§ Mr. G. J. C. HARRISON
I beg to move,That this House views with grave concern the present state of the fishing industry of Great Britain, and that, in the interests of the Navy, the Merchant Service, and the food supply of this country, this industry should receive every possible assistance from the Government.In the first place, I should like to thank the House for the great measure of kindness it has shown to me to-night in allowing me to move this Motion, and to say that I feel sure that members of my party and of other parties who wish to take part in this Debate, as well as those engaged in the fishing industry, are extremely grateful for the large measure of courtesy which has been shown to us by the House to-night. The present state of the fishing industry warrants cur earnest consideration and our help. I wish sincerely that it had been otherwise, for then this Motion could have been couched in an optimistic rather than a pessimistic vein. I do not propose to dwell upon the state of depression in the industry or too urgently to press the claims which those engaged in it have upon the administration. While it is difficult to estimate, it is easy to appreciate, the very valuable services which this section of the community has for generations rendered to the country as a whole. It has played a most important part in the foundation and in the growth of our vast Empire. The men of the fishing industry played a part second to none during the Great War, when their deeds of heroism and of sacrifice were the pride of their fellow-countrymen and the envy of other nations. But the fact, apart from other considerations, that the numbers engaged in the industry are 6,000 short of the pre-war figure, and that our total landings of wet fish are about 71 per cent. of what they were in 1913, does not stimulate us to paeans of praise about the prosperity of the industry.
The geographic and economic situation of this country demand that we should foster the sources of the supply of men born with the real sea-sense, who are so essential for maintaining the vast imports 245 of sea-borne food and raw materials upon which the country depends, and for providing a great recruiting ground for our first line of defence, our Navy. It is true that there has been a slight improvement in the numbers engaged in the industry during the past 12 months, but I contend that such improvement as there may be is due mainly to that inherent spirit of sturdy independence, and the qualities of skill, industry and thrift, for which those engaged in the fishing industry of this country are justly famous. It is paradoxical that this industry, and the other great food-supplying industry, agriculture, should provide but a meagre living for those engaged in it, indeed, out of all proportion to the courage and skill displayed, and the value of the services actually rendered, directly or indirectly, to the State. We have to face the fact that the use of fish as a national diet is steadily decreasing, although I venture to suggest that the general concensus of medical opinion supports the view that if this nourishing food were consumed in excess over meat, it would improve the physical well-being of the nation. While we are concerned with increasing the numbers who are engaged in the industry and the difficult and even hazardous task of catching fish, as also in the equally difficult and complicated task of its distribution, what is needed by the country is a steadily increasing supply of fish, at a price competitive with beef, and within the means of the industrial masses. That is not so much a matter of good ethics as of sound business, and I feel it is an end which could be attained if we could reduce the cost of production and of distribution.
While methods have been found whereby harbour authorities have been able to get assistance, many harbour authorities have difficulty in maintaining their harbours in repair and, in undertaking improvements, in some cases long overdue, and there is also the great problem of entirely new construction. It is most important that new construction should be proceeded with, in order that we may attract more to the industry, and thereby increase the volume of food it can supply. As an illustration, I would point to the case of a small port in North Cornwall known as PortIsaac. For 10. years the fishing community there have been making strenuous efforts to find the means to complete a harbour. They have been 246 carrying on their work as fishermen practically at the will, and essentially at the mercy, of the elements. There are many other places in and around the coast where new construction would be a great advantage to the nation. The value of practical research cannot he overestimated. We want research on a practical commercial basis. I feel sure, as in agriculture, the success of this industry depends upon the progress made on these lines in the future. Then there is the question of gear, which is a very urgent one at the present moment. I hope practical experiments will be made until we evolve a type of gear which will cost less, and be cheaper to maintain, and will also nave less destructive effect upon immature fish. This kind of destruction is a very urgent problem. In these days when motors are developing, it is essential that the temptation to trawl on inshore grounds, now that. they are free from wind or tide, should be closely watched in order that the small immature fish should he safeguarded.
But whilst destruction and waste in production are to be deprecated, we should also deprecate strongly any waste in regard to distribution. We have to consider the problem of the facilities offered by the railways, because it is well known that frequently, on account of rates having to be prepaid, large quantities of fish have to be consigned to the manure heap, because they are denied markets which they would otherwise have at certain ports if proper railway facilities existed. I know the difficulties which railways have, but I do not think they are insurmountable, and if our friends north of the Tweed have been able to carry on their railways in pre-War style, I am sure they are being run with that due sense of economy which their native shrewdness demands.
