HL Deb 11 May 1938 vol 108 cc985-1009

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the measure to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day is rather different in its subject from the Agricultural Bills for which I usually stand sponsor in this House. The sea fish industry, like many others, has in the last half-century undergone not only a phenomenal expansion but also a fundamental change in character. Forty-five years ago about 6,000,000 cwts. of white fish, having a value of about £4,000,000 were landed every year. In 1913 the quantity had almost doubled, whilst the value had risen even faster—from £4,000,000 to £11,000,000. Last year the yield reached 16,000,000 cwts. and the value 13,000,000. These figures will give the House some idea of the growth of the industry, a growth which has been due not only to a complete transformation of the fleet which catches the fish, but also to a vast expansion of the area from which the fish are caught.

Until the 'eighties the sailing trawler was in undisputed possession of the seas, and even after that, when steam made its appearance, sailing trawlers still made up the greater part of the fishing fleet until about the end of the last century. Between then and 1913 the number of first-class sailing trawlers had decreased from about 2,000 to 860; and in 1936 as much as 90 per cent. of the catch was landed by steam trawlers, the number in that year being 1,600. Along with the change over from sail to steam and the great increase in individual tonnage there has been a steady development of the power and efficiency of the trawl; and yet another fact is that whereas the North Sea was once the main fishing ground of Europe and yielded the greater part of the total landings, nowadays less than a quarter of the catch comes from the North Sea and more than half from far distant Northern regions.

Unfortunately, although the sea fish industry has expanded and developed at such a tremendous rate, its expansion has not been entirely healthy, and its condition to-day, as no doubt your Lordships are aware, is far from prosperous. During the War, owing to the enforced limitation of fishing, the stock of fish had time to replenish itself, and the result was that as soon as the War was over there was a great boom in fishing. In fact a competitive race began. Other countries, which fish in the same waters as ourselves, also increased their fishing activities on parallel lines with the consequence that very soon the nearer fishing grounds began to fail. That did not mean a decline in the quantities caught, because the larger and more powerful ships that were being built could stand longer voyages and could explore more and more the far distant waters. But it did mean a very great decline in quality. By the time the distant-water fish reached port a great deal of it was stale and uneatable. With more fish of poorer quality being landed, prices naturally came down with a run. The wholesale index figure for fish to-day is practically down to the level of 1914, whereas the producers of food from the land are getting about 30 per cent. more.

While the price which the catcher gets for his fish has gone down, the cost of all the commodities necessary for catching it has gone up. Coal, the most important, will serve as an example. Between 1934 and 1937 the price per ton of coal went up about 2s. 6d., and in addition I understand that there was a further substantial rise in the early months of this year. Not a penny of this increased cost has been passed on. A perishable commodity like fish has to be sold at once for what it will fetch. Nobody has gained by this vicious circle of over-building, over-fishing, depleted stocks, constant widening of the sources of supply, increased landings, poorer quality, lower prices and the attempt to recoup losses by ever-increasing expansion and greater production. Employers and workers have suffered alike. While the producer gets no more than before the War, the consumer, largely owing to a higher wages bill on distribution, pays twice as much.

In 1933 two measures were taken to meet the economic crisis which had arisen in the industry. The Sea-Fishing Industry Act of that year provided in the first place for some measure of regulation of supplies, both in quantity and quality; and secondly it set up a Sea Fish Commission—known as the Duncan Commission—to investigate the position of the industry, with particular reference to the question whether some scheme of reorganisation was needed. The first great object of the Bill which we are considering to-day is to implement generally the recommendations of the Sea Fish Commission in regard to reorganisation; but before I come to that I ought to mention the other measures which have been taken under the 1933 Act. These are: the regulation of landings of foreign-caught sea fish; the restriction of landings in the summer months from the distant waters; and the fixing of minimum sizes for the meshes of nets and for the actual fish which may be sold. These measures have led to some improvement in the general quality of fish and also to a modest rise in price, from an average of 18s. 7d. per cwt. in 1933 to 20s. 3d. in 1934. In the absence of any internal organisation of the home industry, however, there was nothing to prevent the improvement being wiped out by still more building of trawlers. That is in fact what has happened. New trawlers of the largest type have been built, and this increase in catching power has led to record landings, which in turn have been reflected in a fall in price. In 1935 the price was 19s. 3d., in 1936 it fell to 16s. 9d., and in 1937 it fell even further to 15s. 11d.

The powers for which the Government are now asking are powers for this industry to help itself. The present Bill not only provides for the reorganisation of the whole industry on the general principles contained in the Duncan Commission's recommendations, but will also enable a scheme, on the lines of one that has already been put forward by the Trawlers' Federation, to be brought into operation as soon as possible. Part I of the Bill follows, to a great extent, the Agricultural Marketing Acts, and enables each of the many sections of the industry—catchers, wholesalers, fishmongers and fish friers—to attain self-government by means of a marketing scheme. There is, however, a difference from the Agricultural Marketing Acts, and that is caused by the fact that there exist so many different branches of the industry, each with its own particular problems. There has to be some outside body to see that the interests of these various branches of the industry are co-ordinated and that their schemes fit in with each other. There will also be matters of general concern to the whole industry which could not be dealt with appropriately by the individual marketing boards set up for each branch.

