HC Deb 04 June 1924 vol 174 cc1400-20

2. "That a Supplementary so in, not exceeding £150,000, he granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1925, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, and for Grants in Aid of Piers or Quays and of Marine Superintendence, also for Loans to Herring Fishermen for the Purchase of Drift Nets."

First Resolution road a Second time.

Commander BELLAIRS

I beg to move to leave out "£350,000," and to insert instead thereof "£300,000."

During my membership of this House I have made it a salutary rule never to speak after 11 o'clock. That is a rule which has conduced to the health of the House as well as my own comfort. The speech which I shall deliver now is not the speech that I should have delivered had this Vote come on at an earlier hour today. That speech will rest in the archives of my family. I could not, however, allow this Vote to pass without making a protest. The record of Government Departments in connection with this question of airships has been one long story of vacillation. We had airships in the war and they were turned down. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]. Yes. The Zeppelins were turned down. They were stopped during the war and. as showing the inadequate war staff training we had, they were turned down on the ground that the Germans could always outnumber us in Zeppelins. It does not seem to have occurred to the Admiralty at that time that three Zeppelins associated with the British Fleet were worth 12 Zeppelins associated with the German High Sea Fleet, because of team work.

The Air Ministry turned them down in April, 1922, and the Admiralty protested. It is entirely due to the indomitable energy of the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut-Commander Burney) that this question has been kept alive. It was only after the Air Ministry found that the Admiralty were taking up the Burney scheme, and there was a danger of the airship falling under the Admiralty, that the Air Ministry began to take an interest in the matter. My hon. and gallant Friend faced no fewer than seven Committees, all of which reported in his favour. Now the Air Ministry has come down with another scheme which, to my mind, represents a Bologna sausage which is bad in all its parts. In the first place, they are going to recondition one military airship, and they are going to build a military airship and a commercial airship. The Admiralty—the only Department which can make use of these vessels—say that they are perfectly satisfied with the commercial airship and do not want anything beyond that. Yet our Under Secretary of State for Air proposes a military airship and to recondition another military airship, and the Socialist party and perhaps the Liberal party support it.

Then they are going to build a shed in India, which is not required, for the purpose of experimenting to find out whether a mercantile line can be run. The Air Ministry know that they themselves sent the military airship "R.38," which was not built for long distances, all the way to America and back, without even a mooring mast at the other end, but now mooring masts have been invented, and if they do erect a shed in India they will find probably that the shed is in the wrong place. Then they are going to take their air base, and restore it for the sole purpose of building one airship, a military airship which may be not used afterwards, for all we know at present, if the thing is not a success, and they are reconditioning this base at the public expense. It would be easy to save at least £50,000 on the Vote this year. All the Admiralty ask for is plenty of merchant ships. The beginning of war-ships were merchant ships in the old days. The Admiralty want to be able to take up commercial airships, and in that way they will get plenty of scope when required. The Burney scheme did give us a chance of that. This scheme will not give us nearly as good a chance of doing so.

I would ask the Air Ministry 1vbether they intend to do what was suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy)? The Red Star Line is monopolised. They might call the suggested new line the "Red Tie Line"—the "Red Tie Nationalised Line," which would have just a short a life as the hon. and gallant Member's red tic. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull went on to argue, from the disasters to military airships, that the airships were no good. No argument could be more suicidal. Military airships, Zeppelins, were built with no margin of safety. They were designed to carry as many bombs as possible. They were built for short, and not for long distances. They were built before an outer envelope had been invented, and we have got possibilities in helium gas now. It is true that the only helium gas at present is in the United States, but Canada, which contributes nothing to our Imperial defence, might make a real contribution by searching for helium gas. Then we have invented engines which deal with heavy oil, instead of the lighter oil, so that the danger from fire is lessened. There also is a great gain. Mooring masts have been invented or very much improved. So that the safety of these vessels is very much increased from what it was formerly.

