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White Fish Subsidy

Volume 531: debated on Monday 26 July 1954

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10.28 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
(Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I beg to move,

That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1954, dated 13th July, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th July, be approved.
The Scheme is made under the 1953 White Fish and Herring Industry Act, and is the second Order. The main purpose of the Act was to provide grants and loans for the rebuilding of near and middle water and inshore fleets and also to provide for the payment of subsidies for about five years to help those sections of the fishing industry in their known financial difficulties until they were able to stand on their own feet again.

The first Order expires at the end of July next year, but we are bringing in the new Scheme now so as to make certain revisions in the first Order, which was made a year ago. The first Order provided the basis for the assistance, which was a voyage insurance scheme, operating to assist fishing vessels in the near and middle waters which have unfortunate trips for one reason or another and are unable to make a sufficient return.

In addition, the first Order provided a flat rate payment of 4d. per stone for all fish landed except for the inshore vessels for which we provided 10d. per stone flat rate. The total value of the Order as it has been running and will run until the new Scheme supplants it, is about £2¼ million per annum. At the annual review of the industry which takes place in March we found that the 1953 results showed some improvement over those for 1952. The losses made in 1952 were materially reduced. If that was all that we had to consider, we might well have left the Order to run as it was for another year, but we have to take into account that in the current year there have been significant increases in costs, notably in coal and in labour costs for crews.

The fishing industry has also drawn attention to the fact that it is now using the larger mesh which has been introduced under the Overfishing Convention, which has been very successfully got going; but although we recognise that this may be a factor we feel that it is not something which we should take account of in this financial operation. So, in considering what rate of subsidy to provide, we have had regard to the total average annual provision made under the 1953 Act. This is not much more than £2 million per annum.

It is quite clear that if we are already running at about £2¼ million per annum, any increase now must necessitate a lower rate in the latter part of the period of five years provided in the 1953 Act. Despite this, we feel justified in making an increase this year to help the industry in its present difficulties.

We are much concerned to see that the industry has sufficient finance in it at the present time to enable it to make full use of the grants for rebuilding and the loans at the same time. We propose, therefore, in the Scheme that there should be a further increase of about £250,000, which will make a total for the coming 12 months of £2½ million and will then bring the total value of the subsidy up to about 14 per cent. of the value of the fish caught.

This increased amount, we propose, should be added to the voyage insurance scheme to help those vessels which are in the greatest need; they are set out in the Schedule to the Scheme. It will also be noticed that we have made some revision of the structure of the scheme to make it apply more accurately to where it is most needed. We shall continue the subsidy of 4d. per stone flat rate unchanged, as before.

I should acknowledge that the fishing industry has asked for significantly more than we are granting, but I do not feel that the House would take the view that that would be justified within the provisions of the 1953 Act. Our problem really was to justify the increase of rate at all. Furthermore, if we increase the subsidy rates too much, instead of doing what we want to do to enable the industry to keep going while it is rebuilding, we might encourage rebuilding to an uneconomic level, so that eventually the industry is unable to stand on its own feet without subsidy. The inshore fishing industry has been running satisfactorily and showing better results in 1953, and so we propose to leave that rate of subsidy of 10d. per stone unchanged.

It may interest the House to know of the rate of rebuilding. For the near and middle water fleets, up to 30th June this year 29 vessels had been approved; a further 11 are under consideration. This can be regarded as fairly satisfactory. We should like to see the figures increased, but that is a satisfactory start in what is admitted to be a difficult position. For the inshore fleet, 81 new vessels and 72 new engines have been approved. I think that that indicates that the subsidy has been doing broadly what we intended it to do in the last year.

I believe that the provisions we are making in this new Scheme will enable the industry to keep operating. Although it is not quite all they have asked for, I believe it is a fair settlement, which will enable this important part of the nation's food supply to be continued as before, and, not least important, ensure a fair living to the men engaged in this hazardous undertaking. I know how strongly my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite from the fishing ports feel on that aspect. In the bad weather we have to face one loss, or sometimes more, and I assure the House we have given this matter most earnest thought to reach what we think is a fair balance in the interests of the industry on the one hand and of the public on the other.