So in this Bill we propose to set up a White Fish Commission with five independent and non-representative members appointed by Ministers and paid out of public funds. The Commission's functions will be to register all persons engaged in the various branches of the industry; to submit marketing schemes prepared either by catchers and distributors or by itself after consultation with the representatives of those bodies; to ensure co-ordination in the schemes and their operation; to make regulations governing matters outside the operation of the schemes; to administer a voluntary fund for purposes of common benefit; and generally to keep the industry under review and advise and assist Ministers. There is one other function which it will be necessary for the Commission to perform—the submission of co-operative schemes for inshore fishermen—which perhaps I may be allowed to touch on later. We believe that these supervisory and co-ordinating functions can best be performed by an independent body; but that does not mean that the Commission will act without knowing the full conditions within the industry. Like the Livestock Commission, it will be assisted by a fully representative body, to be known as the White Fish Industry Joint Council. The members of this Council will he appointed by Ministers after consultation with the appropriate organisations, and naturally they will represent the various interests concerned. Ministers may also appoint representatives of any other interests likely to be affected, including, of course, those who are the real backbone of the industry, the fishermen and the other workers employed in the various branches. I should explain that as this Joint Council, like the Livestock Advisory Committee, will be advisory only and there will be no question of its taking decisions by vote, the actual numerical representation of the various sections will not, therefore, be of great importance.

The necessary first step in dealing with a largely unorganised industry is to obtain registration. A number of branches of this industry lack even a reasonably complete census of their members. Under the registration proposals there will not be any restriction on registration; the Commission must register any applicant. When a marketing scheme has been prepared, the machinery for its adoption will consist first of the publication of the scheme, the consideration of objections by Ministers, and if necessary, the holding of a public inquiry; then a poll of persons covered by the scheme; then, if at least half those on the register have voted and at least two-thirds of the voters are in favour, the scheme will be submitted to Parliament for an affirmative Resolution and, if that is given, Ministers will finally confirm the scheme. The boards which will administer the schemes will be made up mainly of elected members, but not less than three, nor more than one-third of the total number, will be independent and appointed by Ministers.

Under Clause 8, the chief powers which may be conferred on a producers' marketing board will be the regulation of marketing by producers, including the limitation of quantities and the fixing of prices. I should here say that the intention is to give power to fix low minimum prices only. The other powers for the regulation of marketing will be the licensing of boats, in order to check uneconomic expansion of the trawler fleet: the power to limit landings both by number and quantity; to require the temporary laying up of boats in order to prevent excessive landings; and lastly, the power to encourage the landing of fish in better condition. Distributors' marketing schemes under Clause 10 may empower the boards to regulate the equipment and condition of premises and vehicles, and the manner in which white fish may be offered for sale. Under this clause there will be no licensing or price-fixing powers in these schemes. Marketing boards may also have certain development powers, connected, for example, with such matters as research and experiment, advertising, and the collective purchase of such things as stores, gear and equipment. In the Bill there are ample safeguards both for consumers and for sections of the industry not concerned in any particular marketing scheme. Besides the presence of independent members on each board, there will be a Consumers' Committee and also a Committee of Investigation, with functions similar to those set up under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931, and Ministers will be able to act as they have under the Agricultural Marketing Act on the recommendations of the Committee of Investigation.

Inshore fishermen, whose ports cannot accommodate the large steam vessels which land most of our white fish supplies, need special treatment. They could not be included—for practical reasons—with the deep-sea trawling industry under a producers' scheme, and provision is therefore made in Clause 18 for the Commission to submit co-operative schemes on their behalf. Ministers will not be able to proceed with a cooperative scheme unless they are satisfied that there is a preponderating opinion in favour of it among those who are concerned. Each scheme will require an affirmative Resolution by Parliament, and will be administered by what the Bill terms an authorised body. This authorised body may set up a central selling organisation in its area, and may also undertake the collective purchase of supplies and equipment. We expect that when these co-operative schemes are in operation they will be self-supporting, but the inshore fishermen have little or PO financial reserves, and we therefore propose to give the schemes an initial impetus by loans from public funds up to a maximum of £10,000 in all.

Now I turn to Part II. The main object of this Part of the Bill is to implement the International Convention for the Regulation of the Meshes of Fishing Nets and the Size Limits of Fish. This Convention was signed by the representatives of ten Governments in March of last year. In some respects the Convention goes rather further than the provisions which we had already adopted in the Act of 1933, and in order to enable effect to be given to the Convention it is therefore necessary to amend that Act. The Act of 1933 relied for the protection of small fish on the prohibition of sale, and the most important of the amendments has the effect of prohibiting the landing of small fish and their retention on board ship after capture. We have also taken the opportunity of making various other amendments to the Act, into which I need not go in great detail here, but I ought to refer to Clause 39, which formally discharges the Duncan Commission. I should like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the great obligation under which the Government have been placed by the excellent manner in which that Commission discharged its important task.

