HL Deb 16 November 1933 vol 89 cc411-4

My Lords, I beg to move that the Order made by the Board of Trade under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933, be now approved. This Order has been made by the Board of Trade under Section 1 of the Sea-Fishing Industry Act. As provided by that Act, it is subject to the approval of each House of Parliament. It was presented to the other House last night and to-day I have the honour to submit it to your Lordships. The Order provides the necessary machinery to enable effect to be given to the policy of the Government, which was explained to the House during the debates on the Sea-Fishing Industry Bill which became law on July 28 last, just before Parliament rose for the Summer Recess. This Bill was to restrict foreign supplies of sea-fish to an annual amount equal to 90 per cent. of the average annual imports from each country during the last three years.

It will be recalled that the object of the Act was to save from collapse an industry so seriously depressed that a large proportion of it had for some time been working definitely at a loss. Wholesale prices of fish at the ports had been so low as to be unremunerative to producers, and supplies of fish were evidently greater than markets could absorb at prices which would yield a fair return to the industry. The Act aimed at improving prices by regulating supplies, both British and foreign. It provided that no Order should be made by the Board of Trade to regulate foreign landings until Orders had been made by the Ministers concerned with fisheries under the powers conferred by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act to restrict the landing of sea-fish caught in far northern waters, to regulate the size of mesh of fishing nets used in British fishing boats, and to prohibit the sale of specified classes of undersized sea-fish. These restrictions, which apply only to the classes of fish which it is least desirable to market, were calculated both to improve prices at the ports in this country and to improve fishing by reducing the destruction of immature fish.

An essential part of the policy underlying the Act was to impose a restriction on foreign landings so that the efforts of the home industry should not be nullified by increased importations from foreign countries. The scheme represented a large measure of general agreement. The home industry accepted restrictions on their operations on condition that they were protected from increased foreign landings; and the foreign countries principally concerned, representing, it is remarkable to note, over 90 per cent., of our foreign imports of the kinds of fish affected by the Order, accepted the import restriction by voluntary agreement in view of the benefits conferred by the other restrictive measures proposed. Orders under Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act were made by the appropriate Ministers on July 29 last and became operative on August 1. It had been hoped that the Order regulating foreign landings under Section 1 of the Act could be made in time to come into effect immediately after the other Orders, but it was not found practicable to make the Order until August 15. It came into operation on the 21st of the same month.

The Preamble to the Order states the intention to regulate landings of foreign-caught fish by restricting them to the quantities specified in the Schedule in the case of the principal supplying countries, and in all other cases to 90 per cent. of the average amounts landed during the three years 1930 to 1932. The quantities specified in the Schedule also represent, in round figures, 90 per cent. of the three-year average for the respective countries named. As it was desired that the quota year should correspond with the calendar year, Part I of the Schedule sets out separate figures, with appropriate reductions, for the period from August 21 to December 31, 1933. The operative sections of the Order provide the necessary machinery for restricting imports to the amounts specified. Before making an Order under Section 1 of the Act the Board of Trade are re- quired by Statute to have regard to the interests of the consumers of the sea-fish to which the Order relates—including persons, such as curers, who purchase sea-fish for processing—and to the effect of the Order on the commercial relations of this country; and to satisfy themselves that the Order is not at variance with any commercial treaty, convention or agreement between this country and any other country. Your Lordships can rest assured that my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade and his officials have paid due regard to these considerations.

As has already been stated the object of the Act was to bring about such an increase in the wholesale price of fish at the ports as would enable a reasonable profit to be made by the owners of British fishing boats. A comparatively small increase of the order of ½d. per lb. is all that was desired. There is every reason to anticipate that such an increase could be effected without causing any appreciable increase in retail prices. The cost of packing, transport and marketing of so perishable a commodity as fish is necessarily high, with the result that the prime cost of the fish constitutes only the minor part of the price charged to the consumer. Moreover, the alternative to the measures taken by this Government would certainly not have benefited the consumer in the long run. A continuance of the port prices ruling during the past year would have made it impossible for many trawler owners to continue their operations and the resulting collapse could not have failed to have been detrimental to the consumer. As regards the commercial relations and agreements of this country, it has already been mentioned that voluntary agreements were reached with countries representing over 90 per cent. of our total foreign imports of the kinds of fish affected and the Order is in conformity with those agreements.

It is too early yet to judge the working and effects of the Order, but it may be said that it has worked smoothly hitherto and there is every reason to anticipate that it will continue to do so. As regards its effects, the position up to date gives no ground for disappointment. In July last, before the new measures came into operation, the average price of white fish of British catching in England and Wales was only 15s. 11d. per cwt., the lowest July figure for many years. In August the average price rose to 19s. 7d. per cwt. as compared with 17s. 5d. in August last year. It fell slightly to 19s. 6d. in September (as compared with 22s. in September last year) but in October it rose to 25s. 5d. as compared with 19s. 10d. in October last year. A spell of exceptionally hot weather was experienced in August and September this year favouring good supplies of fish and tending to restrict demand. In October fishings were hampered by stormy weather and landings were lighter.

Retail prices, it is satisfactory to observe, appear to have remained about normal. In July last the average retail price of fish as recorded by the Ministry of Labour was 93 per cent. above the figure for 1914. The percentage rose to. 94 per cent. in August and to 96 per cent. in September and October. During the same period the index figure for all articles of food showed an increase from l8 per cent. in July to 23 per cent. in October, above the figure for July, 1914—a. greater increase than in the case of fish. In 1932 the index price of fish rose from 94 per cent. above pre-War in July to 100 per cent. in October—a greater increase than in the present year. The slight upward movement of fish prices in the last few months cannot therefore be attributed to the effect of the Orders.

I have been supplied with a very full brief by the Department which I represent, and if any noble Lord has any question to ask I or my noble friend Lord De La Warr, who is here, will do our best to answer it. In consequence of this Act there was a very definite improvement in all the ports as regards this industry. Our markets are becoming more attractive, orders are being placed for the building of new trawlers and men are being taken on instead of being discharged. The whole position is considerably better than it was before the Act was passed, and I confidently recommend this Order for the approval of your Lordships.

Moved, That the Order made by the Board of Trade under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933, which was presented to this House on the 7th instant be approved.—(Lord Templemore.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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