10.36 p.m.

First, I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary, or commiserate with him—I do not know which—on his reprieve. Secondly, I ought to say at once that it is not our intention to divide the House against this Scheme. As usual, the hon. Gentleman has explained the Scheme and its objects so clearly that he has left little or no doubt or misunderstanding.

If the increased costs have been closely examined, and the accountants are well satisfied that there is no sort of exploitation and the subsidy was justified in 1953 it must be justified in 1954. I must say, however, that when this process began we all hoped it would be a temporary expedient, and we looked to the White Fish Authority to organise reorganisations or amalgamations and that kind of thing that would render the subsidies unnecessary. We were all disappointed, but this is hardly the moment to enter into the wider question of general fishing industry problems.

As I understand, this Scheme merely amends the 1953 Order, makes small changes in the conditions for the grants, and slightly increases the rate, subject to the new conditions. The increase, as the Parliamentary Secretary states, amounts to approximately £250,000. The Act provided for a total payment not exceeding £10 million. I gather that for the 11 months they have been £2,064,000. There is no unlimited liability. There is a maximum payment per day: there is a maximum payment per voyage, so the Treasury are limited twice in their liabilities.

We all know something of the difficulties of the near, middle water and inshore fishermen while we are anxious to enjoy the luxury of the so-called quality white fish. We have all watched with dismay the diminishing returns per voyage since the war, largely due to over-fishing in the North Sea, but we are all glad to know that the White Fish Convention is now operating. I hope that immature fish will now be allowed to develop to a reasonable size, for unless they do, it must mean difficulties on the basis of diminishing returns, and more costly and more uneconomical voyages which near and middle fishermen make. I hope that all the countries associated with this Convention will play the game and observe the rules. On that condition alone will a supply of good white fish be available to us.

Unless we cease to take from the sea more than the annual increment, results will go down and we shall be back in the doldrums of the 1930s, with diminishing returns for each voyage for both trawler owners and their fishermen, and subsidies will have to go on for ever and ever. Without a subsidy, we shall have to go without the good quality white fish. I do not suppose that anybody would relish that. To maintain the supply at a reasonable price there are only three sources of income: consumers, trawler owners and fishermen, and the Treasury. If the proposed small investment will guarantee a constant supply of good quality white fish it will be well worth while.

I cannot imagine that the Ministry have given the trawler owners all they asked for; neither can I imagine that the trawler owners have done all that the Government would like them to do. The Scheme is strictly limited for one year, but I cannot imagine how it can be discontinued in 1954. I warn the Parliamentary Secretary that on a more appropriate occasion we shall have various searching questions to put on the general scheme of fishing and particularly with regard to the activities of the White Fish Board that I had the privilege of setting up a few years back. We want to know just what its activities have resulted in, and whether or not it has let us down or has served the country well. The Scheme is fairly legitimate and reasonable, and the House ought to pass it.

10.43 p.m.

I welcome this Scheme most cordially. It is wanted because we are going through a period of trying to increase the number of fish in the sea. We have introduced new mesh sizes. I hope that the subsidy will give a fillip to fishermen to use a much bigger mesh, so that there will not be wholesale slaughter of immature fish for some considerable time. Thus we may rehabilitate the Dogger and other fishing grounds in the North Sea.

I would be sorry to see the subsidy higher. There is always the tendency, when money comes in in the form of a subsidy, for some people to take matters more easily and not have that final drag of the day which means taking the value of the catch up to a considerable size.

This is an extremely good Scheme and should be given a good try out. I hope that it will be welcomed by the mid-water and near-distance men, for whom help is needed at the present time. If the help is not given, we shall see force majeur in the fishing industry to break the law with regard to the size of mesh. I hope that that will be obviated.

10.45 p.m.