I am a thorough believer in mercantile airships, and I believe that it will not be twenty years before the bulk of the passenger traffic will have been captured from the ordinary mail steamers. I protest against the present scheme of the Ministry to give us two military airships, which are not required, and giving us much less possibility of mercantile airships, because the mercantile airships will be, like Mahomet's coffin, hung between heaven and earth. It is very unlikely that the Burney group will buy back the ship for £150,000. I am not a whole-hearted supporter of the Burney scheme. It went by stages. It proved itself successful at every stage until it reached a point where it was to run six ships and a bi-weekly service to India. When it gets to that point, I do not see why it should require another £250,000 a year to finance it. That part of the scheme was bad. But it did give us the kind of thing that we wanted—the mercantile airships. Why, in the contract, is a speed of only 70 knots required? At this time of day you might very well ask an airship building company to give you a speed of at least 85 knots. I think that within two years we shall be talking of 120 knots. Speed is the most important factor of all in the airship if it is to be used at all for military purposes. The scheme which was outlined by the Under-Secretary is a scheme that will lead to fresh and fresh demands. I do not think that that was the case with the Burney scheme. If the hon. Member's forecast be true—that a Labour Government will still be in power in two years' time—he will be, in less than that time, at that Table, like the daughter of the horse leech, asking for more and more.

Captain Viscount CURZON

I beg to second the Amendment.

One thing I have noticed about the Socialist party in matters relating to aviation is its steady advance towards militarism. It is a very remarkable fact. Under a Socialist, nominally a pacifist, Government, civil aviation has steadily declined until to-day it is almost at a standstill, and military aviation is making rapid strides. I am surprised that Members on the, Socialist benches who have served in the Air Force—like the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley) — should remain silent. One would have expected him to have raised his voice. We do not hear even a twitter from him on the subject.

I want to know whether the Government have any policy at all with regard to airships. The Government propose to build a purely military airship. Have the Government thought out the use to which they are to put this airship? They have a vote here for airship development and airships generally. It does not say whether there is any expenditure in respect of bases. It is obvious that the chief use of airships and the chief use of the military airship will be in connection with the Fleet. Is it not desirable, before setting up bases in India or elsewhere, to find out what the plans of the Navy are likely to be? It is all very well to go to a particular place and say, "We will have an airship station here, with mooring masts and all the gas-making paraphernalia." It will probably be desired to base that ship at Singapore, and we shall probably then have the hon. Member for Harrow and others advocating an airship base in Iraq or Palestine. The fact remains that these ships must work with the Navy in time of war, and before going in for any expenditure on bases we should know whether we are passing a Vote for Singapore or India. Before putting up the shed, the Air Ministry should adopt the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and move a monitor about, stationing it at various places likely to be used by the Fleet, and see what use can be made of the military airship in connection with the Navy.

I think the re-conditioning of old airships is a great mistake on the part of the Air Ministry. It must be recollected that these old ships have been in cold storage for about two years. What sort of staff has been employed on their maintenance during that period? They are probably half rotten. Many hon. Members of this House had the opportunity on one occasion of flying in one of these airships, and it was perfectly evident to all who went up that airships required great care ii they are to be kept in efficient and serviceable condition. I should like to know what sort of care has been given, to their upkeep since they passed out of commission? Further, how many of these old ships are to be brought into commission, and to what use are they to be put? If we are going to re-condition old airships, we are taking grave risks. Airships have been set back a good many times already by the very serious disasters which have occurred from time to time, and we cannot afford to risk another disaster in connection with airships. If the Government do so, and if a disaster occur, the whole country will be against them. It will be said that airships are no good, and probably the clock will be put back again. In the interest of airship development, and of the crews who will man the airships, as well as those who, it is hoped, will travel in them. I ask for an assurance that no undue risk will be run. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible to advance the cause which we have all at heart.

