§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.49 p.m.
Tim Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill is, I fear, one of formidable dimensions. It is a long Bill with 63 Clauses and four Schedules. Mere length, I know, is not usually a commendation of a Measure to the House; indeed, speaking as a Member of the House, I prefer short and succinct Bills where in a Clause or two any proposal for a change in the law can be made clear. In such cases the discussion rapidly settles down to familiar paths, guided by the political predilections of hon. Members in different parts of the House, and the course of the Debate follows more familiar lines. But it is nothing new for this House to have to deal with subject matter of a different order. The development of society, the advance of science and discovery not infrequently produce transformations in relationships which custom has made so familiar to us as almost to give them an air of permanence. I conceive it to be the duty of the House to observe such changes and to endeavour to direct them into those channels which best conduce to the public interest.
It is, in fact, the public interest in this industry which justifies these affairs occupying the time of the House. I think no one will deny that the fishing industry has an importance in our national life which transcends its merely commercial aspect, important though that aspect be, of course, to those who are engaged in the industry. Efforts on the part of various Governments to assist the fishing industry are a very old story. From the earliest times—from the first times when man sought to make a society for himself wherein he could dwell—fishing has been of very great importance. Probably it was the desire to catch fish for food which first lured men on to the seas, and thus gave rise to all the traffics and discoveries which have ensued from that first adventure. Certainly in our eyes the connection between the fishing industry and our national survival has 598 always been recognised. The Reformation, I am told, led to a decline in the demand for fish, and our Tudor monarchs were quick to recognise the dangers to the Merchant Navy and to His Majesty's ships which threatened as a consequence of that falling off. It was Edward VI who enacted a "political Lent "which required fish to be eaten not only in Lent, but on Wednesdays as well as Fridays.
Coming to more recent times, it is right that I should describe to the House the predicament in which this industry now finds itself, so that the House may be in a position to gauge the efficacy of the measures which are here proposed for an alleviation of that predicament. During the last 30 or 40 years very rapid changes have taken place as a result of mechanical inventions, and as in other spheres of life, there has been a slowness on the part of the human factors involved to adapt themselves fully to that mechanical advance. Thirty-five years ago, there were over 2,000 sailing trawlers and about 480 steam trawlers. The value of the catch in those days was about £3,000,000. In the year before the War, there were 1,300 steam trawlers of increased tonnage and range, and sailing vessels were reduced to some 800. Small motor vessels had by that time also begun to put in their appearance.
At that time there was to be seen emerging a factor which is of great present-day importance. The range of those new vessels was enormously increased, and already in the year before the War, the North Sea produced less than half the fish which was consumed in these islands. After the War, there was a period—shortlived—of great prosperity in the fishing industry. The enforced limitation of fishing which resulted from War conditions led to a greatly increased yield of fish on the part of the North Sea, and one consequence of that was that a great number more steam trawlers of increased size and range were built. In 1920 there were more than 1,500 steam trawlers operating from English ports. By 1936, however, the number had fallen to 1,220, and by last year there were fewer than 100 sailing trawlers surviving. In addition to steam trawlers, there were some 4,000 motor vessels at work. At the same time as this advance on the part of ships 599 was taking place, new technical developments of the trawl—the catching engine—had made it a fish-killing instrument of greatly increased efficiency.
The expansion of the industry can be illustrated briefly if I give the House the figures. Thirty-five years ago the annual catch was about 4,000,000 cwts. and its value about £3,000,000. In 1936, the annual catch had risen from 4,000,000 to 12,500,000 cwts., and the annual value was about £10,500,000. In 1936, the further tendency of increased ranges is illustrated by saying that in that year less than 13 per cent. of the fish caught came from the North Sea. The process has been, in short, one of ever-increasing range. More and more powerful vessels, equipped with more and more efficient trawls, were operating in more and more remote fishing grounds. Yields in quantity have increased, but the quality has tended to decline. The market has been in danger of being over-saturated with fish. Much of it, owing to the time it has been in the hold of the catching vessel, has arrived having lost its first bloom of youth and in a condition which I think Shakespeare describes as:Weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.Unprofitable it certainly has been, for the costs of the industry have risen very sharply. The most important element in the costs of the fishing fleet is coal. It is estimated roughly that it takes four tons of coal to catch one ton of fish. When the House remembers that during the last 18 months the cost of coal has risen by roughly 5s. a ton, and when it remembers that the industry consumes 4,000,000 tons a year, it will be seen that this element means an addition to the costs of the fishing fleet of £1,000,000 a year.
This industry is in a different position from many other industries in that it cannot pass on increased costs to the consumer with the same facility as is enjoyed by other branches of our national activities. Fish has to be sold at once, because it must be sold as fresh as possible, and consequently it has to be sold for what it will fetch. There is also another element in the problem which should be borne in mind by hon. Members throughout our discussions. Fish, though an extremely valuable food, cannot be accurately described as an essential one, and if the fishing industry is to dispose of 600 its fish to the consumer, the fish must be presented to the public at a reasonable and attractive price. Any big rise in the cost of fish would reflect itself at once in the demand. For these reasons, the increased costs are incapable of being passed on as in some other industries.
Moreover, the distribution of fish from the moment when it is landed on our shores to the time when it reaches the consumer has not kept pace, in economy and efficiency, with the developments of the trawl and the range of the vessels. If one takes 1914 as being 100, retail prices as a whole to-day are 143. The retail price of white fish is 202; but when one takes the price at the first sales—that is to say, when one takes the remuneration of the fishing fleet—the index is 104. Therefore, in short, the producer is getting no more than he did before the War, although his costs have gone up, while the consumer is paying roughly double. Part of this increase in distribution costs is undoubtedly due to the rise in wages in the distributive trade, but it is clear from these figures alone that the problem confronting the industry is an intricate and formidable one. The trawler owners, representing the catching side of the industry, have been anxious for some time to have a scheme along the lines of the Agricultural Marketing Acts. But it is quite evident that the producing side is only one facet of this complicated problem, that distribution has its own problems as well as catching, and the Bill which I now propose should be read a Second Time seeks to provide machinery whereby those engaged on all sides of the industry may introduce order into their operations and provide what must always be a prime condition of prosperity, that is, an abundant supply of good fish at prices attractive to the public.
The crisis which has arisen in the fishing industry led to the Sea-Fishing Industry Act of 1933, and there was appointed then a Sea-Fish Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir Andrew Duncan. The Commission reported first on the herring industry, whose position was at that time considerably more serious, and following their first report dealing with herring, legislation to deal with that part of the industry was introduced and passed. This Bill follows their second report, which deals with the white fish side of the industry, and I can say in 601 general that it follows the recommendations of the second report of the Sea-Fish Commission. The proposals that are embodied in the Bill have been discussed by those concerned, and although they have found points of detail to criticise and I have no doubt we shall hear more of them in subsequent discussion of those points, yet on the whole I thank they generally approve of the Bill as drafted.
It is a long Bill and I will say a word or two about the various parts of it. It is proposed in Part I to bring into being two new bodies. One is the White Fish Commission of five members, appointed by the Ministers and paid for out of public funds. The commission is to be a nonrepresentative body and its membership independent of any section of the industry itself. To assist them there will be a White Fish Industry Joint Council as mentioned in Clause 2. The members of the Joint Council will be appointed by Ministers after consultation with the various interests involved. They will not be entrusted with any executive functions; their functions are entirely advisory. The principal classes of persons who will be represented on the joint Council consist of these: There will be the actual catchers of the fish, the wholesalers, the fishmongers, the fish friers, and a fifth category consisting of those engaged in the processing of fish, such as curers and canners. In addition to that the Bill provides for Ministers to appoint any representatives of other interests who may be affected by the Bill.
I will deal with the question of tenure later. The functions of the Commission are set out in Clauses 1, 3, 15 and 19, and generally I can say that they are to keep under review the affairs of the industry and to advise and assist Ministers with regard to its problems. In particular Clause 3 imposes on them, firstly, the duty to register all persons of the classes I have just enumerated, and secondly, they are empowered to submit marketing schemes for catchers and distributors; and also to ensure—this is very import ant—cooperation and co-ordination in the operation of the different marketing schemes when they come into being. They are also enjoined by Clause 19 to submit co-operative schemes for inshore fishermen, 602 and they are given power to make regulations governing the marketing of fish and also to administer, under ministerial direction, a voluntary fund which may be raised by the industry for this purpose.
Let me say a word or two about registration. Registration is the necessary first step in dealing with the problems of an industry which is very largely unorganised. We have not got an accurate census of the persons involved and engaged in the various branches of the fish business. The register when compiled will be the basis for the voting which is a feature of marketing schemes before they can come into being. It is proposed, subject to any exceptions which may be allowed later, that registration shall become compulsory six months after the passing of the Bill into law; but in the case of the catchers the period of registration is limited to one month. This may strike the House as being a little harsh and peremptory in dealing with this particular section, but the reason is that the catchers' side are ready with their scheme and are very anxious to bring it into operation at the earliest possible moment, and it is at their request that the short period of one month is inserted with regard to themselves. There will be no restriction upon who may be registered under the Bill. It is provided that the Commission must register any applicant. They are empowered to charge a small fee for the expenses of registration. The marketing schemes which are described in Clause 5 are intended to be submitted by the Commission and they may be prepared either by the Commission itself or by representative bodies in the industry. They will have to be voted upon like other schemes on a poll of the persons affected by them, and they will have to be submitted to Ministers and approved by an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
It is proposed that the administration of these schemes should be entrusted to boards partly made up of persons elected by the industry itself, but with an independent chairman appointed by Ministers. The experience of marketing boards in general justifies this. Independent members have frequently been of the greatest assistance to these boards in organising schemes. These schemes are financed and run by contributions from their own constituents, and in general 603 the powers of the boards to enforce these schemes are similar to those to be found in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1931. With regard to the producers' marketing scheme, first of all the chief powers which may be conferred on their board are to regulate marketing by the producers, and particularly to limit quantities and to fix the minimum prices of fish for human consumption. It is intended that this last power shall be confined within narrow limits; these limits are not contained in the Bill but will be in the Scheme. They will also be enabled to license boats in order to check uneconomic expansion of the trawler fleet, to give directions limiting the number of landings which licensed boats may make of fish, to make provision for the temporary laying up of boats, and generally to encourage them to continue to improve the condition in which fish is landed.
The distributors' marketing schemes are schemes for wholesalers, fishmongers or friers, jointly or separately, and enable their boards to regulate the equipment and condition of premises and vehicles used for the sale of white fish, as explained in Clause 10. The Clause applies to warehouses, market stands, shops, travelling vans, hawkers' barrows and so on, and provides generally for regulation of the manner in which white fish is offered for sale. These distributive boards will have neither licensing powers nor price-fixing powers. There are certain development powers which boards may have and into which I need not go at length. They are set out quite simply in Clause 11. They are things like the collection of information, the promotion of research, advertising, and other matters of common interest to the industry.
Next with regard to the safeguards for the consumer, which it is always necessary to insert in Bills of this kind, I would remind the House of what I said earlier, that it is to the interest of the fishing industry itself to present its wares in as an attractive a form as possible, both in regard to quality and price, and the peculiar position of fish in the daily menu is such as to make its consumption shrink if the price goes up. But at the same time there are these safeguards. First of all there is the presence of independent members on the board. There are a consumers' committee and a com- 604 mittee of investigation, with functions similar to those set out in the Agricultural Marketing Acts. Ministers have the same power to amend or revoke schemes or to require changes in administration on the report of the Committee of Investigation. Then there is the Commission's power under Clause 15 to recommend to the Ministers amendments to schemes. That is necessary to secure co-ordination between the various schemes, and in the second place for the protection of the public.
When we come to the inshore fishermen we find that they need special treatment. They are not organised on a commercial scale as are trawler companies or owners, or like any commercial organisation, and a different method of treatment seems to us desirable. We are prepared, therefore, to approach their particular problems by means of giving them power to form co-operative schemes or for the Commission to form co-operative schemes for them, so that they may combine for their common good. They may, for example, set up a centralised selling organisation in their area and require their constituents to sell to this organisation, and they may also organise on a co-operative basis the collective purchase of supplies and gear. A scheme of this sort for inshore fishermen may be financed either by charges made by the body which is authorised to administer it, or, if it is more convenient, by direct contributions, but we recognise that in order to give this new venture the necessary impetus to start itself, assistance by loan from public funds up to a maximum of £10,000 in all should be given. We believe that if these schemes are operated, as they will be, on the same lines roughly as the comparable service schemes under the Livestock Industry Act, they will offer to these communities which are so valuable in our national life an opportunity to improve their position.
The body running a scheme of this character might finance it by making charges for its services, or, if it was found more convenient, the scheme might provide for each member of the co-operative unit making a contribution to the finance of the scheme, instead of the amount being fixed by a scale of charges.
Well, a levy if you like; and there is also the provision for assistance by loan from public funds up to £10,000. That is merely in order to launch the enterprise.
Clause 4 of the Bill gives the Commission a certain power of regulation. In particular it will govern by regulation matters of common concern to the whole industry, as distinct from matters of particular concern to sections of the industry which can be organised under their own boards. Questions of curing, salting, drying, smoking and canning fish, where it is not thought advisable or necessary to have marketing schemes, will come under the regulating power of the Commission itself. The general purpose of these regulations of the Commission will be to improve methods of treating and processing, and the manner in which white fish is handled and presented to the public. There are, of course, many distributors who now reach a very high standard in this matter, but I am sure there is room for improvement in this important branch of the industry, and we hope to achieve improvement through the Commission's regulations.
Regulations may also be made as to the manner in which white fish is described on sale, in order to prevent misleading descriptions. I am told that sometimes in restaurants one may be offered what is called a lemon sole and find that it is really a dab originating in the Arctic. At any rate, regulations can be made for dealing with that matter and also with such matters as grading and packing, the orderly conduct of auction markets and for limiting commission charges and charges for services rendered in connection with the consignment of fish such as the loan of boxes, an so forth. The Commission may also make regulations as to the quality and purity of the raw materials used and, in general, to improve the efficiency of this branch of the industry and protect the public at the same time. It is thought that when schemes are in operation, it may be possible for the industry itself to raise a voluntary fund for common purposes, and, if so, the Commission will be entrusted with its administration, subject to review and audit.
With regard to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 606 Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) as to the Commission itself, membership of the Commission will not necessarily be a whole-time occupation. That is a matter which can be considered, but the point about which I thought the right hon. Gentleman was asking was the duration of the Commission's existence. The Government after reviwing the important recommendation of the Sea-Fish Commission thought it would be better to put no limit on the life of the Commission, because it is being entrusted with wider functions than those originally contemplated in the report. Its duty is to organise the industry, and the future alone can tell what will be the rate of progress in dealing with that great task. It is the intention of the Government to review the position in four or five year's time, and see what progress has then, been made, and in the light of the experience gained it can then be decided whether and on what terms the Commission should continue. It must be rememBèred that the Commission under our proposals constitutes a continuing burden upon the Exchequer, and such a review as I suggest at the end of four or five years will enable us to judge more accurately what the position should be with regard to its future. In the meantime, as I say, we have thought it best to insert no time limit on its operations in the Bill.
§ Mr. Alexander
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference between the Commission's functions under Clause 3 which appear to be concerned with registration, and those under Clause 6 (3) which seem to be a duplication.
Clause 3 deals with the duty of the Commission, as a first step, to register all persons engaged in the industry, in any of its branches, in order to get a basis for the review of the position and to provide the voting rolls for schemes when they come along. With regard to marketing schemes it is intended that the registration list collected by the Commission, shall, in so far as it contains the names of members of one branch of the industry, be handed over to the board running that part of the industry when it is created, and Clause 6 provides that when a marketing scheme is in existence any person engaged in the relevant business can apply to be registered under it. There are no doubt points of detail in Part I of the Bill which hon. Members 607 may wish to raise later, but I think I have now dealt with it sufficiently.
I pass to Part II of the Bill which deals with the protection of small fish. This is a problem with which the House is fairly familiar and on which I need not expatiate. It is common knowledge, not only in this country but abroad, that the modern development of fishing ingenuity and power is in danger of destroying the source of the industry by overmuch fishing and by the killing of immature fish and spawn and undersized fish, thus stopping the very source of this wealth. This matter has been several times investigated, and the more we consider the problem the graver it becomes. I need not refer again to the relatively small proportion of our catch last year provided by the North Sea. So advanced has modern fishing become that even remote fishing grounds are now showing signs of exhaustion. In 1933 we imposed on our own fishermen certain regulations governing the size of mesh in nets. Although this placed a restriction upon our own fishermen not shared by our neighbours on the Continent, it was generally recognised by the industry, in spite of the grievance involved, as a measure conducive to its ultimate benefit.
This year we held a conference of an international character in London as a result of which we reached so much agreement that a Convention was drawn up which is embodied for ratification in Part II of the Bill. The only change in the law of our own country which this involves is as follows: The Act of 1933 relied for the protection of small fish upon the prohibition of sale. It was found during the discussions at the conference that it was desirable also to prohibit the landing of small fish and their retention after capture, and we have agreed that a change in the law to that effect should be made operative by Part II of the Bill. Clause 39 deals with a practice which I am told is called "blinding." It means that if the trawl or net is of the legitimate size of mesh, the protection to the fish is rendered nugatory by associating with the net another net of different dimensions of mesh, or some other substance such as canvas.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what countries are concerned in this Convention?
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I have not a list of them at hand, but I think I can tell the hon. Member generally. They include Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, Iceland, the Irish Free State, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, but that is a matter on which I do not wish to say too much at the moment. I hope the French Government may see the wisdom of joining with us and with these other countries, in this matter.
But suppose the French Government does not see the wisdom of joining with us. In that case, it is going to be all wrong as far as the West Country is concerned. Is there no way of bringing them to their senses? I think we are too soft with the French.
§ Mr. Morrison
The Noble Lady will realise that in an international conference the method of arriving at results is by discussion and argument. We have this matter under review, and I hope it will be possible for the French to come in at a later stage, but they have at the moment made certain reservations. The House will agree that the protection of immature fish is important, and that it has been well worth while getting the assent to this Convention of the great fishing nations I have mentioned.
In passing, I wish to refer to Clause 41, which amends the Sea-Fishing Industry Act in one particular, in that it formally discharges the Sea Fish Commission presided over by Sir Andrew Duncan. I should like to say, and I believe it is the experience of everyone who appeared before that Commission, that it did its work with the greatest patience and thoroughness, and in such a way as to earn the gratitude and confidence of those who are engaged in the industry. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the chairman and members of the Commission for the valuable public service which they have rendered.
Part III of the Bill deals with whales and it also ratifies an international agreement. Hon. Members know perhaps, that the number of whales in the Arctic has shrunk to a very small figure owing to the extermination of these great 609 mammals, the pursuit and capture of which was once such a large industry in this country and in other parts of Europe. There is danger of the same process occurring in the Antarctic where the whaling industry has been mainly carried on for many years. The Government were able to exercise protective power in regard to the whales in the Antarctic up to fairly recent times because it was the custom for whaling vessels when they made a capture, to bring it to some island where there was a land station for rendering it down into oil. As a large number of these islands in the Antarctic were under the jurisdiction of this country, we were able to exercise a protective influence over the whales in that area. But again the advance of science has brought into existence the floating factory, so that the whale is not only caught at sea, but the whole process of converting the whale into whale-oil is done on board ship, on the high seas, and outside the jurisdiction of any nation.
Without going closely into figures, l can tell the House that in 1933–34 and in 1934–35 there was a very intensive hunting of whales and very great destruction, as many as 39,000 of these animals being killed in a single season. Therefore, it was obvious that the regulations already in force as a result of the Geneva Convention were not sufficient, and His Majesty's Government invited an international conference, which met in London last June. That conference agreed upon certain further measures for curtailing the activities of the whaling industry, and we hope that they may go a long way towards protecting the stock. The principle measures of control which the conference adopted, additional to those already in operation, were the entire prohibition of the killing of grey whales, and the provision of powers to limit the number of whale catchers and to close to whaling selected areas in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which we either know or believe to be breeding grounds. Part III of the Bill deals with that matter. Perhaps, in passing, I might mention that experiments have recently been carried out with the object of investigating the methods used for killing whales, and certain suggestions have been made, and are now being experimented with, that whales can be killed, if not quite instantaneously, at least very much more humanely, by means of electrical apparatus than by many of the 610 methods now used, and so it is proposed in the Bill, in Clause 46, Sub-section (3), to take powers to prohibit, if thought fit, the killing of whales otherwise than by an approved method. I am sure it is the desire of the House that this business shall be conducted with as much humanity as is possible.
§ Sir William Davison
Can my right hon. Friend say whether the same nations agreed to this Clause with regard to whales, but not France again?
§ Mr. Morrison
One country not participating in this agreement is Japan. I am not sure about France, and perhaps my hon. Friend will let me make inquiries, but as far as I know, the only one which did not agree was Japan.
Part IV of the Bill deals with the remuneration of the crews of fishing boats. The Sea Fish Commission, in addition to their other recommendations, made proposals with the object of removing a ground of dissatisfaction that was frequently expressed among those of the crews of fishing vessels who are remunerated in whole or in part by share. They made suggestions that the existing law should be clarified, that the superintendents of the Board of Trade should be furnished with copies of the accounts which are known in the trade as "settling sheets," and that the superintendents should be empowered to inquire into the accuracy of any settling sheets without waiting for any formal dispute to be declared. In general, the object of these proposals, which the Government have adopted in toto, is to let a man know where he stands with regard to what deductions may legitimately be made from the profits of the catch of the vessel, and remove any ground of dissatisfaction that the profits are not being properly shared out.
The Fifth Part of the Bill contains miscellaneous provisions, and in general they are designed to take advantage of the experience which we have had of the working of local fishery committees and to render their operations more flexible and easy. In addition, there are provisions, in Clauses 54 and 55, for imposing penalties on the owners of fishing vessels who are knowingly employing skippers who have been previously convicted of poaching offences and also for increasing the monetary penalties for poaching offences and for obstructing 611 fishery officers in the execution of their duty. These and other miscellaneous provisions fill up this Part of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be replying to the Debate, and any other questions that hon. Members may like to put to him, he will then answer. I have done my best to explain, in outline, the contents of this very long Bill, but I have naturally missed many points of detail, which we can discuss in Committee or later on in the Debate to-day. Covering, as it does, a very wide front, there will no doubt be many points on which the Bill may be criticised, and I hope it may be possible in Committee, with the help of hon. Members, to make improvements in the provisions of the Bill.
The House will, I am sure, realise two points which have governed the preparation of the Bill and which may be expected to influence its subsequent discussion. The first is, that in this industry there are many sectional interests. We have done our best to meet them, but it is obviously impossible to give every interest all that it wants without trenching on the rights of others, who are equally to be considered. I believe I can tell the House, however, that this is recognised by these interests themselves and that the Bill is, in general, desired by them all. The second point is that, besides what I have referred to as sectional interests, the public at large have a very deep and abiding interest in this great industry. In time of peace it furnishes the people with a valuable supply of food, and its members carry on their avocation often under conditions of hardship and peril from the sea; and we remember with what skill and gallantry in the Great War our fishing fleets and the men who manned them played their essential part in the National Defence. There is no doubt that this great industry is now in sore straits and that its rehabilitation cannot be achieved without the assistance of Parliament. It is in the hope that this Bill will provide that assistance that I now ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I cannot pretend, any more than the Minister himself, to any extensive acquaintance with the sea-fishing industry, but I have one advantage 612 which, to the best of my knowledge, the Minister does not possess. Several years ago I assisted to organise the fishermen in several ports of the country, and I learned something of their mode of life, of their experiences, and of their great hardships. The first point that I desire to make is that, while many suggestions appear in this Measure for the reorganisation of the industry and the preparation of marketing schemes, there is but scanty provision for the fishermen themselves. At the same time, we on these benches welcome any effort to promote efficiency in this industry and to place it on a sounder basis, and in particular to make available a more plentiful and cheap supply of what, undoubtedly, is a most nutritious article of food.
