HC Deb 11 March 1924 vol 170 cc2247-89

I beg to move, That this House views with concern the continued depression in the Fishing Industry of Great Britain and urges upon His Majesty's Government the desirability of assisting the industry by taking such steps as may be practicable to provide the maximum amount of employment for British fishermen, to ensure an adequate supply of British-caught fish for home consumption, to secure the immediate opening up of all foreign markets, to obtain international agreement on the question of territorial waters, and to promote the scientific development and general interests of the Fishing Industry. This is a fairly comprehensive Resolution, and I trust that no apology will be required from me for venturing to take advantage of my good fortune in the Ballot in order to call attention to the present plight of the fishing industry, and to press upon His Majesty's Government the desirability of taking all practical and immediate steps that may be possible in order to place that industry once again upon a sound and prosperous footing. Some hon. Members who do not happen to represent coastal towns, or who have not been brought in contact with the conditions prevailing there, may not altogether appreciate the vital importance of the fishing industry, not only to the hundreds and thousands of individuals directly engaged in it, but also to the nation as a whole, an importance not only in connection with our food supplies, but also because the fishing industry has been, as we all know, the main recruiting ground for the Navy for generations past.

I have often been told that it is a somewhat dangerous thing to attempt to quote figures in this House, but there are just a few that I should like to give, because possibly they illustrate in a picturesque and striking fashion what this industry really means to this country. How many people realise—and this is an estimate which I have obtained from the Association of British Fisheries, and which may be accepted as substantially accurate—that over one-fortieth of the entire population of Great Britain is directly dependent upon the fishing industry for a livelihood; that there are 14,739 British fishing vessels engaged round our coasts, that the value of these vessels, with their gear, is well over £12,000,000; that the wages bill for the men employed on these boats in 1922—these are the last figures available—amounted to over £12,000,000. Of course, I leave out of account for this purpose, the enormous value of those works on shore, such as engineering works, ice-making plants, and works in other directions which exist solely and entirely by reason of the requirements of the fishing industry. The requirements of that industry provide work for 9,000 coal miners six days a week all the year round. In a similar fashion 10,000 railway men are dependent for their employment on the needs of the fishing industry. These figures will at any rate be enough to demonstrate that you are dealing here with an industry of the first importance, and which on that account merits the most sympathetic consideration, not only of the Government, but of the whole of the Members of this House.

In addition, I should like to remind the House that over 60,000 fishermen joined the naval forces during the War, chiefly the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, where they performed an heroic but for the most part a thankless task in minesweeping and patrolling our coasts, for which they received very little recognition. Those being the facts, what is the position of this great industry to-day? Unfortunately it has to be admitted that in both branches of it, trawling and herring fishing, a very great amount of distress undoubtedly prevails. There are 91 trawling vessels indefinitely laid up; in addition, the Admiralty has some 50 more to dispose of, which I should imagine there is very little chance indeed of them being able to do under present circumstances. So far as herring fishing is concerned, there are over 200 herring fishing boats indefinitely laid up.

It may be suggested that there has been some improvement recently in regard to the fishing industry. That may be so to an extent, but I am afraid that it does not amount to very much. In fact, I think the present situation is accurately described by the remark of a leading boat-owner, who, when asked the other day about this alleged improvement, replied, "Well, on the whole, I think we shall probably lose less money this year than we lost last, but that is about as high as one can put it." Undoubtedly, this great distress prevails, and that leads us to ask what are the causes underlying it. I think that, broadly speaking, there are three. In the first place, for some unexplained reason, which no scientist has yet been able to fathom, there has been recently a scarcity of fish in home waters. Of course, I do not suggest that that is a matter which it is within the competence of even a Socialist Government to remedy, but, apart from that, the two main causes are, firstly, the restriction of our foreign markets owing to the high protective duties that are imposed on our fish by practically every other country in the world and, secondly, the unrestricted competition of foreign fishermen in our home markets, aided, no doubt, by the rate of exchange, cheaper labour, and so forth.

I do not want in this Debate to argue the broad question of Protection. I quite realise that there are many hon. Members opposite who would hold up their hands in pious horror if one were to suggest that anything might be done by way of Protection or retaliation. We should immediately be told that that meant putting a tax on food. I would, however, like to point out in passing that, surely, there is broad distinction to be drawn, at any rate, between the case of a protective duty on foreign-caught fish coming into this country and a protective duty on, say, foreign imported wheat. The distinction is that we are in a position in this country at the present time to supply with considerable ease the needs of the whole population in regard to fish. If we were in a similar position with regard to growing all the wheat and other foodstuffs that may be necessary, I submit that that is a factor which would have to be taken into account by any unbiased person in any consideration of this fiscal controversy.

As I have said, practically all the countries in the world to-day have duties, more or less severe, against British-caught fish going into their markets. I believe that Belgium is the only exception. In many instances those duties are of an absolutely prohibitive character, closing the markets of those countries to our fish, and they have, undoubtedly, been materially increased since the War. On the other side of the picture, we have enormous quantities of foreign-caught fish coming into this country. For instance, last year over 62,000 tons of fish were dumped in our home markets, 40,000 tons of which came from Denmark and Holland. In March, 1923, a year ago, at a time of very acute distress, I am informed that some 400 or 600 tons of foreign-caught fish were dumped daily on the Aberdeen fish market. Without embarking on any fundamental change in our fiscal system, I submit that this is a matter in which the Board of Trade might possibly take some steps—for instance, in the direction of determining, by Regulation or by some other means, the amount of fish that should be sent into any particular market on any particular day or during any particular week. By that means there would be brought about a distribution of the foreign-caught fish throughout the various markets, instead of its being all dumped into one particular market, notably Billingsgate, with the result that it absolutely destroys that market so far as our own fishermen are concerned.

In addition to these difficulties, the herring fishing industry has lost, for economic reasons into which I need not enter, its two main pre-War markets, namely Germany and Russia. We are told that the Government is endeavouring to re-establish commercial relations with Russia. However little optimism many of us may have with regard to that attempt, I would take this opportunity, if I may, of pressing on the Government that, in any arrangements that are come to, conditions should be inserted which safeguard the interests of the British fishing industry so far as it is possible to do so—that the importance of that industry should be borne in mind in connection with any negotiations that may take place. It is probable that in course of time the herring fishing industry will lose the German market altogether, because, undoubtedly, Germany is making very big efforts at the present time to develop her fishing industry, and one can easily see that, when she considers that her fishing fleet has attained to sufficient dimensions, she will increase the protective duties which are already in force, and will practically close that market against us.

I would remind the House that almost all countries that have a fishing industry of any importance take definite and deliberate steps to help it, and to subsidise it in some way or other, either by a direct grant, or by bonuses on the amount of fish caught, bonuses on the wages, or some other means. The reason for their doing this is obvious. I think it is well described in a latter which appeared on the 1st of this month in the "Freeman's Journal." A similar discussion is going on, I understand, in the Irish Free State, as to the steps that they should take in regard to developing their fishing industry, and the writer, in the course of his letter, said this: That the fishing industry is a precarious one as a means of livelihood has always been recognised by the Governments of all countries possessing a considerable seaboard, inasmuch as all progressive Governments throughout the world have subsidised and encouraged the industry to even a greater degree than looks proportionate to its value as a national asset; but such Governments, unlike our own, look on the industry, not only as a source of employment, but as a unit in the production of valuable nourishing foodstuffs. In view of these difficulties, in view of the foreign tariffs and the amount of dumping that goes on, I do press upon the Government the urgency of taking every step in their power to safeguard the interests of the fishing industry, and of not losing sight of those interests in any negotiations that may take place with foreign Powers. This is a very solemn obligation which rests upon them. I might refer to what has happened only recently in regard to Poland. Poland is practically the largest, if not the largest, market in the world to-day for our herrings. According to the latest figures available, namely, those for the month of January last, we sent into Poland 31,445 cwt. in a single month, of a value of over £21,000. Consequently, it will be appreciated that it would amount to an absolute disaster for the herring fishing industry if we were to lose that Polish market altogether. Within the last two or three weeks the Polish Government has imposed a duty on all British herrings going into Poland of 20s. a barrel. When a question was put the other day by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) to the Prime Minister he received the exceedingly unsatisfactory reply that it was not a matter in which the Government could interfere as it was one that concerned the internal fiscal arrangements of another country. Why is it so impossible for representations to be made to the Polish Government pointing out the serious effect of this duty on our herring fishing, and reminding them of the very great sympathy and help that this country has given in the past to Poland in fostering her national aspirations? I believe if strong representations of that kind were made it would further have the effect of inducing the Polish Government either to remove that duty or at any rate to lessen it to a very large extent. It is certainly interesting, when we see this high protective duty being imposed by Poland, to remember that a very distinguished Free Trader and ex-Member of this House the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Commander Hilton Young) who represented the City of Norwich in the last Parliament, was over in Poland only recently reorganising, I understand, her national finances. I do not know whether it is a first result of his visit that Poland is to impose these high protective duties.