Part III may be said to do for whales what Part II does for fish: that is, it aims at preserving the stock. Whaling takes place mainly in the Antarctic, and it used to be conducted entirely from land stations in British territory, so that it was possible for us to regulate the taking of whales by conditions in the leases of the factories. But, later on, great factory-ships were built, and these, by lying outside territorial waters, were able to do what they liked. As a result there was an enormous increase in the destruction of whales, and in 1931 an International Whaling Convention was signed at Geneva. The Whaling Industry (Regulation) Act was passed in 1934 to implement this Convention. But since then it has become clear that the regulations in force do not go far enough; so another conference met in London last June. The principal measures which it decided to adopt were first the entire prohibition of the killing of grey whales, secondly the power to limit the number of whale catchers, and thirdly, the power to close certain areas in the Atlantic and Pacific which are known or believed to be breeding grounds. Experiments are in progress in some countries with electric harpoons, with the object of making the process of killing whales a much quicker one than it is now, and thus to avoid the cruelty which results from the present methods. Accordingly this Bill gives power to prohibit, if thought fit, the killing of whales other than by a particular method.

Part IV of the Bill is a very important Part, designed to implement a number of recommendations made by the Duncan Commission in regard to the pay of the crews of trawlers and the powers of Board of Trade superintendents to check the correctness of the accounts. The welfare of fishermen is of course bound up with the welfare of the industry as a whole, and they therefore will benefit as much from the reorganisation provisions of Part I of the Bill as the trawler owners themselves. The Commission found that there was a good deal of dissatisfaction among the men with their present conditions in regard to payment by a share in net earnings, which is at present regulated by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and it is the object of this Part of the Bill to remove those grievances. The seagoing personnel engaged in steam trawling at present numbers about 21,000. The Commission recommended that the Board of Trade should have additional powers of inquiry into the process of distribution of the profits, so as to remove any doubts that may exist on the question whether the profits are being properly shared out. The Board of Trade have had discussions with the men's organisations and the Trawlers' Federations and have in the main reached agreement.

It is hardly necessary for me here to go in great detail into the provisions of Part V, which makes various amendments to existing legislation. The main changes are concerned with the constitution of the local sea fisheries committees set up under the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act, 1888, and the extension of their powers and functions, and of the Minister's powers in relation to the Committees. It also imposes a liability on the owner as well as the skipper of a vessel in respect of illegal fishing offences and provides for an increase in the penalties; there is also a simplification of the procedure for making shellfish orders under the Sea Fisheries Acts of 1868 and 1884. Part VI contains provisions of a formal character and definitions.

I hope I have not wearied the House with this description of a measure which I believe to be worthy of your Lordships' sympathy and interest. This Bill, with its six Parts and 62 clauses, is a Bill with a greater number of Parts and clauses than the Coal Bill which we discussed at great length only last week. The fishing industry's importance in our national life is, as your Lordships will remember from the experience of the War, far more than a merely commercial one. I believe that this Bill will go a long way to restore prosperity to the white fish industry and to the crews of our trawlers; to reconcile the interests of the various branches of the industry; and, what is equally important, to ensure an abundant supply of good fish in a form and at a price attractive to the public. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Feversham.)


My Lords, I am sure I shall carry your Lordships with me if I say we are greatly obliged to the noble Earl who has introduced this Bill for the very lucid way in which he has helped us to understand its many clauses. I think the Bill provides an object lesson to the country and to the Socialist Party of the degree of success with which a Government Department is likely to handle a competitive industry which requires imagination and initiative. I shall not oppose the Bill; I shall vote for it, but with no enthusiasm. I shall vote for it grudgingly and, lest that may sound impolite and ungracious, I would say I bear in mind that honourable members in another place spent sixteen long days in careful, conscientious, and expert examination of the Bill in Committee and at other stages, in trying to mould it into a form which would provide a successful remedy for the problem with which the white fish industry is confronted.

It was found 3,000 years ago that you cannot make bricks without straw, and from the start this Bill never lent itself to being moulded into a form which would prove a remedy for the problem with which we are confronted. In order to justify my grudging support of the Bill I shall, if your Lordships will grant me a little patience, try to point out the necessary remedies for the difficulties of the industry, which are omitted from this Bill. I know that this Bill has nothing to do with the herring fishery. It deals with demersal fish such as soles, plaice, turbot, halibut, cod, and haddock, but the pivot in the difficulties of the herring fishery, whose sales are mostly in the export markets, principally in the Russian and Baltic ports, and in the difficulties of the white fish industry, whose sales are mostly in our own home markets, is the same—the turning into money of the results of the fishermen's labours. Here in this Bill I see nothing in practical form which will help towards that.

We have bad many legislative enactments dealing with the herring fishery and the other fisheries during the past twenty years and if I am not out of order I would merely mention that I have taken part frequently in the fishery discussions in another place. None of these enactments has proved successful. Year after year we have had enactments to help the herring fishery, and year after year we have to all intents and purposes scrapped them by giving amended forms to those enactments, with subsidies, helps and grants; but, notwithstanding all the help we have given with the best will in the world, to the North Sea herring fishery, I believe the herring fishery to-day is in no better state than ft was fifteen years ago—probably worse. And to-day there was in the public business Papers of the other House a notice to say that the Minister would introduce legislation to amend the Herring Industry Act of 1935—only three years old. In that measure they are going to change the constitution of the Herring Industry Board by providing that the Board shall consist of members of a different status. There will also be grants for larger motor boats: in other words the Minister is adopting a polite means of putting the enactment of 1935 asleep. Five years hence the Government will have to do the same with this Bill, whichever Government may be in power.