With some diffidence, I welcome the Scheme. As we all know, when the Government we supported introduced the subsidy some years ago, it was thought that the subsidy would be only temporary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) began it over the period, when we were suffering from the grave disabilities of overfishing and when we were met with appalling costs, when there was very little rejuvenation of the fleet and when the industry itself was in a very bad way.

We know that although the Minister of Agriculture, or at any rate the Parliamentary Secretary, is responsible for this, the Scheme is really a Treasury scheme, because we know very well that the British Trawlers Federation, and those catchers who are members of that and responsible for the provision of capital in the industry, wanted a very considerable increase in the subsidy which, from their point of view, was quite reasonable to offset the appalling rise in the cost of running the industry.

Fuel costs during the last 12 months have risen, costs of labour and appurtenances have risen, as have means of carrying on this great industry, which is the fifth largest industry in the country, one in which a tremendous amount of capital is sunk, and which provides sustenance and has a high strategic value. It is extremely important from the national point of view, apart from the consumers and those who enjoy good fish, that this great industry should be kept at a maximum of efficiency. I submit this can be done only by getting fish of prime quality and variety.

Nothing did more damage to the fishing industry in reducing consumption in the period of the war, and immediately following the war, than the monotonous diet of cod, fish taken from far waters, because, as we know, the North Sea was prohibited. Fishermen and the fishing industry during those years went through a very trying time.

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), whose knowledge of this industry is unsurpassed in this House, knows very well that this industry cannot sustain itself in the future unless we conserve the fish. It is with that object in mind that this subsidy has been made available to the industry. We do not envisage it going on for ever. It was a temporary measure to start with. How proud I am to say that my own port of Lowestoft is in the van of this rejuvenation of the fleet—I think we have at least half, if not more, of the new modern diesel engine vessels.

It is essential for the industry to survive on its merits. They are having the chance because the industry, and I say this with great regret, is becoming almost a monopoly. Already the Icelandic landings have been cut out. That cannot go on for ever because it is a phase of our economic life that cannot give us any pride or pleasure to see our old friends in Iceland cut out.

I shall get some nasty looks from my friends in the fishing world when I meet them, but we must not envisage this industry being entirely without competition. I hope that the day is coming when they will be able to raise their standard of production and standard of salesmanship. I hope that the authority, which is doing a creditable job of salesmanship, will be able to put them on the right line.

I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is as much fish coming to this country from offshore Icelandic waters as came from the inshore.

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that, because it is a terrible criticism of the action of those in the industry who imposed the ban to say that the results of the conservation measures which the Icelanders are taking—measures which we ourselves have done so much to foster in our own waters—are becoming apparent. The quality taken from the waters adjacent to Iceland is better than ever before. I hope that I have taken the hon. Gentleman's point correctly. That is my point of view.

The disabilities of the industry have to be sympathetically considered by the consuming public. We are always hearing about the high price of fish. We have been hearing a great deal recently about the high price of meat. Fish is in competition with unrationed meat, with large quantities of good vegetables at this time of year, with an influx of eggs, and so on. With the increased cost of the operations of catching I submit that it is wrong to suggest that fish is extraordinarily or unduly dear. It is a hazardous occupation and the costs are enormous.

The standard of life of the fishermen has been increased—without that we shall not get the recruitment that the industry needs. Anything that the Minister does to rehabilitate the industry, to sustain, help and encourage it while not spoiling it—we do not want any industry to be spoiled or pampered—will be welcomed. I believe that this amount, although it disappoints the fishing industry itself, will do a great deal to keep the vessels sailing, to help this great industry to prosper, and to provide, as is intended, sustenance and a safeguard in time of trouble.

10.52 p.m.

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has recognised the rise in costs which the industry has had to bear. I am glad, also, that the hazards and dangers through which those engaged in it have to pass have also been recognised. In following the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) I welcome the reference he has made to the amount of damage that was caused in this country to the industry by there having to be so much boxed cod landed during the war. He might also have mentioned the amount of "painted ladies" that also had to be eaten.