It is remarkable that the people of this country should consume so little fish. Some hardly consume it at all, and I am afraid there are many people who consume it only as part of that highly delectable combination colloquially known as fish and chips. There is some very interesting information extant on the subject of the consumption of fish. From the particulars ascertainable in the Duncan report, I find that the average landings of white fish, at any rate in recent years, are round about 15,000,000 cwts., and if we allow for the inevitable measure of waste and set aside a certain allowance for the salt fish exported to other countries, it is, I think, fair to say that the consumption per head of the population annually is approximately 28 lbs. That is indeed a very low figure, and it might be advisable to consider for a few moments what is the reason for such a low consumption. It may be that the price is too high and I observed that the right hon. Gentleman himself exercised considerable caution in dealing with that aspect of the subject. In fact, he warned those associated with the industry that if the price was excessive, the demand fell off.
If we examine the value of the landings of white fish at the various ports of the country, we find that, again allowing for waste and other items, the first sale price, that is to say, the auction price, is roughly 2d. per lb. That may or may not provide a profit to the producer, but what we do know is, that the retail price of fish sold in the shops or hawked around the streets is very much in excess of that amount. I have managed to 613 secure a document issued by the Civil Service Stores dealing with the price of fish. It is a kind of prospectus, and although undoubtedly there are many people who consume fish who are unable to purchase their supplies at an establishment of this kind, we may take the prices which arc ranged here as the general average for the country. I find that, taking various kinds of fish, the average retail price works out at about 1s. per lb. Now there is considerable disparity as between the first sale price and the retail price, and some explanation requires to be furnished on that very important head.
May I direct the attention of the House to the views of the Duncan Commission on what they describe as the price structure? On page 54 of the report they indicate the various processes through which the fish has to pass on its way from the producer to the retailer and then to the consumer. They start off with an index figure of 100, which is the amount paid by the port wholesaler to the trawler owner. There are to be added to that various items such as wages and salaries, carriage and packing, other expenses and net profit, and we reach a figure of 123. Then it passes from the port wholesaler to the inland wholesaler. There are several items of a similar kind, and the figure reaches 144. Then it passes from the inland wholesaler to the fishmonger, who has to pay wages and salaries, carriage and packing, rent, rates and other items of expenditure, and provide himself with a profit. Then we reach a figure of 196, which is the amount paid by the consumer to the fishmonger. Therefore, even if we set aside the prospectus issued by the Civil Service Stores as showing prices which are excessive, we can at least rely upon the price structure furnished by the Duncan Commission's Report.
It is still more remarkable, in face of this vast difference in the prices, that the Duncan Commission should have revealed that the profits of this industry are negligible and that certain sections of the industry, as the Minister has just declared, reap no profits at all. We are told that the trawler owners are in a position of great difficulty, that the wholesalers are similarly affected, and that the retailers can hardly keep their businesses going. In face of all these statements, it is difficult to ascertain why there should be 614 such a gulf between the first sale price and the price which the consumer is called upon to pay.
§ Mr. Loftus
The hon. Member has referred to the Duncan Report. On the next page appear the words:Fish roughly doubles in cost on its way from the port to the consumer, even without making any allowance whatever for wastage.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am obliged to the hon. Member, because he has drawn my attention to another interesting part of the report which I shall quote. The commission stated:It can be said that, under present conditions, fish roughly doubles in cost on its way from the port to the consumer, even without making any allowance whatever for wastage arising either from deterioration, or from heading, filleting, etc.We have to pay regard to this vast difference which, I think the hon. Member will agree, is excessive and requires a considerable explanation. There is no dispute about the facts; they are revealed by the Duncan Commission and they furnish the basis for the Measure that is now before the House. They go to prove the need for a drastic organisation in all sections of the industry, but I doubt whether that measure of reorganisation can be rendered effective by the provisions of this Bill.
We on these benches would prefer a much more drastic reorganisation on the lines of the complete national control of the industry. It seems to me that the evidence supports that contention, and I shall enumerate some of the reasons for our opinion. To begin with, there are, as the Minister said, too many conflicting interests in the industry. Moreover, there is difficulty in reconciling the interests of the trawler owners, the wholesalers and the retailers. Many documents have been issued of late indicating that these differences are very vital. Furthermore, the industry depends to a considerable degree upon smooth transport facilities. Many hon. Members must be aware, particularly those who represent fishing ports and have some knowledge of the industry, that in many of the ports the railway companies own the docks, and there is considerable difficulty in utilising road transport, which is much cheaper, from the standpoint of the fishing industry, than the railways, not because the railways cannot afford to cheapen their charges to the industry, but because they have a virtual monopoly.
615 Over and above that, there is the experience of the Herring Board, which arose out of the first report of the Duncan Commission. That board led to a rise in prices and to a measure of reorganisation, but would not the Minister agree that, so far no solution has been found for the problems that vex the herring industry? That is borne out almost daily in this Honse by the questions which are asked, not so much by Members on these benches as by Members on the opposite side.
In order to fortify my contention that a more drastic method of organisation is rendered inevitable by the state of this industry, I will take the analogy of the coal industry. There was a scheme not unlike the one now before the House introduced in 1930 relating to the mining industry. It provided for co-ordination, for marketing schemes, known as selling schemes, and for a variety of other devices and expedients designed to take the industry out of chaos. In spite of those schemes and of Amendments to the 1930 Act which were intended to improve that Measure, the Government are now contemplating the national ownership of royalties and compulsory amalgamation in the coal industry. The reason is that it has been discovered that the measures which were introduced before 1930 and since were insufficient to put the industry on a proper basis. I venture the opinion that precisely the same thing will happen in relation to the fishing industry, because that industry, like the coal industry and many other depressed industries, cannot be trusted to undertake the job itself.
For example, we have had recently, as has been revealed in the newspapers, a demand for a subsidy for inshore fishing. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has had his attention drawn to the demand. It is not the intention of the Government to provide a subsidy in this Measure, beyond the £10,000 loan and provision for co-operative schemes, but it is clear that the inshore fishing industry cannot depend exclusively on the provisions of this Bill. It will require a much more drastic method of organisation and it will continue to demand subsidies. Whether the Government respond or not is another matter. I merely mention that point in order to indicate that it does not matter how much you impinge on the organisation of a privately owned industry; there is something radically and fundamentally 616 wrong which can only be effectively tackled by the more drastic methods advocated by this party.
§ Mr. Petherick
Is the hon. Gentleman advocating the complete nationalisation of the whole of the fishing industry?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am advocating the national ownership of the producing and the wholesale distributing ends of the industry.
§ Mr. Shinwell
No, no more than the coal industry would be run as a Government concern. It would be run as a State concern, which is quite different from a Government concern. It would not be administered by civil servants in Whitehall or dominated by politicians, but administered and run by experts who know their business, and instead of operating on behalf of private interests making private profits, they would operate and function on behalf of the whole people. This is not, however, a Debate on national ownership. Nothing would please me better than such a Debate. We are dealing now with the fishing industry.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the system in Scotland by which fishermen individually or in groups of two or three own boats and control their own operations would be abandoned under his scheme in order that they might become members of a State controlled industry?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the fishermen who own a boat or have a share in the ownership of a boat control anything at all, because, judging from the frequent complaints and appeals made by the hon. Member on behalf of these men, they are in a very bad way and own nothing at all.
With regard to the provisions of the Bill, everything depends on the nature of the schemes that are provided for. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about them and went no further than to indicate what was the framework in which the schemes were to be introduced. He furnished the skeleton of the schemes, but not the schemes themselves. The Minister may take refuge behind the fact that no 617 scheme can be drafted until the interested parties meet and present a scheme, but I would remind him that the British Trawler Owners' Federation about a year ago prepared a scheme which, no doubt, the Minister has seen. Therefore, it seems to me that the Minister was in a position, though he did not take advantage of it, to indicate in a general way at least, if not in detail, the nature of the schemes that were to be furnished when the Bill becomes an Act. We are at present working in the dark, for we have no conception of what is to happen. There may be schemes and there may be no schemes. If the industry decides to have no schemes and no co-operation, there will be none beyond what the Commissioners may themselves determine in relation to a modified measure of regulation in the industry. The right hon. Gentleman might interest the House if later he could indicate what the schemes are likely to be.
One of the most substantial criticisms of the Bill is that there is only one section of the industry upon which monopoly powers are to be concerned. The Minister in a cursory and perfunctory fashion skipped over this problem. I noticed that he spoke about the actual catchers of fish as if the trawler owners were the actual catchers. They are nothing of the sort. I shall say something about the actual producers before I sit down, but as regards the trawler owners who are designated as the producers in respect of this Measure, they are to have almost unlimited and unfettered powers. They are to have the power of registration; there is nothing to complain of in that, for it is very desirable in the circumstances. They are to have the power to determine the use to which fishing vessels are put. They are to have the further power of determining how many fishing vessels should be used, and how much white fish is to be landed at any given time. There may be excellent reasons why those monopoly powers should be conferred upon the trawler owners, though we have had no indication of them, but why are not similar powers to be granted to other sections off the industry? What is the distinction between the trawler owner and the port wholesaler?
This point is all the more pertinent because there are some trawling companies which meddle, if I may use the 618 word without disrespect, in the affairs of the wholesalers. It is not as though we were dealing with sections of an industry which are in watertight compartments. Producers, as they are called, although they are not the actual producers, port wholesalers, inland wholesalers, retailers, hawkers, fish-friers and the rest, are all special interests. There are trawler owners who are also wholesalers on a very large scale. There is the well known firm of Mac Fisheries, a subsidiary of Lever Brothers, controlling 31 companies and several trawling companies. They are port wholesalers, inland wholesalers, and retailers on a very extensive scale, with a chain of shops up and down the country. Their authorised capital is £3,000,000 and, this is most significant of all owned by Lever Brothers—perhaps the firm of Unilever, but, as I gather from the Stock Exchange Year Book the firm of Lever Brothers. Here is a remarkable feature. A great deal of the fish which is not sold to the ordinary consumers is disposed of as waste offal, converted into fish meal and other by-products—and the firm of Lever Brothers is intensely interested in such by-products.
Are we in this Measure conferring a virtual monopoly on Lever Brothers and one or two firms of a like character? If that is the intention, I am afraid that not only will hon. Members here have a great deal to say about the matter but that the country will have something to say, because if we confer such monopoly powers on an undertaking of this character obviously the price level will be affected. If there be any doubt about that I direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to what occurred during the embargo period. As we know, there is an embargo period operating in certain months of the year under the powers of the Act of 1933. I believe it was originally a period of four months, but has been reduced to three months. The Duncan Commission themselves recommended the reduction. During the embargo periods the price of fish rose steeply and sharply, and that may have been the intention, and if there is to be a general embargo, operating over the whole year, and determined by one or two monopoly companies, clearly the public interest will be considerably affected. I noticed that the Minister spoke about the need of protecting the public interest, and said it was the primary concern. If that be so he 619 must exercise the utmost prudence and caution in relation to conferring monopoly powers on any of these undertakings.
On this question of the embargo certain submissions have been made by the fish friers' section of the industry, a highly commendable section of the community. Incidentally, I would observe that 51 per cent. of the total catch of white fish landed in this country is taken by the fish friers. Of that total catch a high percentage is cod—I think it is 60 per cent., although on that figure I am open to correction—the friers take 80 per cent. During the embargo periods from 1933 to 1936 it was found that the trawler section of the industry received 1,394,844 more for 24,651 cwts. less of white fish. If that is to be the effect of limitation, and limitation on an extensive scale is necessarily implied in this Measure, then clearly effective checks and safeguards must be provided for the public.
Now I should like to turn to what we on these benches regard as perhaps the most important part of this Measure, and to refer to the actual catchers of the fish. No one will doubt the hardships which these men undergo, the penalties imposed upon them by the nature of the occupation and the absence of home life, and, over and above that, the penalties to which they are liable for failing to join their vessels. In this last respect they are unlike workers on land. If a man whose occupation lies ashore fails to turn up some morning he may run the risk of dismissal, though more often than not he is exonerated, but in the case of fishermen, as with the men of the mercantile marine, failure to join the vessel is a very serious crime, and the men are penalised accordingly. One would suppose that in face of these adversities and penalties—the absence of home life, the irregularity of employment and all the rest of it—the remuneration would be on a very high scale.
Those who do the hard work in the community ought to receive the highest pay. In this particular instance it is quite the reverse—and in other instances too, as I am reminded, but at the moment we are dealing with the catchers of white fish. Their remuneration is entirely out of proportion to the nature of their occupation. Let us consider their average earnings. I am not speaking of wages. 620 As the Minister said, some men are entirely on a share basis. That is the position in the case of skippers and mates. In the case of deck hands and the men who work below—like the cook, because these vessels always carry a cook, who is a very important person aboard—they are partly paid by wages and partly by receiving a share of the proceeds of the catch. But what is the position? The average earnings of these men, taking the position by and large and over the 52 weeks in the year, is actually less than £2 a week. Some men earn more, but usually less than £2 a week is earned. That is a position which no hon. Member can defend.
One might have supposed that this Measure, intended to reorganise the sea fish industry, would have as its first objective the raising of the standard of life of the men upon whom the industry primarily depends. Often when the men return from a voyage, after undergoing great hardships, they find themselves in debt. The wife of a man receives an allotment of pay while he is away. When he returns he expects that from his share in the proceeds of the catch he will be in pocket; on the contrary, he is often in debt to the company. Debts accumulate, and sometimes extend over months and even years. It is a most serious position. Therefore, on the Committee stage we shall exercise the utmost care in dealing with the part of the Measure which primarily affects the fishermen themselves.
I should also like to say a word on the provisions intended to create an effective check in regard to the settling of accounts. It is true that Clause 40 will improve the position as it exists now, but although a superintendent of the Board of Trade is charged with the responsibility of seeing that a settling account is rendered, which the men can examine if they wish to do so, it is equally true that men are very reluctant to apply to examine settling accounts. They know that if they are a little truculent in such matters there will be no more sailing out of Grimsby or Hull or any of the other ports for them. It is no use denying that, because we all know that victimisation exists. Perhaps the hon. Member who represents Grimsby (Sir W. Womersley) may have heard me say at the beginning that I assisted to organise fishermen years ago, and that was one of the difficulties with which we had to deal, and it seems to me that 621 Clause 40 might be considerably strengthened in order to meet the views of the men. There is one thing which the Minister can do without any difficulty, and that is to give the men a measure of representation on the Joint Council for the industry. It is intended to set up a council which is to consist of a chairman and representatives of the producers of white fish, of those who sell white fish by wholesale, of fishmongers, fish friers and of the curing, salting, drying, smoking and canning interests:and any such other interests as the Ministers consider to be immediately affected.Do I understand that the fishermen are included in those other interests?
§ Mr. Shinwell
If they can be, ask the Minister to say quite definitely that they are to be, and that they shall be, if they can be, included among the other interests affected. We might as well have it stated in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will act upon this suggestion. If the fishermen are represented on a council of this character they can assist not only in determining the actual remuneration but the basis of the remuneration and can have some say in the conditions of labour. They can voice 1.heir expert opinion, speaking with full knowledge of the industry, upon the general aspect of the industry as a whole. That is a very important point.
I intended to say something about the consumers, but I shall leave that matter to some of my hon. Friends. I will now sum up the criticisms that we make from these benches. We have very grave doubts whether the Minister can succeed in removing the anarchy in the industry by the Measure now before us. There is a strong probability, I put it no higher than that, of excessive retail prices which will obviously affect adversely 1he consumption of fish. As it is our intention to facilitate means for increasing the consumption of fish and thus assist the industry, we must be on our guard against any steep rise in prices. There is, furthermore, the point of view of the fish friers upon whom a very large section of the working population depends for a commodity which it desires, particularly in the North of England and in the depressed areas. They may be compelled to pay more, as was the case during the embargo period, but they will pass that 622 Bill on to the consumers. There is no effective check in the Bill, so far as we can ascertain, against excessive commissions by the wholesalers; there is no clear-cut remedy for the transport difficulty and there is no assurance of higher wages and improved conditions for the men. Those are our objections, and for those reasons we propose to exercise the utmost vigilance during the further stages of the Bill. We wish to strengthen the Measure and to assist in bringing about an effective organisation in what is undoubtedly a most important national industry.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
As we have just heard in the speech of the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell), the Bill covers so many different matters that it is not possible for any Member to give an unmixed blessing to it or to pronounce a sweeping condemnation. At any rate, no one can possibly accuse the Government of undue precipitancy in dealing with this question. The Duncan Report was presented to this House in March, 1936. In February, 1937, the Minister of Agriculture, answering a question, said that the producers, through the British Trawlers' Federation, had represented that their case was too urgent to await the issue of the necessary long process of organising the distributive trades. He went on to say:The Government … propose to introduce legislation which will enable such a scheme to be brought forward as early as possible."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 22nd February, 1937; col. 1629, Vol. 320.]That was nine months ago. The Government have taken a considerable time to make up their minds and to put into the form of a Bill the recommendations of the Duncan Commission. It seems rather strange that after they have taken all this time the House of Commons should be given only a fortnight in which we may familiarise ourselves with a Bill of this magnitude. That contrast can be justified only upon the supposition that the mental processes of the back-benchers are very much more rapid than those of Ministers of the Crown.
With some parts of the Bill every hon. Member can agree, but there are other parts with which we are not able to agree with the same enthusiasm. I would first say a word about the commission. I understand that the commission are to have a dual function. First of all they 623 are to be a kind of permanent Royal Commission always having under review the problems of the industry, and, secondly, they are in certain matters to be the governing body of the industry. They are to be advised by the joint council containing representatives of the various sections. I welcome in particular the constitution of the commission because it represents a new departure in legislation of this kind. The commission are to consist of the persons appointed by the Minister. At last we are getting away from the principle contained in the Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933, and I welcome the change. We have realised in the last two years that when you set up a marketing board, with all the powers that we are accustomed to give them, the effect of their operations cannot possibly be confined to the producers, but are the concern just as much of the distributors and of other sections of the trade; and above all, of course, they concern the consumers. This form of constitution of a commission consisting of appointed persons and of an advisory council representing different sections of the industry is a very considerable advance.
I would like to raise one point in order to get it clear. We know that the Commission have to advise the Minister, and to administer a fund and present an account to the Minister. Is it intended that the Commission shall be responsible to the Minister in all their operations and, through the Minister, responsible to this House? That is a question of considerable importance, and it may perhaps be answered later in the Debate. If it is so, we might require the same information from the Commission that we have required from other bodies set up by us. We may have to ask them to make an annual report of their activities which would be available to hon. Members of this House. At present the Commission are to be responsible for producing marketing schemes, and the regulation is to be carried out by a series of marketing boards. We cannot tell what their number is to be. The marketing schemes are to follow the procedure with which we are all familiar in the agricultural marketing schemes. There is to be the proposal for a scheme, the public inquiry and objections heard, the poll of the producers and, finally, the scheme laid before the two Houses of Parliament.
624 Addressing the House just now, the Minister laid great emphasis on the fact that there had to be an affirmative vote of the two Houses. It is precisely on that point that our main objection lies. It is true that there has to be an affirmative vote, but all that the Houses can do is to accept or reject the scheme as a whole. We have no power whatever to amend it. That has always seemed to me an indefensible procedure when we are dealing with marketing schemes, whether concerning the fishing industry or some branch of agriculture, in which we are setting up a board and giving them very considerable powers. We are passing Measures which intimately concern the livelihood of a large number of people. We are doing something of greater importance to a larger number of people than most of the Statutes that we pass through this House during the ordinary Sessions. It seems strange that whenever a scheme of this sort comes up it is impossible for this House to make the slightest amendment in it.
I have listened now to a good many Debates on marketing schemes and I have heard supporters of the Government bring forward the most pungent criticisms of provisions that the schemes contained. I remember particularly on the potato marketing scheme how hon. Member after hon. Member got up on that side of the House and criticised some feature of the scheme; yet it was quite impossible for the House to give effect to its criticism in the Division Lobby except by rejecting the scheme as a whole. It seems to me that the best way in which the Bill could be improved is by putting in a provision enabling the two Houses not only to pass the schemes but to amend them as well.
In the light of that criticism I ask hon. Members to consider what these schemes may contain, remembering that if we pass the Bill as it stands now we lose practically all control over these schemes. The House is always very reluctant, naturally, to reject a scheme outright, but unless we are prepared to do that we have no control over these schemes in the future. Perhaps hon. Members will look at Clause 9 of the Bill. It deals with a system of licensing producers, and hon. Members will see in it the following words:No provisions contained in a producers' marketing scheme by virtue of the preceding 625 subsection shall be of any effect unless provision is also made by such a scheme—(a) for securing that the grant of a licence under the scheme shall not be refused, except—We ought not to be asked to legislate in that way because we have not the faintest idea what will be specified in any scheme brought forward, and we cannot tell on what grounds licences may be granted or refused. I shall be told that where a licence is refused there is the right of appeal to the Commission and there is, in a sense, but if hon. Members will look at paragraph (d) on page 12 of the Bill they will see that the scheme itself determines the powers exercisable by the Commission on any such appeal. There again, we are told that there is a right of appeal, but it is impossible for us to tell at this stage exactly how considerable that right will be.
- (i) on the ground that, in the opinion of the board, a sufficient number of licences are already in force, regard being had to the demand for white fish, or
- (ii) on such other ground (ii any) as may be specified in the scheme."
Thirdly—I am just taking these one or two actual examples—Clause 12 deals with the penalties for breach of the scheme. It is laid down in paragraph (c) that a marketing scheme may providefor requiring the board to impose on, and to recover from, any person registered under the scheme who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of the scheme, such monetary penalties as may be specified in the scheme.There is the greatest objection to a provision of this kind.
It frequently happens in this House that we give to a Minister powers to make orders or regulations, and we generally adopt one of two forms of procedure. We either specify in the Act itself what the penalty shall be for a breach of these regulations, or, alternatively, we say that the penalty may be increased under the regulations to an amount not exceeding a certain figure. Here we are giving whoever has the responsibility of drafting the scheme the power to put any kind of maximum, or it may be no maximum at all, in the scheme. This principle was raised in the House about two years ago, when a Bill was before us dealing, I think, with the question of a clearing house in connection with German debts. I remember that it was then proposed 626 to give a certain Government Department the power to make an order, and it was laid down in the Bill that the order itself should prescribe what the penalty should be for a breach of the order. Attention was drawn to that, as, if I may say so, attention is always drawn to these matters, from this part of the House, and, after a very long Debate, in which Members of all parties took objection to this kind of legislation, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister, and was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, agreed to delete those words from the Bill.
That was the last occasion on which the principle has been considered by this House, and the House showed very clearly that it objected to legislation of this character. I have given three examples of things to which many hon. Members would take exception, but which we shall not be able to prevent if this Bill goes through in its present form, so that we have to give simply an affirmative assent or to negative a marketing scheme.