I also ask my right hon. Friend to use his influence to induce retail trade to be more enterprising and reduce their overhead charges, and do all they can to increase the demand for fish. If they will only do these things, I am sure they will not regret it. Once more I would like to emphasise the claim of the inshore fishermen. There are some people in the fishing industry who are at times rather given to think that the inshore fishermen will gradually disappear, but I do not agree with them, and I feel sure that 247 my right hon. Friend will do all he can to protect them. I might also invite the attention of the House to the serious inroads made into our industry by various competitors, especially the Germans, and I briefly refer to this point because I know other speakers will take it up. I think we ought to ask the Government if they can see their way to request the Germans to pay British trawler wages to their men so that our men may compete with them on a fairer basis than is the case at the present time.
In this country we are proud of our standard of living and there is no one in this House who wishes to see the standard of living in this country reduced. Whilst to-night my right hon. Friend may hear many powerful arguments from hon. Members representing the East Coast, I hope he will also give sympathetic consideration to the case which has been made out for the West Country fishermen. Our difficulties are very great, and they are every bit as great as those on the North Sea ports. The enterprise of the fishermen of the West Country is well known—for it was they who founded the great port of Grimsby—and I earnestly ask the House to consider our claims and difficulties, which are not even exceeded by the natural picturesqueness of our harbours on the West Coast.
I beg to second the Motion.
In doing so, I would like to render my tribute of thanks to those hon. Members who sit on the other side of the House for the kindness they have shown, and the facilities they have afforded us for bringing forward this Resolution to-night. After all we are speaking for the fishing industry, and we are all familiar with the danger which threatens it in all its aspects. Naturally it was easy for us when the occasion arose the other day to sympathise with and realise the difficulties of the position of hon. Members opposite on that occasion when faced with a great national tragedy, which they wished to discuss. The industry for which I am speaking to-night is one in which the men engaged in it are always, when at sea, carrying their lives in their hands. In the first place, I would like to say how much I appreciate the fact that the connection between the various branches of the fishing industry is very 248 close indeed. The Mover of this Resolution referred to the fact that some time ago one of our great railway companies came to the then comparatively small fishing port of Brixham. It went there and arranged with certain of the men who were known as first-class fishermen that they should put the whole of their goods into their boats and take them right round the coast to the port of Grimsby. That turned out to be the foundation of a very great fishing industry in that port and harbour. That was done by means of the closest possible co-operation of the capital of the railway company with the fishing industry, and the highly-skilled men coming from that district.
Now I want to deal with the question of Brixham itself. We are faced with a very difficult position, as was stated in the House only the other day. The losses incurred by Brixham fishermen last year was over £5,000. These losses were incurred not through any fault of the fishermen, and not in any way by carelessness or negligence, but they were directly due to the fact that during the War vast quantities of merchant ships were sunk on their fishing ground. During the War the Admiralty deviated and ordered the shipping, instead of using mid-channel, to sail closer to the shore for safety, with the result that when these vessels were sunk they were almost entirely sunk on the fishing grounds of these people. I say quite frankly that I think these men have had their industry taken away from them exactly in the same way as in France or Belgium when a farmer had his land destroyed by the War and received compensation. I do not see why these fishermen should not have some help out of the reparations for the great trouble and distress they are suffering to-day on account of the War. We must remember that these men are not only having their means of livelihood taken away, but that also, during the War, they suffered immense losses of vessels, for which they have never been fully and properly compensated.
The other day I asked the Minister of Agriculture if he could help us in this matter. He was very sympathetic indeed, and said that other Governments and other Members had brought this matter forward, and he asked what suggestions we had to make. We are used to facing difficulties in the West of 249 England, and we are appointing a committee to lay a scheme before my right hon. Friend, but I am not certain that, in matters of this kind, it would not give the Minister a rather higher standing in dealing with them if he himself would propose a scheme, because he has very much greater experience than we have in the locality. He has a much greater knowledge of how these things can be worked, backed up by his very efficient Department. However, we have formed a committee, and they will lay a scheme before him, and I should like to ask him to view this scheme with every possible sympathy. It will be an insurance scheme, under which the men themselves would contribute a considerable portion, although these losses that they are suffering are due to no fault of their own in any way.
I now pass to wider questions, and I apologise for having troubled the House with a purely local question, which, however, is a very burning one in our locality, and is causing distress over a wider area than is sometimes recognised. My hon. Friend who preceded me referred to the fact that there is a depreciation in the number of men engaged in the industry, and I would like to point out that that depreciation is much heavier in Scotland, in proportion, than it is in England, owing, undoubtedly, to Scotsmen being rather less hardy in race than the English people are[Hon.MEMBERS: "Oh! "] I have no doubt that anyone will bear me out in that, unless they may happen to be Scotsmen. At any rate, the proportion is higher in Scotland than it is here, and I can draw no other conclusion. The fact remains that from 1913 to 1920 there was roughly a depreciation in numbers of 7,000, while from 1920 to 1923, long after the War was over and after the men had come back, there was still a further depreciation of 7,000 in that very much shorter period. I know and realise that the position is rather better again to-day, but I would like to point out that the position is very serious when you get actually a greater diminution of numbers in post-War days than during the period of the War and in the first or second year after the War.