The Government will never find the remedies for the white fisheries by the means which are here spoken of with such elaboration. Take the first clause, and listen to the elaborate language: There shall be constituted a Commission to be called 'the White Fish Commission' (hereafter in this Act referred to as 'the Commission')"— no doubt it will be scrapped five years hence— which shall have the functions of keeping generally under review matters relating to the white fish industry, and of advising and assisting the Ministers in such matters as aforesaid, and such other functions as are entrusted to the Commission … Here is a great elaboration of language. It reminds me of what we call in my native county a "Norfolk hackney," which picks up its feet with much ceremony and puts them down in nearly the same place.

There are sixty-two clauses in the Bill and a number of Schedules; it presents, I think, a perfect sample, in the idiom used by Sir Thomas Browne, of "platitudinous ventosity." From these elaborate and platitudinous clauses no remedy will come. Let me examine the aims of the Bill—I think we should keep the aims in mind. We wish to provide employment for what as we all know is one of the most industrious sections of our wage-earners. I noticed that my noble friend mentioned there were 21,000 engaged in the industry. I suppose he meant seagoing.


Yes, sea-going.


I should put it rather higher for the industry. I should put it at 50,000 altogether. In the boats and probably including the quays—I say nothing about railwaymen—I suppose 50,000 get their living out of this industry. That seems to be a very small number, because I am given to understand that another island nation, Japan, has 1,500,000 engaged in the fishing industry. We want to provide employment for these men. That is on commercial grounds; but on national grounds there is a greater necessity that we should keep the fisheries going. The fishing industry is the nursery of the Royal Navy, and noble Lords who have served in the Navy will tell that these deep-sea fishermen are most valuable men in handling the King's ships when there is difficult weather. There are no better seamen and no braver men in the world. We know what they did in mine-sweeping during the War, and we know what they do in the lifeboats in winter time when ships are in distress. On national as well as on economic grounds it is therefore of the utmost importance that we should keep this industry alive and provide employment for these excellent men.

How do we hope to attain this end? By making it possible for them to make a living out of the fish they catch and offer to the public—in other words, turn their labour into money. As the Minister has explained, the method by which to attain that end is to provide a continuous supply of fish in good condition and at reasonable prices in the markets of this country and create an increased sale as a result. I may be telling your Lordships something you already know, but I am under the impression that the general consumption of fish of all kinds—white fish, herring and other fish—per head per day in Britain is no more than two ounces. There is plenty of room for expansion. The pivot of the whole policy and the solution of the difficulty we are in is to increase sale in our home markets. We must keep that point in mind throughout our consideration of the fishery problem. You may catch and land fish by Parliamentary regulations, but this Bill and its regulations will not sell the fish or provide more wages for the men. Such things as bridges, textiles and fish do not sell themselves. They have to be sold through human ingenuity, and unless initiative and imagination can be used, while catching may be regulated, landings regulated, and the size of the mesh regulated, if you do not sell the fish and turn them into money you will not be able to pay wages to the men who catch them. More markets are the paramount consideration. Therefore this Bill fails in its basic conception.

In the first place I have a suspicion that there is an attempt to reduce the number of trawlers and men. That is the very opposite of what we should aim at. If the Bill does that, it defeats its own object. If it does not control foreign competition by foreign-caught fish it will reduce the number of trawlers and consequently the number of men. I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that some of the Scandinavian boats which land fish in our ports receive direct or indirect subsidies. You cannot compete with foreign competition of that kind when other nations subsidise their boats. There is nothing in the Bill to deal with that. The London wholesale market for cod and haddock is mainly supplied by Scandinavian boats. Very few British trawlers come into the Thames with deep-sea white fish. The Scandinavians have somehow beaten our trawlers out of the Thames market, with the result that the number of British vessels coming into the Thames with white fish has been reduced to a minimum. There is nothing in this Bill to remedy the malady which has resulted from British trawlers being beaten out of the Thames wholesale market by foreigners.

True, there is our international agreement dealing with foreign trawlers and foreign-caught fish. But we shall be told that nothing can be done now, in this type of legislation before us, to meet the subsidies which foreign countries give to their trawlers, and that nothing can be done to deal with the competing methods of Scandinavian boats; they are not controlled by our regulations once they are outside our territorial waters, unless by international agreement. That is so; but upon what does our international agreement rest? It rests upon the demands of the coal trade. The white fishing in- dustry is in some degree sacrificed to the coal trade. We say to the Scandinavian nations: "We want certain things done about coal. You must take so much coal from us." "Very well," say the Scandinavian nations, "but we shall insist on your giving better facilities to our fishing vessels in the British market."

