HL Deb 08 March 1955 vol 191 cc801-8

4.27 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill, the Second Reading of which I now move, makes no major changes in policy. It deals with finance and machinery and its two purposes are, first, to increase sums available for grants to the Herring Industry Board; and secondly, to transfer to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland the responsibility for giving financial assistance for fishery harbour works. Since 1946, as noble Lords will know, there has been a scheme whereby herrings not sold in other markets have been purchased by the Herring Industry Board for reduction into oil and meal. This procedure has had certain advantages. It has meant that a market was provided for the whole of the fisherman's catch so that he is encouraged to fish "all-out." Further, there has been oil available for manufacture, for instance in margarine. Meal has also been made available for animal feeding-stuffs.

Hitherto it has been necessary to pay a subsidy to the Herring Industry Board in respect of these operations, largely because the Board have had to send their surplus of herrings to the commercial fish factories which very often are situated at ports other than those at which the herrings are landed. The Board are, therefore, involved in considerable transport charges, and until the Board are able to complete the building of their own factories it would seem reasonable to continue the payment of this subsidy. In the past the subsidy, at first limited to £1½ million, was raised, in 1953, to £3 million; but by the end of the current financial year over £2½ of that £3 million will have been spent and the balance will be absorbed by the completion of the Herring Industry Board factories and certain other outstanding commitments. In order to avoid hardship in the industry, leading to further unemployment at the herring ports, Clause 1 of the Bill provides an additional £500,000 at once and enables the Minister concerned, by Affirmative Resolution, to provide a further £250,000 if necessary. These provisions are considered to be necessary in order that the subsidy may continue to be paid and so that the Herring Industry Board may be able to complete the building of their factories as soon as possible.

At present, if the harbour authority wish to apply for a grant, either for the construction of or improvement of a harbour or for repairs, there is a rather cumbersome procedure to be gone through. First of all, the Treasury are involved. They refer the matter to the Fishery Departments for a Report to the Development Commission, who make a recommendation which goes back to the Treasury. Then the Treasury take a decision as to how much, if any, help can be given. In what I am going to say, no criticism of the Development Commission is involved. Indeed, far from it, for they have carried out their work most conscientiously. In Scotland we are grateful to them for their operations over a much wider field than this. Nevertheless, by this procedure, which we propose to bring to an end, there has been a good deal of waste of time.

In its place we propose, by Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill, to enable the Fisheries Minister—that is, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries or the Secretary of State for Scotland—to give assistance in the form of a grant or loan if he is satisfied that it is necessary in order to promote the maintenance or development of the fishing industry. The Bill makes no difference to the amount of money available. The Minister will still have to go to the Treasury to settle that, and the actual rates of grant or loan will continue to be decided on the merits of each individual case. Nevertheless, this simplification of procedure seems to us to be well worth while. Therefore, I would ask for your Lordships' support for the Second Reading of this Bill, on the ground that it is necessary, for the time being, until the Herring Board have completed the building of their factories, to continue the subsidy. And we think it is well worth while to make this simplification in administration. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, this appears to be quite a useful little measure. I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Earl for his clear exposition of its provisions and intentions. There is just one point that strikes me in regard to Clause 5. Under it, power is given to the Secretary of State for Scotland to operate dredgers and to hire them to harbour authorities on terms and conditions approved by the Treasury. Will the Secretary of State for Scotland himself own these dredgers, or will he hire them and then pass them on to the harbour authorities? I know that there are very few firms in this country which own and operate dredgers, and it seems to me that there is little point in providing that the Secretary of State for Scotland shall hire them and then pass them on to the harbour authorities. That, however, is only a minor point, and, subject to any reservations that are necessary in regard to the Committee stage of the Bill, I think there is no reason why we should not agree unanimously to give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, I think that the Secretary of State would own the dredgers and would hire them out to the harbour boards, making such arrangements as were necessary. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is going to speak now. I understand that he has a number of questions which he wishes to put.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Earl and to the House for my absence. I had sat through the earlier part of the debate on the previous Bill, and I did not imagine that the discussion would end quite so rapidly. But I am entirely at fault and I apologise. There are one or two points which I wish to put to the noble Earl. I gave him notice of them yesterday, but perhaps he would allow me now to put these points rather more fully, and also to take this opportunity of endorsing what my noble friend Lord Burden has said: that we do welcome the Bill very cordially indeed. It offers a limited but useful measure of assistance to the fishing industry.

Since the war, the Government have stepped in to prevent the white fish and herring industries from collapsing, and to give them the temporary help they need to put them back on their own feet. The policy of Government support for these industries, which the present Bill carries a step further, is shared by all the main political Parties. The continuity of fisheries policy and legislation has not been interrupted by changes of Government in the past ten years. I hope that that fact, in itself, may be of some use to those engaged in the industry. It should help the recovery of the industry if those who are engaged in it realise that, whatever Party may be returned at a General Election, there will be no reversal of this common policy. A striking fact about the discussion of this measure in another place, as I am sure that the noble Earl will agree, was that there was a complete absence of Party acrimony. Any differences of opinion that may have arisen cut completely across Party lines.

I do not think I need say anything about the substance of the Bill, because I agree with it. The noble Earl has already explained to your Lordships what it contains. But, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, I should like to ask the noble Earl about one or two matters which I think were not dealt with by the Ministers when the Bill was discussed in another place, and which are important because, as I understand it, the main object of the Bill and of Government policy is to restore the economic efficiency of the herring industry, and to enable it to dispense with subsidies at the earliest possible moment. It seems to me that there are three problems which have to be faced and dealt with: the problem of manpower, the problem of marketing at home and overseas, and the problem of research. These three problems must be satisfactorily solved, if the herring industry is to stand on its own feet again in the near future; and their solution, I think, requires further action by the Government, as well as by the Herring Board with the support of the Government.