It is absolutely necessary to keep up the quality of the fish and there are only two points I wish to make to the Minister. The reference in page 4 of the Scheme is to vessels not exceeding 70 feet overall. Between now and the next Scheme I would like him to consider whether or not pollock should be included in the ungutted as well as the gutted section. He will no doubt already know that the cost of including that would be extremely small. If he turns to the fish landings for April, 1954, he will discover their value to be £4,124.

My other point is with regard to this question of quality and what we hope the White Fish Authority may be able to do to encourage the industry. The last thing we would really want to see is this industry running for ever on a subsidy. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would take into consideration what the fishing industry paper wrote this month. I think it is a matter which he should bear fully in mind, and I would like to read just a paragraph from what it said:
"But we must add that if this junior Minister is now a fishery man he should be out and about in the future getting to know the problems of the industry and speaking at trade functions up and down the country, and generally making himself known and liked, so that the industry have the feeling that their 'champion' is a full-timer. Even junior Ministers are busy. But we would like to see this particular fellow round the markets now and again discussing the industry's troubles and aspirations."
I sincerely trust that is what we shall see the Parliamentary Secretary doing in the future.

10.55 p.m.

I am sorry to interrupt the paean of praise and platitude with which this Scheme has been received. It has certain objectionable features to which I think I must draw attention. The Scheme is primarily designed to deal with the case of fishing vessels secretly elongated without notice to the Minister, for the purpose of fraudulently getting a grant. It imputes fraud and dishonesty to the owners of fishing vessels, to the fishermen and to the fishing community. Indeed, Article 10 actually deals with the penalties which may be imposed for the frauds which are contemplated by the Scheme.

So, without further explanation, the Scheme seems not only quite unnecessary, but undesirable. We have only to look at the last sentence in the Explanatory Note to see that that is so. It puts the matter very succinctly, and more clearly than I can put it:
"The conditions under which the grants may be paid remain the same as those under the previous Scheme, save for a provision that when a structural alteration is made to any vessel which increases its length grant may be paid at the rate appropriate to the original length of the vessel, unless, previous to the alteration, the appropriate Minister has otherwise agreed."
Obviously the intention of this Scheme is to deal with owners and fishermen who would fraudulently seek to elongate secretly their boats, and then get grants accordingly. No one had thought fit, not even the former Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, to refer to these very objectionable features and it is my duty, in the interests of the fishing community, to draw attention to them.

This Scheme seeks to supersede or amend the Scheme of last year, which was entitled the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1953. The purpose of that scheme last year was to implement Section 5 of the White Fish and Herring Industry Act, 1953. It did that well and in a workmanlike way, without imputing improper motives of fraud to either owners or fishermen.

Section 5 follows the principle of the present Tory Government, which is this: when it wants to be constructive it copies the earlier legislation of the Labour Government, but slightly alters the words, and when it wants to be destructive it reverses the process by putting in a "not" here and there, and by changing a positive into a negative, or a negative into a positive, or, as here, by wasting time and energy by putting in a preposterous provision about "without notice, lengthening the size of a registered fishing vessel in respect of which a grant is paid."

To understand the fantastic folly of what is being done it is necessary to realise that the Act out of which this Scheme flows is one of a series of Acts, some of which were passed by the Labour Government and one of which was passed by the present Government. The series was instituted and developed by earlier Governments, and it worked well in those days. I do not propose to elaborate the series—I see that you are getting restless, Mr. Speaker—and I shall deal with this Scheme.

The purpose of the Act now in question was to promote the landing of a continuous and plentiful supply of white fish, and to encourage the fishermen by making grants, such as those contemplated by this Scheme, to owners and fishermen of vessels not exceeding 140 feet in length, subject to conditions set out in the scheme. A scheme was made last year, which scheme it is now sought to amend, for the payment of grants in respect of voyages made and fish landed by vessels fishing the near and middle water grounds, and for grants in respect of landings of fish by inshore vessels during the period from 1st August, 1953. to 31st July, 1955.