As to the quota which comes under this international agreement, that is in practice almost a farce. A certain quota of weight is allowed. If the weight is not per month but per year, the consequence is that foreign vessels can bank up a quota, not using it for a small number of months, and at the end of an aggregated number of months use the quota in such a way as to dump foreign caught fish into our market and probably smash the prices to pieces. The quota arrangements need alteration. There is another way in which the quota agreement operates detrimentally to our own fishermen. I speak under correction, for I have no connection whatever with the trade—I have merely an academic interest in it—but the quota lays down a certain weight. What do the foreign trawlers do? At sea they will head, gut, bone, and fillet the fish, and instead of landing whole fish weighing a larger number of pounds the weight of fish landed will be probably 30 per cent. lighter and of greater money value than was assumed when the quota was introduced. They get round the quota by reducing weight by discarding the offal, and thus increasing the market value per pound. What does the Bill provide against this? Nothing.

Then what is provided in this Bill for research? It is only voluntary. Clause 23 provides that if someone likes to give a sum of money, or if one of the boards wishes to vote some money, that money can he used for research. Is an Act of Parliament needed to empower a Commission to receive gifts for research? It is necessary to operate research about the life-history of most white fish. It is necessary to know more about the manners and customs of fish. We know nothing, for example, about what happens to the herring after it leaves the West coast of England and Ireland in the early spring till it: reappears in the Pentland Firth about the first week in June. In the case of the herring it does not matter very much, because the herring are avail- able in such myriads that we are not yet concerned whether they are more or less. We did not know until quite recently the life history of the eel; it was only during the War that we learned for the first time that eels bred off the Bahamas. We know nothing about where most of these white demersal fish breed, and it is time we did find out what happens to them. We are told that the North Sea is being overfished. We do not know whether that is true; we ought to know whether we are overfishing the North Sea. My noble friend mentioned that fishing ceased during the War with the result that when peace came we found large volumes of fish easily catchable in British areas in the North Sea. No one knows whether most of these white fish breed only in the shallow waters off our own and other coasts, and whether those shallow waters are overfished.

We do not know whether the shortage of fish is not due to uncontrolled destruction. It may be so. No one knows whether demersal fish breed only in shallow water or both in shallow water and deep water. We know they breed in the shallow waters from Cape St. Vincent up to Vigo and off our coasts right up towards the Shetlands. There is a shallow shelf off our East and North-East coasts on which undoubtedly large numbers of prime white fish do breed and when they are small they leave that portion of our waters and go round off the Belgian and Dutch coasts and make for deep water; on the way, although useless for food, they are caught and exterminated. There is no control, although there has been some international undertaking between ourselves and the Dutch and the Belgians about immature fish. There is, however, no certainty as to whether the arrangements made are put into operation. The small foreign craft which catch shrimps off the coasts of Holland and Belgium capture myriads of small immature plaice, turbot, cod and haddock. They are probably killed before they are brought to the surface; if they are it is no good then putting them back. If they are pot put back they are taken ashore and made into fish meal. There is lax control there. We have no control at all outside the territorial waters, and this Bill applies only to territorial waters.

In referring to Clause37 my noble friend dealt with the matter of mesh. I have no faith in mesh regulations for this reason. Your Lordships will have seen in the old days those beautiful, elegant, dandy-rigged trawling vessels under sail; fishing smacks with a trawl beam. To-day we do not use that kind of trawl net or smack. We use the otter net, a deadly destructive trawl net. It is a bag with side pockets and with a sack or cod at the end, and steam trawlers. It does not matter if under this Bill you have meshes 5 inches square. These otter nets are drawn along the bottom of the sea perhaps 400 yards down as against the sixty yards depth into which these sailing smacks used to fish. These otter nets are let down a quarter of a mile deep by steam vessels which drag and bump the otter nets over the bottom, filling them not only with prime fish, which of course should be done, but with small fish which are smothered by the big fish. The nets are drawn at some speed because the vessels are steam vessels. The mesh as the net is dragged forward closes itself, and the small fish cannot get out, with the result that the small fish are destroyed, notwithstanding the fact that the mesh may be a very big one. These steam trawlers catch seven times as many fish as the old sailing vessels. There is nothing in this Bill to deal with the problems of destruction by the use of otter trawl nets with big meshes, side pockets and rough passage over the surface of the bottom. No wonder big white fish are crushed and bruised and immature fish destroyed.

We are told that it is necessary to have fish which are in prime condition but these fish come up bruised, many of them in poor condition, and the immature fish also are destroyed. Is not this one of the reasons why there is a scarcity of prime white fish on the Dogger Bank? Is it that the North Sea near our shores has been overfished? Is that the only thing that we have to consider? Have we not also to consider the uncontrolled destruction, notwithstanding the mesh being big? Here is need for vigorous research. We know that the fish which do come to market in good condition fetch more money. The line fishermen who catch white fish off the Shetlands obtain a very much higher price for their well-conditioned fish in the Glasgow market than is obtained for the fish drawn up in a trawl. I submit that there must be a new method invented to catch these fish other than by the otter trawl.

