miles, off the coast and then getting stuck in to fish for mackerel. I make it clear that whatever was done in the past was done legally. It has been legitimate for the vessels, whether from Hull, Fleetwood or anywhere else, to anchor off these shores, catch the fish and then tranship their catch on the water to, say, a Polish vessel or any other vessel, even an Egyptian vessel, which was willing to pay in the market for the fish.

A term was used a few minutes ago which to me is almost insidious. There was a reference to the black market. There is no black market in open exchanges on the water. I should like to see all the fish caught by our vessels landed at our ports, on our quaysides, thus giving employment to workers on shore. What has been happening has been legitimate, and"Klondiking" is a poetic word that can be forgotten.

When the Minister replies to the debate, will he make quite clear what he means by licensing? I am sure that he knows as well as I do that this has caused a lot of perturbation to Hull fishing owners, skippers and deck hands because they did not know how long they were staying to fish. Let us be explicit, so that when men leave the Humber, or anywhere else, they know that they are going to fish for a month, or more or less, and can get down to the job of catching the fish. When I hear words like"black market","black economy","scandal" and so forth, I do not think that it is good enough. Our people have to catch the fish. They have been doing that and selling it in public.

Mr. Strang

I was not meaning to slight the constituents of my hon. Friend, but I think that he will recognise that substantial amounts of fish have been sold direct to foreign vessels. It is widely believed that cash payments have been made to these fishermen. Indeed, there has been some suggestion that all of that cash may not have been declared. Furthermore, the Minister himself in opening the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill used the word"abuse" in relation to transhipment.

Mr. Johnson

This all sounds to me like buying Argentinian footballers and putting them in the Second Division with Hull City. I hope, all that apart, that the Minister will make clear what he means by licensing.

Last season about 300,000 tonnes of mackerel were caught off the South-West peninsula. Can the Minister specify what amounts he deems sensible and wise for conservation purposes? Will he then tell us which sections of the fleet will be getting these licences and for what length of time? In view of the past confusion and feeling of unfairness amongst owners in Hull about this, it is important that he makes it explicit and puts it on the line.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

I welcome the clause which arose, among other proposals put down by the Opposition, from an amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and myself. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) was endeavouring to take the total credit for this. I have always looked at fishing as a bipartisan subject. I agree that the hon. Member supported it, but in his earlier remarks he appeared to indicate that this was a Labour proposal and that it was they who had managed to get the Minister to change this. However, I do not wish to be partisan. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) would be one of the first Members to welcome the view that fishing should be a bipartisan subject.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)


Mr. McQuarrie

I am not partisan. I take the point that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) endeavours to make from a sitting position.

Mr. McNamara

I am sorry if I offended the hon. Gentleman. All I am saying is that bipartisan policies in this House have always meant that we have had to agree with the Tory Party, on the Common Market or anything else.

Mr. McQuarrie

That might not be bad policy.

I support the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East in respect of the processing industry. If we are to control the Klondikers or those vessels that process fish offshore, it is absolutely vital that sufficient resources should be landed for our processing factories. One of the problems that is being created at the quayside is the low price of fish. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East rightly said, that is where the black economy starts.

Despite the honesty that no doubt exists in most parts of the fishing industry, in whatever sphere we think of in the world there are always people who are prepared to take a little extra on the side if they can get it. The fishing industry is no different, although, as I say, those involved in it are traditionally honest. There are always a few"black" people around who are prepared to take"black" money, as there are in any industry. It is only fair to say that the fishing industry would admit that. The industry is as anxious as we are to ensure that licensing of this nature takes place.

The Minister's decision to table the new clauses will be welcomed not only by those of us who served on the Committee and who endeavoured to get him to come to the view that he has now reached in bringing forward these proposals, but by the fishing and processing industries. I trust that the House generally will support this proposal as those of us on the Government Benches who have spoken and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East who spoke on behalf of the Opposition have done.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I, too, welcome the tabling of the new clause. I was surprised that originally nothing was done about this subject in the Bill, since the matter had become a great bone of contention. There was a lot of anger and resentment at the way in which the system was being abused. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) that Klondiking of itself has a respectable pedigree. When I was a boy, the fishermen welcomed the arrival of Klondikers. It was an excellent market and they were delighted to see them. So the system in itself is not inherently evil and there is nothing wrong with it as such.

Undoubtedly there have been breaches. For the protection of the mackerel stocks and of the processors on land it was obvious that something had to be done about it. Since I was not represented on the Committee I am unable to claim that this was a victory for my party. I am content to follow the example of the non-partisan Members who have already spoken and welcome it on behalf of the fishing industry.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I was rather surprised at the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) in claiming this as a Labour victory. I have taken the opportunity while sitting on the Government Front Bench to remind myself of what was said in the debate in Committee. It is rather interesting that, out of four Members who spoke in Committee, apart from myself there were two Members from the Conservative Benches, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East was the only Member from the Labour Benches who spoke on this. Therefore, the number of Labour abstentions was very large.

Mr. McNamara rose

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall give way in a moment. I am always happy to give way, particularly to the hon. Gentleman.

I prefer to adopt the approach of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) and the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). I simply put this forward as a sensible measure which had the support of the Committee and has the support of the House. It is in that spirit that I have proposed it.

4.30 pm
Mr. McNamara

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not relying on the number of hon. Members who speak on every clause as a degree of support or otherwise, is he? If so, he will not get to his bed tonight.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I thought that I should put the record straight.

I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and the right hon. Member for the Western Isles about there being nothing wrong with transhipment. There is nothing evil about it.