There are other questions of a broad international character to which one might refer if time permitted. There is, for instance, the important matter of the limits of territorial waters. That again is a question which I would urge on the attention of the Government with a view to seeing if by some international agreement it might not be possible to induce other countries to accept the British three-mile limit. So much for what one might call the international aspect of this matter. I want to say a word about one or two internal or domestic problems that surround the industry at present, two especially because I think they are both matters in regard to which it would be perfectly possible for the Government to work out some speedy and practical remedy. The first is the old controversy with regard to railway rates. It is indeed difficult to see why all these years after the War the industry should be crippled and the consumer should be penalised by the enormous burden of railway rates on the carriage of fish.


On this question of railway rates, fish is delivered on the quay at Oban at ½d. per lb., and every 5 lbs. taken from Oban to Glasgow costs 1d., but the fish which could be sold at under 1d. per lb. are retailed at 6d. and 8d. per lb. Can the hon. Member explain what is this great railway rate that he speaks of?


I have some figures, not from Scotland but from England. Ten cran of herring were bought at Lowestoft the other day for £12 10s.


I want to follow this thing up.—


Is it the usual practice to conduct Debates in the House by way of dialogue?


It is not the usual way, but the hon. Member gave way.


It is only to know what is the weight of the cran.


These are some figures supplied me from my own constituency the other day. Ten cran of herring were bought at Lowestoft for £12 10s. The carriage on that quantity of fish to three of the markets in this country amounted to £8 17s. 7d., or 71 per cent. of the total price paid for the fish. It is obvious that this means very high prices to the consumer, and it is very difficult indeed to find out why it should be justified under present conditions. Further, in the past the railway companies have conceded a preference on the carriage of fish, but this preference has now been to all intents and purposes withdrawn. A year or two ago, when other railway charges stood at 100 per cent. above pre-War level, the charges for fish traffic were 75 per cent. When other charges were subsequently reduced to 75 per cent. the fish traffic charges were reduced to 50 per cent. When the other charges were reduced to 50 per cent., as they are to-day, the fish traffic charges still remain at 50 per cent., and the railway companies absolutely refuse to make any further concession. This is a matter where the Ministry of Transport or some other Government Department concerned might effectively take the matter up with the railway companies in the interest of the consumers.

Bearing on this question there is another very important one as affecting the English market, that is the question of the pre-payment of carriage upon fish. There is a special and, to my mind, an indefensible attitude adopted by the railway companies in connection with that matter. The pre-War system was for fish to be sent to the various retailers throughout the country carriage forward—carriage to be paid by the retailer—which seems a reasonable and proper thing. That was altered during the War by the railway companies on the plea of the abnormal conditions then prevailing, the shortage of clerical staff and so forth, but it was clearly implied that it was only a temporary measure during the War. Yet five years after the War the railway companies still insist on this prepayment of carriage, which is a very hardship on the fishing industry. It means additional working capital. It means the chance that any bad debts you may make are increased by the fact that the sender has already paid carriage, an anomaly that becomes all the greater now that we have amalgamation of the railway companies. For instance, the London and North North Eastern Raiway now serves practically all the fishing ports on the East Coast of England and Scotland. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway now does the same thing for the English and Scotch ports on the West Coast. From all the English ports the railway companies insist still upon prepayment of carriage, but on the London and North Eastern Railway directly you get North of Berwick they allow the old system of carriage forward to prevail. The same thing happens on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and I would therefore make a very special appeal to the Scottish Members to give us their support in this matter. Appeals are frequently made by them to our sympathies in order to assist them in remedying injustices to that apparently very down-trodden country. Now we appeal for their support in like manner to remedy a very serious injustice to England.

The second internal difficulty about which I want to say a word is the price of coal. Coal is far and away the heaviest item in the running of a steam trawler. I quite admit that public opinion generally is opposed to subsidies, not only in the country but in the fishing industry itself, but there is a concession which, by arrangement with the railway companies, might be made and which would be of the utmost value to the industry as a whole. Certain ports, notably Grimsby, Hull, Kings Lynn, and, I believe, one or two others, have a special shipping rate for coal. This rate is denied to great ports like Lowestoft, Yarmouth, and other places round our coasts. Whether a port possesses this shipping rate for coal or not often means the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy so far as running their boats is concerned. To give Lowestoft and Yarmouth a shipping rate similar to that at present possessed by Grimsby and Hull would mean a difference to the Lowestoft and Yarmouth boat owners of something like 5s. to 6s. per ton. As a trawler will often burn anything from 1,000 to 2,000 tons of coal per annum, according to its size, it will be understood that this concession makes all the difference, in many instances, as to whether that trawler is able to run at a profit or at an utter and complete loss. This is one of the most pressing matters and one of the greatest difficulties that confronts the fishing industry at the present time, and surely, from the ordinary common-sense point of view, and of justice, all the ports of the country should be treated alike, and certain port should not be given this very special concession.

I suppose these questions are mainly matters for the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I never could understand why these two industries should be grouped together under one Ministry. We have spent a great deal of time, quite rightly, in this Parliament, and in the last Parliament, in discussing the needs of agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture has outlined a great scheme of loans and credits for the agricultural community. Why should not something of a similar nature be devised for the benefit of the fishing industry, and particularly for the purpose of purchasing nets and gear? If the industry was helped over the present abnormal times it would not need to be in force for very long, because the fishing industry does not want and does not ask to be financed. It is perfectly willing, given reasonable conditions, to finance itself. There are many other matters which will be touched upon by other hon. Members, but I do suggest that concessions might be made on the points I have mentioned.

There are minor questions as to whether it would not be perfectly easy to make concessions in regard to the question of telegrams and telephonic charges which play such a large part in the placing of the fish upon the various markets of the country, and whether greater attention might be given to research work. The Admiralty has often been pressed to provide a vessel for exploratory work and research, but hitherto without success. Whilst speaking of the scientific development of the industry, I may say that it has frequently been brought to my notice that the very high price of technical publications issued by the Ministry has the effect, largely, of depriving the industry of the benefit that those works might otherwise be. Undoubtedly, a great deal might be done in that direction. I have encroached far too long upon the time of the House, but I have this excuse, that it is over 20 years since there was a discussion in this House exclusively devoted to the needs and problems of the fishing industry. Consequently, may I express the hope that the outcome of this Debate will not be merely some academic expression of opinion, but that practical results will ensue which will be of material benefit and will bring much-needed relief to one of the most vital and most important of our national industries.

9.0 P.M.


I rise with great pleasure to second the Resolution which has been moved in such eloquent terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft. I crave the indulgence which the House always shows to a Member addressing it for the first time, and I do so with additional confidence from the fact that I have been, during the last year, so infrequent and so polite an interrupter, and a listener as exemplary as even Mr. Speaker himself could wish. I must express my pleasure and the pleasure of the House that the Minister of Agriculture is in his place to-night. It would have been unfortunate had the House had to make use of the services of the Lord Privy Seal again in the capacity of messenger boy. I am glad that the Minister of Agriculture has attended this Debate of his own free will and not as a matter of conscription, as was the case in regard to a private Member's Bill on the subject of agriculture the other evening.