I come now to a more controversial aspect of the Bill. There are three provisions dealing with the limitation of production. In the first place in Subsection (1) of Clause 6 these words appear:Any person carrying on that business in Great Britain is entitled, on application made by him in that behalf, to be registered under the scheme as carrying on that business.I think we might be told a little more as to what exactly is meant by these words. They might very well be taken to mean, and I think that probably they are intended to mean, that whereas people who have been carrying on business are entitled to register, it will be possible to keep any newcomer from entering the industry. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I am grateful for the assurance. I took it that that was the intention. But, even if it is not possible under that Clause, it seems to me that it probably would be possible under Clause 8 which provides that a marketing scheme may contain provisionsfor determining from time to time—(i) the quantity of white fish which may be sold by any person registered under the scheme.That, clearly, is a provision for the limitation of production. Every person is to have his standard quantity, whatever it 627 may be, so that under the scheme it would be possible to limit the total output of the industry. Finally, in sub-section (1, c, ii) of Clause 9, powers are takenfor limiting the quantity of white fish taken by the boat (either in any waters whatever or in any particular waters) which may be landed from the boat in Great Britain or any part thereof on any particular occasion, or the number of landings of white fish from the boat which may be effected in Great Britain or any part thereof during any specified period.There we have two powers—the power to determine how much any person shall be allowed to sell, and the power to determine how much fish any boat shall be allowed to catch. I agree here with the observations of the hon. Member for Seaham. This is obviously the most important part of the Bill, and I think the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill might have told us something more about the methods he has in mind.
What are these provisions for? It seems to me that there are two possible objects. The first would be to prevent over-fishing. I think it will be agreed in all parts of the House, and it has been frequently stated from the Treasury Bench, that the North Sea is being over-fished. I have not any exact statistics, and I doubt if they are available, but it seems to me that soon that will not apply to the North Sea alone, and that we shall soon find, if we go on as we are now, that the more distant waters also are being over-fished. I have been told by trawler skippers that the quantity of fish which they are catching in the middle waters around the Faroes is considerably less than it was a few years ago, and that the difference, at any rate between now and, say, 15 or 20 years ago, is observable even in the waters off the coast of Iceland. It seems to me that that is due, not only to the increased catching capacity of the trawlers, but also to the increased capacity of the trawlers to find out where the fish happen to be, largely as the result of the installation, at any rate on the larger and newer trawlers, of wireless telephones.
In the summer of last year I spent some time on one of the trawlers going out from Aberdeen. I remember that we arrived off the west coast of Myggenaes, the westernmost of the Faroe Islands, having caught no fish, or only very few, off the North Islands. Off the west coast, however, we found that there were fish. The first night we were there, there was 628 no other boat in sight, but the news went out to the other boats in the fleet, which got into telephonic communication with our boat the next morning, and no doubt there were boats in other fleets which were also able to pick up the information, so that the next night I was able to count the lights of no fewer than 30 trawlers, all of which had arrived within 24 hours on the news that fish had been found in this particular part. It seems to me that this process of over-fishing will not only affect the North Sea, but will in the long run affect these more distant waters as well.
The suggestion has often been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) that the Government should consider the advisability, not merely of closing the western waters round Bear Island, where, after all, there is no shortage of fish, but should consider the advisability of closing at any rate certain parts of the North Sea during certain seasons of the year. I know it is not a very easy thing to do, but it seems to me that the Government ought to be making endeavours to reach an international agreement on this subject of the fishing of the North Sea. I want to make it perfectly clear that, as far as my hon. Friends and I are concerned, we should not object to a measure designed to cut down the number of fish that are caught in order to prevent the over-fishing of the North Sea and other waters; and if these powers are being taken with a view to an international agreement to limit, say, the quantity of fish to be taken from the North Sea, we should not have any objection to offer. But the right hon. Gentleman has not said anything at all on that point, and I can only suppose that the aims he has in view in this part of the Bill are quite different, that it is not directed to preventing over-fishing, but, as the hon. Member for Seaha.m says, to establishing something in the nature of a statutory monopoly. It is clear as regards this part of the Bill that I and my hon. Friends on these benches could certainly not give our support to a Measure designed to apply to the fishing industry the vicious principle of limitation of output which was first brought in in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1933.
I have been referring hitherto to the problems of the North Sea. I should like, if the House will bear with me, to make 629 one brief reference to another part of the country, in which I have a certain interest, the district of Devon and Cornwall. We shall no doubt have many references to the Duncan Commission. The Duncan Commission referred specially to the inshore fishermen of Devon and Cornwall. On page 33 of their Report they said, speaking of Local Sea Fisheries Committees:We would suggest that the Ministry—which has always shown a dose interest in the inshore fisheries—should initiate a marketing investigation with special reference to the Devon and Cornwall fisheries, enlisting for the purpose the help of someone of standing and experience in Billingsgate market. We are not willing to assume that, within the structure of an organised white fish industry, these inshore fisheries, with their reputation for freshness, cannot find an economic outlet, provided the various interests sink their individual prejudices and lend themselves to real co-operative effort. We have it in mind that, if a wide enough scheme for area cooperation can be devised, embracing all the fishings of Devon and Cornwall, the Ministry might render financial support to the organisation for a limited period, until it can take its place in any wider marketing scheme that is arranged for the industry.That recommendation—surely not a very difficult one to carry out, at any rate as regards inquiry—was made 18 months ago, but, so far as I know, no inquiry of that kind has been carried out. Perhaps whoever replies will tell us why that particular recommendation with regard to Devon and Cornwall has not been implemented. Certainly that is a part of the country in which some assistance is needed, because, in Cornwall at any rate, there is a very large number of fishermen who have been accustomed to depend upon a foreign market, the French market and they have been hit very hard by the restrictions which have been placed on the import of fish into France. It is not entirely a coincidence that those restrictions, which have had such a depressing effect on the sea fisheries of Cornwall, have been nearly all instituted since we ourselves became a protectionist country.
With regard to Clause 54 of the Bill, to which the Minister drew special attention, I should like to point out that this Clause provides that, if a skipper is convicted of an offence against a by-law of a local fisheries committee, and if he has been convicted of a previous offence of a similar character within the previous two years, or has been twice convicted of such an offence within the previous five years, the penalty is to be laid on the 630 owner who employs him. That reproduces what I have always thought was the most unjust and harsh provision contained in the Illegal Trawling Act of two years ago. It means that, if a skipper has been convicted of an offence, he is not only penalised for that offence, and whatever fine or other penalty may be thought proper is imposed upon him, but it is also made known that any owner who employs him, at any rate within a period of two years, will do so at his peril. That means, of course, that not only is the appropriate penalty imposed upon him, but probably he will be deprived of his employment as well. However great the offence may be, it seems to me to be very undesirable that in this legislation we should introduce into our law the principle of vicarious liability, making a man answerable for something which may be done a long way away, which may be done against his orders, and of which he may have no knowledge whatsoever.
Finally, I should like to say a word about the question of small fish. We shall all agree, as the whole House agreed in 1933, as to the desirability of having a larger mesh for nets. We are all glad to know that it has been possible to reach a certain measure of agreement on that question. But I was rather sorry to hear that the provisions as to the landing of small fish have been strengthened. After all, anybody who has ever seen the operation of trawling being carried on knows that, however large the mesh may be, it is impossible to avoid catching a considerable quantity of small fish. As soon as you have started to trawl, you get the larger fish filling up the body of the net, and smaller fish are inevitably caught. It is laid down that they have to be returned to the sea, but, of course, they will he dead long before they can be sorted out and shovelled back into the sea.
I mention this because in Dundee we used to have for many years a particular trade in these small fish. The fishermen did not trouble to gut them. They brought them ashore as they were, and they were sold at very low prices to the poorest people. That was a blessing, at any rate, to those people, and that trade had to be entirely destroyed as a result of these provisions. I should have thought it would not have been beyond the ingenuity of the Ministry of Agriculture and 631 the Scottish Office to devise some method by which it was possible to check the size of the mesh without preventing the landing and sale of those small fish which must inevitably be caught and killed, whatever the size of the mesh may be. My hon. Friends and I do not propose to oppose this Bill as a whole. There are many parts we welcome, particularly in Clauses 3 and 4, but we reserve our right to attempt to improve parts of the Bill.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Thomson
I am very glad to be the first back bencher on this side of the House to thank the right hon. Gentleman for this Bill. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), possibly suffering from jealousy because he was not able to introduce the Bill himself, made a number of points against the Bill, but I do not think he really considers it a bad Bill. So far as Aberdeen is concerned, all sections are very grateful indeed for the Bill. I wish I could feel that the people in the country, and even hon. Members in this House, realise how very seriously hit the fishing industry has been. Mention has been made of the second report of the White Fish Industry Commission. That report made it perfectly plain that the industry was facing bankruptcy, and it is two years since the report came out. In Aberdeen the average price—and I hope that if there are to be marketing schemes, no average minimum price for all fish will be laid down, as average prices for fish are rather dangerous things, but rather that the various types of fish will each have their own individual prices—in 1934 went down to 2.25d. per lb. The report shows prices of 1929, 2.51d.; 1930, 2.14d.; 1931, 1.93d.; 1932, 1.83d.; 1933, 1.84d.; and 1934, 2.25d. At present the price is approximately 2d. a lb. At the same time the crews' wages must have gone down, and the losses to the trawl-owners must have got greater owing to enormous increases in costs. In the White Fish Industry report, Aberdeen showed the worst result of any of the big trawling ports. The price of fish has gone down since the report, and average costs have gone up. My hon. Friend said that the price of coal has gone up 5s. a ton. I should have thought it would have been more nearly correct if he had said 10s. a ton. Everything connected with the running of 632 a trawler has gone up by 20 per cent., 50 per cent., or even 100 per cent.
With regard to the position of Hull and the activities there, those concerned with the near waters feel that Hull has been responsible, to a great extent, for the price of fish having sunk disastrously. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) will, no doubt, refer to that. I do not know what the prices at Hull are, but if we take even the figures given in the White Fish Industry report, we see that at present the distant water trawlers going out from Hull cannot be making a profit owing to increased costs. In this Bill the near waters and middle waters do see some chance of regulation. We feel that difficulties are due in a great measure to the increase of landing of cheap and inferior white fish from other places. Since the report came out the landings in Hull have gone from 4¾million cwts. in 1934 to 5⅓ million cwts. in 1935, 6¼ million cwts. in 1936, and 7 million cwts. (on an estimate) in 1937.
No doubt, so far as the industry in Hull is concerned, the big distant water trawlers are a better financial proposition. No doubt, also, one big trawler going from Hull is a better financial proposition than three small trawlers, but there is no doubt that the quality of the fish suffers very severely in large trawlers. The crew, I think, are undoubtedly unable to clean, gut and ice the fish properly. There is no doubt that the fish does arrive stale and dirty, and it is badly looked after. I do not say that in every case the Hull fish arrives in this condition, but it is inferior to the fish which arrives at such ports as Aberdeen and Granton, and in some cases it is quite unfit for human consumption. They are killing the demand for fish by landing this inferior fish. They are swamping the market and reducing the price, and their only remedy has been to swamp the market more and reduce the price still further. So far as we in Aberdeen are concerned, we hope that regulation will come very shortly. It should be seen that this fish is landed in proper condition. I will mention one case where a trawler carried fish stored in the reserve bunkers next to the stokehole.
§ Sir D. Thomson
Not the bunks—the bunkers. You cannot expect fish to arrive like that in good condition.
633 I would stress the very great importance of having the five Commissioners completely outside the industry. They must be people with knowledge of the industry, but to have people who are in any way connected with the industry would be disastrous. The joint Council is obviously a most important body, and the chairman must be independent. There is no provision in the Bill, so far as I can see, for any salary to the chairman. There is provision for payment to the Commissioners and the various officials of the boards, and I should like the Under-Secretary for Scotland to look into the matter of providing for the chairman. It is absolutely essential that a really first-class man should be appointed to that position. So far as the five designated businesses are concerned, I hope the Minister will bear in mind the difference between all sections of the trade in England and in Scotland and the difference between inland and port wholesalers. I should like to join with other hon Members who put forward the plea that share fishermen should he included on the Joint Council. I think the hon. Member for Seaham asked for share fishermen to be a "designated business." That would be hardly practicable, because every man in those businesses will have to be registered.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That was not my proposal at all. I asked that they should be on this council as representatives of such interests.
§ Sir D. Thomson
If they are appointed to represent such interests, I am sure they will have equal rights with representatives of other businesses. One other such interest which might be inchided is that of the by-products. If the marketing scheme is to raise the price, by-products ought to be represented. So far as salesmen are concerned under Clause 2 (3), I imagine the procedure in connection with salesmen varies in different ports, but, in Aberdeen, at any rate, they are not in every case employes of the trawl-owners. Apparently, they are assumed by the Ministry to be agents of the trawl-owners. In Aberdeen this is not always so, and it. is quite essential that their co-operation should be obtained.
So far as the marketing regulations are concerned, I do not want to enter on a 634 number of Committee points at the present time, but there are a number of things in connection with which the procedure in the different ports varies. In Aberdeen, there is one practice to which trawler owners take very strong exception, and that is sharing in the market. I should like that to be borne in mind by the Minister. Under this practice, a number of merchants get together and agree to nominate one buyer, and, as a result, the price is kept unduly low.
With regard to Clause 9, which relates to limitation of landing and quantities, I hope there is no contradiction, and that it will be possible to carry this out. If there is to be limitation of the number of landings, so far as I can see under this Bill there is to be no compensation, whereas if the trawler is to be laid up there is compensation. It seems to me that that is a contradiction, and that it might work unevenly as beween large and small owners. A large owner with five trawlers called upon to limit his landings as to one-fifth could up one trawler all right, but a smaller owner with only one trawler which he had to lay up for one-fifth of the year would receive no compensation.
I welcome very much the prospect of selling schemes. If the indications of selling schemes are carried out, it will remove great difficulties, but I should like to have an assurance that any board which is being set up will not enter into business on its own account. So far as I can see, Clause ii might be read as providing that any marketing board might itself go into business and sell direct to the retailers. If there was any intention of reaching the Clause in that way it would cut out the port wholesaler and the inland wholesaler, and that would be a very undesirable thing. At the present time they arc co-operating wholeheartedly with the Government on the Bill, and if they felt there was any possible thought of cutting them out, their co-operation, obviously, would not be whole-hearted.
I assume that the Minister will use all his powers to see that schemes are started. There is nothing in the Bill to say who is to initiate a scheme. If the producers have some sort of scheme, all well and good, hut, as far as the marketing side is concerned, I do not think that there is any scheme at present on the stocks. If 635 there is no scheme and if the industry obviously, as it does, needs some form of reorganisation, presumably the Minister will use all his influence to see that some scheme is brought forward, but who is to initiate the scheme is not clearly stated in the Bill. The Commission can or the industry can, but if neither of them do I trust that the Minister will use his influence with the Commission to see to it that they do.
One point that has not been raised so far is the question of foreign landings. This probably does not come under the Bill, and is at the present time a matter to be dealt with under trade treaties. If a foreign trawler can come into a British port and land fish under the minimum price agreed upon by owners, the position of British trawlers will become an impossible one. If the foreigner could land fish under the British price, the merchants would obviously buy that fish and they would have to resell it to the retailer at the price fixed under a marketing scheme. Therefore, if he bought fish from a foreign vessel under the British trawlers' price he would make a very much larger profit than if he bought it from the British trawler. It would be a temptation to merchants to buy from the foreigner to the exclusion of the British trawler. If the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland can make any remarks on the subject in the course of his speech when winding-up the Debate, it will remove the biggest criticism of the Bill at the present time. No doubt it is a question that has to do with trade treaties, but can he give an assurance that if, and when, the trade treaties come up for renewal, a clause will be put in to say that foreign trawlers come under the same arrangements of minimum prices as our own British trawlers?
Another point that arises is the evasion of the spirit of the original trade agreement by filleting, heading and boning the fish. I understand that it is possible to land 60 per cent. or more greater weight of edible fish if the fish is filleted, headed and boned. The original trade agreement was made in the belief that the fish would be landed in a whole state, but by filleting, heading and boning, foreign trawlers have been able to land approximately 60 per cent. more weight of edible fish than was contemplated. I think that the quotas from every country are 636 pretty well taken up, with the exception of Germany.
The Minister of Labour at the present time is taking a census with regard to the family budget in respect of large numbers of people in this country, and I would ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he could not find out from his right hon. Friend how much fish is used, the type of families making use of fish and on what occasions the fish is used. We should then know what market there really is for fish in this country at the present time, and be able to see what we could do in order to improve that market. The marketing of fish in the countryside is not very good. Many hon. Members must have stayed during the summer away from a large town when it has been almost impossible to buy fish. Those of us who live near the ports and are used to eating fish probably take exceptional steps to obtain it. But the workpeople living in the country districts are unable to do so. I stayed this summer at a place within 20 miles of Edinburgh where there was no fish shop of any kind, and no method of obtaining fish. When numbers of people living within 20 miles of the sea have no possible means of buying fish unless they take an omnibus and ride 20 miles there and back, there must be something radically wrong. If the family budgets were looked into in order to see who eat fish and on what occasions, a very great deal might be done to improve the market for fish.
The trawling industry has been very heavily hit by legislation which has been promoted since the War, notably that dealing with the coal industry. Trade treaties have been established to help the coal industry more than any other industry, and I hope that the small number of us who represent fishing ports will obtain the sympathy of those who represent mining constituencies, because we have been sacrificed in order to bring back a measure of prosperity to the mining areas. The mining industry is a most important one, and it is situated mostly in the depressed areas, and no one is in any way reluctant to do everything possible to help that industry, but we are entitled to look for a little sympathy and help when, in great measure due to the rise in the price of coal, we have fallen into difficulties. In 637 the White Fish report, on the first paragraph dealing with Aberdeen, they say that Aberdeen suffers from two distinct difficulties. One is the high price of coal, and that is owing to its geographical position unavoidable, and the other for the same geographical reason is the high cost of transport of fish from Aberdeen to the South. They go on to say that this difficulty has been to a great extent got over by the increasing use of road transport.
Since these words were written the position as far as road transport is concerned has not improved. The licensing authorites, acting on legislation passed by this House, have been reducing very materially the number of licences for carriers who transport fish. Only last month or the month before a road haulage contractor in Aberdeen had his licences reduced in respect of the running of lorries. The development of road transport was one of the things that the Commisson held up as being a prospective help for Aberdeen, but this hope has been removed from us to a great extent by the operation of the Road Traffic Acts. It is to the railways to whom one has to turn, but there is no mention in the Bill that anything will be done to help with rail transport, which, as far as Aberdeen is concerned, is very high. The railways charge large sums for the transport of ice; 90s. a ton being the cost of carriage to London of ice that costs 10s. a ton, and in summer most of the ice is melted before it gets a quarter of the distance. The Hull merchant can get from 20 to 25 per cent. more fish in a box assessed to be of a given size, but in Aberdeen there is no such advantage. We have to pay for the weight of the fish in the box. We are at a considerable disadvantage in many ways, and we hoped the Bill would do much to remove those disadvantages.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill states that in the main the whaling section is necessary in order to enable the Government to ratify the whaling a greernents. I am not quite sure if that is as candid a statement as it might be. Clause 44, dealing with the whaling industry, says:There shall he included among the classes of whales the killing or taking of which is prohibited by section three of the Whaling Industry (Regulation) Act, 1934 …grey whales and any such other species of whales 638 to which the provisions of that Act apply as His Majesty may designate by Order in Council.By Clause 44 we are giving permission to the Minister to prohibit at any moment the taking of any sort of whale. The whaling industry in this country is a very large one, and if it is within the power of a Government Department, by a stroke of the pen, to say that the whaling industry is to stop—for this is what it amounts to—it is rather a drastic power to hand over to a Department. Clause 46 (3, c)—the right hon. Gentleman made special reference to this in his speech—says:the killing of whales otherwise than by a particular method.There is nothing regarding that in the whaling conventions. The only reference to it is made in the observations attached to the Whaling Convention. My right hon. Friend said that almost every Government, with the exception of France, had signed the Whaling Agreement. The ones actually are South Africa, America, Argentina, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, New Zealand and Norway. I do not think that Canada is concerned with whaling, and the most important omission is the Government of Japan … The Japanese have at the present time one 9,000-ton whale factory, and three 22,000-ton whale factories. If we enter into this agreement leaving out this very important producer and one who will probably produce more, we shall enter upon a difficult matter. If we include also in our Act of Parliament various observations of Governments which are not ratified elsewhere, we shall go very far towards tying up the whaling industry. I hope that before any alterations take place, either in the method of killing whales, or in the extension of types of whales to be killed, the industry will be consulted. Before any drastic alterations are made the position ought to be reconsidered by Parliament. It is possible for bureaucracy to wipe out the whaling industry at a stroke of the pen, and this House will have no say in the matter. I ask that the industry shall be consulted. Between 1934 when the Whaling Industry Act was passed and 1937, and when this convention was signed by His Majesty's Government, no representations and no consultations at all took place with the industry in this 639 country. When, this year, representations were made by certain sections of the industry in this country, they were informed that the agreement had already been signed and that it was now too late. The efforts of well-meaning and benevolent theorists in the Ministry, should at any rate be tempered with practical experience and knowledge.
This Convention includes the provision that no sperm whale shall be taken under 35 feet long. I understand that this size is exceptional and that only about 15 per cent. of sperm whales are ever over 35 feet long. That, therefore, is virtually the exclusion of the sperm whale-catching. I do not know whether that was intended or not. With regard to the blue whale, which is the ordinary whale taken, the permissible minimum length was increased from 65 feet to 70 feet. Practical people say that it is possible to see whether the whale in the water is a small one or a half-grown one. It is possible to see in the sea that a whale is under 65 feet, but the permissible minimum length has been increased under the Convention to 70 feet, and it is impossible in practice for the men to see whether or not the whale they are taking is 70 feet long. It is somewhat cold comfort for the whale if, after it has been killed and brought to the factory, the gunner gets no pay for killing it. The industry ought to have been consulted before regulations of an impractical nature were agreed upon, and I trust that the Under-Secretary will give us some assurance that the whaling industry will be consulted before any further regulations are made.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir D. Thomson) has raised some extremely interesting and important points, which I am sure will be further heard of in the Committee stage. When he said that all sections of the industry in Aberdeen welcomed this Bill he showed the same tendency to look at this problem in what I would describe, without offence, as the same warped way as the Minister. You can read 38 Clauses of the Bill before you come across any reference to the interests of the crews and the skippers. When I saw the draft of the Bill and I saw the word "producers" used as describing the trawl owner, I felt that that was straining language a 640 little far, but when the right hon. Gentleman went on to call the producers, who are the trawler owners, "catchers," I felt that he was straining our credulity too much. If I were to act on the same principle in the use of words, I should call the right hon. Gentleman a ploughman and the Secretary of State for Air a pilot.
There is a tendency on the other side of the House to regard the fishing industry as those who have money invested in it and to forget and leave out of account altogether the vital and greater interest which is held by those who look for their daily bread from this industry. It was depressing to me that so enlightened a Minister as the right hon. Gentleman undoubtedly is, should go through almost the whole of his speech without referring to the interests of the skippers and the crews, who are the true catchers, and that it should be only at the end of his speech that he referred to them in order to make his peroration.
I want to make a protest against the way the Bill has been drafted. The wording and the numerical order of the Clauses regulating the various marketing schemes appear to me to be in utter confusion. Although I do not ask the Minister to reply to my comments to-day, I hope that he will take note of them so that we may hear about this matter later. To ascertain the provisions of the marketing schemes in general, we have to study Clauses 5, 6 and 7 and then jump to Clauses 11 and 12, because the draftsman has seen fit, for no reason that I can make out, to sandwich in two Clauses dealing with producers' marketing schemes, followed by Clause 10 dealing with distributors' schemes. I will not go through the whole category of hurried drafting which I have written down in my notes, because every lion. Member can find out the evidence for himself.
In the Schedules parts are referred to as Sections instead of paragraphs, just as if they had been juggled about in great haste, the Minister not knowing whether he was going to put in a provision in a Schedule or a Clause. It almost appears as if there were a number of marginal headings hurriedly put together and that the provisions of the Bill were made to conform to those marginal headings. This may be an uninteresting matter, but it is of extreme importance that every Minister who is responsible for the drafting of a Bill should see to it that every possible 641 ambiguity is removed before a Bill is printed for Second Reading, not only for the benefit of those who have to study the Bill in this House but because when the Bill leaves this House it may bear evidence of confused drafting which leads to misinterpretation, much difficulty and probably to a good deal of litigation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to examine those comments at his leisure.
