Orders of the Day — The Royal Navy
Mr Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
I find myself as a maiden speaker in this Chamber very much in the rôle of a repentant sinner. In a previous incarnation it was never my practice to treat Members of Parliament with courtesy or indulgence by interviewing them without interruption. As I stand here somewhat nervously, without the benefit of Autocue, I am confident that the House will treat me with the courtesy and indulgence that I did not give to other hon. Members on previous occasions.
I stand here with very mixed feelings. First, I have a feeling of awe that I am speaking in a Chamber that has echoed to the oratory of giants of the past. I also have a feeling of happiness in that I have achieved an ambition of being a member of this central forum of our nation. As well, I have a feeling of sadness because of the occasion that gave rise to the by-election in which I was successful—the death of Tony Crosland. I have looked at several maiden speeches and have seen that often the mention of the previous Member has been somewhat perfunctory. That would not suffice on this occasion. For me this must be a matter of real emotion. I have always regarded myself as an intellectual disciple of Tony Crosland. It was on his book "The Future of Socialism" that I cut my political teeth in the 1950s. It is still a basic text for Social Democrats.
Emotion, too, is felt by the House-sadness at the loss of a great man and at seeing a career cut short in its prime. Tony Crosland was many things. He was an able Minister who held several portfolios with great distinction. His career was a long preparation for a culmination, a consummation, which it never reached—control of the economic destiny of this country. He was also an honest, radical thinker of great intellectual penetration, as I know from interviews I conducted with him on television, and as the House knows from his speeches. He was a man of great originality of thought, and, most of all, for all his deep seriousness, he was a very warm and very human man who loved life, who was open, accessible, and loved and respected by both sides of the House, just as he was loved in his constituency, as I can testify.
Therefore, I pay tribute to Tony Crosland and recognise, in doing so, the enormous strength he secured by being the representative of the borough of Grimsby, a borough that he was as proud to represent as I am. Hon. Members who had the pleasure of going to Grimsby during the recent by-election will have come away very impressed by Grimsby, impressed by a town that, unlike many urban constituencies, is not a slice of somewhere else, is not a vast, amorphous urban nothingness, but a community in its own right, with a sense of pride and identity which even the best endeavours of local government reorganisation and the Post Office have not been able to undermine.
Visitors will have been impressed, too, by the friendliness of a community which has traditionally been slightly isolated but, perhaps as a consequence, is friendly, warm and welcoming. They will have been impressed, finally, by the civic pride of Grimsby, which is shown in its schools, housing and leisure facilities—all the things that make for the good life, that make it a good place to live in and have given it a long tradition of industrial development sponsored by the council.
Obviously, hon. Members will be anxious for me to continue at some length on the subject of Grimsby's history over the past 2,000 years. Unfortunately, I shall have to disappoint them by talking only briefly about Grimsby today. It has the image of a fishing town. I am sure that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my hon. Friends who represent Hull constituencies will concede that I am not being at all controversial when I say that Grimsby is the foremost fishing port on the Humber as well as in this country, but it is also far more than a fishing town. In the post-war period, thanks to the council's foresight and industrial strategy, Grimsby has attracted a wide range of other industries—textiles, chemicals and food processing, to name but a few.
Grimsby is a town with problems. It would not be a part of this country if it did not have problems. It has a higher-than-average unemployment rate, a pressing need for more industrial diversity, more light industry and more white-collar jobs of the kind that will stop young people from drifting away, and certainly a pressing need for an improvement in communications, including the rapid completion of the M180. Now Grimsby has development area status, a potent weapon in the competition for development, in which it is strenuously engaged.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive my proper sense of pride in Grimsby. I should like an even fuller and more tumultuous House to hear me extol its virtues. However, I want to return to the main thread of the debate and specifically to the problems of fishery protection.
I have said that Grimsby is more than a fishing town, but its fishing industry, like the rest of the fishing industry, has been badly battered in recent years. On the deep-water, distant-water side, it has been badly battered because of the closure of the Icelandic grounds and the curtailment of our fishing effort in other distant-water grounds. It has also been badly battered by the situation that has been developing in the North Sea in recent years, a situation that has been approaching the dimensions of a tragedy, with a more and more massive fishing effort pursuing smaller and smaller fish and with a consequent danger of the extinction of this vital national resource. There is a major threat to our national heritage.
I shall not go into all the reasons. I shall not go into the controversy over the common fisheries policy. I do not want to be controversial, except to say that I think—it is a personal view—that the only solution, the only effective guarantee for our fishing industry, is our own exclusive 50-mile limit for British fishermen. That is essential for our industry.
Whatever the shape of limits, whatever the future pattern of control in the Common Market pool, we face a real problem of policing and protecting not only our own limits, whatever they may be, but the 270,000 square miles of Common Market fishing waters. This must pose an increasing problem for the Royal Navy I sometimes wonder how adequately it is equipped for this vital rôle. Frigates are obviously invaluable. They have the speed that is necessary to deal with even the fastest of Russian trawlers, but the Icelandic situation showed the limits of the frigates—limits of manoeuvrability and the fact that, like television interviewers, they have a somewhat thin skin. We have the ships of the Island class, but while they are more manoeuvrable, they lack something in speed.
Therefore, I ask how adequately we are prepared for the new situation that is developing with not only the 200-mile Common Market pool but the possibility—I hope the probability and certainty—of our own exclusive 50-mile fishing limit. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has already told us about the mixture of ships decided in 1974, will pay more attention to this problem when he winds up the debate, because the situation has changed drastically since 1974. I should welcome assurances from him both as to how well equipped the Navy is for the enormous problem of fishery protection and policing and how well it will be equipped in the coming years to play a vital rôle for the fishing industry and for my constituency.