Neither the Mover of the Resolution nor I apologise, nor do we need to apologise, for occupying the time of the House in discussing an industry so important as the fishing industry. This industry employs, directly, over. 80,000 persons, and indirectly another 180,000 persons. If you add those persons together and you include all the persons depending upon them, you will find that there are over 1,000,000 persons depending for their livelihood on the vicissitudes of the fishing industry. It has been my good fortune during the last few years to have had the honour of the friendship of many Yorkshire fishing folk. I have known them in times of comparative prosperity, and I have known them in times of adversity. Their great courage, kindliness and generosity is proverbial. What has most won my admiration is the proud spirit of self-reliance and independence with which they have faced conditions of adversity during the last two or three years. I do not suppose that this island ever bred a finer race of men and women. There is certainly no section of the community which contributed so lavishly in proportion to its numbers to the fighting forces during the War. Over 60,000 men joined His Majesty's forces. The large number who remained, continued fishing amidst the dangers of submarines and mines in order that the food supplies might be maintained. I only quote these facts in order that the House may remember what a very considerable claim the fishing industry has upon the attention and gratitude of the people of this country.

There is a second claim of a very different sort. After the War, in 1919, the Coalition Government, which made several mistakes during the course of its existence. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] All Governments make mistakes, and the House has noticed several mistakes which have been made during the last six weeks. During 1919, the Coalition Government restricted the British trawler owner from selling any vessel to a foreigner unless that vessel was more than 14 years old. At the same time the Government proceeded to dispose by private contract of a large number of fishing vessels which were released from war work. The fishing industry at that time was in a prosperous condition. Under the private contract the British trawler owners bought vessels at prices varying, according to their size, from £12,000 to £22,000. Suddenly that stopped. When the home market had been well glutted with vessels, the Government proceeded to sell by public auction, at which foreign nations also bid. Prices slumped with great rapidity. The foreigner was able to buy, at prices varying from £8,000 downwards, vessels which six months or a year before would have fetched £32,000.

The first result was that even on the capital outlay on his vessel the foreigner was able to buy 50 per cent. cheaper than the Englishman had bought. Another result was that the British trawler owners who bought their vessels six months previously, found that their capital outlay had depreciated in value by about 50 per cent. That meant that the foreign competitor, even in his capital outlay, was in a better position to compete in the open market than the British owner was. The Coalition Government made another mistake about agriculture, when they fixed a minimum wage on wheat. The Government which succeeded it—that excellent Conservative Government which I supported—tried to remedy the injury done to the farmer by establishing a system of long and short trade credits. On 14th February I asked the Minister of Agriculture Whether he is prepared to set up a Committee to examine into the financial position of the British trawling industry, with a view to granting credits on easy terms to British trawling companies, in order to enable them to tide over the present period of depression. The right hon. Gentleman replied: I do not think that an inquiry of the character proposed would add materially to the information already at my disposal regarding the financial position of the industry, and I should be unwilling to take a step which might appear to suggest that I was prepared in any circumstances to propose that it should be subsidised by the Exchequer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1924; col. 1022, Vol. 169.] My question did not suggest, nor do I suggest now, that the Government should subsidise the fishing industry. It is clear to me that a country which refused to subsidise its agriculture would not be prepared to give a subsidy to its fishing industry. All that we do ask is that the Government should give credits under the same system as that under which they are given to agriculture at present so that, as my hon. Friend said, fishermen might buy their gear, and the trawling companies might be temporarily carried over the period of depression through which they are now passing. There is hardly a small trawling company at present, and there are very few big trawling companies in England, which are not in the hands of the bankers. I am aware that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite believe that there is nothing easier in the world than for anyone to become a banker. Fortunately bankers do not pursue this theory, and no banker thinks that it is easy for him to become a fisherman. Consequently, the banks have not assumed the management or control of the work of the fishing industry, but overdrafts are large, debts are enormous, and at any moment the banks may foreclose on these trawling companies which will have to go into liquidation, and this will cause immense unemployment throughout the whole of the fishing industry, I asked another question on 14th February of the same right hon. Gentleman, to which he replied: The total quantity of fresh fish taken by foreign fishing vessels and brought to ports of Great Britain in the twelve months ending 31st December, 1922, was 2,611,298 cwts. Of this total 1,241,600 cwte. were landed in British ports by foreign fishing vessels direct from the fishing grounds and 1,369,698 cwts. were landed by foreign fishing vessels in foreign ports and subsequently imported into this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th February, 1924; col. 1022, Vol. 169.] The position, as I have pointed out, is that the foreigner has been able to buy his vessels at a price 50 per cent. below that paid by the Britisher. Owing to the depleted rate of exchange the foreigner can pay wages on which no British man can afford to live. Owing again to the exchanges, the foreigner can buy gear at something like 35 per cent. or under what we have to pay in this country. Every other country in the world levies a duty upon British fish, whether fresh or dried fish, imported into that country. Those countries which had no duty before the War have imposed it now, and those countries which had a duty have raised it. Spain is doing now what Germany did before the War, subsidising her fishing industry to provide a recruiting ground for her Fleet. We alone admit this foreign fish free into our country and pay duties to every other country in the world. I am credibly informed that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like the idea of the word Protection. But they have got to make up their minds, if they wish to see employment continued in this industry, to take one of three courses—either to place a tax upon foreign fish imported into this country, or to prohibit that fish entering this country, or to take steps, for which I believe the machinery exists already, to limit the amount of fish which a foreigner is able to import on one day into any of our ports.

Any of these courses would have the effect of giving our own people a chance to put the industry on its feet again. The obvious object which we must all have in mind is to obtain the largest possible supply of fresh and wholesome fish for the people of this country. I was reading in the book of the greatest of American Ambassadors to the Court of St. James, Mr. Page, about his astonishment at the fact that we go so far to obtain our food supplies in an island such as ours when the seas are ready to deliver to us so much of the food which we need. The only argument against this control of foreign fish is the argument that it might raise the price of fish on the consumer. I do not believe for one moment that it would. What happens now? Although the German can undersell us at the pier head, the consumer in the market pays exactly as much for that fish. If you allow the foreigners to seize our markets it is obvious that as soon as they have got their hold they will immediately raise their prices again, and there are men in my constituency who have been sunk in the War by German submarines, and who are now being starved by German dumping.

What is the position? Wages have gone up since before the War, and so they ought to have done. The wages paid even now to men employed in so arduous and dangerous a work are not nearly high enough. The price of coal is up, the price of gear is up, and yet the price paid for fish at the pier approximates to the pre-War price. Buy that fish retail and you will pay 300 to 400 per cent. more than you paid during the War. Exactly the same type of question arose in the agricultural industry, and the late Government appointed the Linlithgow Committee to make inquiries. That Committee produced a very valuable Report. I beg the present Minister of Agriculture to appoint a Committee to inquire into the difference between the price paid to the producer and the price paid by the consumer of fish. I do not think there is any doubt that rings exist to keep down the price to the producer and to put it up to the consumer. We have heard from the Prime Minister and from the Minister of Health that where they find rings or trusts they will search into them and deal with them severely. I ask the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to search no less carefully into, and to deal no less severely with, the rings which are keeping down the price of fish to the fisherman. If he does that he will earn the eternal gratitude of both the fisherman and the consumer. Think what a magnificent name he would earn for himself before the next Election! Think of the right hon. Gentleman going before his electors again as "Buxton, the fish trust buster!" I seriously commend that idea to him.

The next point relates to the question of railway rates. There is no doubt that, particularly during the summer, the arrangements made are unsatisfactory and the freightage charged is infinitely too high. If these charges were reduced it would be possible for a fisherman to send to the market a far greater supply of fish, and that would benefit the consumer enormously, because the fish would be sold at a very cheap rate. I ask the Government to do what the late Government did with regard to agricultural freightage; that is, to go to the railway companies and try to make them understand that if they reduce their freightage they will recoup themselves over and over again in the bulk which they will carry during those months. I want to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend in asking that the consignee should pay for the carriage of fish rather than the buyer at the port. The system was reversed during the War, and it is high time that we returned to the old procedure. Members of the Association of British Fisheries are very anxious to have a campaign to persuade the public to eat more fish. The unfortunate thing is that, in the present state of the fishing industry, there is not sufficient money to organise such a campaign. The Government might well make a grant to assist this campaign. If they cannot see their way to do that, they might aid in other and smaller ways. The Postmaster-General, for instance, might be able to place on every stamp, in the same way as the Wembley Exhibition is advertised, the words: "Eat more fish." The Minister of Health, when he issues Insurance cards, might place on the back of them a pleasing photograph of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, without a name but with this little sub-title: "Voracious eater of demersal fish."