Now I come to the proposals of the Government in the main principle of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman envisages the almost immediate submission of a producers' marketing scheme. He told us that he had allowed only one month for the producers to register under the scheme because they wished to expedite the launching of the scheme which they had already under consideration. I hope he will not allow any undue haste in the launching of that scheme. The horn. Member for South Aberdeen said that every section of the industry in Aberdeen welcomed the provisions of the Bill.
§ Sir D. Thomson
Welcomed the introduction of the Bill. I did not say they welcomed every provision of it.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I am very glad to be able to draw that distinction. We now have it that all sections of the industry in Aberdeen welcome the introduction of the Bill, without committing themselves to the principles contained in it. That is to say, they are glad that something is being done. The point that I want to make is this, that the interests in Aberdeen, not only the interests of the men who are wholly dissatisfied with the provisions as they apply to them, but the near-water interests in Aberdeen are seriously alarmed at the prospect that a producers' scheme, dominated by the large interests in Hull, whose interests are in entire conflict with those in Aberdeen, is going to be rushed through to the detriment of those near-water ports who depend upon a better quality of fish for their trade.
Under the Bill, in any ballot which is taken to determine the acquiescence of the producers, it is not a per capita vote, but a vote which appears to be based not upon each individual owner having one vote but upon the tonnage of cubic capacity of the trawlers he owns. Therefore, if one section of the industry, the Hull section, has a larger tonnage and larger cubic 642 capacity employed in distant-water fishing, and whose interests are in entire conflict with the near-water interests, is able to affirm or repudiate any scheme which is put forward, that will not assist the main object of the Bill. Whatever may be said by the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law), who may tell us about the troubles of Hull—and no doubt they are serious—this Bill would never have been introduced to deal with the troubles of Hull. Its main object is to prevent the complete destruction of near-water fishing ports such as Aberdeen, Granton, Lowestoft, Milford Haven and others. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that having regard to the weight of influence of Hull—which may be described as the whale among the minnows, and who will certainly gobble up the interests of all the other ports if they are allowed to have their way—there should be a safeguard erected against their dominance over the marketing scheme.
I have no wish to cast any aspersion on the class of fishing done by Hull, but there can be no question that Hull must take its share of the blame and responsibility for the depopularising of the consumption of fish. They have relied for a period of years upon ever larger catches and ever larger trawlers, taking their fish from ever more distant waters, with the inevitable result that the fish landed at Hull has been of ever poor quality.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Every hon. Member who has given close study to this question must recognise that in the interests of the industry as a whole and even in the interests of Hull itself, unless fish is maintained in its line flavour and fresh condition, we shall never get that volume of fish consumption which we require to give employment and prosperity to the whole fishing industry. I should like to, read to the House one extract from a Government report, from the Ministry's own report in 1936:The increase of landings from distant waters results in a depression of prices which is most severely felt by those who fish the near-waters and who land comparatively modest quantities of better quality fish.It is not only a question of the volume of fish caught by Hull, but Hull has certain advantages in the shape of cheaper coal and cheaper transport facilities, which strengthen Hull's power to destroy 643 the prosperity of every near-water fishing port. What does this problem finally resolve itself into? The average price received by the producer—I am willing to concede to the right hon. Gentleman the use of the word "producer" with reservations, but I hope he will not try to describe them again as "catchers," otherwise I shall always refer to him as a ploughman—shows that from 1934 he has not got more than 2⅛d. per lb. of fish landed. For cod he got an average price of 1⅓d. per lb. In 1937 for nine months he got 1.74d. as the average price for all classes of white fish.
The problem of saving the near-water fishing industry is to raise the price from 1.74d. in a period of depression and 2⅛d. in a comparatively prosperous period, to 2¾d. If the right hon. Gentleman can get 2¾d. per lb. paid to the producer on all fish, the whole of the producing side of the industry would be satisfied as to their own profit and would be able with that very slightly increased price to give substantial improvement in the conditions of the skippers, mates and all who man the ships. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will focus his attention on that point.
I want briefly to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). There can be no question that the difficulty in this industry, as in every producing industry, is to apportion between the various sections of the industry the margin between the price which the producer receives and the price which the consumer pays. It is the same in the coal industry, in the milk industry and in the agricultural industry. In all of them it is extremely difficult to find out how much each one takes out of it, and unless you are able to follow the price structure of fish as it proceeds from one hand to another you will never get at the core of the problem. I regret to say that the report of the Duncan Committee was completely cold on this point. They purport to give the structural price from the producer to the retailer, and on page 14 they say that the port wholesalers had a turnover of over £40,000, and got 17.3 per cent. gross profit on the price they gave for the fish they resold, and that their net profit was minus 1 per cent. At Billingsgate, that is the inland wholesaler, where they went next, they point out that they got 14.7 644 per cent. gross profit on the price they paid for the fish, and that their net profit was .7 per cent. On page 40 of the report, which purports to give the net profit earned by the port wholesalers in 1934, you will find that Hull is supposed to have made a profit of 2.3 per cent. on its turnover, that is for every £100 it made a profit of 2.3 per cent. Grimsby lost .2 per cent., Aberdeen made .1 per cent., Fleetwood lost .9 per cent., and Milford Haven made .2 per cent. The average profit made by port wholesalers over the whole of the ports, excluding Hull, was .1 per cent.
That is really a farcical statement to anybody who knows anything about the industry. The hon. Member for Seaham drew attention to this fact. He said that whereas the average price received by the producer was 2.18d. per lb. in 1934 and according to my statement 1.74d. per lb. in 1937, by the time the fish gets to the retailer you have to pay anything between 10d. and 1s. 3d. per lb. for it. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), whose interests are those of the producer, would have examined this point a little further. In the price list issued by many concerns you will find the price of the fish before cleaning and filleting, and in a case like that there is a little to be allowed for wastage. Here is one which I have had from the Army and Navy Stores. The price of cod roes is 1s. and 1s. 2d., small whole fish 7d. per lb.—and they sell at less than 1d. per lb. in the market—haddock 10d. and 1s., and hake 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d. The fish is charged for on weight before cleaning and loses weight after filleting.
There is anything between 400 and 700 per cent. margin between what the producer receives and what the consumer pays, and unless you are prepared to find out where that goes this problem will remain on your hands for the rest of your days. There is a provision in the Bill to get every kind of information, to restrict the commission which may be charged by auctioneers, to restrict the prices of the fish, but on this vital point there is no provision in the Bill because you cannot restrict the amount of profit placed on the fish by the inland wholesaler and by the port wholesaler. I ask the Minister to deal with that point. Where is the provision to restrict the excessive profit which all sections of the 645 industry believe is being made by the port wholesaler and by the inland wholesaler. Unless you are going to find that out and stop the leak the problem will remain with you. Therefore I ask the Minister in the administration of this scheme to look steadily at the price structure and not allow facts to escape him.
Let me add a few words about the crews. The House cannot possibly realise the conditions under which some of these crews are working at the present moment, not only white fishermen but herring fishermen as well. Their hours and conditions are more severe than the hours and conditions of any other employés in this country, without exception. Is it realised that it is common for the crew of a trawler to be 24 hours without any sleep, and in that time to have only 5 or 10 minutes to snatch their food? I know cases where they have been 30 and 36 hours without any sleep in all kinds of weather. Indeed, they often get much worse time in fine weather, when it is possible to fish, than in bad weather when it is impossible to tow the net. Not only the men but the skippers and mates suffer extremely. I have a list of the wages which are given to the skippers, and taking them over a period of three months the average for a week in fine weather when it is possible to fish is £2. 9s 6d., £1 18s. 5d., £3 1s. 2d.
That is the kind of wage which skippers and mates are earning in this important industry in Aberdeen to-day. Some of them after two or three months fishing have come home without any pay at all to draw. They can make two trips of 16 days and when they come back they are in debt to the owner of the vessel for the food they have consumed on the voyage. What a home-coming that is! Does the Minister realise that they are reduced to desperate poverty not because of any laziness on their part or lack of hardihood, because their job requires the most sustained courage, and not because of any mischance, because they are accustomed to take the rough with the smooth; they are reduced to this desperate extremity of poverty on account of the folly of the economic system under which they are compelled to work, and I must add also because of the unenlightened administration of that system by those whose duty it is to administer it.
646 When I have attempted by various methods to secure some improvement in these conditions I have had strange reton[...] from the Board of Trade. I pointed out that the conditions in one port were so severe that it was becoming difficult to get deck hands to sail, and the retort I got was that if conditions were so bad surely that was the opportunity for these men to negotiate for better and improved conditions. Everyone knows that the trawling industry in Aberdeen is not in a position to give improved conditions to the men out of its own resources. Moreover, the trawling industry does not lend itself to organisation, and if the Board of Trade are relying on the efforts of the men themselves to improve their conditions, it will be some time before they get what is their due. Being in port one week and out of port another it is impossible to get organisation, and they are the type of men who do not lend themselves to organisation. I hope the Minister will recognise that in dealing with this problem he has a particular responsibility and duty to deal with the crews as well.
It is really amazing when one looks at this from an impartial point of view to notice the comparative tenderness shown to the profit-making interests and the casual and superficial way in which the interests of the crews are dealt with. Before any scheme can be made to affect the profit-making interests, a scheme has to be prepared by the producers, then submitted to the Commission; the Commission direct the producers to consult certain interests, the Commission must publish the scheme and invite objectors to communicate with the Alinisters, Ministers consider objections and consult the Commission, Ministers shall direct an inquiry into every objection and consider the report, publish modifications and invite further objections; there is to be a poll of registered producers, both Houses have to approve by affirmative Resolution; there is a consumers' committee, a committee to investigate reports which the Minister may require the board to amend; and finally the scheme can be revoked by the Minister.
What an elaborate piece of machinery to set up to protect those who are making a profit, but when you are remedying an injustice inflicted upon the men all that is provided is that they are going to have an account of the settling sheet given 647 them, and they can complain if they like. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Sir W. Womersley) was not well informed, because from my own experience if men make themselves troublesome in regard to their settling sheets it is not long before they find themselves without a job. There are many owners I know who deplore this practice as much as we do but, nevertheless, it is unsafe for any member of the crew to make trouble about his settling sheet. How does the Minister propose to deal with the position? He says that a superintendent of the Board 3f Trade will conduct an inquiry if he wishes. My experience of officials in the Board of Trade in recent years, I regret to say, has been that they lack initiative in these matters. They do not want to cause trouble, and I think it is vital that there should be some compulsory power to conduct an investigation into the accuracy of these complaints.
Finally I want to make a suggestion that it would perhaps be wiser in the long run to deal with the fishing industry by a Ministry of Fisheries. It is not a large industry but it is an important one. The Minister said that the connection between the fishing industry and our national survival has always been recognised. If that is so, how does it come about that three Ministers with no very well defined responsibility are administering the fishing industry of this country through various ad hoc committees which are set up regularly every few years, the Herring Industry Board, the Fishery Board for Scotland, the various local fishery committees, and now we are to have the Sea Fish Commission and a Joint Council with various powers, a Consumers' Committee and a Committee of Investigation. Surely it would be better to attempt to bring all this complex and often overlapping organisation together and to establish a Ministry of Fisheries. It is not the magnitude of an industry that should decide whether or not it is entitled to a separate administration; it is its importance to the community. I think the Minister recognises that the Commission which he intends to set up will be, in effect, a temporary Government Department, not provided with a Minister, it is true, but subject to the interference of three or four different Ministers. Would it not be better to go the whole way and to bring forward a 648 proposal for the establishment of a Ministry of Fisheries? I believe that in the long run that would be the best way to organise this industry, and I hope it may not be too late for the Minister to give his consideration to such a policy.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) began his speech by saying that he had read 30 or 40 Clauses of the Bill before he had come to any reference to fishermen. With due respect to the hon. Member, I maintain that that is a completely misleading statement. It is true that the word "fishermen" may not appear in those pages, but the hon. Member is so fond of fine verbal distinctions, as in the case of "producers "and" catchers, for instance, that he entirely escapes the reality which underlines this Bill and the whole issue. Every Clause in the Bill has reference, directly or indirectly, to fishermen. The hon. Member himself admitted that towards the end of his speech, when he said that he had been looking at the accounts of several skippers and mates in Aberdeen and had found that over a long period they had had an average weekly wage of practically nothing. The fact that those men who share in the enterprise were getting that miserable wage is indicative of the condition of the industry as a whole on the producing side. If, by this Bill, or by any other method, the profit-making capacity of the industry can be raised, it will automatically follow that the wage-earning capacity of the skippers, mates and fishermen will also be raised. In so far as the Bill succeeds in its object, it will give to direct financial benefit to the workers engaged in the industry.
I do not feel any very great enthusiasm for the Bill; nor do I think anyone can feel much enthusiasm for the idea of confining within the framework of a Bill of this nature the enterprise and spirit of adventure which characterises the fishing industry and which has really produced it, as we know it to-day. I do not think it is at all desirable that we should do this, but it is absolutely inevitable. I am sure that if the measure of regulation provided in this Bill were not put in hand immediately, there would be not merely a decline in the industry—indeed, there is a decline at this moment, for it is not 649 of many great industries that one can say that they are very much worse off to-day than they were during the world depression, which is the case in the fishing industry—but a collapse on a huge scale, involving not only millions of pounds of capital, in which apparently the hon. Member for North Aberdeen is not interested, but thousands of human beings as well. The purpose of this Measure is as much to serve those human beings as it is to serve the capital.
Both the hon. Member for North Aberdeen and the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir D. Thomson) made a great deal of play about the iniquities of Hull, and both of them, with greater or less firmness, assured the House that the real cause of the difficulties of the fishing industry was that Hull was selling stinking fish. I think that is far too simple an explanation. I would like the hon. Member for North Aberdeen to take me to his division and show me the old tin kettles that go by the name of trawlers there, and I would like to take him to Hull and show him there the magnificent vessels of the latest design, with every kind of safety appliance, such as wireless direction-finders, wireless telephones, wireless sounding machines, and so on. Then I would ask him to explain how it is that the selling of stinking fish produces such vessels in Hull and the selling of first-class fish produces the vessels which they have at Aberdeen. Some more elaborate explanation is needed for that situation. Of course, the real difference between Hull and Aberdeen, as both hon. Members know, since they have read the report of the Sea Fish Commission, is that, as the Commission pointed out. there is an air of efficiency, self-confidence and organisation in Hull which does not exist in other ports. I think one can make a great deal too much of this talk about Hull reducing the whole industry to a state of complete defencelessness and collapse. It simply is not true. Nevertheless, I must admit, in fairness, that there is something in the point of view expressed by both hon. Members, although they very much exaggerated the position and painted it in much too lurid colours.
I would like to put the matter to the House in this way. Hon. Members will be familiar with the story of Samuel Butler entitled "Erewhon," which portrays an imaginary country where there 650 is no machinery, because at some time in the history of the country machinery got such a hold over the people that there was a sort of civil war between human beings and the machine, and machinerywas turned out of "Erewhon." Very much that kind of thing has been happening, particularly during recent years, in the fishing industry. Enormous and efficient fish-killing machines, as my right hon. Friend described them, have taken control of the industry and are driving human beings in the industry in a way which is intolerable. These boats, which are very expensive to build and to run, have to cover expenses, and the only immediate way in which they can do so is to get in as much fish as they can, irrespective of its quality. The one thing on which they have to concentrate, for it is the one advantage which they have over their competitors, is to catch much more fish and to get it in more quickly.
The existence of these boats, and the completely unchecked competition between them and in building them, means that there is a desperate drive all the time to get more and more fish. That is something which I believe everybody connected with the industry recognises. The necessity of covering expenses by getting more fish means that no regard is paid to the quality of the fish that is brought in. And an important point is that not only is there the drive to get more fish, but the human beings on the ships are being driven by the ships themselves to work longer hours, in more severe conditions, than would be the case if there were some regulation. During last week-end I was talking to an old fisherman in Hull, and he told me that he had been told by his son, a mate on one of these big ships, that within the last 12 months the character of the skipper had completely changed and that the man, driven desperately by the necessity of making the ship pay and of getting vast quantities of fish, had become an absolute slave-driver. I am sure that is an element in the situation which this Bill will prevent. If the building of these enormous vessels and competition between them can be regulated, there will not be this urge to drive the men to the utmost limit.
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen have criticised the Bill 651 on the grounds that it gives the producer, as such, a privileged position and that it is establishing a producers' monopoly. I do not think there are any serious grounds for that belief. The producer, under this Bill, has not the power which the producer has under the agricultural marketing Acts, and it is very desirable that he should not have it, of dictating the person to whom and through whom he should sell his product. Incidentally, although the producer is not given that power, it looks as though, under Clause 11, Subsection (d), there is to be established a statutory buyers' monopoly. I cannot see any more reason for having a buyers' monopoly than for having a sellers' monopoly, and if my interpretation of that Sub-section be correct, I very much hope that the Sub-section will be deleted at a later stage of the Bill.
It is true that the Bill gives the producers power to fix a minimum price for their fish. I do not think that is a power to which either the distributor or the consumer will object. It has been exercised at Hull for a very long time past. But if that power is given to the producer, the minimum price ought to be the same at every port, because the wholesaler at one port will have an advantage over the wholesaler at another if at the first port he is working under a lower minimum price. It is true that the Bill gives the producer power to restrict production, to say how much fish he will land, how much fish he will put into his ship, and so on. If anything is to be done by this Bill, the power to restrict production must be given to the producer. Almost every trouble from which the industry is suffering to-day is due to unregulated production, and as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen said, unless the producer is given some power to regulate production, there cannot be any improvement in the quality of the fish, in the conditions in which the people are working or in any other respect.
It is not the purpose of the Bill to improve the condition of the industry and of the producer by creating an artificial scarcity. Its purpose is to improve the position of the producer by creating a wider market and by offering a better commodity to fill it. In practice, I think that is all that the Bill can do. As to safeguarding the consumer from profiteering, there is to be a consumers' committee, a committee of investigation, and so on 652 There is, however, a much greater safeguard, and it is in the very facts of the situation. As my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, fish is a perishable commodity, and it is not an essential foodstuff. Any attempt at profiteering on the part of the producer will be met with swift retribution, for although he may try to benefit from the first attempt, he will not try a second time.
There are, it seems to me, two very great weaknesses in the Bill. The first is one which has already been referred to by more than one speaker, and it is that there is no provision at all made for the regulation of the supply of foreign fish. The whole purpose of this Bill is to endevaour to regulate supplies to the markets of this country, and I do not see how that is going to be possible unless you can regulate the supplies coming in from outside the country. What will happen will be that the Board will have some scheme under way which will seem to be perfectly satisfactory, but then you will find the foreign producer holding up his quota month by month until probably just as the scheme is getting under way he will dump the whole accumulation, and thereby blow the scheme to bits. There can be no regulation in these circumstances. I know the hands of the Government are to some extent tied, but we are entitled to some declaration of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government to-night. We are entitled to know what they intend to do ultimately on this point. Do they intend to implement the proposals of the report, to put quotas on a monthly basis and abolish the system of commission sales on foreign fish, whereby such fish comes into the wholesale market with instructions from the foreign country that it is to be sold at 6d. or 1s. below the accepted British price? Do they intend to implement the recommendation of the Sea-Fish Commission that, for the purposes of the quota, filleted fish shall count as whole fish? I think we are entitled to know what the policy of the Government is on this matter.
The other very great weakness, as it seems to me, is in the phrase "prescribed majority." I think it is true to say that under the Agricultural Marketing Act the majority by which it is necessary to carry a scheme or amend it is stated in the Act. But in this Bill the prescribed majority is that majority which 653 the Minister in his wisdom decides to be reasonable. That seems to me to be putting altogether too much power into the hands of the Minister. And it seems to me to be asking a very great deal of a very important minority interest in the fishing industry. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen told us that his great fear about this Bill was that we were establishing a producers' board for the benefit of the port of Hull, and that Hull with its great fishing capacity would control that producers' board to the detriment of other ports in the country. I am very much more afraid of the opposite effect, and I think that Hull is surrendering a great deal of its initiative to the rest of the industry and putting itself in a position which might become dangerous. The hon. Member knows that when the producers' scheme was originally published some months ago it was found that on the board there were three votes for the distant water interests, three votes for the near water, and three independent votes. On the face of it, it would seem as though Hull was on an equality with the near water ports. But it is not all the three votes that come from Hull. Some come from Grimsby and some from Fleetwood, where there is near water fishing as well as distant water fishing. Hull is in a vulnerable position, and I think that, in fairness to Hull, which has done everything it can to assist these negotiations—
§ Mr. Garro Jones
My anxiety arises because the Government authority will not be the Marketing Board, but the whole of the producers will have the power to prevent the scheme from coming into effect.
§ Mr. Law
The catching power of Hull, great as it is, and the number of the vessels at Hull does not give Hull a majority over the rest of the country. Why I think it is dangerous is because we have heard something to-night of the feeling with which Hull is regarded by other ports. I do not think it is too much to say that other ports are jealous of Hull's efficiency, and Hull to that extent is vulnerable. It is to be tied and bound, and I do not think it is fair to ask Hull not only that it should come into the scheme, not only that it should 654 sacrifice a measure of its own independence for the benefit of the industry as a whole, but also that Hull should not know exactly what it is sacrificing until long after the Bill has become law. I think the Minister might well take the phrase "prescribed majority" out of the Bill and substitute a definite majority which will be known before the Bill leaves the House.
Upon one other aspect of the Bill I want to say a few words. I do not believe that this Bill is a Bill for the restriction: of supplies but, notwithstanding this, it is quite obvious that there will be some restriction of supplies as one result of it, and I think that there should be something in the Bill to express what I am sure would be the will of this House, and that is, that any displacement of labour that there may be, any hardship which may be inflicted upon the workers in this industry, should be as little as possible. Hon. Members opposite suggested that there should be representatives of the fishermen, and I suppose also of the shore workers appointed to the joint Council. That is, I think, fairy but I am not sure myself that it would be practicable. But if that is not done by the Government, I think the Government should establish in this Bill some machinery by which the men on the one side can negotiate with the Producers' Board, or Distributors' Board it may be, and make any hardship that must be the result of the Bill as little severe as possible.
I want to say a word on the question of the settling sheets and payment of crew's in Part IV of the Bill. Hon. Members opposite have spoken on that subject with great violence and, though I agree with them to a very great extent, I do not think they help their case very much by the kind of statements which they have been making. The hon. Member for Seaham, for example, in the course of his speech told the House, and the House was very much shocked to, hear it, that the average wage of a fisherman in a trawler was £2, or something like that. But the hon. Member for Seaham, although I think he did qualify his statement, did not make it at all clear to the House that the actual average earnings of the men would be very much higher than that if the industry were on anything like a normal basis such as we 655 hope to get by this Bill. He said a week. Well, an investigation was made some time ago in Hull, and the amount came to £5 a week, which is a different story. That £5 a week may have included certain allowances, and so on, but I am quite certain that the average earnings of a fisherman, as distinct from his wage, is nothing like the a week about which the hon. Member for Sea-ham spoke in his speech this afternoon. I do not think hon. Members opposite are doing themselves much good either with this House or the fishermen whom they are supposed to represent by making statements which everybody knows not to be strictly true.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
My hon. Friend contests the truth or accuracy of the statement I made, but I read it from actual wages paid to skippers and men, and I refrained from making certain deductions. Those figures were actual representative figures taken in the last two months, and I will show them to the hon. Member afterwards.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We have a list of the actual wages, and on that document the actual wages are two guineas a week plus twopence in the £, I think, net. The hon. Member forgot one point to which I referred. He should remember the irregular employment of these men. There is an extended period during which men are frequently unemployed, and if you take the average number of weeks during which men are employed and take the average earnings, it comes to less than £2 a week.