I cannot understand the reasons which have led the Government to turn down the scheme presented by the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney). They have not really explained to the House on what grounds they have turned down this well-considered scheme, which has been exhaustively inquired into in the past; and before all the investigations of the past are thrown overboard, it should be made quite clear to every Member of the House what are the reasons for so doing. I listened to the Debate, not only here, but also in another place, and I am as much in the dark as ever as to the exact reason why the scheme has been turned down. This country cannot possibly afford to run airships on a military basis, which, apparently, is to be the basis, or, at least, the partial basis, of this scheme of the Government. The scheme provides for one ship on a commercial basis and for the other on a military basis. I say that we must rely on them being run on a commercial basis, with their crews very much on the lines of the Naval Reserve, namely, men who would be able in time of war to serve in those ships, possibly on a military basis. What we have to contemplate, if these ships are to be any good at all, is not one ship or six ships in commission, but hundreds, and, therefore, I am anxious that this service should be on a commercial basis.

I do not like the idea of a Supplementary Estimate like this, "for technical and warlike stores." I should have thought that all the hon. Members opposite would be up on their toes at a Vote "for warlike stores." I should have thought it would not appeal to them, but apparently it does, including even my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow. I hope we shall have futher information on this subject of the Government's intentions in regard to airships. Let us be told exactly to what use the Government are going to put these airships. It has been pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone that it is very uneconomical to lay down one ship at a time. What you have to contemplate is a steady programme of airship construction, if airships are of any use, which we hope and believe they are. That was contemplated under the Burney scheme, but the Government have washed out the Burney scheme, and they are putting the building of airships on a most uneconomical basis. Two ships are to be built, one by the Government, at perhaps an immense cost, and what is to happen to the personnel of that ship when that first airship has gone through? Are they to undertake the making of light castings for the housing programme, or on to what work are they likely to be put? They may he turned on to making motor cars, or something of that sort. I have no doubt that that would be popular among hon. Members opposite. I think the country has a right to know whether we are going to get these airships on the most economical basis possible. I am not at all satisfied that we are, and I think there is grave danger, with so large an expenditure, that we shall get all too little return for it. In these days of economy and high taxation, I submit that that should be the first care of the Government, unless, as is probable, they wish to go in for large expenditure, in order to pile on the taxation and still further prove that private enterprise is no good, and that the only thing to do is to do away with capitalism and have capital levies. I do not want to see that state of affairs arising at all, and I wish f n be sure that we are not going to waste money in connection with these airships.

It has been said that airships are only gas-bags, that they are of no use. Hon. Members opposite, perhaps, have not had the opportunity of studying the uses to which they were put during the late War. I can remember at least two occasions on which the Grand Fleet was unable to get at the German Fleet, solely because of the use of German airships in the North Sea, and on two definite occasions, when I happened to be serving in the Fleet, they saved the German Fleet by giving information as to our whereabouts. That shows the extreme importance of airships at sea. That is only one use to which they can be put at sea. I think that one of the great problems the Navy has to face in the future is that of aircraft carriers. Surface aircraft carriers suffer a great disadvantage in that they have to head towards the wind, which may mean that they have to steam directly towards the enemy in order to release their aero-planes. Again, the chief danger to a fleet from aircraft, or one of the greatest dangers, is undoubtedly that of a dawn attack, and in such a danger it is impossible to have your aircraft in an aircraft carrier when you can send only one off in every three minutes; whereas, if you could have your aircraft carried, as the late Air-Commodore Maitland said, in an airship, they would be at fighting height, able to make full speed and give effective protection to a fleet from hostile aircraft.

The points which I have endeavoured to put show the extreme importance of the uses to which airships may be put, and I have stated these facts in order to show that the chief uses to which these ships must be put will be in connection with the Navy. Another point arises. We want to know who is going to provide for the cruising ships, and how the airship with the Fleet is going to be manned. Is it to be by Air Force ratings or by Naval ratings, or a. combination of the two—70 per cent. of one, and 30 per cent. of the other? I submit that the one service which has experience at sea of airships is undoubtedly the Naval service. The Navy made much use of airships during the War; the Army little use at all. I think the manning of these ships is an important point. It is important that you should get for the manning of these ships men who have experience in the use of them. Is it the, intention of the Air Ministry to employ the ex-Naval officers and ex-Naval ratings who had so large an experience in the handling of these ships in days gone by? In view of the use to which these ships are likely to be put at sea, it is important that they should be manned by officers and men experienced at sea, in navigation over sea, and of working with the Fleet. It is obvious that there are grave dangers from people serving in these airships if they have not had experience of working with the Fleet.