I ask the Government to spare no pains in opening up new markets. We have lost the German and the Russian markets, chiefly because their currencies have depreciated in purchasing power. I hope that the agreement which the Government has made with Russia will enable us to find new and reinforced markets there, and I trust that they will spare no efforts to see that these markets are developed for what they are worth. Before I leave that subject, I beg the Government to see that something is quickly done to secure the payment of the obligations which the Russian Government undertook to meet for the seizure of the trawlers, "Lady Astor," "James Johnston," and others. It is nearly a year since those vessels were seized. The obligation was admitted by the Russian Government, and in a year, surely, there has been time to assess the claims. I beg the Government to attempt to get immediate payment made to these trawler companies, which are seriously inconvenienced by the tardy settlement of then-claims.

In answer to a question yesterday, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said: Payments in respect of claims dealt with in the final Report of the Royal Commission will be made on the scale recommended in paragraph 18 of the Report, i.e., in full up to the first £250 of the assessment and in varying proportions on the excess over £250. The Government do not feel able to ask Parliament to vote further funds in order to enable ex gratia payment on a higher scale to be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1924; col. 1906, Vol. 170.] I beg the Government to alter their view on this question. I know that it is bound up with the question of reparation and the Treaty of Versailles. But no Government, so far, has been very successful in extracting reparation from Germany. It is highly unlikely that the present Government will be able to do better than their predecessors, seeing that they have already surrendered the best instrument they had for the extraction. However that may be, whether they get this reparation or whether they do not, one thing seems to be clear. It is the duty of the nation as a whole to shoulder the burden imposed upon individuals by enemy action during the War. We ought to pay in full, and to pay promptly. It is four, five, and six years since some of these claims were put in. I beg that the belated claims be promptly considered, and paid in full, too. Our fishermen are not all scholars. Many of them did not know how to write or where to write. Some of them asked advice from their neighbours and got bad advice. I trust they will not lose their claims for compensation through what is in no sense any fault of their own, particularly in the case of camparatively poor people who have suffered most.

I would suggest, further, that the mayors of fishing towns, the representative men in the fishing industry, and the banks concerned, should each meet in the respective constituencies their Members of Parliament, and should discuss what can be done for the fishing industries, and that we should endeavour to get throughout England and Scotland some sort of unity, and that the Minister should receive a deputation elected by bodies constituted as suggested. This Debate has been extremely useful—[HON. MEMBERS: "Will be!"] Well, I trust the Debate will be extremely useful, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consent to receive such a deputation. I hope also we shall hear before we have finished representatives from every part of England and Scotland. I am delighted with the reception which the fishing industry has received, and I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion.


I should like to congratulate the hon. Member who has moved this Resolution upon the use to which he has put his good fortune in the Ballot, in choosing this particular subject. We have heard a great deal during recent Debates of other industries, but the fishing industry of all the industries of this country is one that has been least vocal while suffering distress, and those of us who have authority to speak on behalf of fishing communities desire to give expression to our admiration for the courage and resource displayed by fishermen during these last trying years. I make no apology for dealing very briefly with the situation as it exists in Scotland to-day. Representing a number of large fishing communities in Fife, I should like to point out that, important as this question is in its relation to the other part of the United Kingdom, the fishing industry relatively to the population in Scotland is of much greater importance, because we are dealing there with a population which is engaged in carrying out its calling over a large area on the coast of Scotland We find in towns on the coast of Scotland communities which form an integral part of our Scottish population and which represent one of the most industrious and thrifty sections of that population who also rendered great service during the War. The depression which exists in this industry to-day is generally admitted, but I should like to point out that in Scotland, particularly when you come to consider that out of the 30,762 fishermen actually engaged in this country at sea, only 3,598 or about 10 per cent. are engaged in trawling, the remainder, a very large proportion, residing as they do in many towns round the coast, constitute a section of population upon which in turn a very large proportion of the resident population depends. Therefore we are dealing here with a situation which threatens practically the continued existence of the fishing population and communities along our Scottish coast.

Special attention has been drawn to the situation as it now exists in a document which has been recently published—the Report of Lord MacKenzie's Committee on Trawling, which reported last December—in which there is afforded most useful and complete information regarding the fishing industry in Scotland. I should like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the extreme care and precision which the members of this Committee have shown in drawing up the Report, and the extremely helpful and practical nature of the suggestions made by them. Attention is drawn to the fact that while in 1913 there were some 90,710 fishermen and shore workers engaged in the industry, in 1922 the figures had fallen to 62,249. Mainly the reduction was in shore workers, but there was also a substantial reduction to the number of men engaged in fishing as well. The Report points out that there has been a tendency on the part of the fishermen to emigrate abroad on a considerable scale, and they record that, It is in our opinion a matter of profound regret that such a class of men should be in danger of extinction. Their preservation seems to us to be a question of national importance. The issue raised in Scotland is one which goes to the root of the continued existence of this important population. The Mover and Seconder have dealt very fully with some of the causes of the depression in the industry. I should like to inform the Mover that we most earnestly wish to co-operate with him in regard to many of the suggestions he has made and particularly those dealing with transport and other costs. May I also suggest, in congratulating the Seconder on his maiden speech, and the interest and knowledge he displayed, that we also are also greatly concerned about the question which he raised last, namely, the intolerable delay in the settlement of the claims for damage in connection with enemy action. It is all very well to hear from the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench that the matter is being considered. I should like to say to the Front Bench that it is impossible for hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies and communities to satisfy their constituents; and that those who have waited many a long year are not able to apprehend the slowness of the machine, or why these claims are not yet settled.

As there are many Members who desire to take part in this Debate, I wish very briefly to deal with one or two points affecting Scotland. I believe the most urgent problem of all, so far as Scottish fishermen are concerned, is the provision of adequate equipment for the prosecution of their industry. As the House is no doubt aware, there has been during these recent seasons enormous loss owing to the stormy weather. The ex-service men who returned home found their equipment seriously depreciated and the younger men, owing to the high cost of materials, have not been able to provide themselves with the necessary gear. It has resulted in this, that many boats have been laid up which otherwise would have gone to sea. This matter has already been urged on the Government, but I desire, again, to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman who so ably represents Soot-land in this House, that there should be no delay in providing some scheme enabling fishermen to secure adequate equipment. There is something like a 50 per cent. depletion in the nets and gear which these fishermen use, and according to the Fishery Board Report of 1922 the monetary value of the actual total depreciation as compared with the year 1921 amounted to £520,000, which shows how seriously the industry is being handicapped through want of proper nets and other equipment. I hope it may be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that the matter will receive his earnest and immediate attention and that he will be able to frame a scheme whereby the Fishery Board of Scotland with the aid of local committees or the fishery officers will be able to provide those who require gear, with all that is necessary for the pursuit of their calling. Another cause of the depression in the industry is the depletion of the fishing grounds and particularly of the inshore fishing grounds. On that we have the Report of the Committee to which I referred, of which Lord Mackenzie was the Chairman, and which included a very distinguished scientist whose name carries great weight, namely, Professor J. Arthur Thomson. The members of the Committee put forward a strong case for further protection in the interests of the whole industry. I should like to dissociate myself from any attack on any one particular branch of the industry. This is a matter in which every branch of the industry is concerned, and we are most anxious that the fishing industry should be considered as a whole and that proper regard should be paid to all its branches. There is no doubt, however, that there has been a great amount of overfishing in our inshore grounds, resulting in the destruction of immature fish.


Does that apply to the herring fishery?


Yes. It is explained partly by the very intensive methods which are being used in the capture of fish at sea, but following upon the recommendations of this Committee, which I hope may be put into effect, it is suggessted that there might be a considerable limitation of the areas within which trawling is permitted. We have trawling of two characters—legal and illegal. So far as the illegal trawling is concerned, I hope I have the House with me in saying that more drastic methods should be taken to prevent a continuance of the practice. I hope hon. Members who represent trawling constituencies will be with me when I ask that steps should be taken to see that the law is carried out by their constituents. The recommendations contained in the Report will call for early consideration, and I hope we may have the assistance of all sections in seeing that the proper steps are taken to secure the better observance of the law. As regards the legal trawling, we have the recommendations made by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which suggests that certain areas should be delimited within which trawling should not be permitted, in order to enable the fish stock to recuperate, and to provide a larger supply for the whole industry. There is also a suggestion that a limit should be placed with regard to the size of the fish to be landed and sold. That suggestion has been carried out effectively in certain countries, and I see no reason why it should not be carried out here.