§ Mr. Law
I do not think the hon. Member has quite got the point I wanted to make. I was not disputing the average standard wage, but the average earnings. That 2d. in the £ to which he referred, and oil money to which he does not refer, makes a considerable difference. I should think that in any time of normal prosperity in Hull it would on the average double it.
§ Mr. Law
But it may make a considerable difference, and it is completely false to say that the average total earnings of the men are in the neighbourhood of £2 a week, because they are not when the 656 industry is enjoying even normal prosperity. It would not have been so a year ago. The point I was trying to make was that I sympathise a very great deal with what the Opposition feels on this question of the settling sheet. There is in the minds of the men a deeply-rooted suspicion that the owners of the vessels falsify their profit and loss account, in order to make the profit appear less than it is. I am absolutely convinced, from my own experience of Hull, that there is no justification at all for that suspicion. I know the Hull owners fairly well, and they are quite incapable of meannesses of that kind. I know, in particular, one very big firm where the owner takes his skipper and compels him to go through every account after the voyage to see with his own eyes that it is correct. In spite of that, I believe that in that firm 90 per cent. of the employes believe that they are cheated. If you have that atmosphere of suspicion and distrust—and you have it—it is very unfortunate. The question is whether the provisions in this Bill will actually dissipate that.
The Bill is a very great advance, and I think hon. Members opposite will see that the provisions do represent a very great advance. But I am not at all sure in my own mind that they will dissipate this atmosphere of suspicion that exists and is so very harmful indeed. I fear that for this reason: It is true that you get the advantage of a uniform settling sheet, it is true that the settling sheet should be in a place where it could be seen by the crew if they want to see it, but, of course, the average fisherman is not capable of looking through a long account hung up on the wall and knowing whether that account is accurate or not. It is true that the Board of Trade is given a copy of every settling sheet and has the power to initiate complaints on its own responsibility, but I do not see how a Board of Trade superintendent can possibly initiate complaints when it involves going through hundreds of these settling sheets as they come in. He must still await, as he does to-day, people coming with complaints to him and pointing out what they think is due to them in arrears. Then he can investigate the complaint and tell the fishermen concerned whether they are right or wrong. But he cannot be expected to do much initiation in view of the mass of settling sheets which is coming in constantly.
657 On the other hand, if it were made obligatory on the Board of Trade to see to the signing-on and signing-off of men in the presence of a Board of Trade superintendent, that would clear away once and for all any suspicion that may exist about the signing-on of men and about the settling sheets. Inquiry can be made on the spot and there can be no ground left for the slightest suspicion. I know that objection will be taken by the owners to such a course on the ground of the red-tape and additional expense involved, and also on the ground of inconvenience to the men. But I feel convinced that if the Board of Trade really tackled this matter, it could deal with the men signing-on and off fishing boats just as it deals with men signing-on and off the big boats without imposing undue expense on the State, or undue inconvenience on the fishermen or the industry in general. If there is a case for signing-on and off in the presence of a superintendent on the big boats there is a far stronger case for doing it on the fishing boats, where there is the additional complication of share settlements. I hope that the Government will carefully consider the possibility of making compulsory the permissive powers which the Board of Trade is to have under the Bill as it stands. As I say, I do not regard the Bill with great enthusiasm but I do regard it as a determined effort to enable the industry to get out of the difficulties in which it finds itself. I regard it a s a courageous effort to give a measure of self-government to a big industry. I hope it will succeed, and I believe that if it has the support and co-operation Of every section of the industry, it has a good chance of success.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Adamson
The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) seemed, during his speech, to lose some of the optimism which characterised the earlier passages of it and the claims which he there made on behalf of this Measure. Although, in his closing remarks, his optimism revived a little, he nevertheless left the impression on the House of some incredulity about how this Measure is going to operate. He spoke very largely from his own experience of the more effective organisation of the industry in the port of Hull as compared with other ports, and I think it is admitted that Hull has faster vessels and fleets more 658 capable of bringing in supplies of fish than other ports. I believe also that, generally, speaking, the conditions of the fishermen in Hull are better than the conditions of fishermen in other parts of the Kingdom. But Hull is an exceptional case, and it would be folly to think that this Measure is merely intended even to protect what the fishermen have achieved up to now.
We on this side of the House were hopeful that there would be some provisions in this Bill which would bring the industry into a more affluent state than it has been in for a considerable time. When the Minister was speaking the House must have felt some sympathy with him in the fact that he had received this heritage from his predecessors in office and in the fact that the Sea Fish Commission had been deliberating for practically four years on these proposals. Both in London and in a number of the fishing ports I came into close contact with the Commission. The members of that Commission tried to understand the problems placed before them, and went to enormous trouble to secure information from all sections. They tried to appreciate the point of view of the fishermen put forward by delegations of various trade unions and organisations, on many problems which concern not only the Minister's Department but the Board of Trade as well. It is to the credit of the Commission that they have produced a report which sets forth clearly the difficulties that will have to be surmounted by the fishing industry, together with recommendations as to how those difficulties are to be overcome.
When we come to consider the Bill itself, however, there is some doubt in our minds as to what is actually intended by those who drafted it. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) that it is rather haphazard in its terms. I heard it referred to in conversation as "a Measure of circumlocution" and there is some truth in that remark, because it seems to go round and round and back again, before it ultimately gets to the objects which it is setting out to attain. The machinery of the marketing proposals is indeed such as the average Member of this House can hardly comprehend. It is difficult for any one reading the Bill to know what is the beginning of it or what is to be the end of it. 659 Nevertheless, speaking from the fishermen's point of view, we are prepared to accept the proposition that the marketing system, under the existing conditions of remuneration, must be put in order. It is the basis of the fishermen's livelihood and we are prepared, as we stated in our evidence, to accept the proposed machinery. After all, this is not Government machinery. What the Government are doing is to give enabling powers to the industry itself to organise marketing under the ultimate supervision and protection of this Commission.
The proposal of the White Fish Commission to some extent departs from the practice hitherto adopted in Measures of this kind. It is quite different from the type of board which was set up in the case of the herring industry. It may be that behind this scheme there is the intention that this Commission may be of a more permanent character than other bodies of the kind which have been created. I am, however, inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen that it is supplementary in its character, rather than the kind of Measure which might have been adopted if we were establishing a separate fisheries department. Nevertheless, we believe that with the sympathy of the various Departments concerned and the active support of Ministers, the Commission, with the powers which it will have under this Bill, can accomplish a considerable amount of good. I am not now going to question the kind of representation which there will be on the Commission. I only hope that it will be selected according to capacity, and not necessarily on considerations of a business character alone. I hope it will not be concerned merely with questions of pounds, shillings and pence, but that it will take a keen interest in the human part of this problem.
On Clause 2, which sets up the White Fish Industry Joint Council, I must agree with my hon. Friends, and to some extent with the hon. Member for South-West Hull, that there should be on this council representatives of the fishermen, not only because of the conditions of their labour, but because, generally, the fishermen themselves are either at sea or when they are in port are seeking means of relaxation. They have not the opportunities of taking a close personal interest in their associations which other 660 bodies of workers have and they must delegate duties of this kind to others who are able to represent them. In view of those conditions they should have representation. What may be called the saving portion of Clause 2 is the provision that "other interests" may be added to those specified in the Clause and I hope that the claims of the fishermen's representatives will be taken into consideration.
Apart from the marketing proposals there is very little else in the Bill of importance to the fishermen except in so far as it concerns their desire for the general extension and development of the industry. When we see the type of vessels in use in the different ports to-day we must sometimes marvel that the industry can carry on under the present adverse conditions. I have seen some of those which the hon. Member for South-West Hull indicated were of the latest type, and I have compared them with those which are being used in such places as North Shields and elsewhere.
There is in Clause 9 a provision which, I think, must have slipped in without much consideration. It is in relation to the producers' arrangements for the registration and licensing of vessels. Within these provisions is included the right of compensation where boats are put out of action or become redundant, and yet, although compensation may be given to the owners, there is no mention of either the skipper or the mate, who may lose their ship, and, because of the distinction between them and the remainder of the crew—for under the terms of their engagements, it is entirely a question of sharing the catch—they have nothing to fall back on in the way of unemployment insurance if they should he unemployed. With the redundancy of vessels, it is very unlikely, unless they can move to another port, that they can be accommodated with other employment. I trust that due consideration will be given to Amendments that we propose to move to remedy this defect. Actually the skipper and the mate are in the position of being dependent entirely on the going out of the ship. Their actual earnings depend upon the catch that they bring in. They have no wages to give them the qualification of wage earners in the ordinary sense of the term. Consequently they will be left high and dry, without possibly the prospect of another ship and without any opportunity of following other employment. It would 661 be a wise precaution that compensation, whether within the industry or from any other source, should be applied equally to the skipper and those who are dependant upon the share.
Now I come to the provisions in Part IV of the Bill, and I want to say at the outset that we fully reccgnise the difficulties that beset the advisers of the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade in seeking to devise a settling sheet that could be uniform for application all over the ports. But when the organisations were giving evidence they submitted to the Commission a model settling sheet, and I understand that the Trawlers' Federation also submitted what they called an approved form, which the Board of Trade took into consideration. We believe that the safeguards laid down in this Part of the Bill will make it possible to devise, probably in some cases with local negotiations with the owners, typical sheets that will suit the various ports. To the ordinary individual who may never have seen a settling sheet, it would be amazing if he knew something of the charges that are set against the settlement for the fisherman ar d added to the costs of the ship. If I may enumerate a few samples, probably it will elucidate the matter to some extent,
There is the cost on the credit side, first of all, of the remains of any stores, ice, salt, and other such provisions, after a voyage, but when we see the charges, such as the port charges, not merely on the tons of coal and the hundredweights of ice, but the commission on sales, the port charges for boxes and baskets, and even for the number of gallons of water taken out, the pilotage, the medicine chest, and innumerable other articles, down even to lamp wick, we shall have some appreciation of the attitude of mind of the fisherman who begins to calculate all those charges that are assessed against his share of the earnings, and the dilemma in which he finds himself even when he is faced with a copy of the settling sheet. In the past that has been rather the exception than the rule, and we are rather glad that the position has been overcome, very largely by conciliation and agreement on all sides to the extent that the particulars are not only going to be at the disposal of the skipper of the ship and the inspector of the Board of Trade, but also that they will be available for the crew. It will remove 662 some doubts that enter into the mind and some suspicions that are bound to be created when the men are faced with such problems.
Within the last few days there has been another concession, which is not, of course, incorporated in the Bill, but which we believe has been agreed and a copy of which has been forwarded to me. It came from the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade, dated 8th November, and it arose out of some consultation with the various interests. There was some considerable misapprehension as to whether, following the sales at the port, there would be some certificate as to the actual sales added to the settling sheet; and although we appreciate some of the difficulties in the way of getting a certificate that would be accurate, owing to the fact that many of the salesmen are employed by the trawler companies themselves, and owing to other factors, such as difficulties in tracing many of these transactions, we understand from this letter that the point is fully dealt with in the Section headed "Form of Settling Sheet" in the note of the meeting which has been circulated, which has been amplified by the Marine Section of the Board, who say:I am glad now to be able to tell you that the British Trawlers' Federation have agreed that details of sales should be attached to the settling sheet on a separate sheet on which will be entered the quantities of the different kinds of fish sold or otherwise disposed of, and the amounts realised.To that extent we are grateful for the deliberations of the Department. In connection with the Clause regarding permissible functions of superintendents, on the engagement and discharge of crews, I regret very much that it was not possible to get full agreement, very largely owing to the administrative difficulties of the Departments, but we are hopeful of the promises that were given, that should difficulties arise in the future such as have arisen in times past, those powers would be exercised. It will certainly be a considerable safeguard in the minds of the seamen if they can have the opportunity of realising that when they sign their agreements, there will be a witness of the Board of Trade to take some responsibility.
There are other problems that, unfortunately, will have to be faced if the fishing industry is to overcome some of the difficulties that operate to-day. I will 663 touch on only two of these problems that we trust the fishing industry in its development can do something to overcome. The first is that, with all the hazardous conditions which the seamen have to face, probably the greatest is that of the uncertainty as to when they will reach the fishing fields and then when they are likely to get some rest from their labours. I will quote, from part of the evidence that we placed before the Commission, two particular instances of how this affects fishermen on the high seas. I have the names of the ports and the dates, if they are desired. Here is an instance from North Shields, which is probably one of the most backward fishing ports in the Kingdom, so far as the age of boats and type of fishing vessels is concerned. Here is a statement from one of the members of the crew of a boat:The deck crew consists of six hands, including skipper and mate. During fishing operations all are required on deck. When towing the trawl occasionally four of these men can get below for an hour or so. Most of the trawlers out of this port fish on what is called hard ground. When a trawl is hauled, it is damaged to such an extent that it means hours of work to repair it. By the time this is done, it is time to haul the other trawl.Then there is an addendum:We, the members of the crew of the above trawler declare that during a trip lasting six nights we were on deck 20 hours each day.I have a further quotation giving the full log of a vessel that went from Milford Haven. The actual trip extended over a period of 12 days. The actual number of hours on deck was 2131, which is over 17 hours a day. These are the conditions, particularly in the backward ports, which the men have to face. It is to be hoped that the marketing provisions and other provisions in the Bill will do something to obviate the pressure of these inhuman conditions.
There is another problem which the industry will be bound to face in the near future. Originally there was the practice of apprenticeships in the fishing industry, but to-day it is practically non-existent. There are hardly any facilities for the training of lads and youths in the industry. It may be that there is a family tradition of fathers and sons through each generation going into the industry, but nevertheless there is a scarcity of young men anxious to enter the industry. They 664 complain of the conditions under which their brothers and parents have to work. I have a comparison as to the position in recent years in North Shields. The number of apprentices in 50 boats in 1929 was 30. In 60 boats in 1934 there were only nine. This means that the owners are either lacking in imagination in preparing for the future, or they are not giving encouragement to younger men to enter the industry and to grow up in this craft. After all, fishing is a craft, and one that takes years of experience before men can become effective and efficient seamen. Because of these conditions and the desire of those who represent the fishing fleets to see a return to something like prosperity in the industry, we are prepared to support to a large degree those measures that are designed to help it. Many of the Clauses in this Bill, however, must be drastically amended before it can be an effective Measure in the interests of the fishing industry.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
The hon. Member who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow him into the interesting and detailed statement he has made of the conditions of hard work on board our fishing ships, but the time is late, and I propose to occupy as short a time as possible. The best that I can do is to put before the House the conditions in a home water port such as Lowestoft, explain what has caused those conditions, and inquire whether the Bill will in any way help matters there. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) stated that Hull was envied by other ports. When at the beginning of his speech my hon. Friend painted a picture of Hull and of the huge machine which they had created destroying the men and the character of the men, I could not imagine any town or city envying Hull. This Bill of 63 Clauses and several Schedules is such a huge Measure that I will concentrate on the way it will affect the ordinary small fishing port dealing entirely with home water fishing. We have had comparisons between such big ports as Hull and Grimsby, but there is one comparison which nobody has made. During the last two or three years between two and three million pounds have been put into the building of new vessels for Hull and Grimsby, while in such ports as Lowestoft there has been no capital available for the building of new vessels. 665 These big long distance boats bring back at one fishing over 100 tons of fish, while the home water boats bring back only three, four or five tons at one fishing.
The position of trawl fishing in Lowestoft and in many of the smaller ports such as Brixham is desperate. We have heard in recent years how desperate the herring industry is. I have drawn the attention of the House during the last three years constantly to the plight of the herring industry, and that industry has aroused widespread sympathy, and rightly so. I challenge denial of the statement, however, that the trawl industry of Lowestoft to-day is in a far worse position than the herring industry, far more desperate and with far less prospect. It is on behalf of the trawl industry that I am intervening. Ten years ago we had 78 steam trawlers fishing from Lowestoft; now we have 55. We had 126 smacks; now we have 28. We had six motor trawlers, and they have gone up to 23. The total number of vessels has fallen in 10 years from 210 to 106. The catch has fallen from £538,674 to £336,666—a tremendous drop. With regard to the men engaged in fishing at Lowestoft, I cannot give the figures for the trawl industry only; they are for the trawl and herring drifter boats combined. The number of men has fallen in 10 years from 3,740 to 2,790. The Eastern Daily Press," our admirable daily newspaper in East Anglia, in its issue of 76th November wrote:The current year will be the worst on record for the Lowestoft trawl industry.The decline has been very heavy. The takings in 1935 dropped £100,000 compared with 1934, and the takings of 1936 were less than 1935 by £96,000. This year is worse than ever, and the fall in takings is going on.
What I ask myself in considering this Bill is, what are the causes of the decline and catastrophe that have overtaken our trawl industry in Lowestoft, and will the Bill help? The causes are three. The first is the depletion of the North Sea caused, I think, by over-fishing. The admirable report issued by the Minister of Agriculture, which is, I think, largely written by the officials at the Fishing Laboratory at Lowestoft, states:While fluctuations in the number of eggs plays a considerable role, this is exaggerated by present-day methods of over-fishing. Too 666 small a proportion of the fish survive to a marketable size. There were not enough fish in the area fished from Lowestoft to keep the landings at a profitable level.The North Sea undoubtedly has been, and is being, over-fished, and I think that Part II of the Bill will help considerably in that direction. There is much to be said for prohibiting the landing of small fish as proposed in the Bill. Plaice and sole spawn off the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire coast and are carried on the currents from the East Coast to Suffolk and Essex. Small fish work round and up towards the Dutch and German coasts where the water is shallow. There is a kind of shelf which juts out into the North Sea. If they can work round the shelf into the deep water, they grow rapidly and become fine marketable fish. What happens, however? The Dutch cutters who fish for the meal-making industry actually catch every year three to four hundred million tiny plaice and sole which are utterly unfit for anything except to be chopped up in the factory for meal. I take it that this will be stopped under Part II of the Bill. The German shrimping boats catch about 60,000,000 of these small immature fish and I take it that that also will be stopped.
The second cause of the decline is the fact that there has been over-landing of fish, particularly at Hull. Although Hull fish does not compete directly with the home water fish, the enormous landings must tend to lower the price of all fish including the best quality home water fish. Here, again, I think the Bill will help. The third reason is found in the imports of foreign fish, and I wish to express the bitter disappointment of everybody connected with fishing in the port of Lowestoft that this Bill does not embody the recommendations in Part V of the Duncan Commission's Report. Their omission has been a blow to the whole port of Lowestoft. It is true that foreign fish amount to only 9 per cent. of the total landings of fish, but only 13 per cent. of our fish come from the North Sea and the foreign fish, which are high quality fish, chiefly plaice and sole, compete directly with the fine quality fish landed at such a port as Lowestoft. That fish does not compete nearly so directly with the Hull fish. The whole of the competition of this Danish and other choice quality fish from abroad falls mainly upon the port of Lowestoft.
667 Another point I desire to mention, and on which I particularly ask for a reply from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, is this: In Lowestoft we do not complain so much of the quantity of foreign fish imported as of its intermittent, irregular arrivals. If the imports were spread out evenly we should not complain, because that would assist in creating a steady market; but what happens? In one week, or perhaps in one month, there will be very light supplies, and then, suddenly, an accumulated mass of quota fish is rushed to London. I will show the House the results, because they create a tragedy in our market on certain days. Let me take the six days from 10th September to 16th September inclusive, this year. The prices on those six successive days were 48s., 36s., 60s., 42s., 60s. and 48s. per kit. The landings of foreign fish on those six days amounted to 8,400 boxes, chiefly Danish and Norwegian. The average price in that period was 49s. per kit. Then take the position a fortnight later, during the six days from 24th September to 30th September. On those six days prices had dropped to 30s., 21s., 21s., 15s., 21s, and 18s. In the course of the same month the average had dropped from 49s. to 23s. The reason for that was that in the first week the foreign landings amounted to 8,400 boxes and in the other week to 18,000. I have masses of figures which I could give the House, but I will take another month, October. In one week the prices were 15s., 18s., 18s., 30s., 36s. and 30s. Why? Because in that week 20,000 boxes of Danish fish had been suddenly rushed to market. What I plead for is that the arrivals of supplies from abroad should be more regularly distributed. The Duncan report is clear and emphatic on that point. On page 63 it states that the importation quotas should beoperated on a monthly instead of an annual basis, without a carry-forward of a deficiency arising in any month.In the summary of recommendations it is recommended on page 79 that there should be:A total importation no greater than the sum of the average landings of fresh white fish from all foreign countries during the years 1934 and 1935.It goes on to recommend the operation of each country's quotas on a monthly 668 basis with no carry over from month to month, and in the computation filleted fish is to be equivalent to full weight fish. At Lowestoft we thought that Part V of the Duncan Report was worth the whole of the rest of the recommendations, and speaking on behalf of the Lowestoft trade I say that we would sooner have those recommendations in Part V of the Duncan Report embodied in a Bill than have the whole of the present Bill. We have been told of the plight of the skippers and the others who catch the fish. I have a letter from a skipper's wife. He is a young man, married only six weeks and a good skipper, but his ship has been laid up owing to this sudden rush of imported fish. They are trying to build up a home, but cannot do it. Take another case. One week, owing to light landings of foreign fish, there was profit for the skipper and a bonus for him and for the other men. Four or five days later there was a sudden rush of Danish fish on to the market and the men were utterly disappointed because there was nothing for them. That is why I think we should get uniformity in the landing of imports.
Clause 8 recommends that under the marketing scheme there shall be power to determine from time to time the quantity of white fish which may be sold by any person, and to determinethe price at, below or above which, and the terms on which white fish or any quantity of white fish may be sold.May I press my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give me an answer to this: Does he think it is any use regulating the minimum price of fish caught in British boats if there is no power to regulate the price of imported foreign fish? If there is no such power I suggest that the provisions of the Bill on this point are useless. In Clause 9, dealing with the producers' marketing scheme, there is power to prevent the landing of fish from a boatexcept under the authority of the licence granted by the Board in respect of that boat.But in paragraph (d) of the same Clause there is power for the marketing scheme to suspend the operation of a licence granted under the scheme in respect of any boat on the ground that a sufficient number of licences are already in force. I realise that the enormous catching power of Hull and Grimsby probably does, 669 need to be reduced by the laying up of some boats. That may well be necessary in the interests of everybody concerned, the crew, the owners and every body else. But why lay up the smaller boats fishing in home waters because there is over-landing of quite a different type of fish? If there is over-production of one commodity produced on a farm, why stop the farmer from producing another commodity in which there is no excess of production? I suggest that there is no occasion to lay up any boat fishing in home waters, because it is obvious that there are not enough prime quality white fish caught, seeing that we allow prime quality white fish to come in from abroad. There is another reason, and that is that at Lowestoft we have not sufficient buyers to-day. We have lost buyers. I think that in Committee we should consider the question whether any boat under 120 feet, or possibly under 100 feet, should be laid up under any marketing scheme.
Then I notice that there is power to regulate licences for building boats, and again I suggest that it would be very hard indeed in the case of small ports which have lost a large part of their fleet, which have scrapped their boats, to prohibit them from replacing them by small, modern, cheap, efficient motor trawlers. I feel that the power of licensing should be very carefully used, and that certain types of boats should be excepted, say those under 100 feet in length. I have only one other point. I have referred to the dumping of foreign fish, and by dumping I mean not the importation of fish but these sudden rushes of foreign fish on to our markets. I have proved, I hope, the disastrous effect which they have had in our markets; but what will happen if all the foreign quotas are used to the full? To-day, the Dutch quota is the only one used to the fullest extent. The German quota is still unused to the extent of 183,000 cwts. The Iceland quota is unused to the extent of 175,000 cwts. Those were the figures on 6th November. You have these unused quotas for the remaining two months of the year, bigger than the whole Danish quota. Germany is building a new fleet of trawlers, and she might lower the value of her currency. The German quota is as big as, or bigger than, the Danish, and if, on top of the Danish quota, we got a maximum German quota coming in in 670 irregular shipments, I shudder to think what would be the effect on the market of our home waters fish. That is a point which the Duncan report recommended to be borne in mind and considered, but which has not been considered in the Bill.