It is very necessary that the officers and men who work the Fleet should be able to work the airships f or us, and be able to tell in what formation the enemy are in, and roughly, what their course is likely to be. The need for that was proved many times in the course of the late war; and we have the lessons of the mistakes that have arisen in manoeuvres in days gone by. I should like, therefore, to submit to the hon. Gentleman that the manning of these ships is a most important point. I hope that he will be able to tell us whether he is prepared to bring back into the service the officers and men who manned the airships in days gone by, and on what basis the military ship is going to be manned? I should also like to know where the bases are to be placed; and also can we know whether the Air Ministry have got any definite ideas as to how the military ships, or even the commercial ships are likely to be used?

There is one other point: What of the bases? Is one to be set up in India, with possibly an intermediate base, and how are the airships going to be organised, on a military or commercial basis? Who is going to be responsible for the ground staffs employed? Are the Ministry making any effort to develop the aero-plane service, so that it may work in conjunction with the airship service when it gets going. That is very important. I should like to knew how far matters have gone in these cases, and to know something of what has been, and is to be done, in connection with various technical matters included in the experimental research services.

Rear-Admiral SUETER

I disagree with a good deal said by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). I think the policy that the Government have laid down for us on airships is very good indeed. It is better than the Burney group scheme, as I said the other evening. That scheme gave, a monopoly to a firm, which is undesirable, and also did not supply an airship shed in India or facilities for the proper housing of the big airships. The hon. Member for Maidstone, I think, has not a great knowledge of air-ship work. I speak with all deference to him, because he is an expert on naval matters. He talks airily about airships being tied to mooring masts. I should like to ask him, Does he suppose that if you have two or more damaged gas bags, one at the fore end and the other at the after end of an airship, you could shift them when tied to a mooring mast? You might possibly shift one, but it could not possibly be done with two or three. Neither could you repair a large portion of your outer cover if stripped off. You might make repairs in small places, and that would be about all. You must have a hangar for your airship to refit when she has carried out a long voyage. The policy of the Air Ministry is a perfectly right one in this matter, for masts are the natural auxiliary to an airship station, and should only be used by themselves as temporary bases.

Another point was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone. He said it would be easy to put an inert gas round the gas bags. The only experiment that has ever been made in this direction was to insert the exhaust gases from a petrol motor round a small gas bag. These gases are carbon monoxide and carbon di-oxide. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sulphuretted hydrogen !"] No, not sulphuretted hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon di-oxide. These are heavy gases; and how is the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone going to circulate them round the ring space of an airship higher than this Chamber? Then the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone went on to say that the speed of your airship might be anything within the region or 120 knots. It may be true that in the future that speed may be obtained, but we are not there yet. I happened to be in the Navy when the Admiralty had control of the airships, and they bungled them from start to finish. If the Sea Lords had listened to their airmen, we should have had Zeppelins all the time operating in the North Sea during the late War, and also have had Zeppelins at the Battle of Jutland. It was the Sea Lords who turned the airship scheme down in the first instance, and even when they had the management of the airships, they made the biggest possible bungle of them. In future I hope all air development will be left to the Air Ministry, and I trust that there will be both military and civil or commercial airships.

I agree with what has been said by the Noble Lord (Lord Curzon) about reconditioning an old airship. I wish to point out, however, that in her construction an alloy called duralumin is used. All aluminium alloys are crystallisable, and the result may be that a great many of the girders may have been stressed during the period she has been laid up. When they get her into the air and begin manœuvres, putting the rudder hard over, etc., you may get torsional stresses imposed upon the structure of the airship. Whenever you suspend the airship without gasbags in her, you may stress the material badly, and one day you may have an accident. Although when you have reconditioned this old airship, she may look perfectly all right from an ordinary superficial look, when you come to test her in a long flight, you may get these torsional stresses set up, with the result that you might cause the structure to fracture. I hope you will only use these old airships for mooring and aerodynamic experiments, with only short flights, and not attempt to send an old airship to Malta or Egypt. Otherwise I am in full agreement with the policy of the Government in regard to airships.