With regard to the destruction of immature fish, it is true that that is due not only to trawling, but to other methods of capture. In my own division there is a very strong feeling with regard to the immense quantities of immature herrings which are destroyed at this season of the year, having been caught in the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth and other estuaries by methods of capture which make it difficult to avoid, in the taking of other fish, the destruction of the young herring. I do not desire to go into the figures, beyond saying that they show an immense destruction of immature fish, and advertisements appear in the newspapers asking for these immature fish to be used as manure. That is a practice against which the Fishery Board has set its face, and I hope steps will be taken to prevent the capture of immature herring and their use for manuring the soil—a practice which is destructive of the best interests of the fishing community, as well as involving a great waste of food. As to the conservation of stocks, I would point out the enormous toll of fish which is taken every year from the North Sea alone. Something like 17,000,000 cwts. are landed in Great Britain alone, apart from the heavy landings in other countries. It is of the most vital importance, in the interest of the supply of fish to a non-self-supporting country like Great Britain, that something should be done to conserve the stocks in this great fishing ground. The Committee to which I have just referred state, In our view administrative efforts with regard to the fisheries should be primarily directed towards the conservation of the stocks of fish. I sincerely hope the Government will take steps in that direction and carry out some of these recommendations, which will have the effect of safeguarding the supply. I also appeal to the Government to take the earliest opportunity of calling a Convention of the Powers interested in the North Sea in order that we may reopen and reconsider the whole questions dealt with in the North Sea Convention of 1822, and so that we may have, by international arrangement, some agreement with regard to the extension of the territorial waters within which trawling will be prohibited; with regard to the size of fish landed and sold, and with regard to the actual means of capture adopted. On the question of harbours I hope the Government will bear in mind that in Scotland, as well as in other parts of the country, it is absolutely essential that something should be done to assist in putting the harbours into proper repair to enable the fishing fleets to operate successfully. I would draw attention to the admirable passage contained in the Report of the Scottish Fishery Board on this subject, and I am glad indeed to be able to recall the fact that we in Scotland are fortunate in having one of the most sympathetic administrations in regard to fishery matters that could be wished for, in the present Fishery Board, in its chairman, in its secretary, and in its officials, who have always shown the very deepest interest in the welfare of the fishermen. They point out that, in regard to harbours: Owing to the continued depression in the industry, harbour authorities have, as a rule, found their revenues barely sufficient to meet current expenditure, so that it has been impossible for them to keep the harbours in a proper state of repair, much less to effect improvements, and consequently State assistance has become even more vitally necessary if the accommodation is to be made suitable for the fishing fleet. The other quotation to which I desire to refer is where they state that the amount available from the Board's Piers or Quays Fund under the Special Harbour Grant of £3,000, which was reduced last year to £2,000, and also the sums available from the Development Fund, are quite insufficient. They state: There are many cases in which Government assistance is essential to the preservation of harbours and to the continued existence of the communities dependent on them, which do not fall within the scope of the Development Fund and which can look only to the Board's fund for assistance. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will take a note of this fact, that all over Scotland to-day there are harbours in need of assistance and improvement, without which it will be impossible for the industry to be carried on with a full degree of success, and I would therefore urge on the right hon. Gentleman, and also on the Minister of Agriculture, who is present here, that on these points—the question of assistance to the fishermen in regard to nets and gear, the question of an international convention and an arrangement with regard to territorial limits, and also the question of improvements required in harbours—there should be immediate steps taken to deal with the situation, which is fraught with serious disaster unless something is done.


I rise to address the House for the first time, on this matter, which is of great importance and interest to me. I notice that certain hon. Members opposite, supporters of the present Government, appear to feel that this is a matter in which they do not take any particular interest, and so wish to put an end to this discussion, but I feel most strongly, with the hon. and learned Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar), that we hear in this House a great deal of the troubles of various industries in this country, and it is very seldom that the Government's attention is drawn to certain other industries which are equally deserving of attention. I feel that the fishing industry is one which deserves immediate attention. I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) on his choice of a subject, and I am very glad that we should have this occasion of bringing this subject forward. The fishing industry, as I think we now realise, from the speeches to which we have listened, has been passing through very trying and hard times, and there is no doubt that if things go on as they are at present, not only shall we lose a race of fishermen, but also a race of the most magnificent seamen that this country can produce.

The present position of the industry has had a most disastrous effect on those connected with the industry, to such an extent that various members connected with the industry have sold out their interest and have gone abroad or elsewhere, and the younger generation who are coming on have been obliged to seek for other employment. I feel that this is a matter which demands attention, and we have heard many suggestions put forward in regard to methods which might help to remedy this deserving industry. We have heard suggestions, to which I, personally, would like to accord my fullest support, with regard to the control of foreign landings, and also with regard to the question of coal. If any arrangements could be made by which coal could be sent at more reasonable terms to certain fishing stations at which the fishing fleets call for their supplies of coal, it would be of great assistance to fishermen. As has already been pointed out, their coal bill is the heaviest charge they have to bear. For eight or nine weeks' fishing the charges generally may come to about £1,000, of which the coal bill would be about £400, and that is a charge which seems to me to be excessively heavy.

The other point to which I wish to call attention is in connection with the supply of gear. In the pre-War days the gear was replaced as it became worn out year by year. Older nets were used in the summer and autumn fishings, and the new nets were used in the winter fishings. During the War the nets of many of the fishermen were, of course, laid up, with the result that when they returned to their work they found that their nets were perished, and they have never since been able to get their boats properly equipped with gear. The result of this has been that they have been fishing with inferior gear, and the effect of that is that in rough weather, or with a heavy catch, in hauling in the nets not only the nets but the catch also are lost, because the nets have lost their elasticity. The total cost of refitting a vessel with gear would come to about £1,000, but in most cases boats would not require a total re-fit, and I would suggest that credit facilities, of which we have heard so much in connection with other industries, might be equally applicable to this case. I have also received a suggestion from the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), which I have been asked to put forward and am only too willing to do, to the effect that credit facilities could also be made use of for assisting in the building of new trawlers. This is a great and exceptionally heavy charge, and with present prices it is exceptionally difficult for fishermen to undertake.

With regard to markets, the herring fishing depends on three markets. There are the fresh market, which is a very limited one and depends on the local demand and, largely, on the railway facilities; the kippering market, which is a more extensive market, owing to the fact that kippered herrings last a reasonable length of time—and I feel that a great deal can be done to improve this market by the improvement of railway facilities and better rates—and the cured herring market, which is the most important. The cured herring industry depends chiefly on export to Germany and Russia, and one of the chief reasons for the distress of a large section of the herring-fishing industry is the collapse of the German and Russian markets. I wish particularly in connection with this to call the attention of the Government to the fact that in the North of Scotland last year a large proportion of the cured herrings went to Danzig, and a 15 per cent. tax was imposed on those herrings. I understand, on good authority, it is now proposed to raise this tax to 50 per cent. I submit that it would ruin this market, to which we are now looking for recovery, and I would ask the Government, with all duo deference, if it is not possible to take steps to negotiate for better terms in this respect.

Another market to which I wish to refer is the white fish market. In regard to this market, I believe a great deal can be done in order to stabilise or regulate it by the assistance of credit facilities. At present a market may become entirely glutted with the landings of fish, and prices fall to an altogether unprofitable level, while during stormy weather, if it lasts long enough, the price-rises 10 or 20 times. I suggest that the only possible method by which these fluctuations may be remedied is by giving facilities to erect cold storage depots at certain ports. The dealers would then be able to keep a certain amount of fish in hand, and when the landings went down in the course of a few days, they would be able to distribute a more or less quantity of fish to retailers, and keep more or less normal prices. We heard during the Debate on the agricultural societies a great deal on the subject of facilities to enable farmers to build bacon factories. I need hardly say I am all in favour of any suggestion that is going to benefit the agricultural industry. But, at the same time, I feel that we should also pay some attention to the needs of the fishing industry, and that the Minister of Agriculture, whom I am pleased to see here, should not entirely neglect these deserving people.

