I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The main objects of the Bill are more or less threefold: to give some assistance to replace obsolete trawlers, particularly in the near and middle water sections of the fishing fleet, largely by means of loans; to secure improved accommodation for trawler crews; and to confer power upon Ministers to make regulations to improve methods of handling fish with a view to safeguarding quality. I do not intend to summarise the history of the fishing industry or the many ills from which they suffer and have suffered in the past. These were brought out by the Second Report of the Sea Fish Commission on the White Fish Industry in 1936 and later by the Report of a Committee presided over by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) in 1945.
The great development of the distant water fishery from 1926 onwards created a new situation in the fishing industry of this country. This new situation gave rise to many new problems hitherto unknown to us. Many new and large trawlers were built and by 1937 fish production had increased, thanks to distant water fishing, by no less than 200,000 tons per annum. As catchers of fish these vessels were very successful—in-deed, much too successful for the comfort of the owners, because large quantities of cod and haddock flooded the market and reduced the price to such an extent that the prosperity of that particular section of the industry was very quickly threatened. The owners, therefore, had to preserve themselves by adopting what some people regard as a very doubtful move by means of a voluntary restriction scheme, thereby reducing the quantity landed and to some extent restoring prices to their former level.
On the other hand, and at the same time, the near and middle water sections of the industry, which for years had landed a rich variety of fresh and prime species and had, indeed, built up a reputation for fish as a food in this country, were having a very thin time. Unfortunately the older and smaller vessels employed in this section were operating in areas where fish were rapidly diminishing; vessels had to remain much longer at sea to search for a profitable catch. At the same time, prices were actually falling when costs were increasing. This situation was, however, to some extent caused by the collapse of the price of distant water fish, largely cod and haddock; and secondly, because purchasing power in this country in the 1930's was not too good, owing to very low wages and a large volume of unemployment.
In 1931 a 10 per cent. ad valorem duty was placed on foreign-caught fish and in 1933 a further measure was taken to protect the industry by imposing quotas upon foreign-caught fish imported into this country. These measures, however, failed to achieve their object, because the collapse, to which I have referred, actually occurred in 1937, some six years after the imposition of both duty and quotas. The truth of the matter seems to have been that in the complete and absolute segregation of the interests in distant waters and in the near and middle water sections of the fishing industry, and the prolific catches of the distant water fishery, the industry contained within itself all the elements to bring about its own disaster.
In concentrating on distant water fishing, trawler owners followed the rule that capital tends to flow to the point where the greatest profit can be made. That is not unreasonable from the point of view of the individual, but from the viewpoint of certain industries that theory does not work out as well as it might do. What they had overlooked was that in this country—as, indeed, in all other countries—the market can only be preserved if consumers can enjoy other varieties of fish than cod and haddock—and, now that the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is here, I ought to add herring.
It is generally accepted that the prime fish caught by near and middle water fishermen and inshore fishermen have helped the other sections to get rid of their coarser qualities. I suggest that the industry should address itself to this problem and consider the possibility, instead of having a complete division, of integrating distant fishing with near and middle water fishing, thus enabling the latter to survive. I am glad to be able to record that some owners are pursuing this policy. Others would do well if they would follow that very wise example.
Nevertheless, I think hon. Members will agree that some encouragement is necessary for the rebuilding of the near and middle water fleet. Of that fleet of 865 trawlers, 620 are over 30 years old and a few were built as long ago as 1881—long before most hon. Members sitting here were born. These vessels are now utterly incapable of earning profits. Their running costs are very high. They cannot face competition with the more modern vessels either from this country or from foreign countries.
A major rebuilding programme is long overdue. The present trawler building programme indicates the tide of events. Sixty-seven are being built for the distant water fleet, eight for the middle water and six for the near water fisheries. Therefore, we are continuing to overload distant fishing, which means more and more coarse fish such as haddock and cod, with less and less attention being paid to the better qualities. We are told that near water trawlers cannot pay their way even at the moment, and the owners still have a vivid recollection of what happened in 1937 and a little earlier. They probably overlook the fact that there has been a drastic change since that date. For what it is worth, we have today nearly full employment, spending power has been increased enormously and there is still a shortage of other kinds of food. Probably the industry today can sell larger quantities of cod and haddock and other fish brought in from the distant fishing grounds than they could sell in either the twenties or the thirties.
Closely related to the question of the rebuilding of the trawler fleet is that of the provision of suitable accommodation for crews who are to continue in the industry. On the larger vessels which go out to Bear Island and elsewhere I believe that crew accommodation is reasonable, and in the new vessels now being built accommodation complies with modern standards such as those laid down by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1948. On the other hand, the crew accommodation in the older near and middle water vessels is shockingly inadequate, as most hon. Members will agree who have seen it. For this reason alone, replacement is necessary as soon as possible.
It is true, of course, that for structural reasons it is simply not possible to recondition many of the older vessels. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get crews to man these older vessels. That is all the more reason why conditions under which the men have to live and work should be made as attractive as possible. These crews have to stay on the high seas for long periods. Their work is arduous and they have little opportunity for recreation. I am sure the House will agree that these men, whose work was of such vital importance during the course of two wars, and who manned the small ships for the Admiralty and did wonderful work in mine-sweeping and all the rest, deserve better treatment than they now have in living and working in some of these old vessels.
The provisions of the Bill relating to accommodation will apply to fishing boats similar measures for crew space to those laid down for merchant ships under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1948. Compliance with these requirements will ultimately be a condition to the grant or renewal of a licence under Clause 4. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1948, gave effect to certain Conventions which were adopted at an international conference at Seattle in 1946. While it was impracticable to ratify the Conventions as a whole, both sides of the shipping industry agreed that regulations should be made to give effect to the standards laid down at Seattle. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1948, commanded complete support in this House, and I believe that the same support will be forthcoming for this Measure.
There is one further general point I should like to mention. Much has been said about the quality of fish offered to consumers and, as is usual, many reasons have been advanced to account for it. Some have suggested that price control is responsible for the amount of not too good fish that is sold, and that quality is subordinated to the controlled price. This quality question is much older than control itself. There were many complaints about quality long before 1939 both from consumers and indeed from enlightened members of the fishing industry itself.
I have already referred to the great development of distant water fishing which accounts for 58 per cent. of British caught fish. This consists mainly of cod and haddock with a small amount of plaice. It is landed after an average voyage of not less than 23 days. I know that owners themselves have been greatly concerned about the problem of landing this fish in fresh condition. Many of them have been active in trying to discover ways and means of doing that, so that there is goodwill within the industry. But the problem is indeed a very real one. Some improvements have already been made in the construction of holds, and the icing of fish, but this cannot completely overcome the basic problem of the length of the voyage.
The solution may ultimately be the factory ship processing at sea the earlier catches, and landing only the later catches to market in a fresh condition. Experiments are being carried out in several countries with such vessels, and scientists here are working on exactly the same problems. But this is a long job and I fear that we must depend for some time on the existing type of trawler. It is admitted by the industry that there has been deterioration in quality. The only remedy to hand at the moment is the enforcement of regulations against careless handling of fish. I am glad to note that there is a growing realisation in the industry that improvement in quality can only be achieved when all members of the industry are made to co-operate in raising the standards of fish landed and marketed. Apart from these general questions, opportunity has been taken to incorporate in the provisions of the Bill one or two miscellaneous provisions which I might refer to later.
Clause 1 provides that we may grant loans for the purpose of buying new boats or reconditioning old ones. I have already explained why a rebuilding programme is a matter of some urgency. Loans would, under present conditions, be confined to persons wishing to build near or middle water boats and would be made available up to 40 per cent. of the cost involved. They would be repayable within a period of 10 years. The rate of interest would be kept as low as possible, and it is hoped that it will be of the order of 2¾ per cent., but it would be varied in the light of the circumstances ruling when the loans were actually made. It is proposed that these loans should operate for a period of 10 years, and the sum made available at the commencement is £10 million, but provision is made for an extension of the period should that be found necessary once the 10-year period has expired.
Clause 2 gives the Minister of Transport power to make regulations concerning crew accommodation after consulting both sides of the industry. These regulations will only apply in full to new fishing boats, and, of course, will be subject to annulment by resolution of either House. When existing fishing boats undergo structural alterations, or when they are re-registered, the crew accommodation must be brought into line with the new standards so far as is reasonable and practicable. These provisions are to be found in paragraphs 1 to 4 of the Schedule.
Clause 3 empowers the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Food and myself to make regulations for safeguarding the quality of fish at all stages until it passes down finally to the consumer. These new powers extend beyond the existing powers held by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Health in relation to hygiene, composition and labelling under the Food and Drugs Act. We are seeking to set up standards which will not only affect the price for certain grades of fish but also determine whether fish should be sold in fresh condition or processed at the port of landing. Subsection (1) stipulates that regulations may only be made after consultation with representative organisations in the trade, and subsection (2) deals in greater detail with the particular aspects which may be brought within the scope of the same regulations.
Clause 4 provides that, from the appointed day, a licence will be required for British fishing boats over 40 feet in length which are registered in the United Kingdom. This limit of 40 feet excludes some 8,000 boats from obtaining a licence, and these are chiefly very small boats and, of course, inshore fishing boats. I can assure the industry that in fixing the appointed day careful account will be taken of existing conditions within the industry, and the provisions of the Clause itself afford relief for existing boats, and boats under construction at the time regulations come into force. Hon. Members will have noted that, where the appropriate Minister takes the view that a licence should not be granted, he will refer the matter to an independent person, whose report will have to be considered before a final decision is taken. The last punishment, that is, revocation of the licence, can only take place by a court order, and even then, will be confined to persons who have persistently disregarded the conditions attaching to the granting of the licence. There is an exception to this in subsection (3), which seems clear enough and I need not explain it.
Clause 5 is the counterpart of Clause 4, and extends licensing to the processers of fish on land, wholesalers at the port, and at inland markets as well. An exception is made in the case of inshore fishermen who sell their own catches, but, should they employ a salesman, I fear that he also would require a licence. A good deal of the power which is granted by this Clause already exists in certain Defence Regulations, which I believe automatically expire at the end of 1950. Therefore, this Clause is merely re-enacting existing powers with a slight extension on the lines which I have indicated. The licensing system provided by Clauses 4 and 5 will be valuable both to the Government and the industry itself as a means of the registration of vessels and premises, and, of course, with a sanction where breaches of the regulations as to accommodation or quality are found.
Clause 6 deals with enforcement by authorised officers, who will be specially trained for their particular functions. The only other Clause to which I need refer is Clause 9, which is intended to rectify an anomaly created by previous legislation. Under Section 11 of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, certain persons specified in the Act may act as British sea fishery officers for the enforcement of certain Acts of Parliament, but, by an omission, the Fisheries Ministers have no power to appoint such officers, and their officers in certain cases have to be given appointments by the Minister of Transport. This Clause simply rectifies that position.
The remaining Clauses are more or less self-explanatory, and I do not think I need detain the House with them. This is not what I should call a major Measure, but I believe that, at the same time, it can be an extremely useful Bill. If some of the out-of-date, old-age-pension trawlers, which should have been replaced long before the war, if reasonable conditions had then obtained in the industry, are replaced by modern vessels, Clause 1 indeed would justify the introduction of this Bill. If, however, crew accommodation can be improved and attract new recruits to the industry, again I think the Bill is justified, and, if the quality of fish can be safeguarded right down to the consumer, it would justify this Bill still more. On the other hand, if near and middle water fishing is encouraged by these loans to integrate more and more with distant fishing, each section helping the other and avoiding the unpleasant possibility of this nation being committed to the consumption of cod, I think the Bill will be doubly justified.
After hearing the Minister's speech, I am more than ever perplexed, and I am certain that my hon. and right hon. Friends take the same view, as to the reason for bringing this Bill before the House at such short notice. The Minister himself in his closing passages said it was not a major Measure. We have become used to many Bills introduced by the Minister of Agriculture in the past, and we have always noticed the clarity with which the right hon. Gentleman has explained the Measure which he was introducing. On this occasion, I frankly believe that he had nothing to explain to the House; hence his very feeble effort this morning in introducing this Bill.
When the Leader of the House announced the Business last week, this Bill was not even available to hon. Members in the Vote Office, but his statement, coming at a time when our meat ration was at the lowest point in our history, gave grounds for hope that, since the Minister of Food had been so conspicuously unsuccessful, the Minister of Agriculture had once more come forward with a great plan to bring the housewife some relief by giving her more and better fish. We discovered on examination of the Bill when we at last obtained it, how wrong we were to be hopeful. Except for Clause 1, which gives the Minister power to make loans for the re-equipment of the sea-fishing industry, and Clause 11, which the Minister never mentioned at all but which repeals Part 1 of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1938, to which I shall refer later, we find nothing in this Bill except pages of regulations which in no way touch even the fringe of the problem confronting the industry. Instead of doing this, they explain in most verbose language the methods by which people engaged in all sections of the industry are to be regulated and fined.
Let me give the House one or two examples. I am not referring to the substance of some of these Clauses, which we shall discuss in Committee, because surely they are Committee points, but I would give examples of what in fact this Bill is doing. Clause 2 authorises the Minister to make regulations with respect to crew accommodation and provides for the imposition of a fine up to £100 if any of these are contravened. Clause 3 is the Clause dealing with the quality of fish and again, under subsection (3), there is provision for a fine of up to £100. Clause 4, a very long Clause, deals with the licensing of British fishing boats, about which we shall have a good deal to say in Committee. Here again, there is a fine of up to £100 in subsection (8).
Clause 5 takes three pages, and deals with the licensing of persons engaged in processing and wholesale dealing in sea fish. In this Clause we have two fines. In subsection (6) the fine amounts to not more than £100 if any condition of a licence under this Clause is contravened, and in another part of the Clause we have a fine of up to £20. I think Clause 6 could really be described as the super snooper Clause. This gives certain powers, which we will examine in Committee. Attached to this Clause there are three lots of fines. Again we find that Clause 7, a small Clause, has a fine attached to it, and in Clause 8——
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member a question? He has criticised a lot of this new legislation but as regards Clause 6, to be specific, will he indicate to the House any new powers which the Minister is taking. Is it not a fact that the Minister has had these powers for donkey's years and that there is nothing new in the Clause?
That is one of the points about which we complain. We think that the Bill is a series of regulations and contains nothing whatever to justify the Government coming to the House on a Friday morning to claim that it is dealing with this great sea-fishing industry.
I must read the few words of Clause 8 which are extremely interesting. It says:
Where the contravention in respect of which any person is convicted of an offence under any provision of this Act is continued after conviction, the person convicted shall be guilty of a further offence, and may on summary conviction be punished accordingly.
For the offence under this Bill a person may have imposed upon him a fine of up to £20
… for each day on which the contravention is so continued.
Surely the whole of this Bill is rather like an hon. Member of this House going to an insurance office and making inquiries about a premium to insure any valuables he might have, after a robber had been into his house the night before and stolen all the valuables. In our view a great opportunity has been missed. Never in our history has fish been more vitally important. During recent years many of our people have sustained their health and life only as a result of the increased supplies of fish. As our meat ration has dwindled from approximately 34 ozs. a week per head before the war to 22 ozs. in 1948 and even less this year, the increased landings and imports of fish have in some measure made up the grave deficiency of protein and preserved some semblance of balance in our diet.
This Bill contains nothing to deal with the problems which are confronting the industry at the moment. I think I can summarise in a word the real problem which faces the industry today. It is the problem of over-fishing. It is no exaggeration to say that the future supplies of white fish to all Western European countries and the prosperity of their fishing industries depend upon adequate safeguards for the prevention of over-fishing. In recent years there has been a large increase in the total of white fish landings, and this has for the most part been made up by the increase in imports. While there were before the war approximately 84,000 tons imported every year, in 1948, that figure rose to 214,000 tons, a very large increase indeed.
That is the actual figure. That is the increase which has taken place in 1948; 214,000 tons were imported compared to approximately a yearly average of 84,000 tons before the war. The landings of our own fish have also increased very considerably, so much so that in 1948 they reached the total of 235,000 tons. This increase in landings is beginning to fall off, particularly in the high grades of fish which come from inshore fisheries and near ground fisheries. In our view this is due to over-fishing in the North Sea and other near waters. The coarser fish, which, for the most part come from distant waters, keep up the total landings, which give a completely false impression of the seriousness of the position.
It may interest the House if I give one or two figures on this point. Of the quantities of white fish landings in England and Wales by British first-class vessels during the 12 months ending 31st September, 1948, 25 per cent. of the total landings in this country have come from the Barents Sea and the Murman Coast which are far distant fishing waters; 12 per cent. came from the Bear Island district and another 19 per cent. from Iceland. So it will be seen that a very large proportion of the whole of our landings come from far distant waters and for the most part those fish are cod. As the House will agree there are various kinds of cod. There is good cod and bad cod, and some cod which we do not want to see again.
The House may be interested to examine certain aspects of the landings in England and Wales during the first three months of 1947 and compare them with the landings of the first three months in 1949, because they do show very definitely that the landings of our finer fish are decreasing, and at the same time the landings of coarser fish the increasing. I am afraid I have not the comparable figures which include Scotland on this point, but I know my hon. Friends will be dealing with that aspect in the course of the Debate.
Let me take haddock as an example. I thought the Minister included haddock among the coarser fish, but I have included them among the finer fish; I am sure the public as a whole would include haddock among the finer fish. During the first three months of 1947, 472,000 cwts. were landed in England and Wales. In the corresponding three months of 1949, 244,000 cwts. were landed. That is a reduction of 228,000 cwts. Then take hake, which is another fish which is popular among the people. In the first three months in 1947, 143,000 cwts. were landed. This year the amount is only 82,000 cwts.—a reduction of 61,000 cwts.
