HC Deb 04 March 1981 vol 1000 cc366-73


Amendment made: No. 37, in page 35, leave out lines 5 to 15 and insert—

Exempted acts

Taking, killing or injuring or attempting to take, kill or injure or buying, selling or exposing for sale, or having in possession fish produced by fish farming.

Shooting or working a seine or draft net in waters used exclusively for fish farming.

Taking or attempting to take fish produced by fish farming.

Using an electrical device in waters used exclusively for fish farming.

Possession of an electrical device for the purpose of using it in waters used exclusively for fish farming.

Fishing for, taking or killing or attempting to take or kill (otherwise than by a rod and line) fish produced by fish farming.

Buying, selling, exposing for sale or having in possession for sale fish produced by fish farming.

Exporting or entering for export fish produced by fish farming.

Fishing for or taking (otherwise than by a rod and line) fish produced by fish farming.

Possession of an instrument (other than a rod and line) with intent to use it for fishing tor or taking fish produced by fish farming.

Provision of 1975 Act

section 28(7) (infringement of byelaws), so far as relating to any byelaw made for a purpose mentioned in paragraphs 21, 23, 24, 25, 26 or 28 of Schedule 3.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I know that the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) wishes to speak on Third Reading, but I should like to say a few words at this stage. I believe that by setting up the new Sea Fish Industry Authority, with the service which it can give to the industry, and by bringing to an end the uncertainty which has existed over the future of the two authorities which it will replace, we shall help to bring substantial benefit to the industry.

I take this opportunity to put on record again my thanks to those who have served on the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board for the good service which they and their staff have given over the years. I pay tribute also to the patience which they have exercised until Parliament eventually came to a decision to unite the work of the two bodies in one authority. Given the record of the two original bodies, I am certain that the new authority, which I certainly wish well, will start from a firm and excellent base and from that base should be able to continue to give good service to the industry.

I come now to one or two specific provisions in the Bill which are of particular significance. The first relates to control and conservation, penalties and enforcement. The powers which we are taking in relation to fishing vessels of other countries and the greater speed with which we ought to be able to act under the provisions of the Bill will, I believe, be of great importance, since conservation measures, quotas and everything else are worth nothing unless we can apply them effectively and swiftly.

The other matter is fish farming. It has been described as an infant industry. A number of minor steps have been taken in the past to assist it in legislation, but I think that this is the first time that in a Bill of this kind a number of provisions have been brought together to help fish farming. I hope that this will be the start of a greater appreciation of the part that the fish farming industry can play in our economy.

With those few words, I commend the Bill to the House.

10.10 pm
Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

As we move to the Third Reading of the Bill, I, too, pay tribute to the services rendered by the Herring Industry Board and the White Fish Authority. We paid tribute to them on Second Reading and we echo those tributes as we reach the final stages of the Bill.

The Sea Fish Industry Authority is now being established, but I must tell the Minister that it is still not in the form that the Opposition would have wished. We still believe that our proposal for a smaller, independent authority, backed up by an expert consultative body, would have been better. The new authority now being forced upon the House will have a mixture of independent members and representatives from the fishing industry. The Minister assured us that he has found confidence in the industry on this particular form and make-up. At this stage, we shall have to accept that from him.

Exempted acts

Any act committed—

  1. (a)in waters used exclusively for fish farming; and
  2. (b)in the case of a bylaw made for the purpose mentioned in paragraph 21 or 25 of Schedule 3, otherwise than with a rod and line.'.—[Mr. Buchanan-Smith.]

On consultations with a wide range of sectional interests, who collectively will have a great deal to say about promoting the efficiency of the industry, the Minister has so far been unable to indicate a consultative body of any kind. Even at this late stage, therefore, we still have no knowledge of the make-up of the authority or of any consultative system. If the Minister intends to make a winding-up speech on Third Reading it would be most helpful if he could enlighten us a little more on that.

