Government Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1947.

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Photo of Commander Sir Douglas Marshall Commander Sir Douglas Marshall , Bodmin 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

I have six minutes in which to make the case which I wish to put to the House tonight. My right hon. Friends the Members for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) have already covered the broad aspect. Therefore, tonight I do not wish to go into the question of broad policy. No doubt hon. Members will have noticed in the Gracious Speech that when mention is made of agriculture, the following words appear: My Ministers will give all possible help to those who work on the land. No one agrees more fully with that object than I, but is there any reason why there should not have been added the words," and who fish in the seas "? There is no hon. Member in this House who is not concerned with the production of food. A great contribution to our food production can be obtained from our seas. What I wish to emphasise tonight is a matter which is causing great anxiety in the fishing industry and those concerned with the production of sea food—namely, the over-fishing in both the North Sea and off our West Coast.

A short time ago there were meetings upon this very matter, and the nations concerned cat down together and discussed it. Prior to 1939, two thirds of this fishing was, in fact, done by ourselves and the Netherlands, and one third by Germany. The war has altered that. We are no longer that size; we have lost a large part of our fishing fleet. Denmark has taken the place of Germany, and, indeed, we must get an agreement that these seas will not be over-fished. At the present moment small fish are being landed and catches have dropped considerably, and on that account great anxiety is felt. I appeal to the Foreign Secretary, although he is not here tonight—I readily understand why he is not here—but I appeal to him to do everything he possibly can to get ratification of the Convention.

Now, as to the West Coast. In this House in the last Session I asked a question about the "Spanish Armada" that has come to fish off the West Coast. There has been over-fishing off the West Coast, and that is causing grave anxiety. The Spaniards came originally to the conference. When, however, at a later date a standing advisory committee was set up, the Spaniards, on that occasion, were not invited. Surely, it was a frantically stupid thing not to include them. We must get an agreement that we are not going to over-fish those seas. I do hope the Prime Minister is taking notice of this, because this is a matter which affects our food supplies, and food is of vital importance. Every form of food that can be got is needed. Also, it so happens that our nation, by its very geography, from time to time survives because of the skill of the men who man our small ships.

Therefore, we have these two points that all should always bear in mind—first that the ports of the United Kingdom must be alive, throbbing with the work that they perform; and secondly, that we must have skilled men to man the ships sailing from those ports, who save us in times of danger. We can keep the ports alive and maintain the number of our fishermen only by maintaining the strength of our fishing fleet—and we cannot maintain the strength of our fishing fleet unless the fish are there in the sea to be caught. I do hope the Prime Minister will take due notice of that. I feel quite satisfied that, if the Foreign Secretary will apply his mind to this point, it will be in the interests of the nations that fish those seas. Surely, a reasonable agreement can be made in the interests of all nations.

In the few moments that are left to me I want to raise one other point, and that is "headless" cod. Hon. Members may know that the Ministry of Food insist that the cod is landed headless. The heads that are cast away could make good fertilisers. The fact that the men have to fish for a longer period means that the fish, when they are landed, are not so fresh. Thirdly—and it is a very important matter, the details of which I have not time to go into tonight—this practice of casting away the heads does mean polluting the sea bed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Major Vernon) referred to the scientific approach, and I sincerely trust that the scientific approach to these problems of the fishing industry will be considered, particularly to this matter of the pollution of the sea bed, which can lead to very great harm.

I said, Sir, that I should keep within the time that you have so kindly allotted to me, and I will finish upon this note, We are passing through a grave and anxious period, in which it is necessary for all to work as hard as it is possible to work. I have referred to my two right hon. Friends who have covered the wider picture, which I have not time to discuss. The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) yesterday also painted a picture of the very inefficient administration of His Majesty's Government, which is, indeed, worrying. I sincerely trust that this drab affair will not make us even drabber still.