Let us turn to coarse fish; first of all, the dog fish. Up to a short time ago I do not think the dog fish was a very popular food in this country. Whereas in the first three months in 1947, 17,000 cwts. of dog fish were landed, in the first three months of 1949 there were 40,000 cwts.—an increase of 23,000 cwts. A fish even worse than the dog fish is the cat fish. In the first three months of 1947, 5,500 cwts. were landed, and in the first three months of this year 20,000—nearly four times as much. This surely represents a very serious picture. We all hope in the not far distant future to enjoy a larger meat ration, and when that time comes the British housewife will certainly not be content to eat cat fish or dog fish, or indeed tired cod fish.
If the problem of over-fishing is not tackled in the immediate future, economic disaster will threaten our supplies of finer fresh fish and the livelihood of thousands of inshore fishermen and trawler men who are working in the near and middle waters. There must be some international convention to deal with this problem. A year ago the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries came to the House with his White Fish and Herring Industry Bill. Previous to that there had been an international conference resulting from the plans made by the Coalition Govt, and it was attended by no fewer than 12 European countries interested in fishing in the North Sea and adjacent middle water fishing grounds. As a result of the conference, the convention was signed by all participants, and two things were agreed; first, to increase the size of mesh of all nets, and secondly, to establish minimum sizes for white fish below which the fish should be returned immediately to the sea.
The Minister informed us on 28th April this year in answer to a Parliamentary Question that an order was now in force dealing with the second of these resolutions. But nothing has yet emerged with regard to the increase in the size of mesh, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us what the position is. I think it is most important that we should get this order as soon as possible, but it should not be a unilateral order, and we must see that we get agreement with the other countries.
At the conference to which I have referred the United Kingdom proposed, in addition to what was agreed, to limit the size of fishing fleets. This did not meet with the agreement of the other nations represented at that conference, but an article was included in the convention to set up a permanent standing commission to consider whether the provisions of the convention should be extended in any way so as to ensure the prevention of over-fishing. Up to now, I understand, no firm agreement has been reached on this vitally important problem.
The tragedy of the whole situation is that three years after this conference was held only six countries have ratified the convention and no serious steps have been taken by any Governments, including our own, to give practical effect even to the agreed recommendations at the conference.
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not object if I intervene at this point lest a misunderstanding should go forth throughout the nation. This country has taken the lead from the very beginning and we have done all in our power to influence all the 11 other countries to ratify as quickly as possible. We were very anxious that that permanent standing commission should commence to operate. At this moment we are pleading with the five other nations who have ratified, to apply the convention so that the standing commission can come into being and commence to operate, notwithstanding the fact that six other countries have failed to ratify so far.
I am sure the House will agree that my remarks were worth while, to get those observations from the Minister. Certainly he and the Government have been very quiet about it. In view of the vital importance of this subject to the industry and the nation as a whole, I should like to have seen, instead of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries sitting on the Front Bench with a few of his colleagues, a representative from the Foreign Office who could have reported on the diplomatic success of his Department in securing agreement with all the nations so vitally affected by fishing in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on measures to stop this plundering of sea fish. I accept the statement of the Minister, but we all know that he cannot move mountains in this respect, and I think it is unfortunate that there is not a representative of the Foreign Office here.
There ought also to be a representative here from the Admiralty to tell us what exactly the fishery protection ships are doing at the moment, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will answer a question on this point. Is it a fact that today there are only five fishery protection ships patrolling the seas instead of the nine which used to perform this task in pre-war days? If that is a fact, is he satisfied that those ships can fulfil their job, and why have they been reduced in number?
Without action in this field of over-fishing, this Bill is not worth the paper on which it is printed. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said on a previous occasion, I think in this House, that he thought there was a danger today that one of the legacies of the Socialist Government would be the creation in the North Sea of a salt bowl no less disastrous than the dust bowls of North Africa and North America created by earlier abuses of nature's gift to mankind. I think that very well sums up the position as it exists at the moment.
I now turn to a Clause to which the Minister did not even refer, and that is Clause 11 which repeals Part I of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1938. The object of that Act included practically all the objects of the Bill which we are now considering. Unlike this Bill, these objects were to be obtained largely by the exertion of the industry itself. A marketing board was to be set up, with powers to administer the industry's own affairs, under the general supervision of the White Fish Commission and the guidance of the White Fish Industry Joint Council. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will re-read the report to which he refers, known, I think, as the second Duncan Report—Command Paper 5130—which gives an admirable review of the whole position of the industry up to that time. I hope he will look very carefully into this suggestion to repeal Part I of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1938.
In recent times the Herring Industry Board have gone far to re-establish the herring industry, with rationalisation as distinct from nationalisation, the marketing scheme, freezing plant and processing factories. In another field which the Minister knows very well, the Milk Marketing Board has shown what producers themselves can do both in their own interests and in the interests of the country as a whole. My right hon. Friends and I believe that a White Fish Marketing Board could render a similar service to the industry and to the nation. I hope the Minister will inform the House, in his reply, what are his views on this question.
In this connection I would refer the Minister to his own Departmental publication, "Fisheries in Wartime," in which, referring to the White Fish Commission, it is written on page 66:
The Commission's activities were suspended by an Order under the Defence of the Realm Regulations and in due course when the suspending Order is revoked the Ministers concerned will stand charged with the task of reviving the Commission.
Under this Bill all the preliminary work of the Commission is to be cast aside and, instead of that work being of use
to the nation, it is to be replaced by regulations from Whitehall. It is only because, under Clause 1, this Bill makes available £10 million for the purpose of the acquisition of boats for their improvement and reconditioning, that we shall not oppose the Bill on Second Reading today.
I do not propose to go in any further detail into the other Clauses because I think they deal mainly with Committee points. I should, however, like to ask the Minister that a reasonable time should be given for consultations to take place before we reach the Committee Stage of the Bill. It would appear that up to the present there has been practically no consultation with the various branches of the industry. Perhaps the Minister would inform the House, for instance, whether the British Trawler Federation were consulted in any period before the Bill was introduced; were their views sought before the Bill was in draft form? Turning to another section of the industry, I have a letter in my hand from a federation of one of the principal trades in the industry who say that, far from being consulted, the first notification they had of the Bill at all was the daily Press notices.
This sort of treatment of the industry for which the Bill is to legislate is, indeed, a poor augury for the consultation for which provision is made in the various Clauses. As I have indicated, my right hon. and hon. Friends consider this is a miserable little Measure and unworthy of the Minister who has introduced it. Its provisions provide more fines, more forms and less fish.
We believe the Minister has missed a great opportunity of doing something really helpful to ensure better supplies of the finer grade of fish for the hungry people of these islands and to give some stability and prospects to that great body of men in the fishing industry who made such a magnificent contribution to the war effort. The over-fishing problem remains and every day, as the stocks of finer grade fish decline, the fortunes and prospects of the whole industry recede.
I rise to support this Measure although I do so with rather restrained enthusiasm. I think it could have been a bigger Bill, a better Bill, and a much more courageous Bill. Before I proceed I have, with regret, to agree with the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) in expressing the disappointment of those of us who represent fishing constituencies at the haste with which this Bill was brought to Second Reading. Barely a week has been available and it has given me, at any rate, very little opportunity to consult the interests I represent. I think it is treating with scant courtesy this great industry which has made such a notable contribution towards overcoming our difficulties during this period of shortage.
I have suggested that the Bill is disappointing. To my mind it is disappointing in that it fails to approach the solution of the problems of the fishing industry in a comprehensive manner. It fails to recognise, as the Minister has recognised in the past, the basic disability from which the near-water fishing is suffering—the acute over-fishing in the North Sea areas and elsewhere. On the other hand, when I listened to the remarkable speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond I could not help feeling that his attendances at the fishing Debates we have had in this Chamber must have been very sporadic, because nearly all the points he made had been made before; and I must say that some of the points he made were very distorted—if you can distort a point—and some of the figures he gave did not present a true picture.
We have constantly been pressing for information—and we had Questions in the House on it only a fortnight ago—on the very issues which he brought out this morning as very novel ideas. On this question of over-fishing, we know that no one is more assiduous than the Minister and that no one has done more than the Minister to try to bring the signatories of the Convention into line. In spite of all the protestations of hon. Gentlemen opposite, this is a long-term policy, and until that is done we shall not get our prime fish and we shall not get variety. We shall not get them until this matter is tackled basically, even if we do it only with those people who are willing to come in at the very beginning.
The Bill is also disappointing because it does not provide for a unified marketing scheme. The Bill is designed to assist the near-water section of the industry by integrating it with distant-water fishing. It fails to impose quantitative restriction and it does not provide a homogeneous marketing scheme. But in spite of what has been said from the other side, what is in the Bill is good. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is no good jeering at things; if we are to ask the fishermen to go back to what hon. Members opposite call "the old days," let us say so. What we say is that the provisions in Clause 2 are excellent provisions which ought to have been implemented a long time ago. The amount of money to be provided——
We are not objecting to those provisions in the sense that we have any anxiety not to promote good conditions of work, but what is the use of making these footling provisions if the basic prosperity of the industry is to be denied?
They are not footling provisions. That is where the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake. It is quite wrong to assume that the whole of the fishing industry is in a bad way. The distant-water fishing industry is in a very good way, judging by the profits it is making, and the returns not only to the owners but to the crews as well.
The amount of money to be provided by way of loan for reconditioning is very considerable—£10 million—and the rate of interest at 2¾ per cent. is generous, although I would remind the Treasury that Icelandic producers are building boats in this country on loans which are granted at the rate of 2½ per cent. I cannot imagine that there will be a great building programme for large, long-distance trawlers. I believe that we are over-building. If we continue in that way we shall flood the country with the very kind of fish the hon. and gallant Gentleman is talking about. There will not be very much call on this £10 million for far-distance producers. It is hoped, however, that we shall see a considerable degree of reconditioning among vessels using the middle and near waters—leaving aside, of course, the inshore fishing and herring fishing, which are provided for by other Acts.
I am interested in a rather peculiar type of vessel, and that is the drifter trawler, and I want an assurance that this gallant little ship is not to fall between two Departments—I had almost said "between two stools". On the one hand, there is the Herring Industry Board. Will it say, "If you want grants you must go to the Treasury"? On the other, there is the Department. Is it to say, "You must go to the Herring Industry Board for your grants"? There are those two authorities. Which will make the assistance available? We want that question to be cleared up. These vessels, adaptable as they are, play an important part in the industry. Most of them are old and want refitting, and re-equipping with new engines and very expensive gear. They have a long history of service, and they provide us with that which we want, that is, balanced fishing, for they fish for herring sometimes, and then sometimes they go trawling in near waters.
Very few individual fishermen will, in present circumstances, be inclined to commit themselves to the huge outlay required either to build new ships or even to recondition ships. The Minister has not told us of the percentage of total cost of rebuilding or of new building or of reconditioning that is to be available. [HON. MEMBERS: "He told us 40 per cent."] I beg pardon. So he did. Well, 40 per cent. for a trawler that may today cost up to £30,000 leaves a very considerable sum for a small man to find, particularly in face of the risks he has to run in the near and home waters fishing, and with the depletion of stocks. He will have to be a very courageous man indeed to undertake so large an outlay. Therefore, it is likely that we shall see amalgamations of smaller units. That, to my mind, is not to be deplored, as it will lead to mixed fishing with much more economical craft for near and distant fishing, and in the case of the drifter trawlers that I have mentioned, for fishing for herring and white fish both.
Everyone will agree that the provisions of Clause 2 are necessary. We have excellent examples of fishermen's amenities in the newest type of trawler, what I call the "ironclad" type—those great, mighty vessels which are more like liners than fishing vessels. In them, the standard of amenities is excellent. The disparity between the amenities in those vessels and the amenities in the smaller boats is really most striking. As the Minister has said, it is bound to react on the recruitment of men for the smaller vessels. I am not sorry that there are penal provisions in connection with the provision of these amenities, for it is essential that they should be provided. I wish there had been penal Clauses before, because the standards of living for these men, with all the hazards they have to face and the precariousness of the economic side of their life, ought to have been taken into account long ago.
A great deal must be done and can be done to bring more comfort and better working conditions into the lives of the fishermen. There is machinery for consultation between the two sides of the industry, the owners and the working fishermen. I am very pleased to say that today the working fishermen are very well organised. It has taken them a long time to realise the benefits of collective action, but now the fishermen are able to voice their views. I do not think anyone will disagree with the view that that is desirable. For many years they were unable to express their desires. Now they are joined together in a strong organisation, and with goodwill on both sides, a great many amenities can be provided.
No one can deny the need to safeguard the quality of the fish, particularly today when fish forms such an important part of the national diet. In a meat-eating country like ours, one of the greatest dangers, as we have stressed on this side of the House from the beginning of this Parliament, is that the people will tire of fish unless they can have not only good quality fish but also a variety of fish. With good quality and variety there is no reason why fish should not become permanently an important and popular part of our diet, as it is amongst other nations, the Norwegians, for instance. It is essential, therefore, that we should safeguard the quality, and I am very pleased indeed to see that there is provision in the Bill for strengthening the arrangements for licensing, and for the examination of the hygienic conditions on the transport side.
It is essential that the whole process of transferring fish from the sea to the table should be undertaken in the best conditions. There is scope for improvement in the boats, on the quays, and particularly in the manner of the inland transportation. I believe the trade will have no objection to regulations designed to improve the quality provided they are implemented all along the line. Here there is room for consultation between the various branches of the industry. It is of no use to make regulations concerning the conditions of hygiene on the catchers' side, only to allow most unhygienic methods of transport between dockside and retailer. One may here ask whether there is no better way of stimulating the retail trade than allowing the exposure of fish on slabs, attracting dust and flies and subject to handling by any person.
There have been interesting developments in this connection in my constituency. One is the lining of the holds of Icelandic trawlers with aluminium. We all know the terrible condition into which a hold can get. It is almost impossible to scour it out clean, and as the years go by, the holds become dreadful places. The metal linings of the new trawlers are a great improvement. Another one is a most courageous and adventurous effort on the part of a company in my constituency. They transfer the fish straight from the ship to the shop in impeccable conditions, in insulated vans, and they have received a good deal of encouragement from the Government Departments.
I am sure that Members on this side of the House will be behind the Minister in making these regulations as tight as possible. There is a great future before the processing section of the industry in quick freezing, canning and other ways. Markets can be assured provided that the conditions are good and well-supervised. I have known processing places which leave much to be desired, and I hope that the Minister will see that a tight rein is kept upon them.
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food is here. That will give me an opportunity of bringing in my favourite subject—the dyed kipper. Why does the Minister perpetually run away from this question? If he will go to the Isle of Man, he will see that the Government there are making loans for curing sites. While we suffer from slumps in the kipper trade, they go ahead like a house on fire. This "painted lady of the underworld," as it has been called [Laughter]—I am not referring to the right hon. Lady. This painted lady of the underworld is the dyed kipper, and it has done tremendous harm to other sections of the industry.
There is another aspect of the question of transportation, and that is the headless fish. I wish that the Minister would do something about that matter. The beheading of fish at sea causes pollution and attracts vermin, and offal is lost for processing. In order to make up the weight of catch the boats have to be longer at sea, with consequent deterioration. I know that there are other considerations in which the Minister of Food is interested. Before very long the question of foreign imports will have to be tackled, otherwise there is bound to be trouble in the industry whenever prices fall. The fisherman is very jealous of his craft. He is proud of the efforts which he makes to get his catches, and when he sees a spectacular fall in the price of fish he puts that down immediately to the foreign landings. That, of course, is nothing like the whole story, but I am quite sure that before long we shall have to go very much into the question of these foreign landings. The right hon. Gentleman did not give the figures for the tremendous increase in the Icelandic landings during the last few years. It is really a rather frightening figure.
My one great regret in regard to this Bill is that there is no provision for scientific investigation. I think that whenever fishing Measures are brought before this House, we should interest ourselves a great deal in the question of scientific research into the habits, location and growth of fish. We spend a tremendous amount of money in agricultural research and, I admit, on fishery research, but I am told that in relation to the size of the industry both in Norway and America, a great deal more is done in that direction. I agree with hon. Members opposite that this problem comes back again to the question of the depletion of the home waters. I have said so here on many occasions. I know that the Minister is thoroughly convinced on this matter, but he needs a great deal of encouragement, and it is no good our nagging him, when it is the people on the other side who are not playing the game. I do not think that this is a great Bill. I think that it is a quarter bite at the cherry, even if that, but I shall support it.
I should like to say how much I regret, as I feel sure the Minister and other hon. Members who take part in fishing Debates will regret, that my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) is indisposed and unable to take part in this Debate. I am sure that the whole House will be glad when he can once more help us in our Debates.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) said that he viewed this Bill with restrained enthusiasm. I think that the whole of his speech was a criticism of what is not in the Bill. One other criticism which he made, and in which I feel sure he will have the support of every hon. Member in the House, was the pace with which this Bill was introduced, which made it absolutely impossible for hon. Members or people in the industry to give proper consideration to it.
This Bill does not really concern either the inshore fishing industry or the offshore fishing industry. It deals with the white fish industry in near, far and middle waters, although there are certain points relevant in the Bill which may well have an effect upon the other industries. First, I feel it necessary to go back a little in the life of this Parliament to what the Minister has himself said in replying to innumerable Questions with regard to the set-up of the White Fish Commission under the 1938 Act. One Clause of the Bill which the Minister did not say much about was Clause 11, and the repeal of the White Fish Commission.