I believe that the Bill has been much improved in Committee, especially through the amendments moved by my hon. Friends but also because throughout the Committee stage the Minister was listening to the many suggestions that were made. On Report a number of valuable amendments were therefore made, which the House has welcomed today. The list includes parliamentary accountability on directives and in examination of the authority's borrowings, the tightening of the law on the transhipments of fish, Klondiking operations and the licensing of vessels—a whole batch of new amendments that have undoubtedly improved the Bill. We hope that the transhipment loopholes have now been effectively blocked.

Having perused the names of the members of the Committee, and having read the report of all of its sittings, it is clear to me that it was an effective Committee stage. If we have had an effective Report stage, it has been because the Committee was composed of very knowledgeable Members of the House.

The Bill recognises that the fishing industry has changed considerably in recent years. Our deep-sea fleet has been drastically reduced. Our inshore and middle-distance fleets have grown in numbers, and there has been a geographical switch in operational strength, so that at least 50 per cent. of the United Kingdom fishing fleets now operate from Scottish ports.

Within that growth of smaller vessels, however, fear is developing in the industry that foreign vessels are increasingly being registered under the British flag—that there are flags of convenience within the British shipping fleets. According to reports, Spaniards and Scandinavians are already moving in. A considerable number of foreign vessels have registered in our ports. We ought to know from the Minister when he replies to what extent that is really happening. How many of those ships have registered in our ports in order conveniently to take advantage of our fishing limits, our sharing quotas and, above all, of Government loans and grants to the industry? I know that Government action is required to stop this, but I should like to know what powers the newly established Sea Fish Industry Authority will have to deal with matters of that kind.

I hope that the Minister will not shackle the new authority. In Committee and on Report my hon. Friends pressed the need for some degree of permanence and security for the men in the fishing industry. I hope that the Minister will encourage the authority in that spirit of change and try to increase the betterment of the whole industry.

While we recognise that on training and safety the Sea Fisheries Training Council, the Board of Trade and the Health and Safety Executive are primarily involved, we would wish the authority to be encouraged to support speedier changes for the betterment of the whole industry. By that we draw attention to the share fishermen and the inshore fleets, which, unlike the deep—sea trawling fleet, are not so well organised. Their job condition as a whole must be much progressed in order to match normal conditions established by other major industries.

I turn to clause 13, in part II. If, flowing from a common fisheries policy deal, money is to be made available from the Common Market and matched by Government grants, I hope that there will be cash for fishermen who have already suffered, and may suffer further as a result of the deal. I hope that some thought is already being given to helping some of our fishing communities as a possible result of a CFP deal.

I also hope that the new authority will be called upon to examine unfair practices that operate against United Kingdom fishermen. I hope that there will be regular monitoring, so that the Minister can be kept informed, with evidence, in order to alert the Commission and the Council of Fisheries Ministers.

The timing of the Bill is most appropriate in anticipation of the CFP deal. Part II could quickly be brought into use if the new fisheries policy necessitates restructuring the United Kingdom fishing fleets with the aid of Common Market cash. The Minister knows the pitfalls, and so do we. He must not sell sections of our fleet for the short-term attraction of a cash deal. What is on offer by way of scrapping grants, laying-up premiums and the building of new vessels must be agreed by the industry as a whole. We recognise that that is difficult, but that is the goal.

In order to give the authority a good start and a basis for its work in the future, it would be laudable if, next week, at the meeting of the Fisheries Council, we could obtain agreement on our basic aims. The Bill helps us towards our first objectve of conservation—to conserve fish stocks effectively. Secondly, in alliance with the 40 EEC inspectors or enforcement officers agreed in the CFP talks, the Bill establishes our sea fishery officers, another useful addition in preparation for a common fisheries policy.

The Bill contains powers relating to the allocation of finance to the industry. We are therefore ready to take advantage of Common Market grants and loans in the wake of any agreement.