I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he can say anything about what the Government have in mind in relation to manpower, marketing and research, and what they conceive the intentions of the Herring Board to be. There is one matter that arises in relation to manpower which I think I ought to mention, because it seems to me to be a matter of special importance. It is something to which I am sure the noble Earl has already given consideration—I refer to this very controversial classification of the herring industry as an industry of seasonal workers. Many people, I believe, regard this classification as both out of date and inequitable.

The Herring Board, in their last Report but one—that is their Report for 1952—pointed out that the herring industry is no longer a seasonal industry but operates all the year round. And their last Report, that for 1953, gives a full account of the herring fishing season during the winter months, as well as accounts of the spring, summer and autumn seasons. So, however apt this classification may have been in time past, it is surely out of date at the present time. Its result, of course, is that the crews of the herring drifters are not entitled to unemployment benefit when—it may be through shortage of fish or on account of bad weather—they are not able to go out to sea. The insecurity which this causes in the herring industry is a deterrent to recruiting young men to the industry and encourages fishermen to become landlubbers. From the point of view of the efficiency and sufficiency of manpower in the herring industry, I think it is important that this out-of-date classification should be altered. The small extra cost of providing unemployment benefit for those occupied in the fishing industry is surely a very small price to pay for the immensely increased security which such a step would give the industry.

In conclusion, I hope that the Bill will have the support of your Lordships on all sides of the House, because it is clear that the herring industry cannot do without it. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether an industry is of sufficient national importance to be kept going out of public funds, but I do not think this difficulty arises in the case of the herring industry. It is important to the economy, to the social well-being and to the security of our country. It provides a valuable and nutritious food, and one which helps our balance of payments. It gives a livelihood to village communities on the coasts of England and Wales, many of which would otherwise disappear. It mans the minesweepers and small craft which help to protect our people in time of war. Above all, this industry develops the qualities of toughness, endurance and risk-taking without which no nation can hope to survive. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to give the men in the industry, and all those who serve it, on sea and upon land, our grateful thanks and our full support.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, arrived here in time. I am afraid he had a rather breathless beginning to his speech. I shall try to answer the questions he asked as shortly as I can. First, let me endorse what he said about all Parties having the same objective here. All want to see the fishing industry prosperous. So far as we know, there is no evidence of any shortage of recruits for the fishing industry generally. Perhaps there is a tendency for some of the young people to turn over to the white fishing side of the industry, and possibly the noble Earl's point that they are seasonal workers may have something to do with that, though I think there are other factors. The seine net fishermen can usually work nearer home, which is an attraction, and the members of the crew of a seine net boat get a half-share of the boat's earnings instead of only the third which the herring fisher gets.

The noble Earl raised the question of the classification of herring fishermen as seasonal workers. It is possible that this may work to the disadvantage of the herring fishermen. The white fisherman usually manages to obtain forty-five weeks' employment in the year, which puts him outside the scope of the seasonal employment regulations. The herring fisher has on the average something like thirty-five weeks' employment. Perhaps it would be useful if I informed the noble Earl of the practice in regard to seasonal workers. I am told that a person is not deemed to be a seasonal worker unless during the period of three years before his claim he has had an average of less than forty-five weeks' employment. Provided he attains the forty-five weeks' average, he may receive unemployment benefit for a period up to 180 days, which, if he fulfils certain other conditions, may be extended to 492 days. As a result of the debate in another place, the Secretary of State and the Minister of National Insurance are now considering this matter together.

As the noble Earl said, marketing is very important. The Herring Board have been doing all they can to publicise the virtues of the herring. They have carried out propaganda in the Press and on the films and have organised herring weeks during which there are cookery demonstrations. They have done everything possible to improve the quality of the herring which is offered to the public. Nevertheless, between 1951 and 1953 there was a decline of 30 per cent. in the demand for herring. The Herring Board are inclined to think that that may be due a good deal to the rush to buy meat, bacon and eggs which followed derationing. The recovery of sales in 1954—they are now only some 5 per cent. under the 1953 level—perhaps goes to show that a balance is once more being reached and that sales may go up in future.

Exports to Germany have been declining, largely because of the greater catches brought in by the German fleets. In the last three years, large contracts have been made with Russia and now negotiations are going on with Eastern Germany and Roumania which may lead to an increase in the markets for herring. Sometimes, of course, other countries are short of currency or will trade only on restrictive conditions which cannot always be accepted without harming other British interests. Nevertheless, so far as they can, the Herring Board are trying to explore new markets, and they will have every help from the Government in doing so.

The last question on which the noble Earl touched was that of research. Out of the moneys provided under the Bill it would be perfectly possible for the Herring Board, if they so wished, to apply some of it to research or experiments. As the noble Earl knows, out of moneys granted in previous years, factories for processing herring have already been established at Lerwick and Stornoway. The Board have been trying out experimental drifters and they have started a mechanised curing station at Yarmouth. Apart from the portion of the moneys granted by Parliament which the Herring Board may expend on experiments, research is going on at the Torry Research Station, which is under the auspices of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and which all the time is investigating the kind of problems which are of interest to the Herring Board.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl one question on the subject of research, in case he is able to reply? My question refers to quick freezing and cold storage, the development of which may have a revolutionary effect on the home market for the herring industry. Can the noble Earl say whether that is going on and whether any of this money will be spent by the Board on research of this type?


Certainly at Lerwick research is going on in quick freezing. Money has been spent by the Board on research of this kind and I imagine that they will need to spend more. If I may, I will send the noble Earl information about what the Herring Board are doing in research into these matters. I hope that has answered some of the noble Earl's questions.

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