That was all clear, open and above board, and no amendment was necessary. In my submission, no amendment is now necessary, unless it is intended to take away some of the rights of owners and fishermen, or to complicate their affairs and reduce their opportunities, or to make their lives more difficult by imputing to them, as this Scheme does, dishonesty and fraud. I invite the House to see what is the effect of this Scheme, and how unnecessary it is.

It provides all the same kinds of things as the previous scheme did—except one. It provides for vessels fishing the near and middle water grounds, as did the previous scheme; it provides for inshore fishing vessels, as did the previous scheme; it provides for the period up to 31st July, 1955, as did the previous scheme; and it provides conditions and grants to promote landings, as did the previous scheme. The one difference is that to which I have referred, that where structural alteration is made to any vessel to increase its length,
"grants may be paid at the rate appropriate to the length of the vessel before the alteration was carried out, unless the appropriate Minister has previously agreed in writing to pay at the rate appropriate to the length of the vessel after the alteration was carried out."
That is an imputation, of dishonesty against the owner and the fisherman—an imputation of an attempt to get a grant without giving notice to the Minister that this elastic boat had been elongated.

I submit that this Scheme is worse than circumlocution; it is designed to enhance the powers of the Minister, to give trouble to the owner and the fisherman, to increase the red tape, to embarrass the fishing industry and thereby to reduce the supplies of fish. Everything remains the same except this suppositious attempt on the part of the dishonest fisherman to elongate his elastic boat. As everything remains the same except for this fantastic idea of elongating an elastic boat, the Scheme is unnecessary.

The hon. and learned Gentleman says that everything is the same. Does he consider an additional grant of a quarter of a million pounds can be ignored by the fishing industry?

I will put my answer in the succinct words of the Explanatory Note, which, in its last sentence, says:

"The conditions under which the grants may be made remain the same as those under the previous Scheme…"

11.5 p.m.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) spoke of monotonous diet. It would help to relieve that diet if more people were encouraged to eat shellfish. We are told that

"This Scheme, which may be cited as the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1954, shall apply to the United Kingdom, and shall come into operation on the 1st day of August, 1954."
We are also told that
"'Gross proceeds' means the proceeds from the first-hand sale of all fish (including herring, salmon, migratory trout and shellfish)…"
As I understand, shellfish do not come into the subsidy. Is it too late to ask that this shall be reconsidered? Something has been said tonight about the cost of gear and the cost of the operations of fishermen. Those same costs apply to those who fish for shellfish. I do not see why they should not get a grant under the Scheme.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft mentioned the Icelandic fishing dispute. One thing to be remembered so far as inshore fishermen are concerned is that this dispute—apart from the fact that the catches have gone up in the waters around Iceland since the expansion of territorial waters—means that we must take care to produce good quality fish so that we can compete with the frozen fish sent here from Iceland. At the same time, it is unfair that our fishermen should abide by the net rules set by the Over-fishing Convention when Belgians and Frenchmen can come in to our ports having used nets which do not conform to the international Convention, and nothing be done about it. Her Majesty's Government should consult the Governments concerned to ensure that pressure is brought to bear upon the fishermen of those nations to use the proper size of mesh.

I would emphasise what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) said about the Minister. I hope that as a result of our recent debate the remarks made in the fishing Press about the Minister will be noted.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be answering questions on fisheries at the Dispatch Box. I hope that he will be able to visit the fishing ports and to meet the men in the industry. It is important that the fishing industry should know that there is one Minister who will identify himself particularly with the needs of the industry.

If the hon. Member is so keen on having a Minister to show himself to all the fishermen in the fishing ports, why did he and his hon. Friend withdraw the Bill presented to the House to set up a Parliamentary Secretary who would be solely responsible for fisheries? Will he and his hon. Friends now support the Bill, which I have introduced, to establish a Parliamentary Secretary to be responsible for fisheries?

I would only say—my remarks have been to this end—that we hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will show sufficient interest in the fishing industry to make it apparent that he is doing the job that we all wish done for the fishing industry.

11.11 p.m.