The point I wish to raise I will approach in a more serious frame of mind. I regret the spirit of jocularity which has prevailed so far in this Debate. Perhaps the hour and the day may be taken as contributory causes to that result. This is a very large sum of money that we are asked to vote for research in aeronautics, and I want an assurance from the Under-Secretary that regard will he had to the safety of the men engaged in this work. I raise this point, because it has come to my c[...]s that within the last few days, in the research which the Air Ministry have been conducting with reference to the so-called "death ray" that was offered to them, there was engaged probably the highest expert in the service of the Air Ministry—presumably a valuable official on whose training much time and money had been expended, and one of the men, probably, who would be asked to be responsible for the work in connection with these airship experiments. I understand that among the tests as to whether this "death ray" could actually destroy men, ships, and so on, at a distance of several miles, as claimed by its inventor, was one in which this expert of the Air Ministry was placed within 10 yards of this "death ray," and exposed to its action. My information does not go beyond that point, a veil of secrecy haying been drawn over the proceedings, but I am disposed to think that, if the claims of the inventor were anywhere near being justified, this man must have been destroyed, and his body, perhaps, disposed of in some evil way—the Air Ministry has many resources at its disposal for such a crime—or, perhaps, he has suffered some severe injury. I want the Under-Secretary, first of all, to relieve my mind as to this expert, and also to give a guarantee that in the future this valuable staff of the Air Ministry will not be used in reckless experiments of this description.


I think I ought to answer first the very important question addressed to me by the last speaker. It is true that the expert of the Air Ministry who examined the tests provided by the inventor of the so-called "death ray" seems to have been of a rather sceptical turn of mind, and that he actually placed himself in the path of the ray as part of the test to which he desired that it should be subjected. It is also true that, as I am very glad indeed to be able to assure my hon. Friend, he is doing well, and, when I last saw him, he displayed no evidence of any injury having occurred to him. The Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) has really provided me with the last remaining necessary excuse to justify the scheme which the Government are submitting, and for which this Vote is being asked. In the course of a rather boisterous speech, he laid the greatest emphasis upon the need for a vast amount of research work, in order to secure the safety of this experiment, and to preserve the lives of those who would be engaged in this airship venture, should it succeed, and to ensure that no repetition shall take place of the accidents that airship developments have made us rather painfully familiar with in past years. That is the key-note of this scheme. We rejected the previous scheme because it was on too big a scale, apart from its financial demerits, and we are going to direct our energies precisely in the channel the Noble Lord asks, and precisely for the purposes which he and I regard as being of so much importance.

May I say a word or two in regard to this question of the speed of the airships it is proposed to build? The stipulation put upon the contractor is that he shall produce an airship which shall travel 70 miles per hour. This stipulation applies to the contract ship, and he is under rigid penalties for failure to achieve that 70 miles per hour. In case it cannot get past 67 miles per hour, he is liable to a sacrifice of some £40,000. This is an experiment. The ship is going to be more than twice as large as any yet built in this country. It may be that he will get 75 miles per hour. If he does, it will be at least 15 miles faster than any ship we have built. We do not want to place too many difficulties in the way of the contractor. With regard to our own ship, to be built at the Cardington Works, its final design is not yet settled. Therefore its maximum speed is not yet settled. Research may reveal methods of increasing engine power without having too much weight or subtracting too much lifting capacity. I do not know what the possibilities may be in this direction. I should like to promise 85 or 90 miles an hour, but I could not honestly do that. Certain it is that we should improve considerably on all our previous schemes. It is true that ours is a service ship, but it must not be supposed that it is of no use for civil purposes. Obviously, it will conform to many civil purposes. It will be able to carry passengers, goods and mails, and be able to do long voyages oversea. It will have unprecedented lifting power. We are also thinking in terms of transportation of troops and naval reconnaissances. We are also permitting ourselves to think of aircraft carrying and all that is involved in that. We want to try out these ideas, and we believe Cardington is the place to which we can look for them to be tried out. We provide an Indian base. It will be our property, just as the civil base at Croydon is now our property. We provide an intermediate stopping place with a larger Cardington shed. All these are items of capital expenditure. We estimate that they will involve £420,000. They will give us one ship, two mooring masts, two gas plants, and other numerous assets.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the member for Hertford (Admiral Sueter) has answered many other criticisms to which I should have been called upon to reply, and he has probably answered them even more efficiently than I should have done. I acknowledge that his experience and knowledge of lighter-than-air ships and of the whole of the business of building them and the need for care, the need for research, and the need for more safety is in a remarkable degree his special knowledge. We are indebted to him for the help which he has given to us by his speeches in regard to our proposals, and I can assure him that we shall take very careful account of his suggestions and of the precautionary measures he has advocated.