New methods of preservation also must be invented. Imagine what our markets would say if New Zealand lamb were sent here after six or eight weeks or more in transit and store here, and out of condition, bruised or crushed. The fish which can be soonest brought here are taken five, six or ten days previously in the fishing ground and when they are brought into the markets they are often broken and in bad condition. Why is that? It is due to the method of catching with the trawl and to the mesh and the out-of-date methods of preserving. There must be an improvement on the crude methods of ice and boxes and even the landing from the net, to the hold, to the quayside. There is nothing in this Bill to deal with that. Neither do I see anything, except advice "and other functions" as in Clause r, to set on foot a movement for treating the fish as it is brought on board so that it does not suffer from bacteriological infection. Fish decomposes very quickly. There is some disinfection of the storage equipment, but there is not sufficient disinfection of these receptacles, with the result that the fish easily deteriorates on board.

I have troubled your Lordships with rather a tiresome explanation of why I think the Bill is not of great value, because it does not meet the case in relation to the points I have just made. With regard to Clause 11 we are told that the Commission will allow advertising. But advertising will not of itself increase the sale of fish. Advertising is a spearhead but useless unless there are proper shops or places where fish can be bought in the inland towns and villages of England in good condition, with an assurance of regular supplies, for the housewife to cook and put on the table. Unless that is done not much good will be done by advertising. Sir Alfred Jones, of Elder, Dempster and Co., about thirty-five years ago, by advertising and by propaganda, induced the people of this country to regard the banana as a fruit and not as a vegetable. Having done that he arranged that every village should have a plentiful and regular supply of bananas in good condition, as they have to-day, ready for people to buy at a reasonable price. After the banana had been thoroughly advertised and people had been made con- versant with that fruit's name bananas were obtainable in every greengrocer's shop and thus they have become an important item in the food trade. They were obtainable: that is the essential point. The same can be done for fish, not by advertising alone, but by providing outlets in the villages and towns in the interior of England so that the people can get it regularly and become accustomed to buy it regularly.

As I said in my opening remarks the consumption per head of fish is very small, there is plenty of room for expansion beyond the average of two ounces per head a day. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who is connected with Hull, knows very well that the fish which comes to Hull is mostly sent to the West Riding and the Northern Midlands and is there used as fried fish. It is not in a very good condition. When it conies into Hull it has usually suffered a good deal of the knocking about which I have described, but it is suitable and makes a very wholesome food in the form of fried fish for the large populations of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford. These people have learned from the foreigners in their cities the benefit of fish done in fat, in cotton-seed oil, in lard and in meal. A cheap food has thus been provided and is used widely in the North. I believe that the greater part of the Hull landings go to the Midlands and West Riding for the purpose of fried fish sale. Nothing to extend the sale of fried fish where it is not a regular item of diet is provided in this Bill. It has never been thought out so far as I can see to ascertain whether in the South of England or the West of England there is an outlet for fish in this form. In this Bill we have nothing that is active, and based on imagination and initiative. The first thing I think which should be done would be to try fish supplies to small inland towns on the railways in refrigerator vans with fish at railway stations of the inland towns. These vans would be to all intents and purposes trial and only temporary shops for fish to be sold in those towns where fish is not regularly available. This would be merely to introduce and accustom fish to the consumers.

I have tried to explain the defects of the policy disclosed in this Bill. It provides no plan for an increased sale of fish and an increased sale of fish is the keystone of the whole of this problem. I feel great disappointment. If I wanted to be rude I should call it a Bill of quack remedies. Those who drafted it may know a great deal about otoliths and the science of fisheries but they seem to know nothing about the necessity to devise means for selling fish. Your Lordships will remember Butler's Hudibras. Butler laughs at the quacks of 250 years ago. In one of the instances he satirized, quack doctors had recommended as a cure for warts that the patient should wash his hands in an empty bowl in which the moon had shone. This Bill is an empty bowl in which the moon has shone. As remedies for our problem its sixty-two clauses are not very far short of moonshine. They will not remedy the difficulties of the white fish trade. But after the careful examination in another place and consideration by the trade the Bill will test the views of the Ministry in a trial run. Five years hence there will probably have to be another Bill whatever. Party may be in power. I think the discussions which have taken place and the criticisms which have come from people who wish the Bill well and know the trade's requirements will gave an opportunity for the next Bill to be drafted in such a way as to contain practical remedies. I hope I have not bored your Lordships with my views about this Bill, but it is a Bill that gives me no enthusiasm and I shall vote for it grudgingly.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships by speaking at any length. I do so as a member of a local sea fisheries committee appointed pursuant to the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act of 1888, which as your Lordships are aware deals with matters relating to inshore fishing. The Association of Sea Fisheries Committees representing all the local committees have already assented to much of the Bill, but exception is taken to several matters in connection with the inshore fisheries of the country. In due course it is proposed to submit for your Lordships' consideration a number of Amendments to Clause 37 and also to Part V of the Bill which is wholly connected with this subject.