I cannot follow the line adopted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) about boats being elongated secretly or otherwise, but I hope that the same procedure is not tried out on the fish. I am, however, worried about the way in which nets are being elongated, which is unfair to our own people.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary spoke about the new Overfishing Convention. I think I can claim to have played some part in getting the Convention agreed to and in getting Belgium and Iceland to sign it. I am certain that all hon. Members would like to give it a fair trial, but we can only do that if all the countries which have signed the agreement abide by the rules.

We might as well be frank about the matter. Fishermen all over the country, and certainly those fishing from Granton and Newhaven in my constituency, are complaining about fishermen from other countries using nets in the North Sea which are not of the sizes laid down in the Convention. If our people are to use the proper nets, it is only right that other countries should follow suit.

Not only do we depend on a good supply of fish, but the livelihood of the fishing communities of all countries is bound up with the preservation of the fish life in the sea. If people over-fish, we shall ultimately reach a stage when we shall put people out of employment altogether and destroy a very valuable food supply for the rest of the world.

Let us remember that the scheme will give some assistance to the industry. I do not complain about the safeguards which have been provided. Any Government would have to provide certain safeguards if they were to pay out public money. Let us be fair and say that the scheme will provide an extra £250.000.

That is the reason for the quarrel between the owners and the Minister. The owners feel that they have not got enough out of the scheme. Indeed, in these days of rising costs they are entitled to ask for some measures to be taken to make certain that they can carry on the industry. Trawler owners have told me that if they could get their coal at the price at which many other industries are being supplied they would not want £250,000 from the Ministry. Fuel has gone up tremendously during the last 12 months, as indeed have many other items.

What the industry asks is that it be given a subsidy sufficient to allow it to carry on until it is reorganised. But I do not think the Minister should think that this is the last of the matter. Let us be frank also about the progress made under the White Fish Authority. We expected something more. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply, or the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, but, to give one example.

I led a deputation to the Scottish Office last December about the white fish industry which made some proposals with regard to the disposal of white fish, especially that portion that was not sold for human consumption. The Minister said to the Authority that here were the proposals of this section of the industry, and asked them to get on quickly and let him have a reply. I saw the Joint Under-Secretary in January, and he told me he had not got a reply. I am not blaming him. I only got a final reply on the 15th of this month, seven months after the matter was first raised, and I cannot absolve the White Fish Authority from blame.

If the industry is to be reorganised, we have to have greater attention from the Authority which was created to deal with these very problems—not only fish oil but fish meal, which, indeed, could play a very valuable part in bringing back prosperity to the white fish industry. When one thinks of the tremendous sums of money expended on the purchase of fish meal—in 1952 over £1,250,000—from other countries for our agricultural industry, one would have thought the Authority could have shown greater efficiency and drive in finding a solution.

We should not be misled by the figures of new boats under construction or being built. The Parliamentary Secretary thought on the whole they were fairly satisfactory. I am certain that on reflection he would like to amend that statement, because while the numbers may be better than they have been, they have to be placed against the out-of-date condition of such a large number of boats in the industry. When we measure this little progress, let us always remember the long road there is still to travel to reorganise and make the industry prosperous.

Here is an industry which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) said, is the fifth largest in the country. It is an industry which makes a tremendous contribution not only in time of peace but in war-time, because it is from that industry that we draw a great deal of our naval strength. So it is essential in peace or war that this industry, and all who are in it, should have the best attention of this House, and while we may pass this Scheme which may bring a little succour to it, I hope in the not too far distant future we shall have greater proposals for reorganising the industry and putting it on its feet again without having always to induct subsidies merely to keep it alive.

11.19 p.m.

It would seem strange to discuss fish and for no one to speak for Grimsby or Humber ports, as about 70 per cent. of the fish landed come to the Humber ports. As there is no one else to speak for the southern side of the river, I should like to speak for the trawler owners and men affected by this Scheme who live in my constituency. They are grateful for whatever is done to help them. The Parliamentary Secretary has been invited to go round the various ports, and I hope he will not spend all his time in the smaller ports and overlook the two that matter. At present in the white fish industry there is a great deal in Grimsby that causes people disquiet. There has been a lot of discussion in the local Press recently about the difficulties with which the industry is faced. These proposals will help in a small degree, but they will not touch some of the more basic problems that face this oldest fishing port in the country.