I welcome, on the other hand, the cooperative schemes for the inshore fishermen. They are a particularly fine body of men, but their numbers are becoming rapidly less. The number has declined enormously in recent years. I do not say that the, co-operative scheme in these Clauses will save them, but it will do good. How much good I am not yet in a position to judge; none of us can, but it is a step which does something for the inshore fishermen. They are an admirable type of small independent men who in many cases are the mainstay of the lifeboat crews. I have kept in the closest touch with all sections of the trawling industry in Lowestoft, with trawlers, skippers, merchants and owners, and I can only say that they are bitterly disappointed that the Bill does not carry out the recommendations which are contained in Part V of the Duncan report. They have looked forward to that with hope, and they are disappointed. They hope that the marketing scheme and the Commission will do good and will help to regulate the industry. They hope that the Commission may, when established, make recommendations to the Government that it is necessary to have the powers recommended in Part V of the Duncan report.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
I am always interested in the charming simplicity of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus). The burden of his argument, in his lukewarm support of the Bill, is that we should close down or lay off the trawlers in, say, Hull or Grimsby, but on no account touch the trawlers in Lowestoft.
§ Mr. Loftus
I would wish the hon. Member to get my argument clear. It is that Hull and Grimsby have been building but that Lowestoft has been scrapping, and that the fish in Lowestoft is of a different type and there is not enough supply of it.
§ Mr. Muff
—to such a degree—I speak as a layman—that the fishing industries of Hull and Grimsby, acknowledging the sins of the Lowestoft fishermen in over-fishing, say, with great foresight, that they will build on a scientific basis. "We will go where the fish is and we will bring it to port as quickly as we can, "they say," and we will endeavour to supply the great needs of the industrial population of the Midlands and of Yorkshire. "I disagree with the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) in regard to the ferocity of the arguments put forward from this side—or from that side, for that matter—because the whole tenour of the Debate has been one of almost Sabbatical calm. Only on some of the facts emerge the jealousy and—I might almost put it—the envy of certain of the other ports of the foresight and statesmanship of the cheapest port in this Kingdom, the port of which I happen to be one of the four representatives.
We are concerned with the prosperity of all the fishing ports in this Island, and if this Bill will not contribute to it, and will not put upon the tables of the workers of this country this nutritive article at a price which is reasonable, the Bill will not justify itself. The hon. Member for South-West Hull said that he did not greet the Bill with any degree of enthusiasm; he certainly cannot expect hon. Members on this side to fall upon the neck of the Minister of Agriculture and give him the kiss of gladness and grateful enthusiasm. I want to remind the House that the Department of Agriculture, like certain ladies, has a most unenviable past. We shall wait with interest to see the nominees of the Minister upon this council and this commission—call it what you will—which will have some semblance of control over the fishing industry.
Remembering the past of the Ministry of Agriculture and the immediate predecessor of the present holder of the office of Minister of Agriculture, we think of a previous Act of Parliament which we now call the "Dear Bacon Act," and we wonder whether the Minister will do as was done in the past, put an unrepentant poacher to act as gamekeeper in seeing how much could be got out of the British public in the price of fish, 672 as was done with the price of bacon. Unless the Bill can protect, not simply trawler owners, those great corporations, powerful enough to protect themselves, but those who go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters, I should not shed one tear if the Bill were scrapped and torn up. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Adamson) made a point which I hope will not be lost sight of and which has been emphasised in my talks to the skippers and the mates of the trawlers in the City of Hull. It is that, during the time when they are laid up, those men are literally thrown upon the scrap heap. I do not know whether it is possible, but I wish it were, to bring within the ambit of unemployment insurance benefit the skippers and their mates.
I want to call attention also to the men who work on the docks and to the inshore men who actually are not fishermen, but who make their contribution by seeing that the fish is expeditiously conveyed to the breakfast tables of the British public. In Hull alone there are, I believe, 2,100 men and boys employed in unloading, packing, and other processes connected with the fishing industry, and I am deeply concerned as to what is going to happen to them if this Bill turns out to be simply perverted rationalisation. We have had rationalisation in the past, a Bedaux system, shall I call it, to see what we can get out of an industry at the expense of the human element employed in that industry, and I shall share the lack of enthusiasm of the hon. Member for South-West Hull if the interests of these men and boys are not conserved and protected in the working out of the Bill. In passing I would suggest to the Minister that, in making up this council, he should include at least one woman—a housewife; and I would also suggest that it may be necessary, in order to put "ginger" into the Ministry of Agriculture, that he should put on the council, say, a gentleman employed at Billingsgate, with a rich and ripe vocabulary, so that he can call a spade a spade if the occasion should arise.
What is really needed is what the City of Hull has been trying to do for some time, namely, to tell the people of these Islands to eat more fish. Then there will not be any laying up either of Lowestoft trawlers or of trawlers anywhere else. The House may be interested to know that 673 this City of Hull, which has been spoken of in various terms, not exactly of approbrium but at any rate not exactly generous, has in three years spent over £100,000, believing that it pays to advertise. They were able to build up and expand the industry in the City by that method of advertising and telling the people of these Islands that, if they bought their fish from our port, they could get it at a reasonable price.
I want to speak of the Bill, as I have said, in general terms. I do not want Aberdeen to suffer because another fishing port is prospering; I want all these fishing ports to prosper; and the way to secure that is not to have a restrictive Measure, cutting down the supplies and sending up the price of any commodity, whether fish or bacon, but that this article of food, which is of so much nutritive value, shall be brought to our tables so that we can afford, with the modest means of the great proportion of the population, to take to eating more generous portions of that fish, instead of using it, as is sometimes the case, for other purposes. Hull has justified itself through its Development Committee by the fact that Members of this House, instead of buying imported Norwegian cod liver oil, can now get the finest cod liver oil from the city of Hull. That is in passing, and just a tiny advertisement, if it may be allowed.
§ Mr. Fleming
Has the city of Hull yet discovered a means of getting rid of the bones of herring before they come to the table?
§ Mr. Muff
By consulting the encyclopaedia I found that herring were not white fish. If I have to give a disquisition upon herring, I am afraid, Mr. Speaker, I shall incur your wrath, and I should be desolated if such a thing had to happen to me. We do not want to see one fishing port setting up in competition with another. We want in this Bill a unity of purpose. We do not want it to be a Dear Fish Bill. We want that unity of purpose and that finish in design so that our fishing industry as a whole may flourish, not by exploitation of the consumer, 'but by performing a public service in bringing this cheap and delectable article to our tables.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence
I shall not follow the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) 674 in his investigations into the past of the Ministry of Agriculture, ginger, housewives, and other subjects. I thought that at one time he was going to give us his views as to the fundamental cause of the present parlous state of the white fishing industry. I listened with particular interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), who is no longer in his place, when he dealt, I think for the first time in the Debate, with the subject of inshore fishermen. We have heard a great deal about the trawlermen; a number of Members seem to think that they should wear halos instead of sou'-westers; but, if you ask the inshore fishermen round our coasts what they think of the trawling industry, they would wish it in a place where halos are not normally worn. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is not from any personal feeling against the men engaged in the industry; it is because of the deplorable effect that the trawling industry has had on the inshore fishermen round our costs.
When this Bill came out, turned with particular interest to Clauses 19–22, which deal with inshore fishermen, and I must say that, having read them, I join with the majority of Members who have spoken in giving a very lukewarm welcome to the Bill. I do not think it really gets down to the fundamental trouble of the fishing industry. Before I come to that, there is one point that I should like to ask the Under-Secretary to deal with in his reply. I think it is perfectly sound that in Clause 19, for isolated areas where obviously marketing schemes are not likely to be of help, provision is made for co-operative marketing, presumably some form of centralised selling. It goes on to say that co-operative schemes may make provision for the setting up of an authorised body to run the scheme and to take measures to prevent those registered under the scheme from evading its provisions. That is all to the good. It goes on to deal—and this is the important part—with the purchase, on behalf of those within the scheme, of the supplies necessary for prosecuting their industry. What I want to ask the Under-Secretary is whether these provisions all hang together. Is it an essential part of the scheme for co-operative buying that there should be a scheme for co-operative marketing as well? I ask that question because I represent a constituency which 675 is concerned solely with inshore fishing, and these schemes may be of great interest to us. In Shetland we have found in recent years an excellent market in Glasgow for white fish caught by our inshore fishermen, built up largely, or rather developed, through the efforts of one individual. They are caught by line, and therefore arrive in a much fresher condition than trawled fish. The fish are sold by auction, and so keen is the demand that Glasgow has found it worth while to send buyers up to Shetland for the special purpose of buying these fish. They are bought and sold in open market, and the system works well.
If you go forward with the proposals for a co-operative scheme there, it is highly doubtful if they will substitute for the present method a system of centralised buying; but there are other schemes they will agree to. We suffer in these islands from an antiquated steamship company so bad that fish may take up to six days to reach the market, although the market is only 12 hours' distance from the fishing ground by a moderately fast steamer. Quite obviously, there is some scope there for some system of vending fish for market by co-operative arrangement quite independently of the steamship company. To get the fish to market you must have ice. There is no ice factory there. These men have to buy their ice in Aberdeen, at a fairly stiff price, and they have to pay a very stiff price to get it up to Shetland. So bad are the steamship arrangements that it is not uncommon for men to take delivery of wet sacks with no ice at all in them. A scheme for the manufacture of ice would be very useful in Shetland. I would like to know whether it would be possible to have a co-operative scheme for that purpose without necessarily having a co-operative scheme for marketing.
In Clause 20 there is provision for registration of persons under the scheme. There is also provision for exempting persons from registration. It seems to me that if you are going to have a scheme for a given area, you had better have everybody in the scheme and control the whole thing. With regard to the provisions in the early part of the Bill concerned with marketing schemes, arrangements are made for taking a poll. Why are there no arrangements for a poll among the inshore fishermen? I think there ought to Fishermen are very 676 like people engaged in agriculture; they think very slowly, and you do not get a very good opinion by having a meeting, at which, usually, the gasbags do most of the talking, and often the real opinion is not formed until long after. I should like to see a poll taken in any district in which it is proposed to form a co-operative scheme.
I want to pass on to some other things of rather wider aspect. I said that I gave my qualified support to this Bill. I do so because it does not seem to me that it is getting down to the fundamental cause of the imminent collapse, especially of the trawling industry, and the causes of the deplorable state of the white-fishing industry in the North Sea. Clause 39 contains some provisions with regard to the size of mesh of the nets. I wonder whether those responsible for the Bill are not altogether hypnotised by that word "net." There is only one thing used as a net, that is a herring drift net floating vertically in the sea buoyed at the top and weighted at the bottom, into which the fish swim. It is mere eyewash to call trawls nets. These things are essentially bags. They have the shape of bags, they are dragged along the bottom of the sea like bags, their purpose is to act like bags, and when they are full of fish they are more like bags than ever. This method of catching fish by dragging a bag along the bottom of the sea is the most essentially and inherently destructive method of taking fish that has ever been invented.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft referred to the fishings of the North Sea. I thought he was going to get on to the cause there, but he went wrong in putting it down to over-fishing. It is due to the frightfully destructive method of fishing. It is interesting to note that trawling began only about 40 years ago. Here are the words of a Grimsby fisherman when he saw trawling begin:When we have made a clean sweep of fish in the North Sea, how long will it be before we have cleaned the banks around Norway, Iceland and Faroe, causing destruction which will be followed by scarcity of fish and exorbitant prices of fish?This has been fulfilled to the last letter. The only thing he did not mention was the glut of the markets with fish unfit for human consumption. I read a year or two ago, that the "Gamecock" fleet based, I think, on Hull is now laid up. It was built specially for fishing on the 677 Dogger Bank. Why does it not now fish on the Dogger Bank? Because there are no fish on the Dogger Bank, and that is because the trawling industry itself has destroyed that fishing. We have suffered from that in Shetland and Orkney and the Western Isles. The livelihood of our people has been destroyed in the last generation, and trawling is the primary reason. Forty years ago it was no uncommon thing for a trawler, on hauling its trawl after three hours, to have the bag bursting with the weight of fish in it. Fish in the North Sea to-day for three hours and you will be very lucky if you pull out a few boxes of fish.
The tragedy that has assailed the inshore fishermen on our coasts is being played out now in the Faroe Isles. Over 100 years ago the Danish Government sent Christian Ployen to Shetland for the express purpose of finding out: for the benefit of the Faroese how we caught our white fish. He went to Faroe and taught the people our method of fishing; the Danish Government provided boats, and the Faroese built up, in a few generations, a fishing industry which was worth to them over £500,000 a year. The population rose from 5,000 at that time to 23,000, at which it remains to-day. At that time the fishing was carried on around the Faroes. Forty years ago the trawlers came here, and a bit Later they had to go further afield, and they have done to the Faroes what they have done to Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles. They have ruined the fishing ground there and have driven the fishermen further and further afield, until they have had to go in inadequate boats not only to Iceland, but to Greenland.
I do not know whether any hon. Member has stood upon a trawler when the trawl has been emptied on the deck. It is a most appalling sight to see the spawn that has to be shovelled back into the sea when the process is over. I cannot conceive anything more destructive than that. In this Bill there is a provision for allowing seine-net fishing to go on. I do not know whether hon. Members know what it is. It is a type of trawling carried out by small boats in inshore waters. Why should we deliberately perpetuate, especially in our inshore waters, a system of trawling which is utterly destructive in deep sea, and, in the opinion of the inshore fishermen, is even more destructive of fish inshore? I should like to see that 678 wiped out altogether, and the business of seine-net fishing ended once and for all.
I come to another point—the size limits for fish. Really, that provision almost makes me laugh. I know that when we fish in lochs and rivers we have to measure the fish and throw them back if they are not of a certain length, but I cannot for the life of me conceive of the trawlermen measuring the fish before returning them to the sea. As a matter of fact, it would be absolutely useless. Think of what happens to these small fish. Those that are caught in the net are subject to an enormous pressure lasting from one to three hours among larger fish. They are all choked in any case through the stirring up of sand and mud from the bottom of the sea. They are emptied on deck, and after the big fish have been packed in boxes, the small fish are shovelled back into the sea. It is a question of shovelling back dead fish; if they are not stone dead when they are shovelled back they will be before they have been in the sea very long. Nothing but a fundamental change in the method of catching fish will ever restore to the North Sea the state that it ought to be in as regards fishing
I come on to another point. It says, in Clause 39, on page 39:The last preceding Sub-section shall apply to all fishing-boats within the limits of the territorial waters.That is the description as to the size of the mesh. It has to apply to our boats in our territorial waters, and it has also to apply to our boats wherever they may fish, irrespective of what the fishermen of other nationalities may be doing in those areas. It is very unfair to extend these regulations to our people unless you can first of all induce everybody to come in.
On the question of territorial waters the Moray Firth provides a classic example of the present state of affairs. We make, and very properly make, regulations preventing our fishermen fishing within a 17 mile limit of the shore, but other people do not recognise it. This is a monstrous situation. Our trawlers cannot come in, but foreign trawlers can come in and fish. I think that the whole thing is due to a mixing up of the question of territorial limits with fishery limits. We want a little daylight and common sense let into this matter. The three mile limit came into being, as far as my investigations go, somewhere towards the end of the eighteenth century and it did not arise 679 here. It came into existence through arrangements between the United States of America and ourselves about fishing on the seaboards in the American continent and not here at all. As far as I can see, ever since then we have adopted this limit and have sought to impose it upon as many other people as can be got to swallow it. They do not swallow it. Only in 1930 there was an international discussion, I forget whether it was at The Hague or Geneva, and 15 nations said that they would have nothing to do with the three mile limit at all. What is it that is so sacrosanct about the three mile limit? On all grounds of common sense it ought to be at least 10 miles. Nothing less than that would ever satisfy the inshore fishermen.
I will give to the House an interesting example of what it means to the inshore fishing to have the activities of the trawling industry curtailed. I can remember perfectly well that when I was a small boy fish used to abound in the waters around my home in the Shetlands. I can remember a long period covering a whole generation during which white fish were entirely absent. Then came the Great War and all trawling ceased. That gave the beds a rest for four years and at the end of that time the North Sea was swarming with fish again. I had to row a boat only a few hundreds yards from the South side of my island and I could fish all day long to my heart's content and catch endless number of enormous haddock, such as you never see in any fish shop anywhere in Great Britain at the present time.
I will give another example from my knowledge of a very famous Shetland fishing. It is known as the Burra Haaf, and lies about six miles off the West of Shetland. It was one of the finest fishings anywhere round the coast, but now there is nothing to be got on it at all by reason of trawling. It is partly due to the trawling on the Burra Haaf itself, but is also due to the fact that the fish that gathered on the Burra Haaf were the fish that matured away on the Ronas Voe banks. It was the trawling of these banks that destroyed the Burra Haaf. I do not think that I am exaggerating in the very least when I say that three nights' work by a trawler on the inshore grounds will destroy the whole livelihood of 30 inshore fishermen and their dependants 680 for the whole year. That is how trawling appears to us who are interested in inshore fishing. I wish that our Government would study what Norway has done for its inshore fishermen. For over 1,000 years the maritime people of Norway have lived on their inshore fishing and they are as prolific to-day as they were then. Not only do they provide all the fish that they want for themselves, but they actually find it worth while to send fish across to our own markets using very large fast steamers for the purpose.
What is the Norwegian practice? They do not and have never at any time admitted the three mile limit. The first thing they insisted upon is a four mile limit. But how do they draw that limit? Our practice is inconceivably stupid. We draw our three mile limit by drawing a line which closely follows the coast into all the bays and indentions and in that way go right into some of the very finest inshore fishings. I have on many occasions said, but this is the first time I have had a chance of saying it in this House, that if there is one good deed that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries could do for the inshore fishermen of Great Britain it would be to dig up the whole question of the three mile limit. Let us have a four mile or even a 10 mile limit, but do not follow the coast line. What does Norway do in dealing with a fjord, like our Moray Firth or the Firth of Forth? They do not follow a four mile limit around the coast line, but they take two bastions, between, say, North Berwick and Anstruther, draw a line between those two points and then draw their four miles limit from there. That protects the inshore fishing. It keeps out the trawlers. In Norway they know that trawling spells the ruin of the inshore fishing. Our procedure ought to be to draw a line round the coast in the same way, connecting all the points, including the islands, and then we ought to push the three mile limit or any other limit decided upon right outside that line. If that were done it would have very great results.
There is one problem which is often spoken about, and that is how to do something for the Highlands and Islands. I make no attack on the Scottish Fishery Board, because they are only carrying out the policy of this House, and they do their best, for which we are very grateful; but inshore fishing will never 681 be successful until this question of the three mile limit is tackled. If it were tackled as far as the Highlands and Islands are concerned we should get within a very brief space of time a great degree of prosperity. The people are there, the men are there, and they are anxious to fish. When we had that great influx of fishing in Shetland after the War men who had long ago left fishing returned to it and got boats and did well, but those boats are now laid up, and the men are doing nothing. I do not see why we should be tied down to a line which, if my information is correct, was determined over 100 years ago by the Admiralty as the distance that a muzzle loading gun could throw an iron cannon ball.
I do not know what the future of the trawling industry is to be. I have the greatest personal sympathy for the men in that industry and I have an admiration second to none for the way they carry on as they do. I see plenty of them in winter, and I am very sorry that they should be in the difficulties that they are in. But let us recognise that the trawling industry itself is committing suicide, and there is nothing in this Bill that will stop that act. The trawling industry is holding a knife to its own throat. All that this Bill will do will be to make that knife travel a little more slowly, but none the less, unless something more drastic is done, the gizzard of the trawling industry will be slit by its own act. We have to recognise the inherently destructive nature of trawling, and it is worth while trying to get an international discussion on the subject. There are in other countries plenty of fishermen who hold that view. Therefore, the subject would be well worth investigation. If steps such as I suggest were taken, it would put an end to trawling as it now exists, but it would necessarily drive the trawling men out of the industry, because there is ample scope for their employment in the fishing industry providing it is conducted on rational lines as from time immemorial by hand lines, short lines and great lines.
We ought to think rather more than we do of our inshore fishermen. They are the backbone of the seafaring population. The Navy is always very glad to have seamen in time of war. I wish they would think a little more about the 682 state in which the inshore fishing industry is at the present time. We have all these little towns, once flourishing and dependent on inshore fishing, and now they are slowly decaying. We hear of large grants being made for the building of harbours, loans being granted, and then we hear of the loans having to be cancelled. These places are all dying because inshore fishing is dying. I have felt impelled to speak because as far as this Debate is concerned we have not for the most part really considered the fundamental cause of the present terrible state of the trawling industry and more particularly the white-fish industry.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I am grateful to have been called, but I feel less inclined to address the House than I did before my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major NevenSpence) made his speech on behalf of the inshore fishermen. I also represent an inshore fishing division, and there is no doubt that the hon. and gallant Member, speaking for Scotland, did not in the least over-estimate the plight in which the inshore fishermen find themselves at the present time. Before I discuss the Bill I should like to reply to one or two comments of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). He said that the Bill was produced by the Government in the interests of Mac Fisheries and Lever Brothers. A more grotesque distortion of facts it would be almost impossible to imagine. I should not have believed it had I not heard it. It was a distortion so great that it hardly does credit to the hon. Member's intelligence, if he was speaking seriously, and it does even less credit to his straightforwardness in politics if he did not believe what he said. It is perfectly obvious that this Bill is nothing of the kind. I do not think it is perfect in all respects, and I shall have several criticisms to direct against it at a later date, but I am convinced of one thing, and that is that the Government have brought it forward in all good faith in an endeavour to improve the various branches of the fishing industry.
The hon. Member for Seaham made a very interesting contribution when he said that he was in favour—and presumably he is supported by his party—not only of State ownership, but also of 683 State control of the fishing industry in its various branches. I shall be very interested to hear from the hon. Member whether I have misinterpreted him.
§ Mr. Petherick
I am grateful to receive that assurance. Then we are to go to our fishing ports and tell the fishermen that the Socialist party if returned—I hope very sincerely that they will not be returned, and the fishermen will take the same view when we tell them of Socialist intentions—intend to impose as soon as is reasonably possible, according to Parliamentary procedure, not only State control but State ownership of the fishing industry. Are the various vessels, owned sometimes by the share fishermen—certainly they are in my part of the world—to be expropriated by the State, and if so, with compensation or without it?
The Bill is complicated and rather long. You cannot properly grasp it on first reading. When I read it first I was tempted to adopt an attitude of malevolent neutrality towards it, as it embodied several features of a restrictive nature which my friends and I have opposed from time to time. But on looking through it again there are some features which are positively good and one or two which are excellent, although I have grave doubts about the earlier part of the Bill which sets up these boards and marketing schemes for the benefit of the industry. The proof of this fish pie as far as these boards are concerned, will be in the eating, and we shall have to wait and see whether they do what they are intended to do.
The function of the White Fish Commission is to bring generally into review matters relating to the industry and to advise and assist the Minister on such matters. Surely that is what the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is for—and it ought not to be necessary to appoint a White Fish Commission to do that. But it also has—and this is the excuse for its existence—further powers and duties in supervising the schemes in the Bill. I welcome the fact that they are to be independent people. Some of us have been advocating a change of policy as far as the various boards under the Agricultural Marketing Acts are concerned, and want these boards to consist of independent people, not to follow the 684 deplorable example of the Bacon Board, which consists not only of people in the industry but of the great vested interests in that trade.