On 18th October, 1945—a date which I shall never forget because it was the day on which I made my maiden speech—I asked him if he was going to set up a White Fish Commission. I asked him again in 1946, and I think that it is rather interesting that during the Debate on the fishing industry in 1946 the Minis
ter made certain remarks with regard to the White Fish Commission. I feel that I must draw the attention of the Minister to the words which he used, so that he may reflect upon them again. He said:
Therefore the White Fish Commission was suspended,"—
That was with regard to the war.
Once that suspension order is removed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will be charged with the duty of reconstituting the commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 2055.]
That was in 1946. In 1947, I again asked him what he was going to do about this White Fish Commission. He then started using words such as "It is under consideration." During the following three months, it was "under active consideration." I asked him what was the difference, and he said "just active consideration." In November, 1947, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the White Fish Commission. He said:
I cannot give my hon. Friend a great deal of comfort, except to say that we are looking very closely at that matter. As we understand the original proposition, we are not very sure that the efficiency of it will be what was originally claimed for it in that form, but the hon. Member may be happy to know that we are seriously concerned to see what we can do along those lines."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th Nov., 1947; Vol. 444, c. 511.]
All hon. Members know the directives that were suggested for the White Fish Commission, and I do not propose to weary the House with them at this stage. But does the Minister or any hon. Member consider that this Bill bears any relation to those directives to the White Fish Commission? Is it possible that they can? One of the first Amendments that went through my mind to put down for the Committee stage was an alteration of the title. Does the Minister consider that perhaps Sea Fish (Gutted and Filleted) Bill would be a better title? What conflicting interests have been at work within the Department itself to turn out this tiny Bill?
That was the thought I had before the Minister made his speech, but when he made his speech I felt still more deeply about it. At least on reading Clause 1 of the Bill I saw mention of making available a sum of £10 million on loan in order to help this industry. If I heard the Minister aright—and I should like his attention in case I did not—he stated that the amount of loan that would be made available would be for 40 per cent. of the vessel. If that is so, this is no Bill at all, because that can be done in ordinary circumstances at any time.
I intend to deal with the fishing industry and to tell the Minister what he should do. At the moment the point I am making is that this is no advantage. It may be that the interest is a little less, but when we are dealing with practical matters, I do not think that even the Minister himself would suggest that the proposed difference in interest will make all that difference. The amount of 40 per cent. is too low, and I suggest that he should consider making it considerably higher. I was not sure whether he directly stated that that 40 per cent. would also go towards the reconstruction of any vessel for the benefit of the crew, or where that is not possible, towards making the vessel better fitted for catching and carrying cleaner and more wholesome fish. I was not sure whether that is what he said, or whether he was referring only to the rebuilding programme.
The hon. Member said that this money could be got elsewhere. Is there anywhere else in private enterprise where they could get money at 2¾ per cent. today?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is always so gallant about these things. I was merely referring to the development of the fishing industry, and although everybody likes to get better terms, I do not imagine that even the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that a difference of 1 per cent. matters when we are considering the healthy survival of the fishing industry.
If the hon. and gallant Member thinks that, he is perfectly entitled to.
Over-fishing was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) and by the hon. Member for Lowestoft, and we all know that that is the overriding worry of the industry. I thought the hon. Member for Lowestoft, in saying that the Minister had done all in his power to get ratification of the agreement on over-fishing, was concentrating only upon the North Sea and the adjacent waters.
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has interrupted on that point, because I wanted to refer to it. When winding up a Debate not very long ago I mentioned the Western waters and complained that the Minister had not got Spain to agree, and the answer I got—I think the Minister will remember, although I am not quoting word for word—was that Spain did not come into the North Sea; on that occasion the Minister waved it aside. If he looks up that Debate he will find that is the case. He will find that there is considerable disquiet about the landings in the Western grounds. The landings for 1947 were 20 per cent. below 1946; a similar drop occurred in 1948; and up to date 1949 does not show any improvement. That is very serious, as is the drop in the amount of cod caught at the Bear Island. These are matters requiring the earnest consideration of the Minister.
In order to ensure that this industry is healthy and that everything possible is done for its maintenance, certain things must not happen. There must not suddenly be a rise of coal prices for the industry without any consultation. I referred to that in April, 1948, and I admit that immediately I did so the Government gave way and adjusted the price. The question I now ask is whether the coal price will rise again, and whether there will be consultation with the industry?
The Minister mentioned the vital necessity of getting new vessels in the middle and near waters, on which I agree with him wholeheartedly. I believe that in the middle and near waters the future lies primarily with the diesel engine. That is my own personal belief. I would, however, point out that the fleet cannot suddenly be changed overnight, and to my mind it is imperative that part of this loan should go towards improvements of even older vessels while construction is going on. An analogy would be: if we waited for the perfect motor car we would never have a car on the road, because by the time one model is completed there would be improvements in the blueprints. I sincerely trust that the Minister will consider that, in the interests both of landing wholesome and clean fish and of crew accommodation. I fully agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft in his reference to light alloys and aluminium. With the advance of scientific knowledge in these directions there can be greatly improved fleets of fishing vessels for this country.
It is interesting to reflect that this industry is not subsidised. There is no form of subsidy at all. I see that the Minister has a slight smile on his face. It is true it might be said that for the home and near waters there is 10d. a stone, but I think the Minister will be the first to agree that that is an overall figure which applies equally to the ports where the fishing is not so good as to the ports where it is good. Therefore, it is not a proper adjustment at all.
There is no one in this House who is not fully aware of the food difficulties in the world as a whole. Some may think that these difficulties will become easier, but it is my belief that the fishing industry has to play a major part in raising the standard of life of the people in the world. The history of the fishing industry throughout the years has been rather odd. Major wars throughout history have nearly always been won or lost by control of the seas. As a result of these wars, the beleagured islands and continents have had to concentrate their skill and energy on the scientific production of food from the land.
There has never been a concentration of energy on how to produce the maximum amount of food from the sea. The result is that the fishing industry is practically the same as it was in the early days when the fisherman depended merely on the fish he could catch. What we have to do is to concentrate on getting the maximum variety of food that can be derived from the sea. We should concentrate our energies on that, while at the same time dealing with the different forms of processing, to which reference has already been made in this Debate. We need to develop these different forms of processing so that advantage can be taken of the catches made throughout the world. Great scientific advances have been made in freezing fish when it is landed, which opens out great possibilities of bringing really fresh fish to the consumers.
This brings me back to the Bill itself. Is it not possible for the Minister to use this loan not only for the reconstruction of ships, but for the purposes of Clause 3, so that those retailers, such as the retail fruit and vegetable trade, who sell fish in areas throughout the United Kingdom where there are no fishmongers can be provided with small refrigeration plants to enable consumers in the countryside to have fish that is just as fresh as in the towns? In 1946, I suggested to the Minister that there should be a minimum price for fish and asked why there should not be a long-term fishing policy analogous to the long-term agricultural policy which the Minister of Agriculture had introduced. I ask that question again today. This Bill does not introduce such a policy, and it is absolutely vital to my mind that this matter should be considered. Reference was made by my hon. and gallant Friend at the beginning of the Debate to fishery protection vessels, and I hope that as no representatives of the Admiralty are present in the House they will at least have the courtesy to read what he said.
At best, this Bill is a challenge to private enterprise, and private enterprise will take up that challenge. Although it is a challenge which will be taken up, it is not without its difficulties. There is the question of foreign dumping, which is not dealt with, and such questions as price control and taxation. I apologise to the House for having been so long, but I feel deeply on this subject. I believe that conditions could come to pass whereby the standard of living of our people could be raised. After all, it is a pretty bleak future when we think of the figures of food production today.
I consider that there should be some one in the Government vitally interested in the fishing industry. Although my hon. Friends may not agree with me in this, I think that there should be a Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries attached to the Minister of Agriculture in the same way as the President of the Board of Trade and other Ministers have their Parliamentary and Under-Secretaries. As for this little blithering Bill, it will not assist the industry at all.
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) called this Bill a miserable Measure and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) has just called it a blithering little Bill. Neither gave any indication of what they would have done had they been in a position to present a Bill for the fishing industry, although perhaps the hon. Member for Bodmin went a little further than his hon. and gallant Friend. The only reference the latter made to what should be done was in relation to over-fishing, but, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has already said, the Minister is already doing all he can in this direction. I hardly think that if the Opposition had an opportunity to introduce a Bill to deal with the sea-fishing industry it would be a very revolutionary Measure. The position of the industry in the years between the wars is hardly a testimonial to Conservative rule.
While welcoming this Bill, I must protest about the short time we have had for its consideration. It is an unambitious Bill, but at the same time it deals with matters of considerable importance, for instance, in regard to accommodation for crews, and these matters we wanted to discuss with those interested, in our constituencies. I am especially concerned because of the nature of the fishing in my constituency—near and middle water fishing. It is essential that fishing in the near and middle waters should survive. We get our best quality fish and greatest variety from those waters, and if that fishing goes, we shall be condemned, I suppose, to cod and haddock and not much else. At present, as has been said, fishing in the near and middle waters, particularly in the near waters, is, to a considerable extent, carried on at a loss.
The question which we have to ask, and which I am sure those engaged in the industry will ask, is whether the cheaper loans which are provided for in the Bill will help to any considerable extent. If we put it in terms of hard cash, it does not seem to make a very great difference; 60 per cent. of the cost of building or reconditioning still has to be borne by the owner himself at the full commercial rate of interest. The lower rate of interest on 40 per cent. of the cost of the new or reconditioned vessel will cut the cost, although perhaps not to any great extent. When modern boats have been built they will be cheaper to operate and the better conditions in them will make it easier to get crews. So far so good, and I welcome what the Bill does in this way.
The chief point I want to make, however, is that if near and middle fishing is to survive and carry on successfully then further action must be taken to cut costs, though perhaps not in the way in which Members opposite would suggest. I am not suggesting bigger subsidies; other steps will have to be taken, partly by the industry itself, partly by the Ministries concerned, to reduce costs. I should like to give one example. The Minister referred to the possibility of amalgamation between the smaller firms. If those firms, some of which have only one boat, amalgamate, costs will be reduced. There will also be greater efficiency of working, and it will be a very valuable development. But it is not always possible, as my right hon. Friend suggested, for firms operating in near, middle and distant waters to combine, because a port which is suitable for near water boats may not be suitable for distant water boats. It is not always a practical proposition, because of the nature of the port facilities. But even if that is not possible it is still possible, in many cases, for small firms to amalgamate—those operating in near or middle waters—and thereby to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
It is also essential that the first-hand price should be improved without raising the price to the consumer. The price of fish to the consumer is already high enough and, in some cases, too high. Indeed, better quality fish is now too expensive for the ordinary consumer. We must raise the first-hand price to the catcher without raising the price to the consumer. That means tackling the whole problem of distribution, as we must do sooner or later. We must cut out unnecessary middle-men and in other ways improve the process of distribution so as to get the fish from the sea to the consumer in the least possible time, in the best possible condition and at the lowest possible price. I believe that that can be done.
Yes, I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman; I mean the better type fish, such as sole and plaice, which is now too expensive.
In so far as the limited help which is given under Clause I is concerned, I should like to know whether steps will be taken to ensure that that assistance will go only to those firms which need it, and not to those which are already making adequate profits? I warmly welcome Clause 2, which deals with accommodation, and I regret that an hon. Member opposite said it was footling. It is not footling; it is absolutely essential that if sufficient men of the right type are to be attracted to the industry their living conditions must be civilised. While, even on some of the smaller boats, conditions have been very much improved, living accommodation, in many cases, is quite uncivilised. I also welcome Clause 3, which should be a means of improving the quality and cleanliness of fish—and here I am using "quality" in the right sense of the word.
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) in what he said about the sale of fish in open shops. I hope that the regulations to be drawn up under Clause 3 will make it possible to prohibit the sale of fish in the open, on slabs exposed to dust and dirt, which is most unhygienic and also bad for the fish. Finally, although Members opposite have said a good deal about the penalties attached to the Bill and have objected to them, I do not object and I hope that the powers given to the Ministers by the Bill, particularly those provided for in Clauses 2 and 3, will be used not only with speed but also with determination.
In common with the Members who have already spoken in this Debate. I, too, am very disappointed with this Bill—disappointed by the way it has been rushed upon us, leaving us no time to discuss the various points with our constituents. I am also disappointed with the Bill for a reason which has not been mentioned. Its timing is all wrong. The Bill as it stands, in the absence of international co-operation with regard to fishing methods, is, to use a nautical term, "painting the wheelhouse while the boat is sinking." It is going to hasten the doom and extinction of a large part of our industry.
In my constituency I am concerned primarily with herring and inshore fishing. But many of the men from my part of the country are manning and skippering trawlers in Aberdeen, Fleetwood. Grimsby, Hull and so on. In many cases these men went to school with me, and I keep in the closest touch with the conditions under which they live and the difficulties which they are facing. The success or otherwise of the Inshore Fishing Industry Act and the Herring Industry Act is very largely dependent on what is going to happen in the trawling industry. There are certain provisions in the Bill which are good, but is the timing of the Bill right? I do not think it is, and, in this regard, there is the greatest danger to the welfare of our fisher folk.
Our trawlers today are not paying, despite the somewhat rosy picture painted by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) about near distance trawlers. In Aberdeen, trawlers have not paid for the last year to my own knowledge. The men who board these vessels are not earning what may be termed a living wage, and this Bill, in its present very sketchy and extremely amateur form, is going to add to the difficulty of these vessels, because the number of vessels is going to be increased to deal with the same quantity of available fish in inshore and middle distance waters.
My chief reason for intervening in the Debate is to underline and emphasise the problem of over-fishing. I do not think that problem in its extreme gravity is appreciated by Members of this House, with the possible exception of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary. It is a most serious matter, and I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), who is no longer in his place, was correct when he said that this Bill had nothing to do with our inshore fishermen. Indeed it has a great deal to do with them, because the slaughter of immature fish is a problem which vitally affects the prospects for the inshore fishermen.
There are three primary causes of over-fishing and they are inter-related. There is, first the use of the otter trawl, which is operated on the sea bottom. That has been an obvious menace to fishing since it was first used in the 1880's. On top of that there is the ever-increasing number of vessels operating the otter trawl. Thirdly, there is the absence of any enforced regulations regarding the size of mesh in the cod end of the trawl. As some hon. Members know, the cod end is that part of the trawl or seine net into which the fish are led by the shoulders and leads of the net. The size of the mesh of the cod end determines the size of the fish which are actually captured in the fishing operation. There is a tendency to decrease the size of the cod end when big fish are getting scarce, to fill the trawl with smaller fish. That tendency has been apparent in foreign trawlers in our home waters, and that is the biggest single, man-made contributory factor to over-fishing in all the waters to which our fishermen have access.
I have a considerable amount of experience of the changes that have taken place in home fishing areas. In my own lifetime I have seen the virtual disappearance of white fish from the Moray Firth. The Moray Firth was once the most prolific fishing ground around the British Isles. It was world famous as the home of the best haddock. Through the depredations of trawlers—and there is no other possible reason—today haddock is practically non-existent there, with the result that line fishing, with which the Parliamentary Secretary is au fait, has virtually disappeared from all the coastal parts of the Firth. Grim penury has been the reason for that state of affairs.
Trawling has been a problem in the Firth since 1888. An agitation started in regard to that matter then, because the fishermen, who were dependent upon that fishing ground for a living—operating hand-lines and set-lines—all realised the menace that was upon them. It was decided, first, by the Government of the day that all trawlers would be excluded from the Moray Firth, and also from the Firth of Clyde which was and is a similar fishing area to the Moray Firth, and equally prolific. About 1902 a Danish skipper was caught red-handed trawling in the Moray Firth, and was convicted and fined, his gear being confiscated. At the instigation of the Foreign Office apparently, the conviction was quashed, the fine refunded and the gear returned. Since that time we have had this most terrible paradox in our home waters, that foreign trawlers can come into our home waters without let or hindrance, particularly the Moray Firth and the Firth of Clyde, while our own British trawlers are excluded from those waters. It would be Gilbertian if it were not so terribly serious from the point of view of our fishing interests.
During the war years the ban was lifted due to the fact that in some of the waters adjacent to the Moray Firth in the area stretching from the West Shetlands down to East Aberdeen was largely a minefield, so that a portion of the Moray Firth was opened to trawlers east of a line drawn between Clythness and Portknockie. The part of the firth inside that area was sacrosanct to the inshore fishermen. Since May, 1946, British trawlers have been excluded from the whole of the Moray Firth, but the foreign trawler has now free access to those waters. It has become a grim economic necessity for our inshore fishermen that this area must be kept sacrosanct to them and the foreign trawler rigorously excluded. But so far the foreigner can come and go as he likes.
What is the result? I believe that the three-mile limit is the one last remaining hope we have for the survival of the white fish industry in British waters for inshore fishermen. It provides a nursery ground for young fish. Our smaller vessels cannot proceed far afield to places like the West Coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland to seek the fish which are necessary for their livelihood, so that they are forced to fish in the Moray Firth and break the three-mile limit regulations in order to make a living. They know that they are breaking the law by so doing, but they are being forced to do it. They do not want to break the law but grim circumstances compel them. But that does not mean that I would advocate in any way the abolition of the three-mile limit, because in the absence of international co-operation on the most comprehensive scale the three-mile limit is the one last hope for the survival of our inshore fishing, and a precarious hope at that.