10.0 P.M.

There is one point to which I must call attention, and that is the very much vexed question of the fishing in Moray Firth. This is a matter which allows foreigners to trawl in the waters of the Moray Firth and prohibits our own fishermen from doing so. It is a position of affairs grossly unfair to our own people. Hundreds of years ago our fishermen settled on the shores of the Moray Firth on account of the excellent fishing to be obtained there. In 1892 it was decided to close the Moray Firth to trawling, because it was felt that it should be kept as a nursery for young fish, and trawling was injurious to immature fish. Not only that, but it also disturbed the line fishermen who were making their living in the same area. In 1895, I believe, there was the first incursion of foreign trawlers, and since then, I know, much has been said on the subject as to whether it would be possible to close the Moray Firth to foreign trawlers. But it was decided that the waters of the Moray Firth outside the three-mile limit were extraterritorial waters, and, under the North Sea Convention, jurisdiction is only allowed over bays within the 12-mile limit for fishery purposes, and the distance from Duncansbay Head to Rattray Point is 73 miles. I cannot help feeling that, really, the Government might be induced to make a very serious effort to remedy this state of affairs. According to the Trawling Committee's Report, page 29, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea would probably adopt a more sympathetic attitude than they did in the past to this question. I desire to emphasise this question of the Moray Firth, and I would like to appeal to the Prime Minister himself, whether he would consider seriously the matter of arriving at some international agreement on the point. I feel that I am appealing to a sympathetic ear, for, I think, I may claim him as a constituent of mine, with his home situated at Lossiemouth, which is an important fishing centre. He must know how seriously this matter is pressing. In addition to that, as Foreign Secretary, he would be able to give the question of fishing rights in the extra-territorial waters in the Moray Firth his own personal attention. This is a matter which should be set about most earnestly, not only out of fairness to our own people, but also for the original reason of the closing of the Firth, which was the benefit of fishing generally, by conserving immature fish and also keeping the ground clear for the line fishermen.


I should like to say at once that I welcome the Motion most cordially, and am delighted that it has been brought forward. Taken in a comprehensive sense, it represents a sentiment with which, I think, we can all agree. We are dealing with an industry of the greatest importance economically to the country. Perhaps I may be allowed, speaking from this Box, to compliment the hon. Members who made their maiden speeches to-night, and to express particular gratification to my hon. Friend opposite for the suggestion he made that I should adopt the role of advertiser in regard to the fishing industry. We are dealing with an exceedingly romantic question, and I only wish we had time to listen to all the speeches hon. Members wish to make, and that I myself had sufficient time to say all I wish to say, because for a long time I have been specially interested in the industry, at least from the days when I represented the constituency now represented by the Seconder of the Motion. It is not often that a Minister has the chance of dealing with a subject which affects his own constituency in a particular way as this does mine in Norfolk with regard to inshore fishing. I think this Motion was intended to deal mainly with big scale fishing industries, but I hope it is not limited to them. One of the hon. Gentlemen made a suggestion, perhaps in humour, but which in America would certainly be carried out, that we should go in for a fish food campaign. I might just remind him that the suggestion is peculiarly suitable to the opening of the season of Lent, and that there was an occasion in history when Queen Elizabeth ordained that the people should fast not only on Fridays, but also on Wednesdays in order to maintain the fishing population. We are the greatest sea-fishing nation in the world. It would be an extraordinary interesting study if we could pursue the degree in which fishing, and particularly herring fishing, has been a factor in the building up of the Empire. In this connection, I may say that I hope hon. Members have read the interesting book of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel).

At the close of the War it was, perhaps, a special claim which was made that the Government should help the herring industry by buying the herrings. No less than £5,000,000 was spent on the process of buying the stocks for two years, and that saved the industry. It is true that the loss will, probably in the end amount to about £1,600,000. Whether the principle is right or not, it is clear that very great disadvantages resulted at this time to the industry in the maintenance of very high prices, which led to lower consumption. In spite of that, the industry survived and was able to pull through the bad seasons which followed. In the year 1923, a better season was experienced and things are gradually improving. It is true that the stocks of nets have not yet been replenished, but the outlook is much more favourable. Trawling has not been through the same difficulties. After the War very fine profits were made in the trawling industry, but at that time there were rash speculations by new trawling companies, and fancy prices were paid for vessels which were not always of the most suitable type. Although prices of fish have fallen, they are still about 80 per cent. above pre-War, but costs are high, and many trawling companies are in great difficulties. However, the situation is not desperate. I am not surprised that the hon. Member who seconded the Motion suggested a Committee to inquire into the situation and consider whether loans could not be granted by the Government to fishing companies. I am sure that the Fishery Department needs no means of adding to its information. The situation is very carefully gone into, and the Department is most efficiently and closely in touch with the interests of the fishing industry. I think that the situation is met by the possibility of applying to the Trade Facilities Commission for assistance under the Trade Facilities Act, and I hope advantage will be taken of any help which they can offer.

Then there is the question of employment and unemployment in the industry. The number of men employed in the industry has not, unfortunately, increased in recent years. But unemployment in the ordinary sense has not been above normal. That is something to be thankful for. The herring industry is always very variable but trawling is not so variable. It is not more than normal that men should lose a voyage or two now and then. I should like to refer rather more to the interests of the men, because there are very great grievances among the men, and in the allied industries there was such a prevalence of low payments that trade boards were set up in the net-making industry. This House ought to feel a keen interest, not only in the success of the industry from the point of view of profits, but from the point of view of the personal welfare of the low-paid men employed.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to say that, when he speaks about more attention being paid to the men that, in the cases to which I was referring, the fishermen in the Moray Firth are part owners of their fishing boats.


I was thinking of the men who are employed in the capitalist section of the industry. There are some interesting figures available as to the consumption of fish. The consumption per head of fish food in the four years to 1910 was 41¼ lbs., and in the four years to 1922 it was almost exactly the same, 40 lbs. The demand has been maintained, and if there were more demand I think there is not the least doubt that the industry could meet it readily. The question of foreign trade has been referred to. I am not a believer in the value of artificial interference with the processes of international trade. It is naturally a hardship to men who see foreign ships brought in and lowering the prices on the East Coast markets, but the facts must be viewed as a whole. We are much greater exporters than we are importers. We sent abroad last year 4,850,000 cwts. and we imported only 2,770,000 cwts. Germany sends trawled fish to us, but takes herrings, and will in future take herrings, I trust, on a scale comparable to the enormous scale of the past. In regard to Poland, there is a prospect that a commercial treaty will be negotiated, and I am told that nothing will prevent Poland consuming British herrings. Russia is a great factor in the herring market, and we may claim that we are making a very great contribution. That the Russian market will revive no one denies, and I think perhaps that is the section of the Motion on which I can with most happiness meet my hon. Friend opposite, because I am glad to think we are making a very great move in the direction of foreign trade. Let me refer to the development which the Motion mentions. It is not very clear whether it refers to business development, or to research development, but both are of extreme interest. There might with advantage be further provision for exploration work, or work such as some sections of the trade have demanded, and I trust that the public interest and support of the industry will justify further expenditure.


What about further researches in the Atlantic to see if the variations in currents and in salinity have again occurred? We know that the currents have varied by the test of floating bottles, and we know that the Atlantic water has been bringing in salps, and salps consume the food needed by the herring. The intrusion of Atlantic water is doing the herring harm?