My Lords, originally I meant to confine my remarks to that portion of the Bill which deals with the whaling industry, but I should like to dissociate myself from the wholesale denunciation of the measure in which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has just indulged. I disclaim any knowledge whatever of the ramifications of the white fish industry, but it does seem to me that, whether all the noble Lord's criticisms are well founded or not, most of them are of a character which could not be remedied by Act of Parliament—certainly not in the present state of our knowledge. He talked about research into the breeding places of fish. That would require a good many years before we acquired accurate knowledge. He talked of the lack of methods of preventing bacteriological infection on board trawlers. That is surely a question for regulations by the Board of Trade rather than for clauses incorporated in an Act of Parliament. I was a little disappointed in view of his stringent criticisms that he did not produce a few more constructive suggestions as to how this Bill might be improved. I have no doubt whatever that it will be necessary, as the noble Lord said, to bring in another Bill five years hence, but at the same time I think this Bill, whatever failings it may possess, is at least a commendable effort to improve conditions, which are at the moment admittedly unsatisfactory in the fishing industry.

What I really wanted to do was to express the great pleasure which it gives to all naturalists as well as industrialists to see some further protection afforded to certain species of whales, because the pursuit of whales, especially in the last few years, has driven a number of species if not to the verge of extinction at least dangerously near it. It may be argued that it would not matter, provided a few were left, if we carried on the destruction up to that point. That is not the case, however, because whenever a species, be it of mammal, fish or bird, is persecuted to such an extent that its numbers are very greatly reduced, even if the process is reversed and persecution stops and may be actual protection is given and encouragement afforded, that species in too many instances seems to be unable to recover. The heart seems to be knocked out of it and for reasons that are not yet known the species seems unable to recover its former status and indeed very often becames extinct. That is why I am very glad the Government are insisting upon further protection. I hope that they will co-operate and try to persuade other nations to co-operate more in the future than in the past in the preservation of the largest mammal still found in the waters, not merely in the interests of naturalists but also as part of the efforts to improve the industry.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl for missing his speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. It was due to inadvertence on my part. I had overlooked the early time of meeting and I also thought that the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, might occupy a little time, as I had not realised that this Bill would be taken first. I apologise also to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for having missed the first part of his speech. That is all the more regrettable because I so enjoyed the part of it that I did hear. If he will allow me to say so, I think, in opposition to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that his criticisms were completely justified. I am only sorry that our gain in this House is loss to another place and that the noble Lord was not present at the sixteen meetings when this Bill was considered in Grand Committee in another place. He might have knocked some sense into the Government on this particular measure. But although I did not hear the whole of these speeches my noble friend Lord Snell has given me the main points of them, and I have followed this Bill from its inception through all its various stages. For some years I had the honour of being chairman of the committee of my Party on sea fisheries, and for a number of years I represented in another place the most important fishing port in this country. Therefore I make no apology for making a few observations on this Bill, and in doing so I speak on behalf of my Party.

The Bill as originally introduced in another place has been improved there in Committee, despite the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. For example, Part IV, giving certain security to the fishermen themselves, is in our opinion valuable, and so is the direct representation of the fishermen on the governing body. That we think a very good thing. But this Bill in principle, I submit, is basically wrong. The Minister in charge of the Bill in another place, summing it up on Third Reading, said its objects inter alia were to check the excessive landings of fish from distant waters, and further on he said that the object was to impose a limitation on the quantity of fish to be caught by different vessels. This is in line with the Government legislation on coal and milk, and potatoes, and in regard to many other industries. It is utterly wrong, criminally wrong. It is limiting the output of necessities at a time when there are great poverty, hunger and distress in large sections of the community. Your Lordships are aware that a limitation of catchings and landings has been in voluntary operation for some time. That does not make it any better. It appears to us very wrong in principle to give official sanction to, and to legalise, that system.

From the naval point of view you cannot have too many experienced fishermen, nor can you have too many seagoing fishing vessels. Both in men and in material they are an invaluable reserve for the Fleet. I do not know how we should ever have gone through the last War without the assistance of the fishermen and the fishing vessels. Your Lordships are well aware of the services performed by the fishermen in the anti-submarine campaign, in mine-sweeping and in many other activities. This Bill will reduce the number of fishing vessels and of prime fishermen. It cannot help that; it is intended to do so. It is therefore hitting at the most valuable portion of our naval reserve and is a blow to the efficiency of the Fleet.

Another aspect of the Bill which I must criticise is that no compensation is provided for the crews who will be put out of employment, although there is compensation for trawler owner companies who have their licences taken away or suspended. A great many of these fishermen are not entitled to any unemployment insurance, because they are on shares. That is particularly the case in Scotland, where often not only the skipper and the mate but also the third hand are on shares. They are partners in the industry, and I am not sure that they will get any compensation at all under the Bill. As I read it, they will not, and I think that is a serious blemish.

At the same time the Bill has some good features, on account of which my honour- able friends in another place did not oppose it on Third Reading and we in this House have no intention of opposing the Second Reading to-day. One of those good points is the power which is given to check minor abuses. The real trouble, however—and here I hope I shall have the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft—is the difference in price to-day between what the fisherman gets for the fish and what the housewife has to pay for it in the shop. The average price of fish landed in the ports last year was about one penny a pound.


About twopence.


My figures are from Hull, and I believe that in Scotland, and particularly in Aberdeen, the price was about twopence a pound. The average price to the housewife is about tenpence. There is far too wide a gap. Obviously there is a great need of organisation on the marketing side. But if you limit landings, if you prevent the men from going to sea and reaping the harvest of the sea, I do not understand how you will avoid in the long run a still further increase in price due to shortage of supply. Limitation of output is economically wrong and in the long run injurious to the industry. I venture to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that after a few years this Bill will have to be radically amended. I believe it will do a great deal of harm, and I cannot speak too strongly against the principle which underlies it. In conclusion, may I say how glad I am that the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, made a contribution so soon after his successful maiden speech the other day, and that I only regret it was not longer.


