Orders of the Day — Food Supplies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th May 1952.

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Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle 12:00 am, 15th May 1952

A quarter of the white fish or rather 22 per cent., actually comes from Iceland, and by the Icelandic restrictions that quantity is almost entirely removed from this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the hon. and gallant Member going to do about it?"] The hon. Member should have better things to do than to ask a question like that. The whole country must try and see what we can do about it. It is a matter of the greatest importance.

Nearly a quarter of the fish landed at Grimsby will be cut off by the closing to British trawlers of Icelandic waters. About 33 per cent. will be cut off for Fleetwood and 22 per cent, for Hull. There may be worse to follow, because Iceland have taken advantage of a recent decree by the Hague International Court which allows Norway to extend the territorial line and also to cut out the indentations of her coastline when determining the limits of territorial waters. If the example set by Norway and Iceland is followed in the Faroes, Bear Island and the White Sea, it will cut off practically all the best and highest quality white fishing grounds from British trawlers.

It means that British trawlers are faced with disaster. It means unemployment at Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood. The Foreign Secretary has addressed a note to the Icelandic Government, and we have not yet heard what is the reply. I want to press upon the Government to the utmost of my power that they should realise the seriousness of the situation. Not only does it mean the loss of a certain amount of very valuable food, but it means that all our trawlers will be completely put out of action. They cannot be sent out to new fishing grounds because they have been specially designed for the grounds they fish. It would mean that we should have to design an entirely new type of trawler.

I have heard recently in this Chamber suggestions about and criticisms of some "overlords" of agriculture and food and transport, and so on. I suggest to the Government and to the "overlord" who looks after these food matters that here is a problem about which he ought to do something; that here is a case where co-ordination really is needed. I implore the Government to look at this matter in all its seriousness. I am amazed that there has not been greater anxiety in the country regarding a matter which affects our well-being as much as this does, and that greater publicity has not been given to it.

Now I turn to another matter closely akin to what I have been saying. In this country one can have a bit too much of fish. There is no question about it—it is not fish that the Englishman wants to eat. He would like to eat meat. [HON. MEMBERS: "Red meat."] I want to remind the Government and impress on them the fact that out of fish can come meat. At the present moment we are making in this country 70,000 tons per year of animal feedingstuffs through fish meal. That is a high protein food which our young animals need. At the same time we import 70,000 tons of fish meal. That does not seem to me right at this time of economic crisis. We ought to push on with providing more factories capable of making fish meal. I want to see the Government, and the White Fish Authority in particular, do all they can to see whether we cannot produce more of these protein feedingstuffs from fish from our own resources.

I would particularly draw the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend to what has been happening in the whaling industry. Up to recently, when a whale was boiled down into oil 70 per cent. of the protein value of the whale was blown overboard. Recently, at considerable expense, British firms have installed special machinery which is able to deal with what are called the "solubles," when the whale has been boiled down, and turn them into high protein feedingstuffs. Let me give an example of how valuable this can be. From the production of 55.000 barrels an additional 5,000 tons of this protein food can be made available—in addition, and over and above the 55,000 tons of oil which was all that was the whale harvest before.

I am told on the best authority I can get that this food can be brought into this country at prices equivalent to equivalent foods sold here today. I have been told, too, that in the past—I hope it is different in the future—these firms have had the greatest difficulty in getting the feedingstuffs department of the Ministry of Food interested in these whale solubles. I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to give us an assurance that he will look into this matter—and I should like a reply to this—to see that those very valuable sources of feedingstuffs are not lost to the country.

That is all I have to say except to remind the Committee once again that one of our most important national industries is the trawler industry. I should explain that I have absolutely no financial interest in the trawler business. I knew the trawlermen during the war. They are the finest people ever man could meet, and that is one of the reasons why I am speaking here tonight on this matter. It is, I believe, the duty of the country to stand by this great industry, and I do implore the Government to see that they carry out their proper duty to defend this industry in every possible way.