I wish there were time to go into the whole work of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, about which the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Samuel) probably knows more than I. He knows that the Council have divided the work, each country represented taking up that which it is more disposed and fitted to do, and we are not behind in appreciation of that work. As to business development, I should like to say that in the suggestions made in regard to the inshore fishing lies the way to meet the case, and if the fishermen of the inshore class organise societies something might be developed on those lines. As a matter of fact these societies do not increase at all, and that work has not been continued as before. In this connection, we could not have a Debate without mentioning the efforts of Mr. Stephen Reynolds, who made such a great contribution to the case of the inshore fishermen and who was so keenly interested in the hardships and heroisms of the men who go to sea fishing. Perhaps the Motion dealt more with development in the way of research. Twenty-seven thousand pounds is being spent this year in this direction; there is the research vessel in the North Sea which has made very valuable discoveries, especially in regard to plaice. There are the laboratories at Lowestoft and the station at Conway which studies the question mainly of shell fish. Then, of course, the International Council, whose expenditure comes upon the Foreign Office Vote, have done a certain amount of sea exploration, though the money spent is not nearly what the work is worth spending on. I wish I had more time to speak on the matter, so many suggestions have been made; but I should encroach upon other Member's privileges if I pursued all the suggestions. In regard to the railways, we shall only be too glad to put before the Ministry of Transport, and before the railway companies, any grievances which are felt deeply; and if there are any other grievances felt by the fishing industry. I shall be glad to have the material to forward to those concerned. The middleman has been alluded to and hon. Members have put their finger on the spot. The subject is most important. The considerable difference between the meagre price got by the fishermen and what the consumer pays for the fish is a matter that should receive attention, but here I think something might be done by combination, as in the case of the farmers, with whom comparison was made. Probably the most profitable line to pursue would be in connection with municipal markets. We on these benches are not in a majority, and there are many things we should like to do that we cannot do. I hope and believe, however, that in such things as we are dealing with, the idea of municipal action and assistance may spread to other parties in the House, and then I really think that a great contribution might be made to the solution of the trouble in the fishing industry. In conclusion, I would only say that I hope it will not be very many years before there are other Debates in this House for the benefit of that class of men who are distinguished by extraordinary independence of character and a sturdy individualism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite are loud in their praise of private enterprise, and sometimes they make too many suggestions for bolstering it up in a manner which is not really encouraging. We on this side favour private enterprise where-ever it works, but the fishing industry is largely of the nature of small businesses which would work better if a little more combination could be brought about. If there are ways in which the Government could help that combination, it would be a good thing to encourage help of that kind. I think the best way to assist in that direction is by a revival of our foreign trade. It must be remembered that a good proportion of our foreign exports consist of fish. I will consider every means I can for helping a body of men who are really to be admired, and I have very much pleasure in supporting the Motion.


Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to make representations to the railway companies to give a uniform rate of carriage for coal? If he fails in his endeavour in this direction, I think he might use the Trade Facilities Act to guarantee the companies against any loss, and I think that might help the situation very materially.


I did not mention the particular point of pressure on the railways.


I would like to ask the Minister of Agriculture if anything can be done in regard to the destruction of seals in the Wash?


We have made representations to the Navy that possibly shrapnel shell might be very useful.


I only rise for the purpose of reinforcing one or two points that have been made by earlier speakers, and putting one or two questions to the Secretary for Scotland. It is, of course, abundantly true that the fishing industry, in a double sense, makes a great claim upon the people of this country. We know how, from every part of it, men were found to man minesweepers and vessels of all descriptions during the War, and we are also well aware of the figures which were given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar) to-night, showing the vast toll which we take from the sea in food. Therefore, from both these points of view, the industry is deserving of very much more consideration than it receives from Parliament, for, as has been already observed, it is only very occasionally that questions regarding it come before this House. The industry has various branches. There is the great herring industry in Scotland, and there are the line fishermen, whose claims to the interest of their fellow countrymen are admirably expressed in Lord Mackenzie's Report. There is also the great trawling industry. I have the honour to represent the principal trawling port in Scotland, and 68 per cent. of the fish other than herring landed at Scottish ports in 1922 was caught by trawlers. Then we have, also chiefly based on Aberdeen, the great line boats, which last year caught some 17 per cent. of the fish landed in Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart), in his excellent maiden speech, referred to the question of the closing of the Moray Firth, and it is to that point in particular that I wish to draw the attention of the Secretary for Scotland. The Motion alludes to the necessity for obtaining international agreement on the question of territorial waters, and, indeed, the position in the Moray Firth just now is an indefensible one. It is a very difficult question, and one which, as I know as well as my right hon. Friend, has troubled people for a very considerable time, but really I think it is time that an effort was made, in the manner suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife, to meet this question. You have the position that a British trawler in the Moray Firth is excluded from the whole of that great stretch of water, over 2,000 square miles in extent, while a foreign trawler can go all over the Firth up to the three-mile limit; and, in fact, there have been cases.

which are referred to in Lord Mackenzie's Report, in which foreign trawlers have actually told British trawlers that were inside the Moray Firth to clear out, or they would report them for being in forbidden waters. That is a position of matters that cannot be defended. It is true that, under the Herring Fishery (Scotland) Act, 1889, there was a by-law to close the Firth, but it was held that that by-law was equally applicable to foreigners. The Foreign Office, however—no doubt for the very best reasons—came to the view that it was impossible to enforce the penalties on foreigners, and the result of that has been that trawling has been possible for foreign boats right throughout the Moray Firth up to the limit of the territorial waters.

That is a manifest injustice to the British trawler, and it has another drawback, which my hon. Friend also put admirably, namely, that the reason for closing the Moray Firth is to protect our fisheries. It is a great spawning ground for both plaice and cod, and the young haddocks in vast numbers come into the Firth at certain times; and, in order to protect those fishing interests, it was supposed to be desirable that the Moray Firth should be prohibited to trawlers. That very admirable object is very largely defeated if the foreign trawler is allowed to come in. You do not get the results by observation which would otherwise be available if the Firth were entirely closed. Therefore I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to look very carefully into this question. It is high time a convention was called of all the Powers signatory to the North Sea Convention of 1882 to see whether the recommendation which was made by Lord Mackenzie's Committee, namely, that measures be taken to secure the1 international recognition of the closure of the Moray Firth for trawling, so that the existing anomaly whereby foreign trawlers are admitted and British trawlers are excluded may be removed, cannot be carried out. That is a matter which, in a phrase often heard in politics, brooks no delay

One last point I will refer to is the question of help to scientific research in the fishery question. I understand there is a hatchery where certain scientific gentlemen are employed under the Scottish Fishery Board. The amount we spend—the right hon. Gentleman gave it in regard to England and Wales—on fishery research and questions of marine biology, questions which have a very important bearing on these investigations into the habits of fish and which help us to solve problems which may have a very important bearing on the future supply of fish, is very trifling compared with what is spent by countries on the Continent which have a large fishing interest. That is a matter the right hon. Gentleman might very closely examine. There is no doubt the industry has passed through a time of severe, depression. I notice that the employés connected one way and another with the fishing trade in Sctoland were some 90,000 in 1913 and last year were only 62,000. That may be to a large extent accounted for by the on-shore workers connected with the herring industry, but still it shows a very great diminution. Ox course, dependent as we are so much on food brought from oversea, we cannot afford to ignore the prosperity of an industry which is so vital to us in the way of supplying our great centres with an adequate supply of cheap and highly nutritious food. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will address his mind to the somewhat difficult problem I have asked him to consider. It has been a difficulty for a long time, and when one's constituents have put this question to one, why should the British trawler be excluded from the Moray Firth while the foreign trawler can come in? I have always found it impossible to answer. I hope, therefore, the Government will address themselves to this question without delay.


I will confine myself to one or two points which have not yet been raised and emphasise one or two others which have been raised. Fishermen in Scotland as well as in England will congratulate themselves on the success of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) in drawing his place in the Ballot and will be grateful to him for the use he has made of it in raising this subject and for the admirable speech he made in introducing it. There are one or two points of practical interest to inshore fishermen and herring fishermen on the north coast of Sutherland which I desire to raise. The first is the need of gear, to which the hon. Member for East Fife referred. Some of this gear is eight years old. I raised this question in the last Parliament, and I raised it on the Adjournment one night and on one or two other occasions in the last Parliament. I had the most courteous replies from the representatives of the Scottish Office in the last Government, and the most reassuring replies, but no step was taken to meet the needs of the fishermen in that respect. All of us who are interested in the fishing industry know that the Fishery Board is most sympathetic to the representations we make. The fishing industry in Scotland has the utmost confidence in the knowledge and the sympathy of the Fishery Board, but in spite of the representations made by myself and other far more experienced and knowledgable Members on this question, no action was taken by the last Government. I hope that this Government will realise the vital importance of this question to the fishermen.

We were told that in the last Parliament that the difficulty was that there were not enough fish to catch, that prices were so low, and that if more fishermen got more gear they would not get many more fish because the fish would be divided between them. All sorts of excuses were made in order to delay dealing with this vital question. Now we have an opportunity of putting the herring fishermen on a really sound basis. They are catching fish now, and they can sell their fish, and yet in Wick for every boat that is at sea more than one boat is lying up in the harbour, and there are men employed on unemployment relief works in the town who have boats with which they could put to sea, but they have no gear and, therefore, are unable to fish. I recommend the Secretary for Scotland to take that situation into very careful consideration. In Sweden, by means of their fishery banks they give credit facilities to fishermen for the purpose of purchasing gear Surely Britain can do for its fishermen what Sweden can do for the Swedish fishermen.