Another consideration which is implicit in the Bill, since it is a Measure designed to develop the trawling fleet, is the trawling for herring that takes place in certain areas at certain times of the year. This is a question to which I hope the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give consideration. It is a well-known fact and is accepted, I believe, among the hierarchy of the fishing theorists that the herring seek the sea bed only to spawn; and it is there that the trawler scoops them up. I have stated in the House before that the drift net will never bring about the extinction of the herring; with a drift net over-fishing is not possible. Herrings which are caught near to the surface are swimming in search of food. The size of mesh of the drift net is selective, enabling small herrings to escape whilst the larger ones are caught. But when the herring are at the bottom to spawn they are performing a function which is vital if the herring and our herring fisheries are to survive. The herring should be immune from attack by trawl or by any other similar type of fishing gear during the time they are on the sea bed to spawn. It should not be impossible to overcome this problem by the framing of a regulation—not necessarily international but applying, at least, to Britain—which would be eminently practicable and not difficult to enforce.
In his valuable contribution to the Debate the hon. Member for Lowestoft referred to research. Again, I am riding an old hobby horse of mine when I talk about various methods of fishing. It must be inevitable, surely, that ultimately sea-bed trawling, which brings such disastrous and ruinous results as far as stocks of fish are concerned, should be replaced by something less deadly to the maintenance of stocks. It is well known that the baited line—the line with from one to several hundreds or even thousands of hooks—is the best method of all, for by that means over-fishing is avoided and the line is made selective by the type of hook which is used.
We have heard a great deal about the floating Spanish trawl, but I should like to turn the attention of the House to another type of net—the Larsen floating net—about which I have had a great deal of experience in recent weeks. In this connection I can rightfully accuse the Ministry of being inexplicably lethargic in looking into the potentialities of this new fishing instrument. This net, which has been developed in Denmark, is operated by two vessels; it is in the form of a long bag, which is kept open by an upper and a lower cable passing between the two boats. In other words, it is rather like a large rectangle towed between the two vessels. It fishes not at the bottom of the sea but at a depth which is determined by the amount of cable let out from the two vessels and is governed also by the speed at which they travel.
In its latest development in Denmark this net has been an unqualified success in the catching of herring, and I believe that it can be used equally well for other fish. I was astounded when, on making inquiries a few weeks ago about this net through the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, naturally, consulted the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, to discover that the Department's knowledge about this net was nil. This net has been a sign and a portent on the fishing horizon for the last two years. Some of my inshore fishermen friends are very interested in its possibilities. Three of them went at their own expense to Denmark to investigate its potentialities. Those three men, fishermen of wide experience, have now brought back sample nets. It is in matters of this kind that the Ministry, charged with the responsibility for this industry, should have been first in the field in making investigation. The three gentlemen of whom I have spoken came to see me at the House and afterwards went to the Herring Board, where they were cordially received. I sincerely hope that this new net will be of the very greatest value not only to our herring fishermen but also to our inshore fishing generally. Its cost will be only a fraction of the cost of drift nets, and its introduction will be the first great step towards the prevention of over-fishing which follows the raking up of spawning beds by the use of the otter trawl. I have already explained that surface or drift-net fishing can never result in over-fishing. Here is both the opportunity and the necessity for everyone interested or concerned to put on his thinking cap and to develop research in every practical way possible to obviate this raking of the bottom of the sea.
Before I leave the question of research I have a request to make to the hon. Gentleman and to the Minister—who, I see, is not now represented on the Front Bench. When tests of fishing gear, echo meters, echo sounders or any other devices are to be carried out, the tests should be made under practical conditions by a vessel which is engaged in fishing as a livelihood. If men can feel that they have a stake in the project in which they are experimenting, and which will make a contribution to their livelihood, we shall have far better results. I do not say that the research vessels operating at the behest of the Ministry and the Scottish Office are useless—far from it—but an added test should be undertaken under practical conditions by practical fishermen who appreciate the relationship of whatever is being tested to their livelihood.
Another criticism which I would level against the Bill concerns present-day cost. The costs of vessels and gear are far too high, ruinously so. It would almost appear to the not disinterested observer that the people who have derived the greatest advantage from previous Bills—those dealing with inshore fishing and the herring industry—are not the fishermen, but the boat builders and suppliers of gear. Any fisherman who places a contract for a new vessel, even when the maximum amount of grant is taken into consideration, is paying a price which is at least twice as much as the pre-war value of the vessel or of its likely value in two or three years' time. These costs should be the object of the most rigid and intensive scrutiny by the Board of Trade. I have made representations to the Board of Trade time and again and the Secretary of State for Scotland has also made repeated representations at my request regarding fishing gear, but nothing has happened. This is a very serious matter, because what right hon. and hon. Members are seeing happen before their eyes is that the help which they are setting out to give to the fishing industry is being entirely discounted and wiped out by the greatly enhanced prices which the fishermen who are recipients of grants and loans must pay for what they acquire.
I should like to return to the question of over-fishing and what must be done about it. We must have international co-operation of the most comprehensive nature. In all the waters to which our vessels have access, whether they are waters far distant, the mid waters or inshore, we must have a police force policing the grounds with power to examine the gear which is actually in the water. Where a vessel is trawling or seine netting, it is the simplest thing in the world for the skipper and crew to lead any examining officer "right up the garden" on the question of what type of gear they are using. All they need do is to attach a cod end of permitted size to the seine net or trawl and leave that on the deck. Down below in the locker they can have another cod end of an infinitely smaller mesh which they can substitute for the regulation cod end as soon as they proceed to sea.
If we are to save the white fish industry, a regulation of the kind I have suggested must be applied impartially in all waters to which our vessels and those of foreign nationals have access. The examining vessel must have the right to order a skipper to pull his trawl or gear out of the water. In the event of a regulation having been contravened, the examining vessel, whether it be a Norwegian in Norwegian waters, a Dane in Danish waters or a Briton in British waters, must have the right to order the offender to the nearest port and to confiscate, for the time being, his gear. Power must be granted to bring the offender to trial before an agreed international court where the penalties will be of no light order. Unless we do that we are beating the wind in all our pious hopes about over-fishing, and we are certainly wasting money and conducing towards the doom of the industry by Measures such as the one before us today.
I now wish to discuss conditions in trawlers. It is one of the aspects of fishing of which I have a limited practical knowledge. I have been on a trawler, but I have spent much more time in herring boats, in seine net boats, and in hand line boats. However, I have been on a trawl cruise at sea and I have seen the conditions under which the men work. It is a very hard life. I welcome that part of the Bill which sets out to improve the working and living conditions of the men. But what the trawl man wants in greater measure is a sense of security, a feeling that all possible steps are being taken to safeguard his livelihood from the longterm point of view by protecting the shoals of fish upon which his living depends. A lovely stateroom at sea, advisable though it may be, will not put a loaf in the bread bin for the family at home. That can only be done by the catch in the hold. That position must be safeguarded and it can only be safeguarded by forceful action on the part of the Government. If need be, they must take a positive and definite lead. In the case of home waters I believe that the mention of possible sanctions against foreigners who contravene our rules and regulations, would have a good effect, because we are still a large purchasing country for foreign fish.
I have endeavoured to confine my remarks to technical details with which I am more or less cognisant. The Bill is a pale, anaemic shadow of what we should have from the Government with regard to the fishing industry. I resume my seat with the appeal that the Government should lose no time in grappling with the problem of overfishing. The time is long past when something should have been done. Action should have been taken long ago. Unless steps are taken soon to protect our fisheries in the manner I have outlined, then heaven alone can help our fishing industry.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has spoken with great authority on a matter of which he has great knowledge and he has impressed us all, I am sure, with the need for what he referred to as the impartial supervision of all fishing waters whether they be distant, near or inshore. It is with regard to the supervision of inshore fishing that I wish to speak. I intend to plead for the transfer of the functions of the local sea fisheries committees to the Minister's Department where he would be assisted by an advisory committee which would enable him to get the benefit of the advice which he receives at the moment from the sea fisheries committees. In doing that, I am sure that I have the support of the hon. Member for Banff, because in his country, the very thing for which I am pleading already applies.
It is a misfortune that in England and Wales we are not so advantaged. The present position, as I am sure the House is already aware, is that we have some 11 local sea fisheries committees drawn from representatives of local authorities within counties having seaboards. Perhaps I could call them maritime counties. They are charged with the responsibility of controlling inshore fishing by maintaining adequate supplies of adult fish, seeing to the size of the mesh of nets, limiting the size of crabs and lobsters and prohibiting the pollution of inshore fishing waters.
The method by which these committees carry out their functions is by enforcing their respective bylaws—because each committee will have its own bylaws—through patrol vessels and fishery officers. The finance which is necessary for this purpose is provided by precept on the counties having maritime borders and on the county boroughs within those counties. It is for that reason that I who represent one of the constituencies in Manchester, and who at first sight might seem to be intruding in a Debate on fishing, am in fact vitally interested on behalf of my constituents, many of whom contribute for no advantage whatever to the supervision of the inshore fishing waters in other areas. Might I draw the attention of the House to what are the defects of the present arrangement; might I suggest what change should be made; might I then mention the others who agree with what I am suggesting; and, finally, might I ask the Minister who replies to the Debate to say what he proposes to do about it?
The present position is entirely unsatisfactory on three main grounds. In the first place, there is a complete lack of integration, because the control effected beyond the three-mile limit is not the same as that within the three-mile limit. Moreover, there are different by-laws effected as between different adjoining areas. I should have thought that, where all were concerned with the maintenance and future prospects of our fishing industry, my right hon. Friend would have been pleased to have a slogan declaring that, under a Labour Government, little fishes live longer, but if so, he would have to have some kind of underwater neon sign saying to the fishes in a particular area, "If you wish to live longer, go north," or to the crabs, "If you do not want to be caught at present, travel south," and similar messages. What I am trying to point out is the ridiculous position existing at present through having divided control, not only between the three-mile limit and beyond, but between area and area.
The effect of these committees has in my view been nil, and I cannot illustrate that more satisfactorily than by giving to the House the figures relating to prosecutions, because, of course, they are the measure of the success which has been attained by these committees. I apologise for burdening hon. Members with figures, but they will have no difficulty in fully comprehending them. I am proposing to give the figures for each individual area, of which there are only 11. The total amount collected, which may serve as a guide to hon. Members, is £27,500, and the main function of the committees is to see that these provisions are enforced.
The cost of prosecution and law expenses generally is therefore an indication how much is devoted to the essential purposes of these committees. May I give the official figures in detail for the year 1945–46, which is the last year for which I have detailed figures? They are as follows: Cornwall, nil; Cumberland, nil; Devon, nothing; Eastern, the same again; Kent and Essex, nil; Lancashire and Western, in which my constituency is situated and which has this year contributed one-half of the total amount of the receipts of the sea fisheries committee altogether, nil; North Eastern, nil; Northumberland, nil; Southern, nil; South Wales, nil; and Sussex—and there is no prize in case any hon. Member has guessed—nil; total, nil.
That is the measure of the effectiveness of the sea fisheries committees in carrying out their duties in that year. I have only one further figure for 1947–48 and it is in total only. It shows that, out of total receipts of £46,750, the total expenditure on prosecutions and law expenses generally was £39. Those of us who are acquainted with the law and with the need for providing members of the legal profession with an adequate standard of living will know that for £39 we cannot get a great deal of valuable legal assistance.
These committees are by their very nature incapable of carrying out their functions, and in fact they have been found to be incapable of carrying them out. Their major defect is that the finance provided for them falls quite inequitably on different parts of the country. Scotland has its own inshore fishing control which is centralised in the Department for which the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench is responsible. Its revenue for that purpose is derived out of taxation, and my constituents are paying through their taxation for part of the cost of controlling the inshore fishing waters of Scotland.
Moreover, there is no reason why my constituents should pay towards the cost of controlling fishing on the Lancashire seaboard any more than any other county boroughs adjoining or perhaps not very distant which are not situated within a county which has a maritime border and which therefore make no contribution whatever. The present way of collecting revenue for this purpose is wholly inequitable, and that is one of the reasons why this quite useless method of supervising inshore fishing in England and Wales should in my view be altered.
I have made it quite clear that what is necessary in this case is that this supervision should be taken over by the Department of Fisheries in the Ministry. Scotland is already satisfied because Scotland already manages her own affairs. There was a report of the Sea Fishing Commission in 1936 which went into this matter very fully and recommended whole-heartedly that the change which I am advocating should take place. I would go further and say that there was a most excellent letter written by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1944 and addressed to the various sea fisheries committees, which put forward, in far more telling language and with far more adequate arguments than I could possibly hope to present, the case which I am making, and I should like to quote one short paragraph from that letter, which reads:
Summed up briefly, the advantages of centralised administration may be said to be (a) more effective policing and enforcement of regulations, (b) much greater simplification and co-ordination of regulations generally round the coast, and (c) greater scope for such items as scientific investigation for schemes of development of shell-fisheries, and for harbour accommodation, etc., owing to the money available being centralised and capable of diversion to those areas where schemes are most urgently needed.
At the moment, with the money being collected locally and available in such small quantities to individual sea fishery committees, the main task is quite beyond them, because they have not got adequate funds to provide themselves with the people to do the job. This is a ridiculous situation, and I cannot understand why some action has not been taken to bring it to an end. I can think of only one reason why no such discussions have taken place between the Ministry and the sea fisheries committees or the Association of Sea Fishery Committees itself. Of course, it surprises nobody here that those who were engaged in this interesting job had a vested interest in a very pleasant task in now and again taking trips out to sea in very pleasant circumstances. They regarded their job as an entertaining one. They thought that their own occupations and responsibilities ought to be continued.
It would surprise none of us politicians that these people thought that these jobs should be continued, but this is not the point of view of the local authorities of whom these people were representatives. It is not the view of my own authority in Manchester, or, indeed, of the representatives of the Manchester Corporation on the local sea fishery committee. Nor is it the view of the Association of Municipal Corporations, on whose authority I can say that the views which I am putting forward here are also their views. My right hon. Friend knows that the facts which I have stated are not entirely new; he knows that a Commission in 1936 advocated this change, and he also knows that there is really no reason for putting it off any longer. For all these reasons I hope he will give this matter further consideration. If he will not do that I would put this question to him. In view of his responsible position, would he please tell me why what is good enough for Scotland is not good enough for England and Wales?
Owing to absence from London, I only saw this Bill this morning; but I do not think that is at all important, because there is so little in the Bill that very little could have been done beyond consulting those in the industry who are acknowledged experts and still in the trade.
The basic problems facing this industry are not touched at all by this Bill, that is over-fishing on the one side and inadequate preservation, on the other. I have spoken many times in this House on over-fishing, and I recently asked a Question of the Minister of Agriculture as to what progress was being made with regard to the protection of the North Sea and near water grounds. He referred me to the other inadequate Bill which brought in the increased size of mesh and which is not even operated yet. In a supplementary question I asked why he did not call a conference at Ministerial level of the other nations who fish the North Sea, instead of leaving it to civil servants who are obviously bogged down and making no progress whatsoever.
It seems to me that the Minister of Agriculture is not justified in assuming that this is a Foreign Office matter. He is responsible for the production of food in Great Britain, and fishing is the second greatest food producing industry. I feel confident that if he could get his opposite numbers in those other countries—in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland. France, Spain and Portugal—round the table, men of good will and good intention would realise the awful destruction going on by over-fishing in this heritage common to us all. They would realise that unless it is stopped there will be no fishing whatsoever.
What are the facts? The North Sea and the near waters have been there for two or three million years or more in the same shape and form. That is a statement of fact. It was given to me by the Curator of the British Museum and by his neolithic experts many years ago. In the majority of those years the fish lived and died natural deaths, I suppose, and even in the days of the sailing smack the seas were protected; because the smacks could not keep their trawlboards on the ground in rough weather. They were bucking about, and in that way the fish were protected. In calm weather they could not tow their gear, because they could not sail quickly enough. Fifty years ago, in Billingsgate Market here in London, there was a period of over two weeks in the height of the Summer when there were no fresh fish supplies at all, because of the flat calm prevailing all round the coasts.
As one hon. Member said earlier—I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie)—steam trawling was introduced about 1888. That was the first steam trawler. The industry did not operate steam generally until the early nineties—1892 to 1898. So that that big development in the North Sea trawler occurred less than 60 years ago. Here we have the North Sea in existence for two or three million years with no fishing at all. Then, in the space of less than 60 years—with the interval of two world wars when the seas were protected for something like 10 years, bringing it down to less than 50 years in all—we have man-made machines reaping without sowing; taking the large and the small; throwing overboard the immature which we do not see and which is the most harmful of all and disturbing the sea bottom. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff called it the spawning ground, but it is more than that. It is the feeding ground. The sun is the giver of life in the sea, and these banks which we fish are the highest points of the sea bottom. The marine growth, which provides the food on which the fish live, is bred and matured by the sun, and as they flow the flower drops back on the bed of the sea and that is what the fish eat. The steel trawl, biting into the sand and the mud, and the food, destroys it all. This is what has brought the industry to the position in which it is today.
The point I wish to make is one of vast importance to the whole of the future of the industry. North Sea trawlers are not being built for lack of money; lack of loans. If there was any sign of North Sea fishing paying there would be plenty of money forthcoming from private enterprise sources to pay for the craft required. Here I would strike a warning note. I think it is risky, and may be cruel, to give inducements to hard-working fishermen—who do not know all the aspects as do those of us with greater experience—to embark on this project and put their savings into the purchase of a boat at this time. With the Ministry putting up 40 per cent., the man would have to pay a big sum of money. I think a trawler would cost from £90,000 to £100,000, and it would leave a huge sum of money to be found by the fishermen. The point is that there is ample money for the provision of boats if it was a paying proposition to go out and fish the North Sea and the near waters.