That leads me quite naturally to the methods whereby this industry can be helped. The first point that I would like to raise very clearly and definitely is that 250 at the present time there is a certain supervision of the fishing industry by Government patrol boats, and I would like to ask the Minister to urge upon his friends at the Admiralty that these Government patrol boats spend very much more of their time in looking after infractions of the law by the foreigner than in looking after English people. The English people are At home and comparatively easy to catch, but the foreigner is always coming in whenever there is a chance, and fishing on our grounds to our detriment. No doubt there are cases in which the law is broken by our own people, though, of course, we know that, as far as Scotland is concerned, they would never break the law in any circumstances. At any rate, I would ask the Minister to be careful that as much supervision is given to the foreigner as possible, particularly at some of our West Coast places, and not too much to the English or Scottish or even to Welsh fishermen, if there be any.
Passing from that, I would ask the Minister if it is not possible for his Department to do a great deal more at the present time to help various methods of co-operative buying and selling. They arc being started at the present time in some of our ports in the West, with comparative success, and I am certain that, if the problem of getting cheap fish is to be dealt with, and if the small man is to be kept going, the small men must combine in buying and selling—they must combine in some way or other in placing their goods on the market. I would ask the Minister to give his word very clearly to-night that he and his Department will urge on and encourage co-operative buying and selling in every way that they possibly can. The next matter that I want to raise is that of trade facilities. I believe that at the present time very little has been done, if anything at all, in using the loans which may be obtained under the Trade Facilities Act for helping forward this industry. The Minister will know very much more about it than I do, and perhaps he might give us some advice to-night which would be of real help in encouraging this industry to develop in every possible way. Again, I cannot see why, with a Minister such as we have to-day, and the large Department which he has behind him, he cannot start some system of financing this 251 industry which might be of very great and real help, on the lines of the present Swedish banks, for the purpose of helping their fishing industry. If a State can help big industries by means of trade facilities, surely it might be worth while at the present time to help some of these little industries as well.
Another point that I would like to emphasise, as far as the Minister is concerned, is the very important one of harbours. We had just now Port Isaac given as an instance. I do not know if many hon. Members of the House will realise that that is an open harbour on the north coast of Cornwall, where the men, in order to secure their boats, have to use a special form of hawser, which is specially thick and only lasts about three years. I only mention that as a simple instance of the difficulties. I know also that in every part of the country to-day there are harbours in very grave financial difficulties, and I would like to point out to the Minister, from some figures that I obtained in the House the other day, that the Scottish people are rather more efficient in extracting money from the Chancellor of the Exchequer for harbours than we are. I would suggest that, at any rate, we have a sufficient amount in the same proportion as Scotland now has, because we can give instances of people in very difficult circumstances who have immense burdens on their harbours at the present time. I realise, as fully as any Scotsman, the gallantry which the Scottish fishermen showed during the War, but I say that, in a matter of finance of this kind, what funds may be available should be evenly distributed throughout the whole industry, in whichever part of the country it may happen to be.
I now come to the matter of research The other day I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question on a rather interesting matter on a question of the Salp. I was very shocked when he referred me to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am an optimist, but I never expect to get more information out of a Scotsman than I could out of an Englishman, and I was not very far wrong. I merely got inaccurate information. His Department had even written a vast volume on this question of fishery and he did not even quite know what was in it. He said it was a barrel-shaped insect. It is nothing of the sort. If he had described 252 it as something like a bagpipe I should have concluded that it was only poetic licence. At any rate I have shown him now exactly what it was and where he was wrong. He now knows that it is rather different. I should like to urge on the Minister to take every possible power to encourage research in every way and not to rely, when he wants information on this subject, on any other Department at all. But I would very much more urge him to develop, by any practical means that he has, real industrial research which will help to bring profit to the industry itself. My hon. Friend who proposed the Motion referred to the matter of a better system of nets. He also referred to the fact that if you could have a better system of refrigerating on our trawlers possibly, but at any rate in some of our fishing ports, it might save the great gluts that happen at present.