In regard to foreign markets, I was very disappointed with what the Minister of Agriculture said about the extension of credit facilities, and particularly export credits to Russia. It is quite unnecessary to wait for recognition. It is quite unnecessary to mix up this question of export credits with the many complicated negotiations which will be necessary for the recognition of the Soviet Government. In Norway last summer, without recognition at all, they came to an arrangement whereby 150,000 barrels of herrings were sold under the guarantee of the Government to Russia. Action should be taken by this Government promptly to arrange for a credit whereby our herrings can be sold this coming summer in the Russian market.

There is one further point, and that is the question of harbours and piers. Fishermen cannot go on successfully unless they have harbours to go to. Only last week in one of the coast towns of my constituency, Brora, a boat was swamped at the harbour mouth, and the crew were saved with great difficulty. I appeal to the Secretary for Scotland, not that he should put every harbour and every small pier into a proper state of repair at once, because no Government can be expected to do that, especially in the first six weeks of its office, but that he should announce that he will take a review of all these small harbours and piers round the coast of Scotland and decide upon a policy of taking them in hand and dealing with them. With respect to the larger harbours, like Buckie, Fraserburgh. Peterhead and Wick, we have been well received by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in this Government. We raised the question last year under the last Government, but got no help from them.

It should be realised that this question of loans for these larger harbours is a matter of public economy, and that it is in the interests of the nation as a whole and of the Exchequer to deal on generous terms with them. They have debts which they cannot pay, if they are asked to pay the whole lot. Wick Harbour was completely closed during the War. Debts accumulated, and capital, which ought to have been paid back during the War, accumulated, and interest on the capital similarly accumulated. If you were to remit the capital and interest which accumulated during the War, it would not only encourage these people, and make it more certain that you would get the remainder of the debt repaid to the Exchequer, but it would enable works to be undertaken in these harbours which are essential for the fishing industry, and would enable these fishermen to prosecute their industry from the larger ports.

I would also emphasise what has been said about the trawling question of illegal trawling, not only as regards the extra policing—and I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will say what is in his mind on this matter, as we require faster cruisers and also hydroplanes and seaplanes—but also as to raising the penalty so as to make it less worth while for these trawlers to pursue their illegal depredations. I have reason to believe that the trawling industry realises that the damage done by seine-net fishermen in the nurseries of immature fish and in the spawning beds to the whole fishing industry of the country, including even the trawling industry itself. But those who pursue illegal methods of trawling only laugh at the penalties. There was a case in my constituency in which the trawlers were caught, and they said, "We will come back to-morrow night and catch enough fish to pay the fine." I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will give facilities for the Bill which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Duncan Millar) is about to introduce, raising the penalty so as to make it less worth while for these trawlers to adopt illegal methods. I make these suggestions in no spirit hostile to the Secretary of Scotland, who has only been in office for five or six weeks. I believe that he is addressing himself to these problems with great sympathy for the Highland counties, and speaking for myself—and though I have no right to speak for anyone else, I believe that similar sentiments animate many of my Scottish colleagues—our attitude towards his administration and his Government will be dictated largely by the attitude which he displays towards these questions, which are of the gravest interest to the people of the Highlands.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Adamson)

I recognise the force of the case which has been put as to the importance of the fishing industry and the necessity of safeguarding the interests of those who are engaged in it. My colleagues from, Scotland have put before me a number of questions which they desire me to answer. Some of them I have already dealt with. I know that the herring fishing industry has been passing through great difficulty for several years, and that, as a result, the fishermen are very much in need of new gear. I would remind my hon. Friends who have spoken to-night that already there is a favourable turn in the fishing industry. Last year the markets became more favourable and there was a bigger demand for fish. The result to the fisheries has been more encouraging than for some years past, and it has placed the fishermen in a slightly better position than they were in before. At the same time I agree that, because of the depression through which they have been passing, they require by some means to have their gear and nets replaced if they are to continue to follow their calling. As the last speaker knows, these points were put before me very clearly quite recently by a deputation which represented the fishing constituencies of the North-ease coast of Scotland. I have been going into the matter with the Fishery Board of Scotland, and I have been discussing various ways in which we could assist the fishermen. Of course, it is a matter that will require to be discussed with the Cabinet and the Treasury before I can give a reply, but I can assure the House that I will continue to go into the subject very closely with the Fishery Board, with a view of doing what I can to assist a very deserving body of men.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. F. C. Thomson) has put the important point that something should be done to remedy the unfortunate position in the Moray Firth, a, position which he described as keeping out the native trawler and letting in the foreigner. Because of his experience in office he recognises, of course, that that is a matter more for the Foreign Office than for my Department, because it raises international issues. I can assure him and the House that I will certainly discuss the recommendations of the Trawling Committee with the Foreign Office in the hope of getting the anomalous position remedied. I am asked what is in my mind with regard to the protection of fishermen against illegal trawling. I have also explained, in dealing with these matters, in answer to representations made, that we are making provision for two new cruisers and a hydroplane to protect fishermen. We have also arranged for wireless being fitted on to certain cruisers; and the further object we have in view is to try to protect fishermen against the depredations made by trawlers. I can assure the hon. Member and the House that the Fishery Board are trying to protect the fishermen in every way against illegal trawling. I think it was the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. James Stuart) who spoke of the Board of Agriculture and the Scottish Office having, in the course of the last week, intimated that they were making grants to agriculture; and he wondered if something of a similar character could not be made to the fishing industry. I would like to remind him that the grants which were made to agriculture in the Estimates put forward last week were made for the purpose of furthering the principle of co-operation in agriculture. If those engaged in the fishing industry are willing to take the same lines, I think they could get assistance. I believe that if they were to form themselves into co-operative societies for the purpose of disposing of their produce without the intervention of so many middlemen, who rob them of a considerable amount of the fruits of their labour, the fishing industry could get assistance from the Development Commission. I think I am right in saying that within the last three years the Development Commission have tried to push amongst a certain section of Scottish fishermen the idea of co-operation, and when they were trying to push that idea they pointed out that, in the event of their being willing to co-operate together, the Development Commission were prepared to come to their assistance with loans from the Development Fund.

I understand also that the Development Commissioners have already come to the assistance of fishermen in Cornwall on the basis of co-operation. It has been taken up there, I understand, by the fishermen, and the result has proved satisfactory. I hope that is an idea which will come before the consideration of our fishermen on the east and west coast of Scotland. I think it is an idea which would enable them to do far more for themselves than they have been able to do for a considerable time past, and I hope those who have been putting the condition of the fishermen before me in such telling terms to-night will be prepared to assist me in inducing the fishermen to follow out the idea of co-operation. I am convinced that by having the fishing industry placed on a co-operative basis to a larger extent than it is at the present time, a considerable improvement can be made in the condition of this very worthy class of men. Another point brought before my notice to-night by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar) and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) is the question of a grant for harbours. There, again, I may point out a grant can be secured by harbour commissioners from the Development Commission for the extension or putting into better repair of harbours. It is, I admit, more difficult in the case of the type of harbour to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland specially alluded. It is more difficult in the case of the smaller places. As I say, the larger places are able to receive assistance through the Development Commissioners, but as regards the others, I would say to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that I am certainly prepared to consider any particular instance which he or any of his colleagues representing fishing constituencies are prepared to place before me, and I will consider if any means can be procured for assisting the smaller places. I think I have dealt with all the points which have been put before me, and I hope I have been able to satisfy those who have been putting questions to me on this point at least—that I am as deeply interested in the continued welfare of the fishing industry as it is possible for a single Member of this House to be, and whatever it is possible for me to do, in order to build up this very important industry and assist this very worthy body of men, I will be willing and ready to do.


rose in his place, and claimed to move," That the Question be now put."


I think the House is prepared to come to a decision.

Resolved, That this House views with concern the continued depression in the Fishing Industry of Great Britain and urges upon His Majesty's Government the desirability of assisting the industry by taking such steps as may be practicable to provide the maximum amount of employment for British fishermen, to ensure an adequate supply of British-caught fish for home consumption, to secure the immediate opening up of all foreign markets, to obtain international agreement on the question of territorial waters, and to promote the scientific development and general interests of the Fishing Industry.

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