My Lords, we have had a severe indictment of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is an authority upon the sea fishing industry, for at the conclusion of the War he published a book called The Herring, and its Effect upon the History of Britain, which I have read and found most attractive and interesting. As, however, we learned from the noble Lord's speech, several of his comments and condemnations of this Bill applied to the herring industry, which is of course excluded from these provisions. The chief complaint of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strabolgi, and of Lord Mancroft, against the provisions of the Bill, which they say is basically wrong and which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, described as a quack remedy, is that they believe that it provides for a limitation of production. Further investigation of the Bill will undoubtedly prove that there will not be a limitation of production of edible fish. The Bill is designed to enable wasteful production to be limited.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has referred to the trawlers, of the largest types and fitted with the most modern equipment, that go to the far distant waters of Bear Island and come back after a fortnight or three weeks' trawl to the port with which Lord Strabolgi is associated—Hull—with much of their fish spoilt, bruised and inedible. It is that which we wish to prevent. The provisions of the Bill would result in landing less of the poorer quality fish which is now sent to meal and manure works, and the quantity of fish available for human consumption would not be reduced, while on the other hand its quality would undoubtedly be improved for the consumer. Lord Strabolgi has implied that, by the provisions of the Bill, under the producers' marketing schemes there will be a severe limitation of trawling and consequently a great loss of fishermen, who, as he properly and rightly says, are such an important and essential feature of our national life, our country being an island. It is true that for a great number of years the white fish industry has been in an unprosperous condition. The purpose of this Bill is to save the persons who are to-day engaged in the industry. Unless action is taken which will provide in the first place for organisation, the position which the noble Lord deplores will continue, and might even grow worse.

The Bill will limit wasteful catching, provide for keeping up stocks of fish in the sea, and make it possible for the Commission to require by regulation the proper grading, packing, processing and distribution of fish, and for the distributors' marketing board to regulate the condition of premises and the manner in which fish is offered for sale. Lord Mancroft has said that the root of the trouble lies in the fact that the cost of distribution is extremely high, with the result that the wholesale price of fish is more than doubled by the time it reaches the consumer; but the Bill should give a consumer better value for his money, without reducing the supplies available. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, referred to the fact that research was an essential feature for improving the condition of the industry, and he implied that Clause 23, under which the Commission are empowered to administer a voluntary fund for the purpose of conducting research, would be of no advantage because it was only on a voluntary basis. I would point out that it is not only individuals who can voluntarily contribute to the fund, but a marketing scheme can contribute collectively, and if, as Lord Mancroft says, it is important that at this juncture there should be further provision for research, I feel there is no doubt whatever that the promoters of a marketing scheme will provide for contributions to be made for that important purpose.


I forgot to mention that when the trawl is brought up it brings up with it bucketsful of spawn from the bottom, and if there should be research, as I hope there will be, I hope there will be some research in order to find some way of constructing a net which will not destroy the spawn on the bottom when bringing up the fish.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments on the regulation of the size of the mesh of fish nets, which I would remind your Lordships was agreed to by an International Convention of March of last year. That Convention was signed by ten countries, and I think there can be no doubt whatever that improvement has been made which we are trying to implement in the part of this Bill dealing with the regulation of meshes of nets. Lord Mancroft said that little good would come by marketing organisations under a producers' scheme unless there was some improvement in the equipment of the trawlers themselves, and he referred to the necessity of the provisions for ice boxes. But I would remind the noble Lord that under the marketing scheme for producers it is possible, and even probable, that in the process of organisation the board will make regulations which will cover the very points to which the noble Lord has referred. I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, who has intimated that he wishes to move certain Amendments to this Bill on behalf of the Sea Fisheries Association. I hope that the remaining points to which reference has been made will be clarified during the Committee stage, but on the main question of principle I believe there is no real ground for thinking that the supplies of fish will be limited, or that the industry will suffer by these reorganisation proposals.

It may be said, my Lords, that we have not implemented all the recommendations of the Duncan Commission in regard to licensing under a distributors' marketing board. Before we consider taking that step it seems that it is first necessary to obtain organisation and to obtain registration, for at present we do not know the numbers of those engaged in the industry in this country. Having done that this industry will be on an analogous basis to the bacon industry, which has been reorganised under its marketing schemes, and now the time has come for further steps to be taken which are being laid before Parliament during the present session. Similarly, in the case of milk, we have had a few years of experience, first in the organisation of the milk industry and the marketing schemes, and now, under the proposed legislation for milk, it is provided that the distributive side of the industry should be tackled. So this Bill is the initial stage of reorganisation. It may be found, as Lord Mancroft has indicated, that in five years' time it will be necessary to take a further step to control to a greater degree, and assist, the distributive side of the industry, in order to reduce the retail price to the consumer, but I submit to your Lordships that that time has not yet come.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.