The Joint Council seems to be a desirable move, but I am a little alarmed by one feature in it. Various businesses are to be represented on the Joint Council, including the home producer of white fish, which means the fishing boat owner and trawler owner. I am afraid that on the Joint Council the actual fishermen and trawler owners may not he sufficiently represented. There are several other industries which may very well swamp the voice of the fisherman and trawler, and if the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to divide the Joint Council into two sections, one representing the actual producers and the other representing other branches of the industry, I hope he will see that trawler owners and fishermen are fully represented so that they can make their voices heard. The fishing boat owners are to he registered under the Bill, but I am not quite clear whether individual fishermen, if they are inshore fishermen, have to be registered too. In any case, if that is so I hope the Minister will do everything he can to see that these fishermen know what is in the Bill and what their obligations are so far as registration is concerned. Many of them have to go considerable voyages and they may not know.
The powers of this Commission are great, enormous. They may make regulations about sales, quality, the carrying on of various businesses, the condition of places where the fish are exposed for sale—incidentally on that point there may be, I think, sufficient powers under our Public Health Acts already—and they are to make regulations about charges. They are, in fact, a sort of haddock Hitler, and we shall have to consider these powers carefully before we grant everything the right hon. Gentleman is asking in the Bill. They may also submit marketing schemes on behalf of themselves or on behalf of some other body, and such bodies, the Bill says must be "substantially representative" of the persons carrying on that branch of the industry. That is right, but I do not know what "substantially representative" means.
In all legislation to enable an industry in the modern term to govern itself, legislation which confers legal powers to coerce a minority, it seems to me that 685 three conditions should be fulfilled before we give such powers. The first is that the scheme must be sound. That remains to be seen. The second condition is that the majority want it, and I say that it must be a large majority, a minimum of 85 to 90 per cent. of the branch of the industry concerned. The third condition I would lay down is that the minority who do not like the scheme must, as far as it is possible, be ascertained to consist only of the recalcitrant and inefficient elements, not of those who by their industry, good finance and excellent ability, are the most efficient members of the trade. We want to raise the standard of all to that of the most efficient. Most of the schemes in the Bill are for the direct organisation of the middle man and the long distance fishermen.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland I am most anxious to see that the interests of the inshore fishermen are not lost sight of. That is not because I sit for a division in which there are inshore fishermen, because I have told them, when they have asked for things which I did not think it desirable to support, that I would not support them, but they are a class of fishermen and citizens who deserve every support we can give, and they are at the moment suffering from very bad times indeed. It is true that in relation to the total catch of the country the inshore fishing catch is comparatively small. As far as white fish are concerned, it is only I per cent., but if you take mackerel, pilchard and shell fish they bring in a very considerable income in the course of the year. Incidentally, I rather understand from the definition Clause that pilchard and mackerel, although they are not ordinarily considered as being white fish, are included within the scope of the Bill.
We have not only to look after the interests of inshore fishermen, but to explain these matters to them. We have to handle them carefully, with great sympathy and great respect, for they are a very proud and individualistic race of men, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who comes from the West Coast of Scotland, knows as well as I do. Only the other day, when the fishermen from Newlyn came to London—I see that my hon. Friend in whose division Newlyn is, and who told me the story, is in the House at the 686 moment, and I hope I am not stealing his thunder—one of them, as he was landing at Westminster Stairs, looked at Big Ben, that excellent clock by which we regulate our goings out and our comings in, took his watch from his pocket, and said: "There's something wrong with that there old clock." It is with that type of man that we have to deal in Cornwall. They are an independent race of men who like to believe that what they do is, on the whole, fairly right, and who look with a certain amount of suspicion at what is handed to them, particularly by the Government.
I entirely agree with the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland that the seas have been over-fished, and with his references to the three-mile limit. We have had precisely the same experiences in Cornwall. For the first few years after the War there were very good catches, but then there was a falling off again, and the catches became very bad. The reason for the good catches immediately after the War was that the fishing grounds had been given a good rest during the War period. As to co-operative schemes for inshore fishermen, I am a little surprised, as was the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), that nothing has been done regarding the situation in Cornwall. The Duncan Commission said that the Ministry should initiate a marketing investigation with special reference to the Devon and Cornwall fisheries. As far as I know, nothing has been done. The hon. Member for Dundee rather blamed the Ministry for not taking action, but I should have thought that that was certainly part of the duties of the Duncan Commission.
There is one point concerning the cooperative schemes to which I wish to draw attention. I gather that the idea is to start schemes in different parts of the country to enable the fishermen to work together, to buy their nets and equipment, and to save as much money as they can. I am not sure whether it is intended at the same time to cut out the fish buyers, because the Duncan Commission, in their report, said some rather nice things about the fish buyers who buy from inshore fishermen. The report states:An examination of the accounts of the local merchants by our accountants disclosed no evidence of undue profits.687 That has been my experience in Cornwall. I know many of the fishermen as well as the fish merchants, and I have heard extraordinarily few complaints about the activities of the fish buyers and fish merchants in that part of the world. Therefore, I hope that when any scheme is being brought forward, due weight will be given to any representations which they may put forward. I see also that it is stated in this part of the Bill that there must be a preponderant opinion in favour of such a scheme. I hope my right hon. Friend will not be satisfied with a Báre majority of fishermen in favour of any scheme that is put forward, but will insist, before he sanctions such a scheme of a co-operative nature, on a good, stout majority, in order that the minority cannot feel itself to be so much aggrieved. We shall have to judge all these schemes on their merits when they are put before us. One unfortunate fact about them to which I would like to draw attention is that they are presented to us as a unit which must be either accepted or rejected. There is a grave disadvantage in that method, but at the present time I do not see any alternative. If it were possible for us to treat them as an ordinary Parliamentary Bill, I think that, with all the orders coming out under various marketing Acts and boards, we should be well occupied for the whole year in discussing these schemes, even if we did nothing else.
I believe that we may be going too far in what one may call the control system. There is now a large number of boards of an independent or semi-independent nature, and I maintain that the board system, a new system that has been put forward during the last few years, is non-proven. We should be very careful in instituting any fresh board of this nature. The Consumers' Committee seems to me to be wholly unobjectionable, but I cannot altogether understand the object of the Investigation Committee. In Clause 16 its duty is described as being to look into complaints put forward by the Consumers' Committee and complaints as to the working of the marketing schemes. Surely, that is a job for the White Fish Commission, which is being set up to supervise the industry, or, if that Commission is considered to be too prejudiced or too ex parte to examine the complaints properly, the Ministry itself is capable of 688 examining the schemes. We are setting up a number of new committees and boards under this Bill, and it seems to me that the Investigation Committee is merely another sea fish "Soviet" to join the rest.
I do not wish to deal with the other parts of the Bill in detail, as I do not want to detain the House too long. I believe that. Part IV is a very good one, and I am very glad that effect has been given to the recommendations of the Duncan Commission, because in spite of the suspicions of hon. Members opposite, I believe that they will do a great deal to improve the lot of the fishermen and to allay some of the suspicions which they may well have against the trawler-owners. I would like to make a specific suggestion with regard to Part V. In Clause 56, the Minister is given power to revoke a bylaw. Some time ago I mentioned in the House that there was a dispute between the sea fishery committees of Devon and Cornwall with regard to drifting in Bigbury Bay, which is between the two counties, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, looked into the matter; but nothing has been done. I will not go into the details of the dispute, but briefly, the Cornish driftnets were being caught by Devonshire crab-pots and destroyed.
Nothing was done about the matter because the only people who could take action were the Devon sea fishery committee. It was a local dispute of an unfortunate nature, and I have not heard of any trouble there recently; but perhaps at a later stage the Minister would consider introducing into the Bill a provision which would not only give him power to revoke a by-law but, in the event of one local sea fishery committee refusing to make a by-law which was proved to be in the general interest, would give him power to bring the two sea fishery committees together, and, if he was satisfied on the evidence that it was in the general interest and not in a purely sectional interest to override the sea fishery committees and make a by-law himself.
I have nothing more to say except with regard to the drafting, and that I will leave to a later stage. I think that the drafting in some respects is extremely unfortunate, and we very often do not have any opportunity to say anything about it in this House during the course 689 of the Committee and Report stages. I think we should be very chary about accepting the marketing and organisation provisions in a Bill of this nature. I believe that in the Civil Service at the present time there is a kind of legislative anti-litter league whose supporters have such tidy minds that they want to clear up everything and have no industry managing itself, but to have all industries wholly circumscribed like nice little animals in cages and working on highly circumscribed lines. This Bill in parts gives me a little impression that that is what has happened in this particular case. Nevertheless I think we have to do all we can to improve it where possible, and if we cannot improve it to make it work. I suppose that now we most of us dislike the old economic doctrine of laissez faire, but I think the more detrimental doctrine is the one of the Government and Civil Service at the present time, laissons faire"— Do not you bother about it but let us do as much as we like." The truth should lie, and generally does, somewhere between the two. It should not be laissez faire or laissons faire, but laissez fair si possible; as little Government interference as possible but where necessary it should be done.
I am grateful to the House for listening to me so patiently. All I wish to add is that I also, with hon. Members who have spoken to-day, regret very much that there is not something in the Bill about the curtailment of imports. It is a most unfortunate omission. In common with others I hope to be so fortunate as to be selected to serve on the Committee and to propose various Amendments, but I am not by any means satisfied. But I wish my right hon. Friend success with his Bill, and if it gets through I hope it will be some good to a suffering industry, particularly to the inshore fishing industry of this country.
§ 9.29 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
Although it was in an earlier part of the Debate, I feel that I must refer to the speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) in which he accused the Hull fishing trade of lowering the price of fish. The hon. Gentleman is under a complete misapprehension. The fish which is landed in the port of Hull and the fish which is landed in Aberdeen have two 690 totally different markets. Fish landed in Aberdeen, generally speaking, of course, is mostly luxury fish. It commands a good price in Edinburgh or London to which a great part of it is sent and where, were the organisation of the Aberdeen wholesalers better, very much more would be sent. But the fish which is landed in Hull, again speaking generally, goes very largely to the fish friers who, by means of the cheap fish they can obtain in Hull, have extended a chain of fish-frying shops all over Lancashire and Yorkshire, providing thereby a cheap and wholesome food for the very poorest of the poor. In fact I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that fried fish is in many cases the only hot meal which a poor man can get, and that the entertainment and refreshment provided there by means of fried fish and chips is competing very successfully with the entertainment offered in many of the public houses.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) expressed the hope that the restrictions on the sale of immature fish would be done away with, but with all due respect I sincerely hope that nothing of the kind will be done. It is only by preventing the sale of immature fish that we can hope to stop the destruction of those fish. He said it was impossible to prevent their being killed because they were caught in the trawl net, could not get out, and when landed on the deck of the ship were already dead. There, again, I venture to join issue with him. It is perfectly true that when the trawl begins to work the meshes are drawn together, and it is difficult or impossible for the immature fish to get through. But later on, when the net takes the form of a ball, the immature fish can slip through, and such as do not can quite easily be shovelled overboard off the deck of the ship while still alive; but if we allow these immature fish to be sold in the market on arrival in port, there is no inducement for the crew of the vessel to attempt to shovel them overboard while still alive. In fact, the inducement is all the other way. It is to allow them to die so that they can then be sold in the market, and if we want to protect the immature fish it is absolutely essential that their sale should be prohibited.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), when instancing 691 the difference in the price of fish when landed at the port and sold in London, said he knew of many cases where fish, sold at 2d. at the wharf, was retailed at anything between 10d. and 1s. 4d. at, I think he said, the Civil Service Stores. With all due respect, the fish which is retailed for 2d. is not the same fish as that which is retailed at from 10d. to 1s. 4d. That fish is almost invariably fish of the best quality, such as turbot and sole, and the price of that particular variety of fish on being landed from the trawler at the port itself is very often between 70s. and 100s. per cwt., which does not mean an excessive rate of profit when that fish is retailed at the Civil Service Stores at from 10d. to 1s. 4d. a lb. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham also quoted largely from the Duncan Report, hoping to prove thereby the excessive profits which were being made by the wholesalers on the fish in the port, and alleging the same in the town where it was consumed. But with all due respect to him, he omitted the summing up of the commission in that respect. May I be allowed to read a quotation which is contained on page 68 amongst the findings and recommendations of the commission. It says:We re-affirm that at no stage in the progress of fish from the port to the consumer, are profits obtained at more than a modest level—and in the case of trawler owners for the most part, profits are either absent or negligible.It may be proved that fish on its journey from the port to the consumer is handled by too many people, but that is identically one of the very things with which this Bill is designed to deal. It gives power to deal with the question of passing through too many hands; it gives power to create organisation which will prevent that. The Bill endeavours—and this is its main object—to place the fishing industry on a sounder economic basis than it has been on for the last six or seven years. It is an open secret that for some years past, at any rate since 1930, the profits have either been of a negligible character, or, in the majority of cases, have been absent altogether. This is due in a large degree to a rather curious state of affairs. The fishing vessels operating in distant waters have returned with such large catches that the prices obtained by them were not sufficient to remunerate the people who caught the fish. On the other hand, the trawlers operating in the nearer waters 692 made such poor catches that the result in that case also was not remunerative.
That unfortunate state of affairs has been accentuated in the last few years by a steep increase in the cost of everything which fishermen require. Not only has the cost of boats increased by something like 50 to 70 per cent. but the cost of repairs has increased to the same extent. The cost of nets, warps and gear generally and stores has also increased. The right hon. Gentleman said that the cost of coke had gone up by 5s. a ton, but I am of opinion that it has gone up by at least 7s. 6d. a ton, if not more. This has made the working of even the most modern and largest vessels at a profit an extremely difficult undertaking. This state of affairs applies not only to the large trawling companies whose vessels often go as much as 2,000 miles to their fishing grounds; it applies even more to the inshore fisherman. He, to all intents and purposes, is without capital. If he has a little capital it is sunk in a boat and he now finds it impossible to make the boat pay. Those men who operate on a small scale and with small capital have been suffering even more than the big trawler owners, with the result that the older men are leaving the industry and the younger men are turning elsewhere in search of a livelihood. The hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Adamson) complained that apprentices were not being encouraged by the owners in the fishing trade. Is it any wonder that boys are not willing to go into the trade when they can see no hope of a living from it in the future. Is it any wonder in those circumstances that people who have been brought up in the trade are leaving it?
If we get down to bed-rock, broadly speaking there are three methods by which the fishing industry can be placed on a sounder financial basis. The first is by reducing the cost of operations. The second is by increasing the price to the consumer. The third is by increasing consumption, and by popularising fish as an article of diet. The first is very difficult of accomplishment, especially in view of the increased cost, which, as I have said, fishermen and fishing companies have to pay for practically every article of their equipment. The second method, that of increasing the price to the consumer is definitely objectionable, although I cannot help thinking that when the cost of everything which is employed in the 693 catching of fish has increased by anything up to 75 per cent., it is impossible to expect that fish can be sold at the prices which formerly obtained. The third method is the one upon which, in my opinion, we must concentrate to enable more remuneration to be earned, by increasing business without increasing the cost to anybody.
That can be done in several ways. It can be done by propaganda—by advertisements on the lines of "Drink more milk," or "Guinness is good for you." No doubt, advertisements of that kind bring very largely increased trade to the people who use them, and with the power which this Bill gives to raise a voluntary levy for the purpose of advertising, something might be done in that direction. Fish does not occupy the place which it deserves to occupy among the foods of the nation. It is not nearly as popular as it ought to be, and I think that is due to the fact that it is not always presented to the consumer in its most palatable form. I think, generally speaking, the fish from the North Sea and the nearer fishing waters is purveyed in better condition than the fish from the more distant waters. That is not to be wondered at. The fish from Bear Island, the Murmansk coast, or what is known as the White Sea area, may have been caught 14, 16 or even 18 days before it reaches the consumer. In those circumstances, even though it is packed in the best way known at the present time, it is bound to deteriorate.
Again, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the people who buy fish do not always know what they are getting. He said he could not tell the difference between a lemon sole and a dab. In my opinion, the fraud—for such it may be termed—which is mostly practised on the public is the selling of lemon sole in place of Dover sole. I think most people could not identify the fish as a lemon sole until they had commenced eating it, and that affects the popularity of the better-class article. There is a fish known as the catfish which is so objectionable in appearance that it can only be sold filleted, and it is sold under various names, "rock salmon" being one of the favourites. That, again, does not tend to popularise the genuine article, although if eaten fresh, the fish is far from unpalatable. What we must avoid 694 as much as possible is raising the price of the cheaper varieties of fish to the consumer. Two or three years ago northern waters were closed for fishing purposes during four months of the year. When I say "northern waters" I refer to that area which is generally known as the Bear Island ground or the White Sea ground, and what it really means is all sea north of the 72nd parallel. The result was a very steep rise of something like 50 per cent. in the cost of the cheaper varieties of fish and the people who were hit particularly hard by that, were the fish friers. That is a thing which we ought to avoid because fried fish in recent years has become one of the most satisfactory foods which the poorest of the poor in this country can afford.
May I turn for a few moments to the actual contents of the Bill? Clause I authorises the constitution of the White Fish Commission which is to consist of five members nominated by the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland. To assist the commission in their deliberations a White Fish Joint Council is also to be attached, which is to be nominated in practically the same manner by the two right hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred, with this difference, that they are compelled to consult the various representatives of the industry with regard to whom they place on the council. It seems to me that we shall have two bodies which are nominated in what is, to all intents and purposes, the same way, that is, at the discretion of the Minister, and I cannot help feeling that they may quite easily become merely two bureaucratic bodies playing into each other's hands. I would put this forward as a suggestion: Would it not be better that, as far as the Joint Council is concerned, the members should not be nominated, but should be elected by various sections of the industry—the catchers, the wholesalers, and I should include also a certain number of representatives of the men who are employed in the industry.
With regard to the powers of the commission, there is one thing with which I think the House will entirely agree, and that is that they have powers to insist on the cleanliness of the way in which fish are sold and transported and generally to arrange for the supervision of fish in transit, before and during sale. In view of 695 the very great powers which this commission will have, I think consumers' committees, as the Bill provides, are absolutely necessary in order to see that the powers which the Bill will give to these various joint committees and commissions are not exploited in any way to the disadvantage of the consumer. I cannot help thinking that a certain amount of rise in price is inevitable, but I sincerely hope the consumers' committees will see to it that the rise is restricted to the very lowest possible level. After all, if we wish the poorer classes of this country to have fish, they can only get it through the medium of the fish friers, who must have cheap raw material at their disposal. If there is any restriction, if, for example, the northern fishing grounds are closed for too long, another rise will take place in the cost of this cheaper fish such as took place before, to the detriment, not only of the friers' business, which, I may say, by now is an extremely extensive one, but also of the poorer classes, who rely on fish as one of their staple articles of diet.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
Yes, they go together. I am very glad to see that authority is given in the Bill to raise funds for research. I understand that a considerable sum of money is already spent on research, but I do not think it goes far enough. We know so very little about the habits of fish, especially white fish. We do not really know, although a great many people pretend to know, whether soles and turbot actually spawn in deep water or only in shallow water such as the North Sea, off the coast of Scotland, or off the coast of Portugal. That is most important, because if we could ascertain that they spawn freely in deeper waters, we could allow the trawling to go on in the North Sea, because we could feel that there was a reservoir of fish in the deeper waters which in due course would come up into trawlable waters. There is another curious subject on which we know very little at present. It has been found that as fish such as cod, hake, and halibut have been reduced in numbers by trawling, their place has been taken by an increasing number of the more valuable fish, such as silver turbot. If that is going to happen in Northern waters, when the cod and coarse fish have 696 been reduced there, once again one will be able to trawl in shallow waters with a certain amount of confidence, because one will know that in the vast area of the fishing grounds in the North fish are spawning and growing which in due course will come to the nets,
I think it is most satisfactory that an agreement has been reached on the question of the size of the mesh of nets and that an international agreement of a sort has been arrived at, but I must say I was absolutely horrified when I heard from my right hon. Friend that France was not included in this agreement. He said that all legislation on those lines with regard to fixing the size of the mesh could be rendered nugatory by blinding the net. In my opinion, it would be rendered still more nugatory by the French not being blind to the advantages of unfair competition. In any case, as international agreement has been reached, would it not be possible—I put this suggestion forward with all due humility—to have an international inspectorate as well? I am sure that English fishermen would not have the slightest objection to having their nets inspected by Dutch or Belgian inspectors. They would even feel that as Englishmen were inspecting the nets of their foreign competitors, there would be no doubt that the agreement which had been arrived at was being observed. At present one of the greatest difficulties in the way of all these international agreements is an unpleasant feeling, first of all, that the other countries may not pass the necessary legislation and then that when they have passed it, they may not enforce it. It may he an entirely insular view to take, but the fact remains that opinions like that do exist among a large number of people in these islands.
In conclusion, I should like to say that, on the whole, we welcome this Measure. It is susceptible of improvement, and it is capable of amendment. Amendments will be moved, no doubt, in Committee and possibly on the Report stage, but they will not be moved in any obstructive spirit; they will merely be moved with the idea of improving the Bill and rendering it a more workable Measure. On the whole, I think the fishing trade generally and the people who have anything to do with that industry realise that this Measure is, at any rate, a step in the right direction.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman
After the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) and the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence), it is not necessary for me to detain the House for more than a few moments, but I think it cannot be sufficiently emphasised that the inshore fishermen of this country are being extinguished and that their rescue is not only required by the dictates of humanity, but is essential to national defence. These men were a very important part of our Naval Reserve in 1914. They manned the "Q" ships and the minesweepers, and they did work, and are capable of doing work, in a national emergency which no other body of citizens is capable of doing. Therefore, I say it is a matter of the utmost urgency that these fishermen and their families should be saved.
I should like to mention some figures which show clearly how this industry is declining. In 1920 the total number of inshore fishermen employed in Cornwall was 1,415; there are now employed 964. When one analyses these figures, one finds that the decline is mainly taking place in regard to those who are partly engaged in fishing, that is to say, those whose main occupation is fishing but who are also employed in horticulture, carpentry or building.
I would like my right hon. Friend to make sure that when he is registering fishermen he does not make it too stereotyped, so that when once a man is registered as a fisherman he will not be precluded from carrying on horticulture or carpentry in times when he cannot make fishing pay. I want to make sure that those who are only partially engaged in fishing can be registered as fishermen and benefit from these schemes. I regret that this Bill does not deal with shellfish. It is not realised in the House, and certainly not in the country, what an enormous trade lies before us in this regard. There was imported into this country in 1935 no less than £628,000 worth of canned crabs, and of that amount £414,000 worth came from Japan. The crabs so imported were not cheap, nor, may I add, were they crabs.
§ Mr. Beechman
Shell-fish are included, but they do not come under the term "white fish" and cannot be included under those provisions which particularly refer to white fish. I regret it because there exists this immense possibility of trade in shell-fish.
§ Mr. Beechman
I am glad to hear that that is so, but I hope that my right hon. Friend's measures will go further and deal with the regulation of imports. In canned crab we have a food substance which is imported from a country where there are sweated wages, and there is nothing to be said for allowing these crabs to come in without being regulated.