We have made some progress on conservation and in the gradual build-up of some controls, and I hope that as the Bill proceeds to enactment we shall see Common Market agreement that will give us satisfaction on total allowable catches, controls over access in our 12-mile coastal belt, and the dominant preference that we seek up to 50 miles.

If in his negotiations the Minister can obtain satisfaction for the whole industry, the Bill will prove invaluable to the United Kingdom fishing industry. We all fully appreciate the difficulties and the strong nationalistic views that still prevail in the fisheries talks, but if the Minister can maintain the support of Parliament and the various sections of the industry, and press on to their satisfaction, it may well be that the fishermen's frustration, anger and long-standing patience will not have been in vain. I have pleasure in supporting the Third Reading.

10.18 pm
Mr. Sproat

I am sure that the whole House will echo the words of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) about what we hope will come out of the common fisheries policy. As someone who has expressed during the Bill's stages some doubts and scepticism about certain parts of the new Sea Fish Industry Authority, I welcome the fact that it will be set up.

The fishing industry desperately needs a period of stability, confidence and unity of aim. The new authority, with its eight members from the industry, can contribute greatly to those three ends. I wish the new authority well.

10.20 pm
Mr. McNamara

The Bill will do a great deal to organise the industry and to establish it on a sound footing. However, I am not as optimistic as some hon. Members about what will emerge from the common fisheries policy—should such a policy come about. Some of the powers that will allow us to take advantage of any benefits that may come from the policy will hang in limbo until after the French elections, if not longer.

In terms of the Bill's social content, a marvellous opportunity has been lost. The authority will not merely administer the industry as if it were so many computer models, but will organise the lives and livelihoods of many of our constituents. My hon. Friends and I raised some points that represented the considered opinions of fishermen's representatives throughout the country, which have been expressed at fishing conferences—held by my union and others—over the years. Positive steps have not been taken over accidents, decasualisation and many other matters.

The opportunity has not been taken to rectify some ancient wrongs. Generally, the new authority has the support of all hon. Members, of most, if not all, of the representatives of the working people, and of many of the owners. If there is to be a separate representative for the Six Counties of Northern Ireland on the new Sea Fish Industry Authority, there should be a representative of the working people. It is not sufficient to represent the managers and owners. There must be someone to represent the interests of those who work in the industry.

One part of the Bill has not received a great deal of attention. Nevertheless, it is a welcome step—as far as it goes—in the right direction. I refer to the provision for the preservation of whales, dolphins and similar sea animals. If the provision is interpreted generously, and if the Minister's powers are used not in a restrictive but in an expansive manner, it will prove to be an important measure. We have concentrated on the fishing industry and perhaps we have ignored the public's great interest in the safety of these great creatures of the deep. In so far as we are able to look after them in our waters, this will prove to be a welcome development which should be recognised as such by the British people.

10.23 pm
Mr. McQuarrie

I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). In particular, I should like to refer to clause 2, which provides: (1) It shall be the duty of the Authority to exercise its powers under this act for the purpose of promoting the efficiency of the sea fish industry and so as to serve the interests of that industry as a whole. (2) In exercising its powers under this Part of this Act the Authority shall have regard to the interests of consumers of sea fish and sea fish products. Under the Bill the powers are wide and they will reduce the fragmentation of the industry. The provision will give an uplift to those in the fishing industry. I say without any disrespect to the WFA and the HIB that this has been awaited by the industry for many years. There has been a feeling that there should be one body to serve the industry as a whole. The wide powers given by the Government in the Bill will be welcomed by the fishing industry, both offshore and onshore.

The industry as a whole has welcomed the Bill as it has progressed through Second Reading, Committee and Report stages. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State on the excellent manner in which he has directed the Bill through its Committee and Report stages and his tremendous work today in sitting in the Chamber throughout the Bill's Report stage and Third Reading. He has shown his complete faith in the Bill and deserves the congratulations of the House.