When I read the Bill this morning I felt that the Minister's defence of the building of North Sea trawlers might be that those boats which are now fishing, and which cannot pay today, cannot do so because they are old. I will admit that they are mostly old boats; but this morning I rang up the owner of a modern diesel fleet, probably the most modern fleet fishing in the North Sea—90-footers and diesel-engined. He tells me that they are losing money, because they cannot get fish in paying quantities at the prices now prevalent. That does seem to me to be the great point. I doubt if the £10 million referred to in this Bill will be used at all; and if it is, and no protection given, the money will be lost.
I would beg the Minister to give this matter more serious consideration. I do not know whether he was in the Chamber when I talked about the desirability of holding conferences at Ministerial level with his opposite numbers in other countries, but I think that that is the solution of this difficulty. The nations must get together on this point. If they start jockeying for position and saying, "We must have more boats than in 1938," then failure will result.
They have before them the wonderful results of the conservation scheme introduced by the United States of America and Canada. Some years before the war these two friendly Governments took the whole of the Pacific Ocean, from Alaska right down to the Mexico border, thousands of miles, and divided it into four areas so far as halibut was concerned. Halibut is the second biggest product from the Pacific Ocean, second to salmon; cod, oddly enough, comes a long way down the list. The halibut fishery was a great fishery, but was going the some way as the Fraser River salmon went some years before, through over-fishing. These two Governments both passed laws making it imperative that fishing should begin by law on a certain date, and it should end as and when a certain tonnage of fish was taken from each of the four areas. The Government controlled the quantity that could be taken from the Pacific Ocean, and within twelve months an improvement was seen. The fish were slightly bigger and the catches slightly better and that has improved ever since. That is quantitative control.
I have a letter here from the Chairman of the British Trawler Federation, which, with the leave of the House, I shall read. I had a question about overfishing which I referred to him for his views. I received this letter this morning, although it is dated 5th May:
In connection with the overfishing problem, I am grateful to you for your help in this matter. It is a matter of the deepest concern to me that nothing has been done to implement fully the provisions of the 1946 Convention. The position in the home waters goes from bad to worse"—
that is the subject which we are discussing today—
and we have now reached a position which would suggest that the situation is even worse than that of 1939. I cannot understand why our own Government have not yet made the order increasing the size of the mesh as I know of no reason for the delay. I am convinced that there is only one solution to this problem of overfishing, and that is a quantitative regulation governing the amount of fish which may be taken from the North Sea fishing grounds each year. I know the difficulties associated with such a proposal, but they must and should be overcome. I shall appreciate all the help you can give the industry in this direction.
That letter is from Mr. Croft-Baker, Chairman of the British Trawler Federation which is the body controlling the operations of trawlers in the North Sea. The writer of that letter is asking for the same as the Canadians and the Americans have. It does not matter whether it is done on a quantitative basis or whether it is done by having a close season. It is right to protect salmon and grouse. Why is it wrong to protect cod and haddock which are a million times more important to the food of the people?
I looked into this question recently. I am no fish biologist or scientist, but it does seem to me that it would be worth serious consideration to prohibit fishing on all the principal banks from 31st December to 31st March. Those three months would cover most of the varieties of fish. Such an arrangement would allow the species to reproduce itself. Until we have that, we shall never get the fishing industry on a permanent and profitable basis. I ask the Minister seriously to consider the suggestion which I made about a conference at Ministerial level. I remember the days when I was in the industry and we looked upon foreigners as enemies, but when we got to know them we found that they were very decent fellows with the same problem as we had. This problem concerns their livelihood and the fishing heritage of all the nations which fish in the North Sea.
I have mentioned the two main problems. The first I said was overfishing. The second is inadequate preservation. We have heard a good deal this morning from various Members about the better means of transport that should be used for the fish between the port of landing and the shop. Some Members have said that the conditions in the shops should be improved. All these things may be true, but surely the clue was given by the right hon. Gentleman who said that voyages on an average of 23 days are made. I believe they are more than 23 days. I believe they are nearer 28 days, since the Minister of Food encouraged the long-distance fleets to head their fish at sea. That was a tragic mistake; I am sure the Minister knows that as well as I do. It means an awful loss of feeding-stuffs. It is difficult enough to land fish in good condition, and we are making those conditions worse.
It must be radically wrong to use ice as a preservative of fish for upwards of three weeks. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research some years ago sent teams out to sea not in specialised trawlers but in operating commercial trawlers. They proved conclusively that after the fourth day fish deteriorated rapidly in ice. Actually the deterioration starts from the moment they are caught; it is increased the moment the fisherman puts his knife into the gut and rips it open, and it goes on steadily. From the fourth day onwards it goes on rapidly. That knowledge was printed in Blue Books which were circulated among Members of Parliament and the industry. Nothing at all was done about it.
When the industry had fished out the nearby banks bigger trawlers were built and they fished further away. That was enterprising and courageous, but I believe it was wrong because the means of preservation were not altered at the same time. Ice was good enough for fish which were brought in from the Dogger Bank to the Humber, a distance of 80 or 100 miles; the boats were out two or three days or up to a week. But that same old-fashioned method of preservation was being used by these trawlers which were fishing much further away. I do not care whether the holds are lined with aluminium or whether they are not lined at all; if ice is used as a refrigeration for upwards of three weeks it is totally wrong, and, if only the industry realised it, they are their own worst enemies.
There is a huge supply of fish unsold today, and the fishermen and the owners are kicking. Four Icelandic carriers arrived with 44,000 kits containing 10 stones each—not trawlers but carrier vessels bringing the catches of many trawlers to this country. Of course, the market is depressed, because a lot of stale fish is being distributed to the public. It is the hunger of the people which has made fishing and farming profitable operations; the least the industry can do is to bring in food of good quality, and the least the Government can do is to insist that the industry does this. It can be done without scientists. The Minister said that scientists are working on this problem of freezing fish at sea. I froze fish at sea many years ago, and on land, too. There is no problem in freezing fish—I do not care how it is done. Our trawlers are the most efficient killers; they are almost too efficient. Our seine nets are equally so. That is one operation. The second operation is preservation, and the third is transporting to market. One of our main failures is that we are trying to unite these three operations in one in the hull of one craft.
We should send out factory ships which are floating freezers with a large capacity for freezing so many tons a day—100, 200 or 250 tons a day. Do not bother about processing. Do not do any work at sea which can be done as well or better on land. That is a mistake. The great thing is to catch the fish, and the trawler will do that. The next thing is to preserve it. The floating factory will do that. The third thing is to bring it to market. It can be brought to market by refrigerated cargo vessels just as it was created, without being gutted. It will then reach the public in the condition in which it was at the time of capture, and the public will get good quality. This will bring a stability in price level which we do not enjoy at present. We shall get rid of this accursed cycle of feast and famine, both of which are fundamentally wrong, and it will help us to get an even distribution. It will be better in every way. We shall be left with the gut and the head for fish meal and cattle feedingstuff—something which we desperately need.
In a company with which I was connected we bought the old "Highland Enterprise" from the Nelson Line about 16 years ago. She was built in the early days of the frozen meat trade between Patagonia and Britain. We decided to alter her into a factory ship. We had ideas. It had never been done before; at least, one other firm in Hull had done it but they had been secretive and we did not know what they had done. We took this old meat ship and we used her refrigeration as it was. We put in brine tanks, that is, cold salt water tanks. We took the fish out of the salt water which is its natural element and put it into colder salt water and froze it. We operated for three or four years in days of plenty. We had to compete with all kinds of cheap fish from the distant grounds, and with cheap food from overseas. We brought in catches of between 1,200 to 1,500 tons of halibut at a time—the finest quality halibut obtainable. In those days of abundance we had to sell at poor prices, at 3s. or 4s. a stone. Today it would make from 40s. to 60s. a stone. We did not cover expenses, but that is what we did 16 years ago.
I think I can understand why this has not been done by the industry. It is because of the savage taxation which prevails today. The trawler owner looks at the position and says, "Everything I earn goes back in the form of taxation so why should I attempt to find a better method of preservation? If I lose money on it the losses are all for my account, but if I make money on it the profits all go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer." The Chancellor is the senior partner in every business in Britain today. That is the deterrent. It is one which probably may concern the Chancellor of the Exchequer more than anyone in this House today, but I respectfully suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that he puts the position to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
If, instead of wasting £10 million on inducing little men—for that is all it may do; attract little men—to risk their savings, why not put one-fortieth, or one-fiftieth or one-hundredth part of it into equipping a factory freezer and sending it to sea? The large type landing craft we had during the war would have been ideal, with their engines aft and a large capacity between the forecastle and the engines for a great, mechanically operated freezer, with the fish coming in at one end and passing through a cold air blast or cold brine so that they were frozen.
If that were done, I can assure the House that fish of the finest quality imaginable would be available and that we should not have to throw fish onto the market on the day it arrives, taking whatever price is offered, good, bad or indifferent. We should be able to put the fish into store and release it in a regular proper fashion according to the needs of the market. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done by this House and by the Government of the day. I hope that this Government will rise to the opportunity. I am only sorry that they have taken so long to produce such an inadequate Bill.
I hope the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) will forgive me if I do not follow him, first of all in the historical review he gave and, secondly, into the technical details which he developed, some of which we have heard two and three times before in this House. He complained of this Bill, as all hon. Members opposite have complained of it; but as they developed their arguments it seemed to me that they were making the greatest possible criticism of private enterprise because, apart from the question of over-fishing, which is dependent on international control, practically all the points introduced from the other side of the House are entirely within the control of the industry. They will not take the steps; it is their own fault.
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale), as well as other hon. Members opposite, spoke of this Bill as a small Bill. Nobody has ever suggested it was anything else bur a small Bill. Yet hon. Members opposite have attempted to make political speeches and political capital, with large-scale speeches on the fishing industry as a whole, on over-fishing and so on. That is an advantage which they have on Second Reading. It will be interesting to see what they can say about this Bill on Third Reading because, so far, they have said little or nothing about the Bill itself and the majority of matters they have raised have been outside the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said the Bill in no way touched the fringe of the industry and he went on to refer to Clause 6 as producing a "super snooper." The real problem, he said, was this question of over-fishing which, of course, depends upon international agreement.
I want to return to the Bill, because it is perfectly obvious to anybody who reads the Bill what it sets out to do. It starts by saying that it is to:
Provide for giving financial assistance to persons engaged in or desiring to engage in the sea fishing industry. …
and a number of other things which I need not repeat. There are several phases of this fishing industry. There was the Inshore Fishing Industry Act which dealt with that phase of the industry; there was the Herring Industry Act, which dealt with that phase; and now this Bill deals with the near-water fishing. The only other part of the industry not yet covered in a similar way is the distant fishing, which part of the industry is making pots of money. In fact, hon. Members opposite have complained that they are dumping too much fish in the country. What are their arguments? One minute they are complaining of one thing and the next minute they are complaining of another.
It ought to be apparent, even to the hon. and gallant Member, that there are two phases in this industry. The distant waters are producing a substantial amount of fish, but the nearer waters are not. There is no confusion. Even the right hon. and gallant Member might understand it.
Perhaps I might deal with one interruption at a time. If the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) had kept his ears open he would have realised that that is exactly what I said, and I have no intention of repeating it. Now the other hon. Member may interrupt.
The hon. Member is confusing what I said. I referred to four Icelandic carriers—they are foreign-owned craft, not British—landing this week 44,000 kits of fish. As a result, some of the British-landed fish at the port of Hull, which the hon. and gallant Member has the honour to represent, has become almost unsaleable—in the case of one craft I know the whole of 1,600 kits landed at Hull went to the fish meal works because of the landing of such a huge quantity by the Icelandic carriers. I am not complaining of British trawlers.
The hon. Member has said nothing I did not know and nothing in contradiction of what I was saying. I was pointing out that the majority of the arguments put forward by the Opposition today are outside the scope of this Bill. This Bill does not cover over-fishing and it does not cover the majority of the arguments put forward.
The hon. Member says, "Quite right, too." I am glad that I have led him up the garden to that position; I have now got him exactly where I wanted him. When we had the Inshore Fishing Industry Act——
Never mind the British Legion; if there is one thing we should do with the British Legion it is to send the British Legion to sea, fishing. When we had the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, hon. Members opposite as well as hon. Members on this side of the House, welcomed it as a small contribution, of advantage to the fishing industry. Will the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) deny that? No? We have had a precisely similar Bill for another phase of the industry. Hon. Members who interrupted me were trying to tell me about the fishing industry, but I was born in it and brought up in it and had the advantage of spending some time at sea, and I know the difference between the blunt end and the sharp end of a ship and do not need to be instructed on the several factors of the fishing industry.
The inshore fishing industry has been dealt with by an Act of this Government. The herring fishing industry has been dealt with. This Bill deals only with a small part of the industry and, therefore, it is only a small Bill. It is just sheer nonsense for hon. Members opposite to develop their arguments so as to say that it is a footling Bill and that it is not of any value at all. It covers the object which the Bill sets out to cover—that is, the near-water vessels. Members of the Opposition cannot agree amongst themselves. Some say they want this phase of the industry developed; others say they do not; and they say that if any of the people engaged in this phase of the industry put their money into it they will only be throwing it away.
It is another example of how the Opposition speaks with two voices. On the Finance Bill they said we ought to save £500 million. Today they are supporting this Bill because it is subsidising private enterprise, and mainly to the advantage of the capitalists. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), who has left the Chamber, argued that instead of the money going to the trawler owner, it went to the builder. There is another typical example of the racket in private enterprise, one section gaining an advantage at the expense of another. So we go a full circle to find that all these matters regarding the cost of the vessels and over-fishing and the other factors are within the control of the industry.
I myself welcome this Bill for the limited object which it sets out to achieve. This Bill will be an advantage to such people as wish to benefit by it. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) ridiculed the Bill because it was providing only £10 million, and only 40 per cent. of the cost of the vessel. He obviously cannot disagree that to be able to borrow money at 2¾ per cent. is an advantage, because interest is much higher elsewhere. What percentage would private enterprise allow? I see no reason why the Government should give a higher proportion than 40 per cent. and encourage people to come into the industry who were not previously in it. This subsidy should have the effect of reducing prices, but nobody opposite has said anything about that. No; hon. Members opposite are concerned only with the other side of the story. Today the price of fish is far too high, and it ought to come down.
The question of accommodation for crews is an important one in the Bill. The older vessels now going to sea have only Botany Bay accommodation. In other words, the accommodation in some of these ships is far worse than that in the convict ships that took convicts to Botany Bay 100 years ago. The owners of some of these vesels have great difficulty in obtaining crews. No wonder. Admittedly—and I speak with some knowledge of reconstruction—it is not easy to reconstruct this type of vessel, but better cooking facilities, better food arrangements, better conditions for sleeping, and better conditions of other sorts can be provided in them which would improve the standard of life at sea in those vessels. These improvements can be carried out by owners, but their main consideration is profit making rather than the comfort and efficiency of their crews. The Ministry of Transport under existing regulations and by future regulations, should use every endeavour not only to improve the standards in the new vessels, but to have reconstruction carried out in those of the older vessels in which reconstruction would be justified.
Another question that has arisen is that of building, and over-building of the larger vessels that fish the distant waters. That question affects Hull, part of which I have the honour to represent here. The large trawler fleet lost a large number of vessels on war service, and there is every reason why those vessels should be replaced. On the other hand, a modern vessel capable of holding a third more fish than a pre-war vessel brings in more fish on each voyage. However, that is a matter for the industry. The industry has got to get together to solve such problems as this, and not look to the Government to solve them for it.
A matter on which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will say something is that of the right of entry. Clause 6 says—and I quote:
Subject to the provisions of this section, an officer, authorised by one of the Ministers shall, on producing if so required a duly authenticated document showing his authority,
have a right at all reasonable times to go on board any fishing boat or enter any premises or vehicle—
I pass over paragraphs (a) and (b) and the Clause continues:
… and to carry out an inspection of the boat, premises or vehicle and to take such samples and carry out such tests as he may reasonably require to do for the purposes aforesaid. …
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Richmond referred to this Clause, and I asked him if there were any new powers in it. I am informed that the trade have no complaint of this Clause, and, as far as I know, the Minister is taking no extension of powers. However, last Saturday the "Daily Express" excelled itself with a story on the front page—which is, unfortunately, not in the copy we have in the Library—that talked about snoopers going into homes. It was another typical example of somebody writing a story of which he did not know the facts. He got a headline and wrote a story around it.
All these premises as well as vessels have to be licensed, and before they are licensed they have to be inspected. Obviously, there is no reason why they should not be inspected. Moreover, the wording of this Clause closely follows that of the Food and Drugs Act, and it is right that fish should be checked from the port to the consumer. Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this point, and to make it quite clear, once for all, that no additional powers are being taken.
There is one matter I would ask my right hon. Friend to consult with the Minister of Transport about, and that is the transport of fish from the ports to its destination. It is all right on the long distance, refrigerator trains, which already run to a time-table. However, when fish is transferred from one train to another at a large junction it is essential that the transfer should be done without delay, and the fish not delayed on the journey, for it is at that time that it goes bad.
The Bill is a small Bill, but it sets out to help a certain phase of this industry, in the same way as previous Acts have sought to help other phases. Arguments raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite can be better raised on another, more appropriate day in a Debate on the fishing industry as a whole. I mean their arguments about over-fishing, international conventions, and so on. I myself would hope in such a Debate to make some contribution.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a question of the Business of the House, let him address his question to the Leader of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] There is no more reason why the Leader of the House should be here today than there is why more of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of the Front Bench opposite should be here.