Question, "That '£350,000' stand part of the Resolution." put, and agreed to.

Resolution agreed to.

Second Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


On this Resolution I merely wish to make a few criticisms on points of detail. In the first place, I would say that in the Secretary for Scotland we have a very good friend who has thrown himself heart and soul into helping these fishermen. But I would say about this scheme that any words such as "an act of generosity" do not apply to it. The scheme is a business proposition, and a very favourable one for the Treasury. The idea is that you are going to give these men a loan of 50 per cent. of the money necessary to buy their gear, and they are to pay 5 per cent, and repay the money in three years. That is a very favourable business proposition for the Treasury. But, in addition to that, there are other great advantages which will accrue. A great impetus will be given to all the ancillary trades, the trades which handle the fish from the time they are taken out of the boat to the time they are landed in the markets in this country or in Russia or Germany. You will also have a great additional quantity of fish, which will thus cheapen prices to the whole community. My suggestion to the Secretary for Scotland is that if he confines his loan to 50 per cent. of the amount required a great many of the poorest class of fishermen—those fishermen to whom the Secretary for Scotland referred to so eloquently—will be unable to avail themselves of the scheme. That being so, the other advantages of the scheme, such as employment being given in the ancillary trades, and the benefit to the fish supplies of the country will be lost. Therefore, it would be a good business proposition for him to make it easier for the very poorest class of fisherman to get sufficient credit to enable him to purchase the necessary nets and gear.

I would also suggest that these men deserve something a little better. The Secretary for Scotland helped agriculture in the Highlands only this year. The men had a bad harvest and they were in dire distress. In response to the appeal made to him then, the Secretary for Scotland let us have seed potatoes and seed oats at prices greatly below the market prices. In the same way these men deserve not less well of the country and of this House than the smallholders and farmers of Caithness and the Highlands of Scotland. Just as we provide for the latter a scheme which enables them to get their seed oats and potatoes very much below market prices, so we ought to give an opportunity to the fishermen of Scotland to obtain the nets and gear they require in order to prosecute their calling. We have to overcome the difficulties which these fishermen will also find in obtaining the other 50 per cent. of the money needed. For that I suggest we should approach the net industry. Perhaps some scheme could be devised on the lines the House adopted in regard to its housing proposals when it approached the building trade employers and employed to get them to participate. The net industry might well be asked to give some help to the fishermen in getting the nets and gear required. I understand that if prices go up, the Secretary for Scotland is not going to take any steps to bring them down again, but the fishermen are to suffer and will only get the loan stated. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will assure the House that arrangements will lee made to prevent the fishermen suffering in that way from causes altogether beyond their control. I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that the nets are to be given to each individual sharing in the gear of the boat. That will mean about sixty nets per vessel. We are now in the summer fishing season. It is absolutely necessary to get these schemes going at once. The plan is already somewhat belated and I trust we shall have an assurance that the schemes will be brought into operation, if not this week, at least next week at the latest.

Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD

I want to enter my protest against the exclusion of English fishermen from the benefits of this scheme. A very considerable amount of jealousy has been engendered by this preferential treatment for Scottish fishermen.


On a point of Order. Is not this a Scottish Vote?

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Mr. Entwistle)

I do not understand the hon. Member's point.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

It seems to me that the English fishermen have to a certain extent made out a good case for similar treatment. One cannot get away from the fact that this estimate, to a very large extent, means subsidising Scottish competition against the English fishing industry. It is much worse than that. The English fishermen feel that they are paying taxes a portion of the receipts for which are used by the Government to subsidise competition against them.