It is no good having a marketing scheme in regard to fish if you have no fish to market. The situation in regard to inshore fishing is that the seas are becoming depleted. Those of us who are interested in this matter, as has already been so forcefully pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Orkney and Shetland (Major NevenSpence) are clear that this depletion has resulted from trawling and the operations of trawlers right up to the three-mile limit and within it. We do not grudge the money made by trawling combines, although we feel that this matter is always being considered, unconsciously perhaps, from the point of view of trawling dividends and not from the point of view of sustaining and establishing the fishermen and their families. We say that in the long run there is only one remedy, and that is that there should be close areas for inshore fishing as against trawlers. I know that it is not an easy matter and can be established only by international agreement, but I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether it will be possible for consideration to be given to this question. The Commission, I understand, is to consider various matters, but that is a matter which it is essential to consider.
With it goes another question, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland has referred, namely, the consideration of the three-mile limit. I do not believe that it should be altered and be made a different type of limit, but the question 699 is from which point is the limit to be taken. If we consider the Scilly Isles, for instance, it makes all the difference if it is taken from this headland or that headland, or from this island or from that island. The time has come when the actual delimiting of the three-mile limit should be reconsidered. My last point is that there is not sufficient vigilance at sea. The police craft do their work very well, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there are not enough of them. I should like to know from my right hon. Friend whether these are matters which can be considered under the machinery which is about to he set up.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am sure that it must be a great disappointment to the Noble Lady not to be able to speak, but, owing to the schedule, I cannot give way to her. The Debate has not been marked by a very large attendance and it has produced a great deal of what I may call constituency-interest speeches. It is, perhaps, the misfortune of the Noble Lady that those constituency speeches have been over long. It has been interesting to listen to the more or less technical views which have been expressed during the Debate from various areas on which the fishing industry is mostly based. The more I have listened to those views the more I have felt the strength of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) that, whatever good may come out of this Bill, it is certainly not in itself a solution of the problem of the fishing industry dealing with white fish.
What has struck me most of all in the Debate is the complete absence of any real plan to deal with the bringing of the fish to the great mass of the consumers who alone can form a remunerative market to those engaged in the industry. The essential thing, if we are to get the industry maintained, is that we should have the commodity brought to the public in such quantities, under such conditions, and under such expenses—because I do not argue that undue profits are being made—that it should be profitable to the people who are doing the work in the industry, as well as to those who are engaged in the ancillary services 700 in the industry. That means inevitably, that what the Government need to tackle before they tackle details of this kind is how we can get the purchasing power of the common people in a different relation from what it is to-day in regard to food.
That is the problem which the Government are not prepared to face, and we do not believe that they will ever face it successfully unless we have what is objected to so much by the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick), that is, the nationalisation of certain of the important industries in the country. I do not see what he had to complain of in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham. He said: "Am I to go down to my constituency and say, 'These wicked Labour and Socialist people want to nationalise and take control of this industry, and perhaps take your little ships with compensation or with no compensation? "The hon. Member knows perfectly well that in the whole approach to this matter, from the appointment of the Duncan Commission in 1933 down to the presentation of this Bill, there is a complete admission of the failure of private enterprise. Hon. Members opposite always used to say:" Do not interfere with industry. Keep the State off industry." Somebody in the House said yesterday, when we were dealing with transport, that competition is the fresh air of trade.
§ Mr. Alexander
I sympathise greatly with the Noble Lady's local interest in this question, but really she must be a little consistent. She and her friends have always used the argument, "Do not let the State interfere," but even the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth, who entertained us so much with his claims for the rights of private enterprise, has got so far as to say that he is not wholly in favour of laissez faire, that though he certainly would not agree to State control, perhaps there is a halfway house. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Exactly. Hon. Members want complete freedom to exploit when they can do so with impunity, but they want the assistance of the State to secure whole or partial monopoly, riot in the general interests of the public but for the purpose of maintaining sectional private profits. 701 That is their idea of departure from the policy of laissez faire. That is seen in the various marketing schemes and in this particular scheme.
In spite of what has been said in criticism of my hon. Friend there has been no answer to his case, which was that in this Bill it is proposed to introduce a partial, if not an entire, monopoly for the trawler owner. In future only those who are licensed may come into it. Not so long ago I was talking to important representatives of the fish buyers, who pointed out that there had been a decline in the number of boats engaged in the trawling industry and in the number of fishermen employed, and an increase in the amount of fish caught per fisherman, and a very large increase in the price of the fish sold to them. The proposal is now made to limit the trawlers and to allow in new entrants only under licence, but there is no such proposal for dealing with the other sections of the industry. That is where the theory of the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth comes in—let us have a partial monopoly there, but do not interfere with private enterprise when it comes to the wholesale game, what I call the "skin game," of the British commercial market. Let us read page 37 of the report:The disadvantages of this unrestricted buying are most marked at Grimsby where, working at pressure, upward of 700 merchants"—this is in Grimsby alone—are trading daily under the stress of close proximity and keen competition. The trade is of all types and orders of magnitude. Some are casual buyers; others were employes yesterday and to-day are cutting in 'on the business of their previous employers. There are opportunities for petty pilfering, for topping '(covering up inferior fish with a layer of superior grade) and for stealing custom. Ii the fish arrives at its final destination somewhat stale, there is little chance of knowing whether ship, port wholesaler, transport agent or inland merchant was most responsible.There is no proposal in the Bill to deal with that situation. I say, with some experience of preparing evidence and giving it before the Duncan Commission from the retail point of view, that there is to be found one of the most fruitful fields for effecting commercial economy. Anybody who has examined the condition of fish wholesaling knows that there is a whole range of small merchants at Grimsby and other ports who may be 702 "haggling," sometimes, only a few stone of fish per day, and in order to try to get rid of that fish they will send telegrams at 6d. a time to a whole range of retailers throughout the country. In the end the industry has to bear the cost of all that over-done competition in wholesaling at Grimsby and similar ports. There is nothing in the Bill to deal with that situation, and yet lion. Members get very "fashed" when my hon. Friend says that the Bill is not meeting the situation, and that if it is to be dealt with successfully we must do it on the basis of national planning and national organisation in the interest both of the industry and of the public.
While I agree that the Government are to be commended for at least trying to do something for the industry, there are two main directions in which they fail. The first is that their general policy is not reacting in such a way as to increase the purchasing power of the common people. One has only to examine the actual returns of the industry year after year, as detailed by the Duncan Commission, to see how trade went down not only in the matter of the commercial returns but in the volume of the fish handled during the years of depression when the purchasing power of the people was low. If only the purchasing power of the common people is increased, we can keep this and other essential trades working at a good level. The second point is that the Government are not removing the stupid and unnecessary competitive elements which I have illustrated from the Duncan report. I would press these two points strongly on the Government, though at the same time repeating that we are glad that they are at least trying to help the industry.
Now a word or two about prices. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham has been attacked because he has drawn attention to the disparity between prices at the ports and prices on sale; but he has been attacked for things that he did not actually say. What he put to the House was that, taken on an average, prices at port were 2d. and, on an average, as far as he had been able to get them from a price list and not for a particular class of fish, the selling prices came to 1s. per lb.; that there was a margin between those prices not covered by profits and expenses in the industry, and that it required more explanation. 703 I thought he put it very reasonably, and on the whole very well, but apparently he upset a few hon. Members quite unnecessarily. When I was preparing from a large number of centres of retail distribution evidence for the Duncan Commission I found incontrovertibly that there were a number of channels which, unfortunately, had to be followed, in the present structure of the industry.
There was this first-sale position in the port. There was a second-sale position, very often in the port as well. If I may instance the society with which I am familiar, they would have part of their fish coming in through a straight consignment from their own wholesale federation, but, in many cases, they would be buying other fish, which very often came from a third point of sale, when it reached them. When you get your fish at an average price of 2d. per lb. at the port, before it gets into the shop, reckoning carriage, ice and other things, it has cost 8d. or 9d. a lb., and you are running a risk of waste if you do not get your sale at once. You are doing well and you can make your retail business pay, if you sell the fish at the average price. It is in the interests of the retail trade that my hon. Friends and I plead for a remedy for the present situation. I do not disagree with the general point made under this heading by the Duncan Commission. I can quote the actual words in their report, where they say:We affirm that at no stage in the progress of fish from the port to the consumer are profits obtained at more than a modest level.The point is that there are far too many stages at which these modest profits are taken. That is the real reason why we press upon the Government that something should be done in that connection.
Another thing occurred to me in the course of the Debate. It was the belief still held by hon. Members opposite that the sort of thing that appertains in the fish industry can be met by advertising. It is almost pathetic that people should rely upon that. I agree that the amount spent upon advertising fish is small compared with the amount spent upon other commodities for a similar turnover. I have not the actual figures, but I am told that the amount spent per annum on advertising fish is probably under £50,000, in relation to a turnover of 704 £12,500,000. Looking at the matter from the retail point of view I am bound to say that, in the case of fish, you are not dealing with a commodity that households desire to take every day, and that you have a very different situation from that which has grown up in the ordinary food trade.
I endeavoured to prove my case on this point to the Duncan Commission. If you had fish on sale at an average price of 1s. per lb., good, sweet fish, at the same time as, by organisation, steady and regular supplies and good grading, such foods as butter, cheese, sausages, new classes of tinned foods, glass hams and so on selling at a corresponding price per lb., with no possibility of waste such as occurs when the housewife is dealing with fish, these foods would be far more economical for the working-class housewife to deal with. Over and over again since the period when fish was particularly dear, in one or two years of the War and in the boom period thereafter, the housewife has turned naturally to alternative foods, and she will turn back only if one of two things happens—either her weekly income is increased, or she is able to get fish put before her at a more reasonable rate because of the elimination of some of the expenses which are at present collected en route. Until the Government are prepared to deal with the position on that basis, I do not think they will make very much progress.
I shall not detain the House for very much longer, because I want the Under-Secretary to have ample time in which to reply to some of his own friends, even if he does not reply very much to us, but in conclusion I should like to say a word or two about the structure of the Bill. It is noteworthy that now we seem to proceed from Bill to Bill in a series of marketing schemes moving away from the purely producer-controlled type of board. We are now, on the top of the Livestock Commission, to have an independent commission to deal with fish. I welcome it very much. We on this side are sometimes attacked because the Marketing Act of 1931 was based upon producers. I always have to remind people who criticise me on that score that in 1931 it is doubtful whether we could have carried even the Bill that we had unless we had been prepared to concede that and more. We had enough difficulty in contending against the masses of Tory 705 Members of Parliament representing rural constituencies in the Standing Committee on the Addison Bill, and it is a good thing now that the very handling of that series of Measures by the Tory Government has at last convinced Tory Members that it is a good thing to approach these marketing problems from the point of view of the general public, and not from that of sectional interests. It is a good thing, therefore, to see that here we are to have a commission of the independent type operating.
I noticed that the Minister made some play with the fact that the marketing boards under the schemes are to include independent members. He paid a little tribute to the fact that independent members had been useful on marketing boards in the past. If he will forgive my saying so, I have not noticed it very much yet. I have observed the independent members who have served on boards like the Milk Marketing Board and the Pigs Board, but, as long as you have administrators who are put on such boards, because they are members of the Tory party, Members of this House since elevated to the House of Lords, with very strong agricultural leanings when they are dealing with agricultural schemes, they can hardly be expected to take a completely unbiased view when appointed as independent members of marketing boards. Whether or not the appointment of independent members to these boards will prove of real value to the general public will depend largely upon the wisdom of the Minister as to how he arranges for these appointments and how he selects the individuals.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have just been saying I am very glad to see that the Government are moving away from a purely producers' board, and are taking a more general community line. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) said the other night, they move slowly, but they move long way behind the times.
§ Mr. Alexander
I always trust the Noble Lady's friends to move surely in giving gifts to their own friends. With regard 706 to one or two quite small points in connection with the structure of the Bill, I am a little concerned about the general basis of registration. Of course, registration is necessary if you are to give those within the scheme voting power, and, if there are to be licensing schemes for trawlers, it will be no detriment. When you come to registration of other sections of the trade, I can speak, at any rate, for the retail side and say that I hope it will be done with some wisdom and selection. If you are going to get a registration fee charged for every single person, you may seriously choke up some of the channels for the distribution of fish. I would not choke any of the channels for the sale of fish where there were no expenses attached to the sale. There are large numbers of people who sell small quantities of fish in grocers' shops. I do not see why that should be stopped until you get a really national system. If you can get nationalisation I would do it. But I hope that, whatever the system of registration you lay down, you will take that into account. Another point which we shall raise in Committee is that we do not understand why it is that this Government so continuously brings in Measures which say that a Member of the House of Commons cannot serve on a body of the kind set up here. There is no such bar against a member of another place.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do beg most heartily to protest on principle on Second Reading against that kind of thing. I have no objection if the Government say that it is inadvisable for any Parliamentary representative to take office on a particular Commission, but I resent the suggestion that people who occupy seats in another place are to be preferred to hon. Members here. I have never hidden my views about the respective division of interests in Parliament. I have said something recently about the 700 directorships which are to be found in the House of Commons. But that sort of thing is not confined to this House. You have only to look at the Stock Exchange Year Book and see where Noble Lords figure to lay them under exactly the same bar. The Government ought to consider that. I hope they will do so before the Committee stage of the Bill is very far forward.
707 One or two other things that I wished to say I shall cut out in the interests of time, but I come back to the main point which I want to put on behalf of those for whom I speak. Nothing has transpired in the Debate which can move us one jot from our opinion that you are not going satisfactorily to settle the problems of this industry, which illustrate so clearly the breakdown of private enterprise, until you get a Government of people who are willing to put into operation the principles of communal ownership and direction.
§ 10.29 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
Before I come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), I hope the House will forgive me if I say one word on the peculiar importance of this subject to Scotland. In Scotland, we produce something like one-sixth of the total United Kingdom catch of white fish in volume; but in value it is one-fifth, because our -interests mainly lie in the near waters, in quality fish, and we are in no way responsible for the flooding of the market, to which reference has been made, with low-price fish from more distant waters, which has contributed so much to the troubles of the industry. The average price realised for white fish in Scotland in 1936 was 22s. 8d. per cwt., compared with 17s. 8d for the whole of Great Britain. For the present year the prices have fallen, in Scotland to 19s. 7d., and in Great Britain to 16s. 4d. That decline, when you consider it in conjunction with the heavily increased costs, particularly in the price of coal, which have taken place, reflects the seriousness of the position of the whole industry.
Our inshore fisheries in Scotland are of particular importance. They produce as much as 15 per cent. of our whole Scottish catch and they give employment to a very large number of hardy and industrious men. As a result of the grave depression which has fallen upon the herring industry, a great many Scottish fishermen have turned to white fishing as a means of livelihood, in many cases with conspicuous success, and we hope that this process will be followed by others. My right hon. Friend pointed out a moment ago that shell fish are included as white fish for the purposes of this Bill. 708 The lobster fisheries off our Scottish coasts are very valuable and they afford a means of livelihood to many inshore men, including a considerable number who are partly employed in crofting. The interest of Scotland in this Bill is a very great one, and it is perhaps of particular interest to note that the presidents of two of the leading organisations in the trade—the Trawlers' Federation and the Wholesalers Distributors' Federation—are both Scotsmen; while the Sea Fish Commission, whose recommendations are so closely followed in the Bill, had for its chairman another Scotsman, Sir Andrew Duncan. I have no doubt that Scottish talent will continue to contribute its full share to the welfare of this industry.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for his kindness in restricting himself to such a narrow space of time in order, as he said, to make it possible for me to reply not only to his side of the House, but to my own colleagues. As we hope to leave a few minutes for the Financial Resolution before Eleven o'clock I think that, in spite of his great generosity, it will not be possible for me to cover the whole of the ground—indeed a great many of the points which have been raised in the Debate are really Committee points—but I shall do my best to abstract from the Debate the main questions of principle which have been raised in the course of it. One question of principle which has been brought up on both side of the House is the position of the fishermen themselves. What share of the benefits of this Bill is to go to them, and have their interests received as much consideration as the interests of those who own or control the industry? Another question is the matter of consumption. What is the position of the consumer, and what is the present state of prices? What danger is there of a rise in prices as a result of the Bill? Another matter of principle raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), who has informed me that he is obliged to be absent for an important engagement in the country, was that of the danger of monopoly and the possible lack of control of Parliament.
A great many of my hon. Friends have asked many urgent and searching questions on the subject of foreign imports. Let me say a few words first on the question of imported fish, because many of 709 my hon. Friends have argued that the provisions of this Bill would really be of no avail without some control of foreign imported fish. One hon. Member even said that he would prefer to have the recommendations of Part V of the Duncan Report, and not to have any of the other provisions, in the Bill. Hon. Members who have taken this view have asked for three things to be done. They have asked not so much for the total amount of foreign imports to be limited as for those imports to be spread out with less irregularity from month to month. If we take the whole amount of the foreign imports they constitute only about 10 per cent. of our whole consumption. It may not, therefore, be that they have a very great effect on prices, but we recognise that the disadvantageous consequences to the price of the fish which may arise from those imports are not so much due to their total volume as to their very great irregularity.
Hon. Members also asked that the provision for the fixing of minimum prices as provided for in the Bill shall be applied to foreign fish, and that the limitation of the amount of fish that may be caught on one trip, although it cannot be applied to foreign ships, should be applied to any fish which a foreign ship is able to land at any particular time. I must make it plain that all these matters are outside the purview of this Bill, but the most important of them, the possibility of limiting or spreading out more evenly the quantity of fish imported from abroad is not a thing that would require legislation. It can be done under the ordinary procedure of our trade agreements. The subjection of foreign cargoes to a minimum price and the limitation of the total quantity to be landed in one ship would require legislation, and are matters of very great difficulty. All I can say with regard to these matters is that we appreciate their importance, that my right hon. Friend intends to discuss them with his colleagues and that the fullest weight will be given to the considerations which have been advanced in this Debate.
I come now to the question of consumption. The right hon. Member apposite very rightly said that it is the consumer who alone constitutes a remunerative market. The Minister in moving the Second Reading of the Bill declared that its primary object was to provide the public with a plentiful supply of fish at attractive prices. The hon. Member for 710 Seaham asked a number of questions concerning the price of fish and asked why it was that people do not eat more fish. He said that that fact was very remarkable. I should like to say a few words about the figures he gave. I think he said that the average consumption of fish was 28 lbs. per head in this country. I think the figure is 45 lbs. per head.
They are figures which are officially supplied to us by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The Duncan Report was published some little time ago. I was merely quoting the figures as a matter of interest and was agreeing with the hon. Member's proposition that the total consumption is not as great as we could wish it to be. The hon. Member wondered whether the reason was because the price was too high, and he quoted figures from the report which showed that the retail price of fish is roughly double the wholesale price. The report goes on to say that that makes no allowance for wastage arising from filleting, etc., and that if you allow for that the cost may perhaps he treble instead of double the wholesale price. I think the figure of 1s. per lb. which he gave from the Civil Service Stores list is perhaps rather misleading. It is difficult to get an average figure for the retail price of fish because it varies so much in accordance with the quality of the service. If we are to get an average figure I think we should be more accurate if we accept the statement in the report, that if you do not allow for wastage it is roughly double but that if you do it would be three times the wholesale price.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does the Under-Secretary suggest that the average retail price of fish is 6d. per lb.?
As I have said, it is exceedingly difficult to get an average because of the variations between the places where fish is sold; between one shop where there is an elaborate service and elaborate buildings and a shop where 711 the service and equipment are not so elaborate. The variation between them is much greater than the variation between wholesale and retail prices. The Economic Advisory Council which was appointed by the Government in 1929 reported that there was no undue charge made in the various stages between the producers' price and the price actually paid by the consumer. The question we have to consider is how to make it more attractive for people to eat more fish. My own view is that the reason why the consumption of fish is not greater is not so much because of the price as the very large proportion of fish now offered to the public which is, quite frankly, not very palatable, particularly since fishing in distant waters has developed so much and such a large proportion of fish is being brought long distances. The Bill is, first, an attempt to make provision for the better packing and icing of fish; secondly, to reduce the proportion of this fish in relation to the amount of near-water fish that are caught; and, thirdly, to have a better system of grading fish, so that the inferior long-distance fish shall not be mixed up with the higher quality fish which are caught nearer land.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is it not the case that 80 per cent. of what the hon. Member calls coarse fish, which he says is unpalatable, is sold in the fried fish shops of the country?
I think the figure is about 60 per cent., but I do not know how that affects the argument. Before I leave the question of consumption, I want to remove one or two misapprehensions which were expressed by the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff). The hon. Member was afraid that my right hon. Friend, in making his appointments to the Sea Fish Commission or to the Joint Council, would choose persons who were more concerned with their own financial advantage than the good of the public. He informed us that certain ladies of his acquaintance, whom he did not specify but whose identity we should all be interested to know, had an unenviable past. But he must not suppose that those dubious qualities are shared by my right hon. Friend, who is, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion, and whose practice in making these appointments will be governed by that wisdom 712 and virtue which I am sure prevails among the more respectable acquaintances of the hon. Member opposite.
The hon. Member, I think with some reason, pointed out that the way to get people to eat more fish was to make them think it was more desirable to indulge in a larger expenditure on advertising, although the right hon. Gentleman who wound up for the Opposition condemned the idea of more advertising as being a pathetic mistake. Perhaps the hon. Member may know of the variety of salmon, found in Western Canada, which has a rather ugly kind of yellow flesh. An enterprising American salesman canned, or tinned, a large quantity of this salmon, which he distributed throughout the United States in tins which were marked: "Highest quality genuine salmon; guaranteed not to turn pink. "He charged slightly more for it than was charged for pink salmon, and made a large fortune. The hon. Member may perhaps have noticed, in Clause 1i of the Bill, that one of the purposes of setting up marketing schemes in the industry is to take measures for increasing the consumption of white fish, whether by means of advertising or the giving of demonstrations and instruction with regard to the use thereof. I hope that the advertising will be on a strictly honourable basis.
As to the question of monopoly, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee raised, the purpose of the Bill is not to establish a monopoly but to have a more efficient and better organised system of marketing. It aims, on the producing side, at doing several things. I have already referred to the inferior fish which come from a distance, and to the contention that they should be graded and better packed. The Bill also is designed to regulate the seasonal quantity of fish which comes into the market, not to restrict the total supply over the whole year but to provide that the market at some particular moment shall not be flooded with an excessive quantity. It is designed to bring about a removal of all these disadvantages due to the present disorganised state, both on the producing and on the distributive side, about which so much was said just now by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander).
713 Let me, in conclusion, come to what is perhaps the most important point of principle which has been brought up in this Debate, that of the position of the fishermen. Of course, it is, in the first place, to their advantage that more fish should be sold and more fish should be eaten. We have already debated the possible means by which that can be brought about. My right hon. Friend gave one historical method of increasing 'the consumption of fish which was adopted by King Edward VI—the establishment of fast days on Wednesdays and Fridays, which were compulsory. I do not know whether at that time Wednesdays and Fridays were private Members' days in the House of Commons. To-day the method of compulsion might not produce quite the intended result, but the whole of the methods contained in this Bill are ultimately intended to benefit the fishermen themselves. As for the hon. Member for Seaham, I think he acknowledged the benefit under Clause 48 of the Bill, in which the Superintendent of the Board of Trade has power to inspect the catch and to make sure that the agreed percentage of profit is given to the men without any complaint being made. There is no question of victimisation, because the Board of Trade has power to do it in all cases whether any complaint is made or not. With' regard to present earnings, I think it is unquestioned that the total receipts earned by fishermen are a great deal lower than they were last year because of the fall in prices.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) was quite right in pointing out that the additional bonus of 2d in the pound might come to even more than the fixed wage of £2 in times when prices are satisfactory, but of course when prices are not satisfactory it may not amount to very much. But the whole of the provisions of the Bill are designed to bring a better price to the producer without raising prices to the consumer, by eliminating waste. The primary object is to bring a higher and more satisfactory standard of life to a class of men whose work is of such high value to our country, to our food supply in time of peace and to our protection in time of danger.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.