I am not here instead of those who sit on the Front Bench opposite. I finish on the note on which I began—that by far the majority of the arguments used by hon. Members opposite have been devoted to matters entirely outside the scope of the Bill. They cannot discuss the Bill in spite of the fact that there are important factors in it because they do not know enough about their subject. I make it quite clear that I consider from my knowledge of the industry that there are advantages in the Bill. If the industry do not wish to make use of them, there is no reason why they should, because it is an entirely voluntary scheme. I hope that this Bill will help to bridge the gap between the other Bills concerning the fishing industry which have been introduced into the House, which are welcomed by hon. Members on this side and would be welcomed by hon. Members opposite, if they were not out to make political capital out of the fishing industry.
I gathered from the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) that we had talked on subjects outside the Bill. I think, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that if that were so you would have called hon. Members to order. I also understand that a Second Reading Debate is fairly wide, so I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has very much to grouse about in that respect. He went on to tell us what he knew about the fishing industry and his knowledge, I am sure, is very extensive. He did not make himself very clear but often when he does not want to say very much he shouts very loudly. I think that the Minister of Agriculture must be pleased with the hon. and gallant Gentleman because so far, he is the only person on the Government side who has really supported the Bill in full.
I did not gather that from the hon. Members' speech, but I shall read it again in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is hoping, as I am sure he is not, to become a P.P.S. we cannot support him very strongly.
The right hon. Gentleman must know by now that a lot of people think that the Bill has been introduced in too much of a hurry. I believe that in almost every speech made today hon. Members have mentioned that fact. I should like to add my voice to that criticism because I had letters this morning from people in my own constituency saying that they wished they could have seen me to have a full discussion on the subject before the Bill was introduced. I should like to know who is responsible for the Bill. I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, must be responsible, but, knowing him as I do, I cannot think that he is terribly satisfied with the Bill as it is.
With regard to the fishery committees and the various laws in Scotland and England, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I understand is to wind up the Debate, will know very well, because he is my next-door neighbour, that there have been arguments at times about our by-laws on the North-East coast of Northumberland, whereby we protect berried lobsters and crabs of a certain size. A point which I took up over two years ago is that certain people, probably from the hon. Gentleman's constituency, come to our fishing waters and take these lobsters away. In support of what the hon. Member opposite said, it would perhaps be a good thing to get certain by-laws of that kind rectified for the protection of fish in general.
About a month ago, I saw a deputation of my inshore fishermen, and they asked me to point out at the first opportunity—and I believe that this is the first opportunity—the difficulties which they are having in getting a livelihood. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) pointed out, this Bill does not altogether deal with inshore fisheries, but I think that we have an opportunity to protect and help the white fish industry in general. Therefore, I should like to mention these points. I do not know if hon. Members realise that a 50-foot boat before the war cost about £2,000. It now costs £5,000. A seine net was £6 and now it is £50. A coil of rope was 30s., and now it is £7 10s. That is a tremendous rise in the cost of gear that the men have to provide. Hon. Members may say, "Yes, but the price of fish has gone up." Of course it has, but not sufficient to meet the increase in the cost of gear. Haddock which could be bought for 4s. or 5s. in 1938 and 1939 now costs 7s. 4d.: including 10s. allowed by the Government; codling which were 2s. 6d. to 3s. are now only 5s. 4d. I think that inshore fishermen and all fishermen could stand the enormous increase in the price of gear if there was a tremendous quantity of fish to be caught.
It has been said that there are great quantities of fish in the far fisheries but not in the inshore fisheries and the home waters. Therefore, it is a tremendous business at the moment for these men to pay their way. I think that everybody realises that we are not by this Bill getting any nearer to the solution of what we all want and that is a greater scarcity of fish. The Minister, when he interrupted my right hon. Friend about the convention, said that he was doing all that he could to get on with it. I believe that that is perfectly true. I think that this country always take a lead in that sort of thing; but has enough pressure been brought to bear or enough persuasion?
We have no Minister here from the Foreign Office, who, I presume, are responsible for the actual negotiations. If I am wrong about that, no doubt the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will correct me, but if it is the Foreign Office job to put forward our views on this matter, I think that there ought to have been a representative here today to listen to the points put forward. If it is the job of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, I should like to hear exactly what sort of letters have been written and replies received. What is the actual position in regard to this convention?
So far as I know, one of the ideas of the convention concerned the increase in the size of mesh of the nets. I understand that is to be brought in this year by regulation for our own fishermen, though I am not certain about that. If it is brought in, we may be leading the way, but at the same time throwing a great burden on our own people. Are the Government going to give any help to the fishermen, inshore and others, to supply these new nets which will be necessary under this regulation? I have already mentioned that the price of nets is very high.
We must endeavour somehow to improve the quality of the fish coming into this country. At the moment, controlling the price of fish is apt to increase the quantity rather than to improve the quality, and that matter ought to be considered very seriously indeed. There is no doubt that if exactly the same price is paid for any size and any type of fish landed, the fishermen will not bother about what they supply, so that the housewives, the consumers, do not get the best fish, as they should.
I have made all these points because I think they are of so much more importance for consideration by the Government than the points of view expressed by hon. Members opposite on the merits of the Bill. While their views about the accommodation of the crew are very right and proper, I do not believe that our fishermen will borrow money for an industry which looks like dying out completely. Therefore, I say, as most hon. Members have said: let the Government face up to the fact that the white fish industry is getting down in the doldrums, and fish are becoming scarcer; let us get down to that problem, and not worry about small Bills which may be of no use at all.
I apologise to the Minister for being unable to be here for his opening speech. I was on my way back from North Wales and got here as soon as possible. I should like to say "Welcome" to the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp), because I believe this is the first time he has spoken in one of our fishing Debates in this Parliament.
I am glad to hear it. I did note that we had not had the benefit of hearing his views, owing to his duties as an Opposition Whip. I am sure we must not have heard him correctly when he said that what we are after is a scarcity of fish. I am sure he did not wish to convey that impression earlier on, when I understood him to say that we wanted a scarcity of fish.
I realised what the hon. and gallant Member meant, as I think did most hon. Members. I merely wished to give him the opportunity of putting that right.
Towards the end of his speech the hon. and gallant Member mentioned the insecurity of the fishing industry, and said that there seemed to be no hope for the future. There I must join issue with him and suggest that in the present state of world food supplies, if there is an industry in which, if properly handled, this country has a brilliant future, it is the fishing industry.
But there are enough fish. With the increase in our research facilities, with the work going on at places such as the Research Institute at Lowestoft and with the other activities we have instituted in this Parliament, we shall find still further quantities of fish and, what is more important, find better means of bringing really fresh fish to our people in this industrial community. That is why I think the Government are to be congratulated on introducing the trinity of Bills we have had in the lifetime of this Parliament. This Bill completes that trinity.
On going through the Bill one sees that it contains a number of excellent decisions. I should have liked to see a larger amount of money in the form of loan, because in these days of heavy taxation to get the other 60 per cent. to make up the full amount is not as easy as it would have been in 1939. However, I am certain from our experience of the previous two Acts that we shall have a great response from the people interested in the industry.
What pleases me particularly is the reference to crew accommodation. We on this side of the House have discussed that in our fishing committees and in open Debate in the House, and we have stuck out for as good accommodation as possible for the men who do the real work. It seems to me that in this Bill the Government are moving in a sensible direction. In the main, these gallant men, who provide such a great quantity of our food nowadays, are not very vocal; they do an extraordinarily good job of work quietly, diligently, and efficiently; they have often had their bad times, and have not been counted amongst the great masses of the better organised industrial workers who can make their voices heard.
In putting forward claims for better accommodation it probably never occurs to the fishermen to come to London and fight for it. That is why I think we have a special duty in this House to put their case, if they are not coherent enough to put it themselves. I hope that we shall see great developments in the new boats, especially under this new scheme, with better and better accommodation, so that the men who spend so many days and sometimes weeks at a stretch away from their firesides and homes will have at least as good accommodation while they are doing this very heavy and serious manual work, as they would have if they worked in a factory.
In all previous fishing Debates I have tried to bring the Minister who replies round to the question of research. In this country there are certain industries which do not seem to have made much progress since the time of early man. We go looking for fish, whether as a small boy with a line and a pin for a hook or whether as the skipper in charge of a drifter, just as they must have done in the time of Abraham or in the days of the Romans. There was one bright spot about a year ago, when we heard of a new system by which they were trying to locate fish in Norwegian waters with echo sounding apparatus. I believe that we need to conduct more and more experiments, and any progress that we can foster and any help that can can be given by means of Government funds to make fishing a more scientific pursuit than it was in the times of our ancestors, will be a good job of work for the community.
The provisions for research in processing are of paramount importance to our modern urbanised communities. How often have I myself, in a restaurant, been served a bit of fish whose head or tail must have been sticking out of the box when standing on the quay at Hull? My tummy is very tender and I always seem to get the bit of fish which is slightly "off." It was of interest recently to learn of the many people who have been treated under the new National Health Service with slight tummy complaints, with perhaps half a day's illness, because of eating, in a restaurant or at home, a bit of fish which was slightly "off." I am sure that often occurs in our urban communities, where the fish is handled by many people, and perhaps lies on the slab for an hour or so in the sunshine, perhaps after standing for some time at a railway station. Someone gets that bit of fish, and I always seem to be the one. If we can avoid contamination of fish, and make the same progress that has been made in the manufacturing of bread, so that we can ensure the fish is uncontaminated by the time it gets to the consumer, we shall have made great steps forward.
I hope that the sea fishery officers will have the same good relationship with the men as the Herring Industry Board officers have in the ports I have seen when running the work of the Herring Industry Board at the height of the season.
I know that there is further business to be conducted, and I shall not detain the House any longer. I hope it will go out from the House today that we have learned a lesson from the interwar years. The North Sea was soon emptied of fish after the war was over. It is a point in our favour that last year the Minister came forward with this international convention. I only wish he could get all the countries surrounding the North Sea to give the North Sea a chance to be restocked again. We are united on all sides in urging the Minister to get his foreign colleagues to allow the spawn a chance to give us more fish for the very difficult years which lie ahead. On behalf of Yarmouth, the East Coast and Norfolk, I welcome this Bill and hope there is more to come so that we may have greater progress.
I do not think Members on this side can take any objection to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn). He certainly did not blow his own trumpet to the same extent as his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey), but nevertheless he probably knows just as much about the subject. Nearly every Member who has spoken today has complained about the speed with which this Bill has been introduced, but I do not think nearly enough protest has been made. This Bill came out on Friday, 13th May, and most Members probably did not get a copy until Monday morning. I had to be away from the House on the Friday. I telephoned the Vote Office on Saturday to post a copy to me so that I could get it on Monday morning, but owing to the Postmaster-General and his staff, the Bill did not reach my home until Tuesday. I daresay I am not the only Member who would not have received the Bill till Tuesday, and probably there are some hon. Members who received it even later in the week.
This Bill concerns very intimately both owners and crew. The owners want to discuss it and call meetings to decide what approach they want to make to Members of Parliament, and exactly the same applies in the case of the crews. Of the crews, probably three-quarters were at sea at the time the Bill came out, and probably half of these will not have returned to port before the Second Reading is over and finished with. There are also thousands of people engaged in processing and wholesaling who want to read the Bill. They, too, want to get their lawyers to tell them its purposes and then approach their Members of Parliament. None of these people had a proper chance. In the case of Members of Parliament, they have only had this week in which to study the Bill, a week in which we have had to deal with important and controversial Measures, including the Licensing Bill, the Ireland Bill and the Finance Bill, as well as debate the work of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I am sure that it was not the Minister of Agriculture who has been so inconsiderate. He has probably taken his orders from the Minister of Food, who has told him that it does not matter what the Tories think about it; perhaps after today's Debate the Minister will have discovered that some of his own supporters are also not too pleased about the speed with which it has been thrust upon them.
I do not think the Minister would have dared to have done this sort of thing in the case of an agricultural Bill, because he knows that the National Farmers' Union would have been in an uproar and the farming papers full of complaints about it. But in the case of the fishing industry it is quite different, because the periodicals are not so widely read. When my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dug-dale) challenged the Minister on whether he himself had taken the time and trouble to consult the Trawlers' Confederation and one or two other bodies he gave no reply. I feel that had he committed them he would have got up and put the matter right without further ado.
We have heard a good deal today about the Convention which the Government called in 1946 to discuss the size of mesh and small fish being returned to the sea, and so I do not want to dwell on that. It is, however, true that only six out of the 12 countries concerned have signed that agreement. Members have suggested that some pressure should be brought to bear on those who have not signed, or that we should hasten them in some way or other. I have a suggestion to make in the case of at least two of the countries concerned which are sending vast quantities of fish to this country. Iceland is sending fish in at the rate of 70,000 tons a year, which is a quarter of the total. Iceland is a country which has not signed the Convention, and here I believe the Government have a weapon in their hands, because they can say that if these countries do not quickly sign the Convention, they need not land any more fish here. When these countries have signed the Convention, the Government should be careful to see that steps are taken to ensure it is carried out. I suppose that certain examinations will be made at the ports. At the present time we are short of fishery control vessels, but it remains essential to see that those countries who have signed stick to the agreement.
I want now to refer to a point which has already been mentioned, and that is to Clause 11 under which the first part of the Sea Fishing Industry Act, 1938, is annulled. That is the one Act which might have been of some use to us, and it is an Act we really want. I should like to remind Members, as it has not been made amply clear, what was in that Act. It dealt with marketing boards, keeping under review of the white fish industry and advising and assisting the Minister. The boards had to keep a register of all fishing and consider marketing schemes. They could make regulations, and prepare co-operative schemes, and they could obtain contributions for research work. All these are very valuable matters to the fishing industry, and they are matters which the Minister is trying to encourage in the case of the agricultural industry. The Minister introduced a special marketing Bill not very long ago for agriculture, and if that step is necessary in the case of agricultural products, it would surely be a good thing in the case of the fishing industry. But that is the one thing this Bill annuls.
I do not want to dwell on overfishing, because so much has been said about it already, but unless we deal with it, we shall have unemployment in the industry—it seems a pity that the fishermen should starve while the Government bring these petty Measures before the House. These fishermen are the finest types in the country. They go to sea for from 10 to 20 days at a time and fish day and night. They have had their good days and their bad, but the one thing they want is stability. We want to help them by encouraging the people of the country to eat more fish but what is happening is that much coarse fish is being landed and is taking away the people's appetite for fish. It is the same sort of thing as happened last year when cherries were brought into the country just before the Kent crop ripened. The market was flooded with cherries before the excellent products of the Kent fields were ready. We can see the same thing happening in the House of Commons at the present time. I had a plate of strawberries yesterday, for which I paid 1s.—presumably they were Dutch strawberries. They were dark red, spongy and beastly, and without any taste. These bad strawberries are spoiling the market before our own products have ripened. In the same way coarse fish is killing people's appetite for fish.
There are two small points, which may be Committee points, but which I want to make so that the Minister may have a chance of thinking about them. Aggregate loans are to be £10 million. I am not sure whether that money can be used for equipment such as nets as well as for other purposes. Under Clause 3 there can be a fine for contravention of the order, which applies to the owner and the skipper. Under the Merchant Shipping Act, as the Minister will remember, the agent was also liable, and perhaps it may be advisable to bring this Bill into line with that Act. I had a letter from one of my constituents who noticed that lobsters came under the Bill, and who wrote strongly about the cruelty involved in bringing live lobsters in cases from Scotland for display on fish slabs in the south of England while still alive. I do not know the Government's view on this matter, but perhaps the Minister will see whether any cruelty is involved in this practice. I would like to join with my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying that we would have preferred to see the Government put first things first and deal with the large problem of overfishing rather than merely bring in a little Bill such as this.
I think that the only redeeming feature about this Bill was the self-conscious way in which the Minister introduced it. I felt he was as much seized of the inadequacy of what he was proposing as any Member in the House. I was rather reminded of what Lloyd George said about Mr. Willy Graham when he introduced the Coal Mines Act, in 1930. He said it was a tribute to the intelligence and integrity of Mr. Graham that after six months with the Bill, and in a two-and-a-half hours' speech, he could find no good reason for commending it to his fellow Members. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Bill is most inadequate, although that is not to deny support for any improvement in the conditions of the men who go to sea in trawlers. I feel, however, that, working day and night, as they do, when actually fishing, many of the proposed amenities will not be of much use——
Is the hon. Member aware that much of their time is spent in going to and from distant fishing grounds? Does he suggest that because the men are busily engaged they should live like convicts when they are not fishing?
The men have a certain amount of spare time when they are going out to the fishing grounds, but not so much when they are coming back. It takes three or four days to get to the fishing ground, and while I do not object to these amenities I say there is limited opportunity for the men who do this work to take advantage of them. I am sure we all pay our tribute to our trawler men, who are the finest in all Europe—a fact which is admitted by other nations who would like to have the sort of fishermen we produce.
It is absurd for the right hon. Gentleman to come here with this Bill, because it is not even a sprat to catch a mackerel. We have not been told what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do to safeguard the position of the fishing industry. What is the good of offering loans to build ships with which to fish for phantom fish? Until we get the basic prob- lems settled we shall never get anywhere. I have been impressed by the fact that no one in the Ministry seems to have these problems in hand, and I should like to make a suggestion: it seems to me that fishing problems are bandied about between two or three different people who constitute the Ministers at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. It seems that if they have a little time to spare they pick up something to do with fishing. In those circumstances it is unlikely that the job ever gets the attention it deserves.
I therefore suggest that there should be a change in the internal organisation of the Ministry, that the Government should appoint someone in the House, or in another place, to deal exclusively with fishing questions and make them his sole responsibility. It should be someone's task specifically to deal with and think about these problems——
I propose to say what the attitude of the Conservative Party is, and I think it is more intelligent and enlightened than the views which have been expressed by some Members opposite today.