I should like to ask if it would not be possible to work on a system such as this, to have, for the sake of argument—I am only giving this as an instance—a vessel placed on the West coast which would be fully fitted with wireless, which would have among its duties that of making very considerable research into better methods of netting and better methods of curing and preserving fish and also that it might spend its time trying to find out new and better fishing grounds. This would be of practical use and of real help to the industry. I should also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, now that I am on this question of research, whether it would not be possible to do something as far as wireless is concerned. Would it not be possible to have wireless at any rate attached to one or two members of some of our bigger fishing fleets or to the patrol boats so that information might be given as to the state of the markets and when it is right to send fish in and as to the state of the weather, and also as to where they are most likely at any particular time to find fish? These are all suggestions which I am told are practical and would be helpful to the industry in every way. May I ask the house, in considering this Resolution, to remember that this industry is very scattered? There are only about 40,000 men engaged in it, and wherever you go you will find these men scattered in big or little fishing towns on every part of the coast. They are the men who are doing their best to give a cheap and sufficient food supply 253 to the people, they are the men from whom you are recruiting for your Navy and they are the men who, whenever there is trouble or danger on the seas, man your lifeboats. I ask you, with all these considerations, whether it is not possible for the House and the Government, which has made a very definite pledge with regard to the fishing industry to give it full consideration in every possible way.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I am sure the whole House is grateful to the hon. Members for the admirable and interesting speeches in which they have moved and seconded their Motion, and fishermen throughout the country, even the Scottish fishermen, as to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Torquay (Commander Williams) made some rather slighting remarks, will be grateful for the opportunity they have afforded for ventilating these important matters. There is, I think, no district in the country in which the fishing industry plays a more important part than the Highlands of Scotland, and the herring fishing there in particular, with regard to which I wish to make most of my remarks, has suffered very severely since the War. The principle evils which have afflicted it have been, in the first place, the loss of foreign markets. Eighty per cent. of the herrings which are caught, are cured and exported to foreign markets, and ever since the War we have had great difficulty in getting back into those markets. We had a very much better season last year, but now very bad reports are appearing in the newspapers. I see that a large part of the herrings cured last year are still not disposed of, and we are facing the coming summer fishing with a glut still on the market. Then fishermen, particularly the poorer men, have had great difficulty in replacing their lost and damaged gear. Much of it has been used for six and eight years without replacement at all, and every year it is getting more and more difficult even for those actually in employment to replace it, and even more difficult for those who have been out of employment. The next question is harbour finance, and that is very important, because the whole fishing industry is based upon the efficiency of the harbours. One of the greatest difficulties, and one of the hardest to deal with, is the high cost of coal and oil. 254 These difficulties are cumulative and they act and re-act upon each other, and the effect is that each difficulty makes it harder to deal with the others
What can the Government do to relieve these difficulties? The first thing they ought to do is to extend the export credit scheme to Russia. That is of immense importance in the interest of the fishing industry. I see on the Front Opposition Bench the right hon. Gentleman who was Secretary for Scotland a year ago, and I then entreated him to use his influence with the Government to take this necessary step in the interest of the industry. I warned him against being led away into grandiose plans for the restoration of political and commercial relations with Russia, and not to allow this humbler but far more important task from the point of view of the fishing industry to be pushed on one side. I appeal to the Government now, when they have the chance, not to go in for these large schemes of guaranteed loans, but to take up this much smaller thing, the question of Export Credits, which is more economically sound—I realise that this is a controversial point—and is not open to the objections which can be alleged, whether they are sound or unsound objections, against guaranteed loans. I there fore entreat the Secretary for Scotland to use his influence with the Government to get the Export Credits Scheme extended to Russia.
With regard to the replacing of lost and damaged gear, I would ask the Secretary for Scotland, if it is not too late, to reconsider the decision which the Government have taken to scrap entirely the scheme of the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) for providing nets and gear for the fishermen. I know the scheme as it stood was not a success, and I warned the right hon. Member for West Fife when he introduced it that it could not be a success, hedged about as it was with so many hampering conditions. The conditions were that the men had to pay 5 per cent. on their loans, to repay them in three years, and also to find 50 per cent. of the money in cash, straight away. That killed the scheme, because the poorest fishermen, the men who wanted the help most, could not afford to find the 50 per cent. in cash. Every credit is due to the right hon. Member for West Fife, for he must have had a difficult task to convince the 255 Treasury of the necessity of help being given to these men. Every credit is due to him for the active sympathy showed to these fishermen in their time of stress. Instead of scrapping the scheme, which I admit is not sound, for the reasons I have given, I wish the Secretary for Scotland would consider whether some improved scheme could not be introduced, in which the features which have spoiled the scheme could be left out and a better scheme devised.