I extend to my hon. Friend a strong invitation, if he can possibly find time, to come up and see the industry for himself. I undertake that if he comes he will be shown all sides of the industry, and I hope he will give an undertaking that when he comes back he will do his best to see that remedies are applied to what he has learnt.

11.21 p.m.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will have noted the kind invitation extended to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne). There is very little that I need say except to answer one or two points. It is good to feel that although this is a moderate measure, by no means giving to the industry anything like all it asked, nevertheless it has, with the single exception of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), won universal approval from the House.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), as did others, raised, naturally enough, the question of Iceland. We are all concerned, and will continue to be concerned, about the unhappy problem there. All I would say about it is that we are ready at any time to discuss conservation measures with Iceland. But we quite understand in the House that the fishing industry finds it rather difficult to agree to measures unilaterally imposed. That is the difficulty, and I am afraid it may continue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) asked me about Pollack. We will look at the point he has put to us. The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North, had prepared his speech without looking at the Scheme. It would not be proper at this time of night to try to enter into a conflict with him. I merely beg the hon. and learned Member, politely but firmly, to go home tonight and, for the first time, read the Scheme, and he will find all his questions answered. If he is still left in any difficulty, particularly about the question of lengthening of vessels, I will give him precise particulars of a case which made it essential that we should introduce this new provision in the Scheme. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member, being a legal luminary and having obtained this information, will be the first to get up on the next occasion and say what splendid fellows we are on the Government Front Bench.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) was, as usual, gallant and loyal to his shellfish, and raised the local problem. The trouble is that shellfish were excluded by the Act, and it is difficult for us, unless we were to alter the Act, to overcome that difficulty. But no doubt my hon. Friend will go on fighting for the shellfish, and perhaps in due course something will happen.

The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), like other hon. Members, referred to the international Convention, in the making of which we all recognise the very important part which he played abroad. The hon. Member has, therefore, every right to talk to the House upon this matter. Everything depends on how the other countries play the game. If they did not play the game, there would not be much sense in the convention; but each country is obliged to see that its nationals abide by its law, and it is up to each signatory to enforce the convention in that way. But all signatories are obliged to report to the Permanent Commission next year on the measures they have taken to enforce the convention, and it will then be open to any of us to make such representations as we want to make.

The hon. Gentleman raised a matter with me some months ago when he brought some of his trawler constituents to see me in Edinburgh. The point raised was a reasonable one. It was suggested that there was a surplus of white fish which could not be sold on the fresh market, and which had a depressing effect on the home market, and we were asked whether we could not do something about it. The White Fish Authority examined this matter at my request; so did we. After the most careful consideration, the Government came to the conclusion that it would not be possible to pay the subsidy for fish which was not being used for human consumption. That is the difficulty in which we are placed, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate it.

The best answer I can give is that we have taken two measures to deal with this surplus, very often of small fish. We have introduced the larger mesh provisions which will have the effect of reducing the amount of small fish caught. We have also introduced the Sea Fish Industry (Immature Fish) Order, which has the effect of increasing the minimum size of whiting to 10 inches. No whiting of less than 10 inches can now be sold. That should have an effect on the splendid men from Granton and that part of the world. I hope that these few remarks have answered the questions put.

Would my hon. Friend say, on the subject of the measures taken about the size of the mesh, whether Fishery Protection vessels have the right to inspect the mesh, and can he give publicity to that so that fishermen will know they can be prosecuted for an offence.

The Fishery Protection vessels have a function as the hon. Gentleman knows, and they can examine our own vessels and apply measures to them, and likewise other countries can take similar action against their vessels.

Question put, and agreed to.


That the White Fish Subsidy (United Kingdom) Scheme, 1954, dated 13th July, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th July, be approved.