It is obvious that our balance of payments position, which will perhaps get worse rather than better in the next few years, makes it essential that we should have a healthy and prosperous fishing industry. We must take steps to see that the industry has security. On the question of over-fishing, all the Minister does is to say, "I called a conference at which so many people signed a convention and so many nations ratified it, and I cannot do any more." But the right hon. Gentleman can do more; one of the principal countries concerned which has not yet ratified the convention is Iceland. If Iceland is dependent upon this country as a market for her fish surely we can use pressure to get her to sign.
I did not say that we have the right to compel, but I think we have the right to say, "The interests of fishing generally demand that the convention should be adhered to. If you choose not to ratify it that is all right but, if so, we cannot allow fish to come here which is caught by people who will not accept standards which we believe to be essential for the preservation of the industry."
The solution to the problem is that nations must subscribe to the restrictions and regulations laid down. It is true that the more immediate problem is the stocking up of the near waters, which is most important, but we can make those nations take action if we use our position as a large importer in order to get them to sign these regulations.
Will the hon. Gentleman develop the other side of the argument? Having refused Iceland permission to land fish here, if Iceland decides to take its trade and orders from this country what will the position be? Will the hon. Gentleman face up to the sanctions they would impose on us?
I hope to do that in a short time. The building of ships, for example, by this country for Iceland with money provided by us, is a very dangerous thing for the British industry at the present time, and the whole policy in that connection ought to be reviewed. Restriction in the size of fleets is essential if this industry is to have a prosperous future, and the right hon. Gentleman should be able to do something along those lines. If we cannot get agreement amongst all the nations, we must get an agreement among the greatest possible number so that the restrictions on the size of fleets will ensure that those operating will have a reasonable chance of earning a livelihood.
On this side of the House we are concerned with the fact that the establishment of a marketing board for fish has been put out of the question altogether. In fact, the Government have taken away the provision which enables a board to be set up. The Parliamentary Secretary must tell us what are the intentions of the Government in regard to a marketing board for fish, because obviously such questions as stabilised prices, improved handling and freezing facilities could be dealt with by a marketing board.
I come to the question of the control of foreign imports. This is going to be a serious thing in a very short time. Yesterday the Minister of Agriculture gave me an answer in which I believe there was a clerical error. He answered my Question by saying that the percentage of foreign imports at the present time was 13 per cent. of the total landings. I do not think that that is the case.
I have the figures here of the landings. The total amount was 195,000 tons and the total foreign imports were 63,300 tons. That makes the percentage of foreign imports of something like 33 per cent. of the total landings. It occurs to me that the right hon. Gentleman's Department made a mistake in giving the answer of 13 per cent., for it certainly appears to be very much bigger. Anyhow, if the right hon. Gentleman will look into the point he can make a correction later on if that is necessary.
The fact remains that the foreign landings this week have materially upset the market for fish in this country, and I should like to tell the House what I have heard is the cause of it. I understand that the Germans were unable to take their normal deliveries from Iceland, and the Ministry of Food here was approached to know what could be done about it. They said, "Send the lot here," and that is what happened. Four carriers with I believe 48,000 kits of fish came here, and I believe that next week more of this fish will arrive, doing great damage to the home producer in this country. I do not know what has happened between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, and whether the right hon. Gentleman heard about the intended delivery of these 48,000 kits which normally go to Germany. I should have thought if he had been consulted he would have prevented the Minister of Food from giving permission to land such a huge quantity of fish to the detriment of our own producers.
Yesterday I asked the right hon. Gentleman what he proposes to do about the foreign landings of fish spoiling the market for our own producers, and he said it would be dependent upon the conditions at the time. If he is going to ask people to expend a lot of money upon building new boats at very high cost—and they are a very high price—then the industry has a right to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he intends to do about the foreign deliveries if there is not going to be market for the home producers' catches. The Parliamentary Secretary should say what is the attitude of the Government to this all-important question of foreign landings, which are now two and a half times what they were before the war. This is a question to which the hon. Gentleman must give an answer if he is to get the men and the companies to invest huge sums of money in the kind of ships necessary to do this job.
While the hon. Gentleman is deliberately stating the case he wants to make and emphasising a certain point—and I have no complaint to make about him doing that—he is side-stepping the Bill before the House. This Bill does not encourage people to build large trawlers for distant fishing, whence comes the surplus abundance. This Bill is designed to provide loans for vessels for near and middle water fishing, where quality fish is, unfortunately, diminishing in quantity. This Bill is not for people to build vessels for distant fishing, whence comes the coarser fish.
The point put by the right hon. Gentleman is right, but it is also true to say that if foreign fish are going to be dumped into this country vastly in excess of the needs of our people it is going to have a depressing effect on the price of fish generally. It is true that near water fishing gives a better quality of fish and a fair price, although under control that is not perhaps so marked as it ought to be, but the fact remains that if huge quantities of fish are going to be dumped on to the market, which cannot be absorbed and have to be sold for meal, then obviously it is going to depress the industry.
While certain sections of the industry do better than others, it is going to be difficult to persuade men to put their money into a business where there is no security at all. What this industry must have is some form of security. It has numerous hazards to face—hazards of weather and of fish not being there. The Government must give to the industry the greatest amount of security. What can be more ridiculous than to see the Government messing about with an industry like the steel industry and neglecting to take the necessary steps to safeguard such an industry as fishing? We in the Conservative Party—and here I come to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey)—have nearly always taken the view that while State ownership and management were wholly undesirable, and in the main must always fail to meet the needs they seek to achieve, a certain amount of direction by the State was in many instances essential in order to get the right balance and stability.
Of course, in the steel industry too. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not as much an authority on the steel industry as he is on fishing. But it is true to say that there has been, with Conservative acceptance and implementation, a good deal of quasi-Government control of the steel industry since 1932. In the fishing industry, where there are so many natural hazards; where Government action could have such a stabilising effect; where the industry could be got together to great advantage in marketing boards and other schemes, it is remarkable that there is absolutely nothing, with the exception of the Herring Board, to bring about the desired stability. That is obviously a shortcoming which ought to be put right; and if the Government can find time to meddle with insurance and other things they surely can find time to formulate a reasonable scheme for making this industry secure and stable.
Must I persist indefinitely to try to get things into the mind of the hon. and gallant Gentleman? We have already indicated from these benches that means must be used such as ratifying the Convention——
—putting into operation a marketing board and restricting, if necessary, the size of fleets. These are things that have to be done and ought to be done, surely, before the Government comes to the House with a footling Measure which can have no value at all unless there is security. What is the good of putting very nice cabins in the ships for the men if they cannot go to sea and earn a living? What is the good of having nice ships for them to sail in if when they come back their fish has to go to the meal yard? That, obviously, is the point of view which the Government ought to study.
The Bill must of necessity disappoint those who are interested in the fishing industry.
It can only be of value if the Parliamentary Secretary indicates in his reply the firm intention of the Government on the points I have outlined. In the light of our balance of payments position it is essential that we must have a healthy and prosperous fishing industry. The Bill will do little or nothing to make it so.
The right hon. Gentleman has produced a Bill which has not attracted very much praise, and I join in the protests about the precipitancy with which it was produced. We have not had time to discuss with the interests concerned some of the matters which are raised in the Bill. Quite rightly, however, Members on both sides of the House have got on to what matters in this Debate; that is, that the Bill does not deal with the two most important problems now facing our fishing industry. One, of course, is the question of over-fishing. I have spoken of this before and I do not intend to repeat what other hon. Members have said today, but I re-emphasise the point that this problem must be dealt with, as otherwise nothing but disaster lies ahead.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. Delegates from this country have met those from other countries; they have argued about this problem and a certain amount of progress has been made. I am willing to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, for I know he is fully seized of the importance of this question, but we have not yet obtained the results we want to see. I should like to know this: Has he sat round a table with his opposite numbers from the other countries and tried to argue this thing out at that level? If not, the sooner the people at the very top get together and get this matter settled once and for all, the better it will be for the fishing industry.
About the need for rebuilding there is, of course, no question whatever. The Minister gave various figures about the age of certain fleets. I had occasion to go into this question some years ago and I was staggered when I discovered the ages of numbers of ships then in use. I am sorry to say that a great many of those ships are still in commission, a good many years older now that they were then. Some time ago a Committee sat in Scotland on this subject and made certain recommendations; one of these was that the trawling industry should get priority from the Capital Issues Committee in any new buildings which the industry wanted to undertake. I imagine that advantage was taken of that recommendation in the case of the trawlers built since the war, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
But what struck me was that we were then dealing with what was the most depressed section of the trawling industry—the Scottish trawling fleet—and at that time in 1944 the representatives shied off the idea of Government loans. They then thought that they could do the job out of their own capital resources and that they would have no difficulty in raising the necessary loans. I do not know what has happened since then. We suggested that they might get these loans from the Industrial and Commercial Finance Cor- poration. I should like to know whether that corporation has refused to help the fishing industry. I should like to know why the industry have not been able to get loans from that body or from other sources.
I suspect that what has happened is that the fishing industry is now thoroughly alive to the very uncertain outlook before it, and that it is not turning out to be anything like so easy to raise the money as they thought would be the case. Therefore, this loan scheme has been introduced. The outlook is so bad that, so long as the overfishing question remains unsolved, any man who builds a trawler is very unwise indeed. He will be building a trawler at three times the pre-war cost and if there is anything in the nature of a fall in the cost of building he will be faced with a staggering loss of capital. I do not wonder the industry is a bit shy about embarking on building.
Everybody in this House must have absolute sympathy with the provisions of this Bill for securing better accommodation for the men. No good purpose is served by putting any blame on the owners for the accommodation which can be found in some of the ships today. That kind of talk does not get anybody anywhere. One must remember that when these ships were launched they represented the last word at that time. Everybody thought that they were fine ships. We all admit that they are out of date now. Let us fix our eyes on the future and not on the past. Let us try to ensure that the best possible accommodation is provided in future.
There remains the problem of old vessels. They must be kept in commission for some years to come. I suggest that there are some measures which might be taken in this connection. I have been on board a number of these old trawlers. The accommodation is appallingly grim, but one can do nothing about it because one cannot cram more into a pint pot than a pint pot will hold. These trawlers are already full. They are small and out of date. Many of them, including trawlers fishing out of Aberdeen and Granton, going out to Iceland have so little accommodation that they have to start their voyage with a great deal of coal on the deck and not infrequently it is washed into the sea before they reach their fishing grounds. Nothing can be done about that, but something can be done in other respects with these old ships. I have noticed that in many cases the whole appearance would have been greatly improved if the men's quarters had been kept decently painted. I asked about that, and the men said that they had no time to do it. I do not think that they should be asked to do the work. The painting of the crew accommodation might well be done by shore gangs when the crew are having their time off.
One thing must be remembered, and I was impressed by this point because some men spoke to me about it. The bad conditions in some of the smaller trawlers are due in some cases to certain members of the crew. It is most annoying for men who are naturally clean and tidy to have one or two members of the crew who do not take the slightest interest in their quarters. The decent members of the crew ought to be protected against that state of affairs. I do not think that the crew should go off a trawler unless the quarters are left in decent conditions. If they are left in a bad untidy state, I suggest that the owners would be justified in putting a shore crew on board to clean them up, and that then the men who have left them in that state should be charged. This is a matter in which the men's representatives in the unions ought to take a hand. The unions should support the skippers and the companies in the efforts they are making to ensure that a decent, clean standard of accommodation prevails, even if the accommodation itself may be inadequate according to modern ideas.
The other point, which was an outstanding one in the Debate, is the question of the condition of the fish. As the Minister said, this is a question which is much older than the question of control and indeed it has nothing whatever to do with it. If the inland consumers could be assured of the unvarying quality of the fish and of its freshness being unimpaired, one of the greatest obstacles to an expanding market for fish would be removed. The truth is that a very large proportion of the fish landed in this country has been allowed to deteriorate before it reaches the consumer, and, worse still, has been allowed to deteriorate before it was even landed at the port. People who eat such fish do not thereby acquire any zest for a fish diet. This Bill does not really go far enough on this question, and I would like to know if the Minister has paid any regard to the fact of the time spent by a trawler at sea.
Roughly speaking, a trawler fishing oil the Murmansk coast will be 24 days at sea. It takes seven days to reach the fishing grounds, spends 10 days fishing and another seven in coming back. It has been proved that fish will keep in an eatable condition, only if handled in the most cleanly way and kept on ice, for no more than 12 days, which is the absolute limit; 10 is probably much nearer the truth. This means that fish landed from the distant fishing grounds is between seven and 17 days old, and therefore has already deteriorated to a point at which it has ceased to be an acceptable article of diet. That is a very serious loss, because the Minister has said that 58 per cent. of our fish comes from the distant fishing grounds. Therefore, more than half of it has deteriorated before it is landed, so that practically one-third of all the fish landed in this country has already reached a point of deterioration at which it cannot possibly be acceptable as an article of food.
Some way must be found for getting over that difficulty, but I imagine that what is essential is that the big trawlers fishing in the distant grounds should be equipped for quick freezing roughly one half of their catch, which will come home in perfect condition, while the other half may be kept on ice for 10 or 12 days and should also reach port in good condition. The important question which we have to face is that the fish must be landed in prime condition, but there are other things which follow from that. One of these concerns the handling of the fish in various premises after it has been landed, and I think there is much that could be done in regard to dirty premises and the unsatisfactory way in which the fish is handled.
In this connection, I will mention one particular aspect of the handling of fish. When does the Minister propose to start to do something about the way in which fish holds are washed? It is disgraceful to find that dirty dock-water should be used for that purpose, when there should be a hose pipe linked up to a hydrant on the shore so that the washing is done in clean water. Then there is the question of the fittings in fish holds. Non-corroding metal fittings would be ideal, but I understand that the trawler men prefer wooden shelves. If they are to be wooden shelves, the Minister should insist that they are made of hardwood instead of soft, which simply acts as a sponge for bacteria and smells which destroy the quality of the fish. Similarly, on the question of fish boxes, the Minister should see that the softwood fish boxes now in use are replaced by non-corroding metal containers of some kind.
Like other hon. Members on this side of the House, I support this Bill, although it really does not go any distance at all towards the solution of the two big problems which face the industry—the questions of over-fishing and of landing the fish in prime condition.
It is certainly a great relief to me to turn from finance to fish. It is a much more agreeable subject. I was very glad to see how many important representatives from different Departments have been sitting on the Treasury Bench, because this is a matter of much concern to several Departments. I have at the same time noticed that the Parliamentary Private Secretaries' bench has not been so full as the Treasury Bench; but perhaps, in the circumstances, that is not altogether surprising. However, we have certainly no complaint to make about the Treasury Bench itself.
I am sorry to have to say that I still think this is a silly little Bill. I have a feeling that the Minister has much the same view of it himself. I really do not know why there was all this rush and hurry; why it had to be flung at our heads, almost as if it was the American Loan. We got that on Monday and it had to be through by Thursday. At least we have been able to have a discussion on this Bill, but I cannot think what all the pressing hurry was about. I regret this speed; not so much for the fact that we have not had a great deal of time to digest this Bill—because I think that, if one really sits down to it, one can read a Bill through in a couple of days—but it was a pity, because there was clearly inadequate consultation with the industry, both by the Government and by us. I feel that with any Measure, even if it is not very important, it is desirable that those people affected should be carefully consulted by the Government, and by their own representatives in the House of Commons.
I consider the financial assistance provided in the Bill will prove to be inadequate, for two reasons. First, I do not think it is a good risk to buy a near water trawler at the present time. Anyone who is doing that is now taking far too big a risk. To be offered 40 per cent. of the price, at 2½ per cent., by the Government is not a good enough temptation; or at least it would not be good enough for me. That is why I think it will be found that the financial provisions of this Bill will not be sufficiently tempting until certain fundamental things have been done to which a number of hon. Members have referred in the course of this Debate.
I consider that the accommodation Clauses are good. I do not mind the licences either. I have always felt that we shall have to come to a comprehensive licensing system in the fishing industry; and I think a minimum standard of accommodation should be laid down, if and when it can be reasonably carried out. But for the rest, it does not amount to very much. However, it has given us the chance of talking about the fishing industry, and that in itself is a good thing. We do not in this House have too many Debates on the fishing industry. I have never listened to a Debate more interesting than the present one. Many new points have been brought out, and I hope that the Minister will study the Debate very seriously, and see if he can learn something from it.
I wish to ask one question of the hon. Gentleman who is to reply. Does this mean that the pre-war White Fish Commission is now abandoned altogether by the Government, and will never be revived? If that is so, I cannot help feeling that it is a pity. There was great hope that it would achieve the success which has attended the Herring Industry Board, which was set up much about the same time, and which has turned out to be very successful. I have always thought that there should be a comprehensive marketing scheme for white fish, rather on the same lines as the Milk Marketing Board. In fact, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as the hon. Member who is to reply to this Debate well knows, some of us have been pressing the Herring Board very strongly to get a comprehensive marketing scheme for herring; and we have been taking the Milk Marketing Board as an example of how to do it. It seems that this Bill is rather ditching that, and I would like some reassurance on that point. If we are not to have any chance of getting a marketing scheme for this industry I think it a great pity.
