HC Deb 17 March 1913 vol 50 cc807-12

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I would not have ventured to ask for a Second Reading of this Bill now if it had not been before the House throughout the whole of last year. Its sole object is to give us in England what Scotland has enjoyed for many years past, namely, the power to brand barrels of herrings in order that the export trade from England in herrings packed in barrels shall have the same benefit as the herrings which are packed in barrels and exported from Scottish ports. During the time I have been at the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries I have received requests from some of the English ports asking that the Scottish system shall be applied in the future to English herrings packed in barrels. I am informed that for the purpose of applying this system to England legislation such as is embodied in this Bill is necessary. The principal ports which export herrings at the present time in this country are Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Grimsby, Hull, Plymouth, Hartlepool, South Shields, and Fleetwood. From Yarmouth I have received what I may call a non-committal resolution, but from the other large ports the request for legislation has been of a very definite character. The request from Lowestoft and South Shields in particular has been repeated over and over again. They wish to have for the English herring trade the same advantage that the Scottish herring trade enjoys. What has been found by the English herring merchants has been this, that in competition in foreign markets, such as Hamburg, Scotch herrings which bear the brand of the Scottish Fishery Board sell in preference to English herrings, which have no Government brand upon them. What is proposed is that any barrel of herrings that comes up to the necessary standard—the standard is prescribed at great length in the Scottish Regulations—shall receive the English brand. Those who are pressing for this legislation—the exporters of herrings—say that by placing the English brand upon the herrings you will give to the foreign purchasers the idea that the quality of the English herring is quite as good as the quality of the herrings exported from the Scottish ports, or of other herrings which may be received from other directions. The amount of herrings which go abroad is very large, and certainly in the case of ports like Lowestoft, South Shields, Hartlepool, and the others, great advantage will be taken of the English brand, and they will make a success of it. I think that when Yarmouth sees the system at work they will realise that the standard is well maintained, and that they also will find it worth their while to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. The provisions are quite optional. If Yarmouth does not care to take advantage of them, there is no obligation upon it to do so. I know the hon. Member for Yarmouth takes a great interest in this matter, and I can assure him that, so far as the port of Yarmouth is concerned, they have a perfectly free hand. If they find it worth while to take advantage of the English brand, they can do so; but if they do not wish to do it, there will be no necessity for them to come into the scheme.

I think the Scottish experience has been sufficiently striking, and that before long all the great herring exporting ports of England will be only too glad to know that this system has been extended to England, and that in future the English herrings will carry as good a reputation in the foreign markets as the Scottish herring. The cost will be borne entirely by those who take advantage of the brand. I believe, on the whole, like the Scottish system, it will succeed in paying for itself, and with every confidence I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.


I should like to say a word or two on this Bill which may be of great importance, but which my Constituents at the present time are doubtful as to how far it will benefit them. Of course the export trade in herrings in barrels from Great Yarmouth is enormous. It goes into hundreds of thousands of barrels. That proves that at any rate there is no difficulty in disposing of their herrings under the present conditions. I will not say that this Bill may not be very beneficial in the future, and that it may not be largely adopted by my Constituents. I would point out, however, that the whole success of this Bill depends on the regulations which are to be made by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. I do not know whether those regulations are to be laid on the Table or not, and if an opportunity will be afforded for studying them before they become law. The President of the Board will understand that this is a matter which my Constituents and anyone who are interested in the trade will desire very much to be consulted upon, and they will desire to have a chance of seeing the regulations before they are finally settled. For instance, there is the question of fees. They ought to have an opportunity of seeing what those fees will be. Then there is the provision as to where the herrings should be examined and at what stage of packing they shall be examined. It is very important that these regulations should be suitable if the scheme is to work satisfactorily and I desire that we shall have an opportunity of seeing these regulations before they come into force. I do not know how it can be arranged, but I am sure the President of the Board of Agriculture will be only too ready to consult with the particular representatives concerned. I know he will be most reasonable in the matter and that he will give us whatever opportunity is possible.


I shall be only too glad to make them public for scrutiny.


I do not want to offer any opposition to this Bill, which practically seems to be confined to England and Wales, at Section 4, but I think it is desirable in the interests of an important trade like the herring industry that this Bill should not pass its Second Reading sub silentio and without the notice of those who are interested in the herring fishery in Scotland. Though the Bill is a repetition of the Bill before the House last Session I would point out that that Bill was only introduced and withdrawn. There was no discussion upon it. It may be necessary that those who are interested North of the Tweed in the fishing trade should have something to say upon the proposals which are being made by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries so far as England is concerned. It is necessary that those interested in the herring fishery in Scotland should have the Bill brought before their notice and it is with that object that I speak on this occasion.

Colonel GREIG

It is important that we should keep in mind the question as to what the English mark is to be. I can well understand that if a distinction is made between the Scottish mark and the English mark there will be no possibility of English herrings being mistaken for Scottish herrings. So long as the English mark is distinct, I am sure the Scottish herrings will maintain their superiority in the market. I hope the President of the Board of Agriculture will bear this in mind, so that the English mark shall not be one which shall interfere with the Scottish mark.


This Bill is another proof of what I said the other day, that Free Trade, so called, has not a single supporter in this House. Forty years ago Isaac Butt endeavoured to extend the Scotch brand to Ireland. It was during the Conservative Government with Mr. Disraeli as Premier. I speak entirely from memory, but I think he refused to allow Ireland the system of branding herrings on the grounds that it was unduly preferential, and that the Scottish system ought to be swept away. Now, after forty years, we find that the moment the Irish Department of Agriculture have started, and have endeavoured, however irregularly, or however doubtful, to imitate the Scottish in this matter, the English are coming forward to do the same. I am not blaming them for a moment—I am only showing how ingrained is the protective spirit in the English people. They are only Free Traders theoretically and by accident. The moment they see either Scotland or Ireland getting what they conceive to be the smallest advantage, then instantly the paw is thrust forward in order to get some of the advantage that the two neighbouring countries, however slight, may get by this system of branding. This shows the absurdity of their pretence of Free Trade. The President of the Board of Agriculture has acted in the same spirit in protecting the English market in respect of Irish cattle. He does not really believe there is any danger. There is no risk of disease from Munster or Connaught. In three or four counties in the North of Ireland there was no disease, but purely for the purpose of protection, and for no other purpose that I can see, the right hon. Gentleman endeavours to shut out Irish cattle. That has put up the price of Welsh beasts £3 10s. Now that he is proposing this branding system for England, I would make a suggestion something on these lines, namely, to try to get the new American Government through our new Ambassador—I am sure the late Ambassador, Mr. Bryce, has done all in his power—to try to get over the American differentiation between herrings and mackerel. The duty on mackerel is three or four times the duty on herrings. Seeing that America is allowed to differentiate against us to that extent, I do think that now that this additional advantage is being given to England through this new system of branding, undoubtedly we will be able to secure facilities for better herring trade in America. There is no branding in the mackerel trade. You will be able to get a better market in America for your herrings than you have hitherto done, especially when the duty is lowered. This is a question which, so far as the South of Ireland is concerned, is one of considerable interest. It is certainly a tribute to Mr. Isaac Butt, after the poor man has been in his grave for forty years, to see a Liberal Government and a Free Trade Government taking up the principle which he, as a Protectionist, advocated.