I wholly agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East about more British companies' shore-based facilities taking advantage of the processing opportunities offered by mackerel and herring fishing. Let us be under no illusions. No matter how pelagic fishing is organised—whether for herring, sprats or mackerel—I do not see how we could have sufficient shore-based processing facilities to service a seasonal fishery without processing capacity being under-utilised for large periods of the year. Even if the Government put in massive funds, we could not get a proper return on the investment because of the physical nature of the way that this fishery is undertaken.

That is why over the years this tradition of Klondiking and transhipment has built up. It is a good thing. Without it we would not be able to cope with the harvest that the sea offers of these pelagic species. If we did not have these factory vessels to process the fish at the appropriate time, our fishermen would not get a proper return for their fish and our processing factories would not have any advantage. We must get this matter in perspective. That is why I endorse strongly what has been said about it.

Our domestic market, given its size, is unable to cope with what is produced out of this fishery during the short time that it takes place. Much of it has to go for export, which is an opportunity made available by some of these factory vessels and transhipment. Therefore, there is nothing basically or fundamentally wrong with Klondiking or transhipment as it takes place now and as it has taken place in the past.

We took the powers in the Bill initially in order to control better the way in which the transhipment takes place. The Government did not ignore this matter. I think that the right hon. Member for the Western Isles would agree that this is a question not of licensing or not licensing, but of control. If there have been abuses—I believe that there have been abuses, and some of the problems have been in the identification of those abuses—we need additional control. That is why originally we took the power to control. We brought in more powers to inspect—to go aboard vessels to find out what is going on. That will be more effective than licensing to ensure that abuses do not take place.

We have now, so to speak, approached the matter by two stages. The first stage was in the Bill as originally published, and I think that is the most important part of it. The control measures are more important than anything else, and we included those in the Bill originally.

As a result of pressure in Committee, we have now taken further powers which will enable us to license and to take the opportunity referred to by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East of being able to go much wider. In future we may be able to take a broader view of balancing shore-based facilities for processing against the facilities of vessels which receive. I do not want to deceive the House in any way. The control measures, if we are to have proper conservation, are more important than any measures that we may take on licensing.

I was asked specific questions on the new clause and I shall now seek to answer them. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East asked whether licences could be withdrawn. Of course they can be withdrawn. The Minister has taken the power to issue licences, and he also has the power to withdraw them. That power will also exist for the courts. If a licence is contravened, the court will have power to remove the licence.

The hon. Gentleman asked about penalties. We have followed the precedents on illegal fishing. Receiving fish without a licence or in contravention of a prohibition on transhipping would be subject to a maximum fine of £50,000 on summary conviction. I emphasise that this is no light matter. It is backed up by proper penalties.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked how, if we introduced licensing, we would ensure that we did not inadvertently cover areas that we did not intend to cover. We have the power to make the order subject to exemptions. I assure him that we would be sensitive to the point that he made if we considered introducing a licensing scheme.

I turn now to the more general points. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East asked when and how we would introduce these powers and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) asked how we would administer them. These points were implicit in many of the speeches to which I listened. I emphasise that in the new clause we are taking enabling powers. Therefore, we would have to introduce the licensing scheme by order. I have no immediate plans to introduce a licensing scheme as such. First, only a short time has elapsed since we decided to introduce this enabling power. Therefore, I should like to give it a great deal more thought.

Secondly, we have already introduced powers of control. Therefore, in terms of trying to stop abuses and to ensure that transhipment takes place responsibly and properly, particularly in the light of our conservation measures, we should first see how those control measures work. It is silly to take powers in response to popular feeling or even where there is a genuine need when we have power:; available in the Bill as drafted to deal with the main abuses. Therefore, I should make it clear that I have no immediate intention of introducing a licensing scheme as such. But these enabling powers will enable us to assess the position. In the light of our experience of how the control measures work or in furtherance of any new conservation measures, we could then introduce a licensing scheme.

Mr, Wall rose—

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I now come specifically to the point on which I anticipate my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice is seeking to intervene. I give him and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland an undertaking that, before introducing any scheme, we shall consult all those with interests in it. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West also referred to this matter. We shall consult those companies with interests which have vessels capable of receiving transhipped fish. We shall also consult those with processing interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) speaks very strongly for those interests in the House. Obviously, we would also consult the catching side of the industry, because it has a tremendous financial interest in what happens to transhipment. We shall also have to take account of overseas interests.

I cannot respond directly to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East by saying what kind of scheme we would introduce or when we would introduce such a scheme. We have taken the enabling power so that at the appropriate time, after we have seen how our control measures work, and even then only after consulting all the interests involved, we may bring forward a licensing scheme.

I hope that I have not only helped to clarify the points raised in this debate, but made clear the circumstancs in which a licensing scheme might be introduced in furtherance of the enabling powers which we have taken before us. I thank the House for the welcome which it has given to the new clause. We are right to take those powers, but we should not forget the service which the Klondiking and transhipment of fish provides to the British fishing industry.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful for being allowed to take up some of the time of the House. I can restore the balance of speakers on the clause; because it would be unfortunate if it were to go through with the feeling that there is not the support for the measure for which the Minister is rightly looking. In fact, the Labour Party strongly supports the new proposal.

The public and the consumer have been aware of one matter relative to Klondiking. In the past, scenes have been portrayed of fish being caught and transhipped, often outside our territorial waters and often to foreign vessels, of species that are on sale by British fishmongers at an enormous price. We have been told that that has taken place because of the better price that the fishermen have been able to obtain for selling in bulk to foreign vessels—mainly Eastern European vessels. If the system of control of licences is likely to produce—as I hope it will—a system whereby the British consumer and housewife have a better price for fish at the fishmongers, and if some of the recent exorbitant prices come down as a result of proper licensing and controls, these measures will be welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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