That leads me to the question, raised in several speeches, of the decontrol of prices. I am absolutely convinced that with the decontrol of white fish prices we shall get much better quality fish. Under the stimulus of competition I do not think that, after an initial rise, prices will be exorbitant. Clearly good fresh fish, nice fish, would get a better price than stinking fish, I do not know that that is altogether a very bad thing, in all the circumstances. At the present moment, under the control scheme, fresh fish, stale fish, mature fish, immature fish, stinking fish which has been condemned—and I have seen a good deal of it—all get the same price. The consumer is charged exactly the same price for all kinds of fish under the control scheme. I do not think that is good for any industry. I do not think it is good for the fishing industry; because, as so many hon. Members have pointed out, many people in this country are getting a bit fed up with this floppy fish they get served up—to give it the nicest adjective of which I can think.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) referred to the enormous increase in the amount of dogfish and catfish which is now being dished out to the public under the present system of control. That is because there is no premium on quality; and the public are becoming unable to distinguish between good fish and bad fish. What do they call dogfish now?—rock salmon. The first time one orders it in a restaurant it may be acceptable, but it is not acceptable the second time; and, naturally, the entire British public become prejudiced against fish as a whole. If meat was not so short, I would be rather frightened of the immediate prospects for fish.
Therefore, I am in favour of the abolition of control, and the de-control of white fish prices. I should like to add this one proviso. I do not think the transport levy and the flat rate for transport should be abolished. I think it should be continued in all circumstances, and at all times, because it has been proved to be very beneficial to the industry as a whole.
I should like to say a word or two about the question of processing, which has aroused such interest. I am rather sorry that this Bill has made no provision for more intensive scientific research into the methods of processing and preserving. Frankly, I do not think it is feasible to quick-freeze fish on small trawlers. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) was quite right when he said that to freeze fish at a distance in a serious way it is necessary to buy a big ship, a kind of factory ship, and send it out all the way to the distant fishing grounds, in order to get the fish into really cold brine up there and bring it back. He described how he had carried out such an experiment himself. I think it is worth the serious consideration of Ministers.
We must also take more energetic steps about quick freezing in this country. We have made slow progress, considering how long ago it was discovered, and demonstrated quite clearly and almost on a commercial scale by the Torry Institute in Aberdeen. To show the difference between this country and the United States, when I was in America the other day I found that they had a new process of preserving fish which they are developing very rapidly—electronisation. In other words, it is an intensive atomic bombardment of the food, with a tremendous electrical voltage. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that, as a result of this bombardment, which takes place in a fraction of a second, everything immediately ceases to grow. That, I think, is understandable in the circumstances. It is a very much better use of atomic bombardment than other uses which we have been considering in this House from time to time. When I say that everything ceases to grow, I mean exactly what I say; all the bacteria, everything, stops growing. The whole process of growth is interrupted; and, provided the air is kept away from the article of food, growth remains stationary at that very point, indefinitely.
I saw it. It is a most astonishing thing. I saw a mouse that had been electronised about five years ago. It still looked frightened. It was in exactly the same state as it was in at the moment when it was electronised. There was a tiny spot of blood upon its nose, which was in perfect preservation. They tell me they can now "brush" fish—and they are practising with the assistance of the Boston fishing industry with this electronisation process—at a comparatively small depth, to a point which enables it to be kept for a limited space of time in absolutely perfect condition. They are going ahead with this.
I suggest that at least the Minister should send somebody over to the United States to have a look at this process. I saw it and I was absolutely dumbfounded. I think it has a big future. I have a feeling that they are driving ahead with all these scientific inventions and processes faster than us. As I say, I was taken out to see this thing going on in Brooklyn. Some of the best atomic physicists in the world are engaged upon it. I felt there was a pulse, a kind of drive, there; and I thought back to the days when we invented the steam engine and all the other things we invented. I could not help wondering whether there was the same zip over here, so far as scientific research is concerned, that there is in the United States.
That is the extraordinary thing; the taste is the same. There was some difficulty about butter but they have put that right, they told me. This has not yet reached the commercial stage; but I am as certain as I stand here that it will be a commercial process within the next year or two. I think we should be in on it; and I may say that the people over there are quite happy and glad that we should be in on it. It has really gone far enough for the Government to take an interest in it.
There is another point I wish to make. I agree that the policy, which I think was more or less inaugurated by the Ministry of Food, of encouraging the trawlers to behead their fish at sea in wartime has proved to be a great mistake. I think there is no doubt about that, and I believe that a new and definite view should now be taken by the Government. Either it should be decided that it is all right, and that it does not do any damage; or it should be decided that it is wrong. The concensus of opinion in the industry, so far as I am aware, is that it definitely does do damage to the fish, and there is an increased rate of deterioration in the fish on the journey back. If that is the case there is nothing to be said for it, and it ought to be stopped.
The question of imports has been raised incessantly today and, of course, they are the cause of the momentary break in the markets. There is no doubt that the multilateral free-trade boys, who go on making rules for games that are not played, certainly do get around. From Bretton Woods they went to Geneva in the Autumn, to Havana in the Winter, and I see they have now taken Annecy for the Spring. I must say that, whatever their views may be about multilateral trade and reducing tariffs—and they certainly make rules to which nobody pays any attention—they have a very shrewd idea of where to go at any given moment of the year. I think they should be congratulated on that. In fact, I have thought from time to time of becoming a convert to free trade and applying for a job, because it seems to me that you are never out of the sunshine, even though you do not necessarily achieve satisfactory results. Anyway, here they are in Annecy talking away about reducing tariffs, and I think we might take the opportunity to issue a few warning notes.
For example, I think we might say something to Iceland. Iceland is one of the countries which has not ratified the Convention of 1946. That is, in itself, sufficient excuse for our taking pretty energetic steps to prevent Iceland from breaking our home market with sudden importations from large ships. Four huge ships arrived just the other day. I think we should take a roughish line with Iceland and say, first, "It would be a good idea for you to ratify the Convention," and secondly, "We are not prepared in any circumstances to have our market broken by you; and, if necessary, we shall see that there are tariffs upon your imports."
Exactly the same thing applies to Norway. They have ratified the Convention, but I do not think they are putting it into operation. In his speech today the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) said the whole trouble with kippers was dye. He referred to them as the "painted ladies of the underworld;" and for a horrifying moment I thought he was referring to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. I quite agree that these dyed and unsmoked kippers are tiresome. The dye itself does not do any harm. But it can conceal the fact that the kippers are not properly smoked; that does real harm. The dye is quite innocuous. It is a vegetable. However, the fact that the dye can camouflage badly smoked kippers is bad. Far worse are these coarse Norwegian herrings, which we import into this country in the early part of the year, and which are turned into the foulest kippers ever created in the history of mankind.
These kippers, placed on the market for two or three months of the year, do more damage to the kippering industry of this country than all the dye in the world. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to keep them out, and to stick to our West coast fishing. With adequate quick freezing facilities on the West coast, we could get all the kippers we want. So I say it is time for the right hon. Gentleman to consider very seriously the whole question of the import of fish into this country, because it is a vital question—vital to the future of the industry.
That brings me to my last point, which is, of course, the hackneyed point of over-fishing. I think nobody can possibly fail to be impressed by the unanimity of the opinion in this House upon the immense danger of this impending over-fishing of the North Sea. We are all at one on that. I quite agree that the Minister is doing his best, but I hope he has been made sensible to the deep apprehension of this House as a whole over the danger of this business. His own Department in a report a couple of years ago, had something to say about the matter; and made it very clear. I thought I would quote it. I have only two or three minutes left, but as it puts the whole thing in a nutshell—because all this has happened before—I am going to read a part of it, if only to put it on record. It says:
It is common knowledge that after the war 1914–18 there was an uncontrolled scramble on the part of the fishing industries, not only of
this country but of the other European countries interested in the North Sea, to send trawlers and other vessels to those fishing grounds which had been closed for the duration of the war, without any regard to the consequences.
It is exactly what is happening now. It is history repeating itself.
For a year or two large landings and high prices resulted, but the inevitable slump followed and fishing became uneconomic. By the time the last war was in sight most of the British vessels visiting this area were working at a loss, and the prosperity of the near-and-middle section of the trawling fleet was in jeopardy, if not rapidly languishing. The North Sea had, in fact, been overfished, and the same was true of other areas. So many fish had been taken out that the remaining stocks could not maintain themselves.
There is nothing more to be said. That sums up the whole thing. Nothing is any good in this Bill or any other Bill, an adequate Bill or an inadequate Bill, so far as the home water fishing is concerned, if the over-fishing of the North Sea is to go on. It must mean the collapse of the home water fishing and that means the ultimate collapse of the industry as a whole. Of that I am absolutely certain. So I beg the right hon. Gentleman to carry on, even to use sanctions and threats, to be really tough, to get some settlement of this business.
We are all talking about Western Union now. It is vital. But, if we cannot get union and agreement about over-fishing in the North Sea, how shall we get union and agreement about anything else? We depend on this fishing more than ever before, because our supplies of overseas food are less, and will continue for a long time to be less, than we have known them to be in the past. So I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that he will take up this matter of over-fishing again, and raise it in conference, and make the voice of this country heard. This matter is vital, not only to our interests, but also to our existence.
May I, by leave of the House, correct a figure that I gave in my speech? I had been interrupted by the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. S. Smith) on the question of imports, and I went on to say that our landings had increased in 1948 to the total of 235,000 tons. That is a quite incorrect figure. It should have been in the neighbourhood of 970,000 tons.
In spite of the attempts of the Opposition to make a case on the ground of the inadequacy of the Bill, we have succeeded in having an interesting Debate, and discussion has spread over a wide horizon. The principal point of discussion, I think, has centred on the important question of over-fishing in the home and near waters.
I should like to deal with one or two of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) who opened the Debate. He made the point that there was a need for a greater supply of good fish, and that we should have some sympathy for the British housewife. At the same time, he tried to make a point about the danger of over-fishing. That would suggest that we have to draw a line of demarcation between the dangers of over-fishing the better kinds of fish and the pressing need of the people of this country for a greater supply of that fish. That is an important point, and I think that we should spend some little time on that matter. I must, however, correct him when he inferred that the landings of near water fish were beginning to drop considerably. It is true that they have dropped since 1947. Nevertheless, it is a fact that these landings of fish are considerably higher than they were in 1938. As a matter of fact, the difference in yield per day's absence is 14 cwt. in 1938 compared with 23 cwt. in 1948.
Another point on which I should like to answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman is with regard to his objection to Clause 6, which he called—I think I use his words—"a snooper Clause." That is not correct because the position is this: So far as it concerns entry into premises, the powers are exactly parallel to those given to officers of local authorities by Section 77 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. With regard to boats, the powers are not as wide as those possessed by the British sea fishery officers under Section 12 of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, nor are they as wide as the powers of entry conferred by Section 4 of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1933, as later amended. I want to make that plain because there has been some Press publicity to the effect that we are taking some extraordinary powers under this Bill, which is entirely unfounded.
A question of importance referred to by almost every speaker was the international Overfishing Convention. This Government has taken every possible opportunity to achieve a satisfactory result from that convention. In this matter we have taken the lead, and out of the 11 foreign countries who participated in the convention five have ratified the agreement. There is now in operation that part of the agreement concerning the regulating of the size of fish landings. As to the size of mesh, in a former Debate it was the general feeling of all hon. Members interested in this matter that we should take the other countries along with us before any step was taken, and it is hoped that this year we may be able to reach a satisfactory arrangement by which all countries ratifying the agreement will operate the agreed size of mesh.
From what I have said I think it will be understood that we are taking every possible step, not only to bring about the ratification and operation of the agreement, but also to give a definite lead. I am certain that this Government has taken a lead which was rather lacking in the inter-war years in international arrangements for the fishing industry, and I claim that what has been accomplished has been due largely to the lead the Government have given.
The White Fish Commission, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond attached importance, had very limited powers. In view of the fact that the Ministry of Food—now a permanent Department—deals very largely with the matters with which the Commission might have dealt, and in view of the limited powers which the Commission had, relating mainly to the registration of traders, the making of regulations, the preparing of marketing schemes for regulating the marketing of fish by traders of different types, each scheme involving the appointment of a separate board, the Government have not considered the Commission necessary.
Does that mean that the control of white fish prices is now likely to be or is thought to be permanent, or is the price to be decontrolled?
Nothing is permanent; and nobody ought to say that anything is permanent.
It was also argued that the industry had not been fully consulted about the provisions of the Bill. The Bill seeks not to interfere, to any great extent, with the organisation of the industry itself, but to confer certain benefits upon the industry, and it seems to me that there could not be any great claim by the industry for full consultation about the benefits that are likely to be conferred upon it as a result of the Bill. There has certainly not been any approach from the industry with regard to its provisions.
May we have an assurance that there will be reasonable time between now and the next stage of the Bill so that the industry can have a chance to consider the provisions of the Bill?
Of course, I can give that assurance. We are always willing to meet the industry and have consultations with them if there is any point in the Bill to which they object.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) says that the Bill is not sufficiently comprehensive. It would be very difficult to contain in one piece of legislation all the measures necessary to deal with this very difficult and complex industry. The Bill is not therefore designed to solve all the problems but to assist the industry, leaving it to develop in its own way with the assistance we think necessary as contained in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) speaks with a profound knowledge of the industry, and I am glad to see him here today because, like me, he started his working life in the industry. Like myself, he has a sentimental interest in the industry going over many years, and I have great regard for his knowledge. He dealt with the question of foreign trawlers and referred to the Moray Firth in particular. That is a very difficult problem, as he knows, and it can be solved only by international agreement. I can assure him that everything possible is being done to reach that agreement. It is true that we have certain undertakings on the part of the foreign countries involved to discourage so far as possible their trawlers from fishing in the Moray Firth. Up to recently few trawlers appeared, but when fish became less plentiful elsewhere, I am sorry to say that they have shown an added interest in the Moray Firth area.
The new Larsen trawl is being investigated, and I hope that we shall be able to find something useful if the provisions are satisfactory. He suggested that trawling for herring on the Fladin grounds might despoil the possibilities of the herring industry. This is not a new thing; it has been going on for many years. There is nothing in the point about scarcity, because herrings, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) knows, cannot be over-fished. I know the hon. Member for Banff has in mind that if it is developed it may possibly do harm to the spawning beds and the herring fishing grounds, but there is no evidence at the present time to lead us to believe there is any real case for that assertion.
The Joint Under-Secretary says that there is no evidence that trawling for herrings is cutting down the incidence of shoals in certain grounds, but it is a most curious thing that with the trawling which has taken place in the Moray Firth and in the area around Tarbet, the shoals have almost entirely disappeared.
I am relying on the scientific evidence which shows that there is no real danger, but it is a point on which there is a division of opinion. The hon. Member also dealt with the cost of vessels. The cost has increased considerably, as we all know, and we are doing everything we possibly can to assist the fishermen, not only in this respect, but in the case of fishing gear as well, because we feel it is a heavy drain on their resources. There is a committee sitting now at the Board of Trade which is going very thoroughly into this matter, and we are hoping that they will be able to make some suggestions on how the fishermen can be assisted in this respect.
A question was raised about the function of the local sea fish committees in England and Wales. We have this matter very much in mind, although I shall not anticipate what the results of the investigation may be. The point was made that in Scotland the taxpayer has to pay for the administration of the body responsible for Scottish fisheries. I would remind the House that Scotland makes a considerable contribution to the fishing needs of people throughout the British Isles, with fish of very good quality from our inshore fishing grounds.
The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) dealt with the question of the protection of fishing grounds, and we agree that over-fishing is disastrous and will continue to be so unless all who are involved in this matter will co-operate to prevent over-fishing making serious inroads into our fishing grounds. The countries which attended the conference will not only have to ratify the convention but will have to put the agreement into operation, and we have every hope that that will be done. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp), whose constituency borders on mine, referred to the price of gear. Assistance to inshore fishermen comes under the provisions of Acts passed by the Government in 1945 and 1948.
The hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) raised the question of spending public money on the reconditioning of vessels in order to make living conditions for crews a little more comfortable. He suggested that men had to work so hard that they had little or no time in which to enjoy amenities. I can assure him that the views of fishermen are not completely in line with his views in this matter. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) said, the men sometimes spend seven days journeying to distant grounds. Anyone who has visited trawlers and seen the appalling conditions in which men have had to live and sleep, the complete absence of modem facilities, such as for bathing and washing, will realise that we are taking a step in the right direction. Unless men are satisfied that they are being decently treated we shall not get the results we all desire.
The hon. Member for Bucklow mentioned the question of the landings of fish, and my right hon. Friend's answer to a question put by him. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that 13 per cent. of the landings is the correct figure. It was 13 per cent. direct landings, but if the hon. Gentleman takes the whole importation, including boxes, the landings would be a little more—about 20 per cent. is the total figure I believe.
The hon. Member for Orkney, who is regarded as an Opposition expert on many of the fishing problems because of is close association with the industry, also dealt with the matter of the age of ships. It is true that there are aged vessels in Aberdeen, some of which are reaching an alarming age and require to be replaced. This Bill will bring some assistance in that connection. There is a special problem about the port of Aberdeen, and the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I am meeting representatives of the industry shortly to see if something can be done to solve it. There are many trawler owners in the industry generally who are embarking on the building of trawlers. This is an indication that the industry has not yet such a pessimistic outlook about the future as some Members of the Opposition. At present some 81 trawlers are being constructed, and 40 of these will be ready this year. This is being done without Government assistance, and we hope with the facilities for building which this Bill offers we may have in the future the very best type of vessel.
It has been quite impossible to reply to all the points raised in this Debate this afternoon, but I have the greatest pleasure in commending this Bill to the House. I quite agree it is not an all-embracing Measure to deal with every item in the industry, but as a former fisherman myself I am proud to be able to help in this little way to do something to benefit the industry, in which serve some of the finest men in our land.
Those in operation at the present time have greater range and effectiveness than those in use before. Some of the present vessels are new and are much superior to those in service before the war.