Why do you not push the English claim?

12 M.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

I am doing so now. A great deal of jealousy has been aroused, and I have received many letters from English fishermen on the subject. I will read one. I saw your question in the House with regard to what is being done for the Scotch fishermen and what ought to be done for the English trawling trade. The Government are lending money to the Seotchmen. I should like to put my case before you, as an example of what we suffer here in these hard times. In 1909 I was left four sailing trawlers. with mortgages and liabilities of £2,000 on them. By dint of careful management and hard work I wiped this off by 1014. Then the war broke out and I lost the whole of my possessions, including my business, my money, and my son, and at the age of 52 I am unable to get a living for myself and my family. If I could be treated the same as the Scotsmen, i.e., by a loan of money to get another trawler. I should be able to get a living, as the sailing trawlers are a paying proposition for one who knows his business, and I was horn to it.


Trawler! This Vote is for fishing gear, not trawlers.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

It is a Vote for fishing gear, which is more or less the same thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] From the taxpayer's point of view, I should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland what security he is getting for these loans. We heard from the hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that it was a cast-iron security. It is our duty to do our best to safeguard loans of this kind. We all know that Scotsmen are generous when it comes to disposing of other people's money. As this is English money that is being voted, it is my duty to inquire as to the security.

Lieut.-Colonial Sir J. NALL

Can the Secretary for Scotland tell us what is the position in regard to these loans? I believe that every year we have been asked to vote money for herrings. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much money has already been advanced to this industry, and what is the total indebtedness arising from all the grants which have been advanced in the last few years? A claim of this kind could be put forward by several English fishing ports with no less force than it is Out forward on behalf of certain Scottish interests. The herring industry is becoming an annual feature in our Votes, either for nets or some other kind of gear. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what security there is for the ultimate return of the sums advanced, and can he assure the House that there is any prospect of these sums being refunded?


I am pleased to have the opportunity of supporting this Vote. The Minister in charge and Scottish Members will agree, that I am not inconsistent as an English Member in doing so, because I have on previous occasions, when the matter was debated, supported these claims, principally on the ground of unemployment. But I cannot understand why Scottish Members in making these claims, should seem to have such remarkable preferential treatment over English Members when they making somewhat similar claims. Whether it is that they are very boisterous in their demands or not, I do not know. But I think that it is about time that we English Members took a leaf from their book. I do not know whether this particular scheme could not be brought in under an extension of the Trade Facilities Act. Under the Trade Facilities Act you are allowed to replace a derelict ship, but you are not allowed to replace derelict factories. Scottish Members put forward the argument that, if these loans are granted, they would help to get going, for the making of nets, factories which are at present stopped. That is a very desirable object butthere areother factories stopped also besides those for making nets, and if the Government are prepared to make their assistance so elastic to factories for making fishermen's nets, they ought to do the same with regard to other factories which are now' derelict in Lancashire. That would give as much employment, if not more than this. I hope that Scottish Members will give us the same support when we ask for it, as English Members are prepared to give to them to-night.

Viscount CURZON

Like my hon. Friend, I rise to support this Vote. I have consistently in the House of Commons done what I could to support the interests of the Scottish fishermen, and for this reason: I happen to belong to the National Lifeboat Institution, and we depend upon these same Scottish fishermen for some of the finest of our lifeboat crews. There is a strange and unaccount able delay on the part of the Government in arriving at a decision on this matter. It took many months of questioning and efforts by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) to get the Government to do anything in the matter. I listened with amazement to the Secretary for Scotland, whom I recollect before Easter giving the House an impression that the Government were coming to an immediate decision. Here we are half-way through the fishing season and the Government have only just brought this particular Vote before the House. I think that the Members interested particularly in this matter have a just cause of complaint against the Government for their extraordinary delay. One would have thought that the interests of the working classes would have been their first consideration. So far from that being so, there have been no particular efforts to bring this Vote before the house at an early date.