10.25 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes

I echo the words expressed from almost every quarter of the House in commendation of both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board. We should remind ourselves that both the authority and the board, the people who work for them and their connections with the industry, have done a great deal for the industry. I had personal experience before coming to the House of working with the industrial development unit based in Hull. I know the contribution that it made to develop fishing and fishing methods within the industry. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who worked in and took part in the running of both bodies.

I also welcome the establishment of the new Sea Fish Industry Authority. It begins its life because of changed circumstances. Never in the history of the fishing industry have there been such uncertainties and such fears for the future expressed by people working at sea and on shore.

The crisis in the industry is represented by the experience of a friend of mine whose name I shall not give because it would be embarrassing for him. He began business between eight and 10 years ago and always managed to make a decent living out of the industry. Now, for the first time in his life, he is faced with mounting debts to the extent that he cannot afford to leave the industry. If possible, he would leave, because he believes that the future is so bleak. Many people within the industry take that view. They would leave if they had the financial wherewithal to pay their debts. I believe, however, that the future of the industry may be better than some think.

The Bill as it stands gives wide powers to the new authority. I confess that in one or two areas I should like to have seen it possess greater powers both in terms of marketing of fish and in terms of safety. Nevertheless, it has wide powers in terms of aid to the industry. I hope that those who govern the councils of the new body will start work by taking the view that the industry is not one sectional industry. Looking at the industry as a whole and taking account of the needs and aspirations of those who go to sea and fish and the needs of the processors and whoever else is involved in the industry, I hope that it will be remembered that the industry cannot succeed and cannot live without those who work in it as fishermen and those who are employed in the processing factories.

One of the disappointments is that the aid so far given to the industry has gone almost entirely to the owners and little, if any, has made its way to ordinary fishermen. I hope that the authority, if it takes all these factors into account, will earn the reputation of being as good for the industry as the two bodies that preceded it. I give the new authority my good wishes and hope that it will be a success.

I hope that the industry, in 10 years, partly as a result of negotiations and partly as a result of the new body, will be a much healthier and much better place for those who work in it, for those, we hope, who will consume the fish, and for catchers and processors.

10.30 pm
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the debate. I thank the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) for his kind words of welcome to the Bill and for his acknowledgement of the work that has gone into it in Committee and on Report. I thank him for his courtesy.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about appointments to the authority. The procedures that we shall follow will be subject to consultation with the industry's representative organisations. It is important that we take those organisations along with us. We shall consult the industry on those who might be considered for appointment.

The authority will have power to set up consultative committees if it wishes to do so. I wish to leave it with the discretion and responsibility to establish its own consultative bodies in whatever area and form it feels appropriate.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to flags of convenience—an issue that in not directly within the remit of the authority. Regulatory powers rest with Ministers. The authority will be able to undertake any studies that it wishes and to report to Ministers as it thinks fit. There is genuine concern about flags of convenience. Studies are being undertaken by the Department of Trade, and officials in my Department are involved. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be entering into discussions with Ministers in the Department of Trade. The system can be subjected to abuse and we shall be considering ways in which it can be tightened.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the common fisheries policy and the Bill's financial provisions. Far more important than anything that may be available financially to the industry, as a result of a settlement, is a framework for access and quotas. Those are the real issues that will allow the industry to live and prosper in future. That future does not rest merely on the injection on money. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman emphasised that, and struck that balance. We must get the proportions right when considering what is really important to the industry.

I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) for his comments on what has been done to promote whale protection and the protection of smaller sea mammals, such as porpoises. We have taken advantage of the Bill to make a sensible extension to existing powers, in the hope that we shall see these species properly conserved and properly cared for.

I thank those who participated in Committee and on Report. The attitude of hon. Members on both sides of the House towards the Bill has been constructive at all stages. I have found it an enjoyable Bill to pilot because of the cooperation that has been forthcoming from both sides of the House. As a consequence of the constructive manner that has been adopted we shall send from the House a better Bill than was brought to it, and for that I thank all those who have taken part.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.