The Government are going into this fishing business. They are going to help the Scottish fishermen. When they do that, the Government and the country as a whole will have to take very much more interest in the fishing industry than they have done up to now. It is no use the Government making a loan to these fishermen unless there is some prospect of a return. Two things vitally affect the possibility of repayment of the loan. The first is that the fishing grounds are becoming "worked out." That being so, it is the duty of the Government to arrive at some international agreement which Hill prevent the North Sea being over-fished.


I do not think that that subject is in Order on this Vote.

Viscount CURZON

Then I must proceed to my other point in connection with the protection of these fishermen from the depredations of foreign trawlers. Foreign trawlers have been in the habit of poaching very largely in territorial waters.


I must also rule the hon. and gallant Member out of Order on that question.

Viscount CURZON

I submit that foreign trawlers have been in the habit of coming into English territorial waters and places where there are in use the drift-nets for which a loan is being asked. The foreigners have been in the habit of charging straight through our drifters, and that has affected the livelihoods of the men in the industry. If we make a loan to these fishermen, surely we should ensure that they have more protection from such depredations? Otherwise we shall he placed in another year with a further Vote.


The hon. and gallant Member has been ingenious, hut he is still out of Order.

Viscount CURZON

If I cannot pursue the topic now, I do not know on what Vote I can raise it. I would urge that the Government should not give preferential treatment to one section of the fishermen along our coasts. The English fishermen deserve help just as much as the Scottish fishermen. They provide the same fine type of men and they find it all ton hard to earn a living. The matter should be treated on a purely national basis. The Board of Trade should consider whether it is not possible to take similar steps in respect of English fishing interests.


As the representative of the premier herring-fishing port of Great Britain, I desire to support this Vote. At the same time I regard it as a piecemeal method of procedure, because the case made out for the Scottish fishermen applies with equal force to the men in the fishing ports elsewhere. There is much anxiety now existing and there has been much anxiety for some years past, especially in the two sister ports of Lowestoft and Yarmouth and the men there are entitled to the same consideration as the Scottish fishermen. I feel sure I shall have the sympathy of the House when I say that for three or four years, the fishing voyages—of which there are three in each year—have all been absolute failures with one exception. The industry has been carried on but with financial loss to those engaged in it, and some assurance should be forthcoming from the Government that the consideration and financial assistance which is being given to the Scottish fishermen will be extended to English fishermen. I am glad the House has afforded me the opportunity of saying a few words on behalf of these deserving men who did so splendidly for their country in the great War.


I join in supporting the Vote, but I want a distinct understanding that the Scottish Members who have secured the first slice of the pie will not regard this Vote as the completion of their work for the fishing industry. I ask them to give us some help in obtaining a similar concession for other parts of the country and particularly the West country. There, the position of the fishermen is in some respects worse than it is in Scotland, because of the loss of nets in the Channel and they are hampered in their work by wrecks which lie upon the fishing grounds. Many of the fishermen are in distress and I hope the Scottish members who have had their way in this matter will feel themselves in honour bound to support similar claims for distressed fishermen elsewhere.


Though I do not represent a fishing constituency I support the Vote. I represent a Midland town where the only fishing is fishing for perch in the canals but I think the fishing industry is important from the national point of view and I wish to supplement what has been said about the value of the fishermen to this country. I feel the Minister responsible has been seriously neglectful in not going into the matter with more promptitude, because it has only been after the most persistent efforts that this Vote has been secured. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), with whom I have little sympathy in most matters, is to be congratulated on his success in this respect.


The hon. Member is repeating arguments which have already been used.


I was not aware that paying a compliment was an argument. I strongly condemn the Government. I feel that they have been negligible in not bringing this matter forward with greater promptitude. For those reasons, I desire to give my support to this Estimate.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. W. Adamson)

I think that one speaker has answered the other. While, on the one hand, we have been criticised for not having made this apply to English and Welsh fishermen as well, on the other hand we have been blamed for not having brought in this Estimate before. I think the least said by me to-night will be soonest mended, and I hope, therefore, that I shall now get the Supplementary Estimate.

Lieut.-Colonel NALL

On a point of Order. Am I not to get a plain answer to a quite serious question?


The hon. and gallant Member has already spoken.

Question put, and agreed to.