In regard to barbour finances, I would urge the Secretary for Scotland to see what he can do to get a more generous measure of assistance for the small harbours. If the House knew the whole story, they would admire the strenuous and determined efforts that the little harbour authorities have made to clear off the burden of debt which is weighing upon them, and to stand up to all the difficulties which they have had to face during the War and since the War to place their harbours on a satisfactory financial basis. Take the harbour of Wick, which I know best. The whole harbour was closed during the War. No fishing was allowed to be done from the port because of its proximity to Scapa Flow. After the War the harbour authorities started with a great accumulation of arrears of interest and principal on their harbour loan3. They have made tremendous efforts since then to pay off the loans. They have been successful in paying off £35,000 to the Government, in spite of the difficulties against which the harbour trustees and the whole fishing industry 9.0 P.M. have had to contend during the War and since. With £130,000 of debt still weighing upon them, the Harbour Trust have made an application for a £4,000 loan for absolutely necessary work upon the harbour, and the paltry condition has been stipulated that they shall contribute out of the rates of this town, impoverished by all the difficulties that the fishing towns have had to contend with during and since the War, a sum of £750. What a sum, compared with £130,000 of debt which this community is now tackling, that they should have to contribute £750 towards this new loan.
Now another Department of the Treasury has weighed in. Here I hope that I may get the support of the Secre- 256 tary for Scotland, because when legislation is required a private Member is not able to do much unless he gets the support of a member of the Government. The Wick Harbour has had no profit to show, no credit balance, since the War until last year. Last year the herring fishing industry was successful, and the harbour had a record credit balance. Now the Income Tax people have come down on the Harbour Trust and are assessing the harbour for Income Tax on that one year, without taking into account the three years' average. Supposing the harbour makes a loss of £500 one year, and £500 the next year and a profit of £500 in the third year, instead of being assessed on the average they are assessed on the profit alone. A demand has been made upon the Harbour Trust for £1,000 Income Tax. I ask the Secretary for Scotland to consider this point. I understand that clocks, gas companies, and a few other concerns are not allowed to take a three years' average into consideration, but are assessed on the profits of the previous year. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take into consideration whether these small harbours can be allowed to be assessed on a three years' average to include two bad years as well as the good year, instead of being met with a sudden demand for £1,000 when they have made a profit. The trustees of these little harbours are the mainstay upon which the whole of the herring fishing in Scotland rests. They have been buffeted by the storms of the War, and the great slump in international trade, and now they are harried by the officials of every Department of the Treasury, the Public Works Loan Board, the Development Commission, and the Board of Inland Revenue.
With respect to the white fishing industry, the important thing is to provide marketing arrangements by means of cooperation, and to secure lower freight charges. In the north of Scotland freight charges are a tremendous burden upon the fishing industry. I ask the Secretary for Scotland what is his policy on the trawling question, and whether he is determined to put into operation, without, exception, the recommendations of Lord Mackenzie's Trawling Inquiry Committee. If there are any of these recommendations to which he takes exception, which are those recommendations, and what are the 257 reasons why he finds himself unable to put them into operation? In particular I would stress the closing of the Moray Firth to foreign. trawlers as well as to home trawlers. This is a matter of the greatest importance. I know that it can only be done by international consent, but more than a year ago the Secretary for Scotland promised that the matter would be taken into consideration and that the other nations would be asked to give their consent. The Secretary for Scotland announced that it would be referred to an international council. What has come of that? Is any action going to be taken Is the Moray Firth going to be closed not only to trawlers but to seive-net fishers who do a great deal of fishing there? Then there is the question of the small harbours which are the nursery of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. They are the best training ground for fishermen. I know from men in the deep sea ports that they regard these small fishing harbours as providing the finest training in the world, and they say that these men make the boldest and finest seamen. Going along in the train you can see that these harbours are falling into ruin all along the coast of Scotland.
I asked a question on this some time ago, and the Secretary for Scotland referred Me to the local authorities. The local authorities have every kind of burden placed upon them at the present time, such as road rates and education rates, and it is absurd to suppose that the local authorities, especially in these large counties which I represent, with their scattered population and their low rateable value, can undertake to put these harbours into an adequate state of repair. I would suggest that the Fishery Board of Scotland should be instructed to draw up a list of these harbours, so that the necessary work should be done, taking the most important first and putting them into a proper state of repair. There are some fine harbours which will fall into complete ruin unless something is done soon. I appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to take these points into careful and sympathetic consideration. For any expenditure in these directions he will get a splendid return, a return in the shape of cheap fish for the consumers in the big cities, and he will make a contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem in this industry, in which not only large numbers of men and women are 258 employed, but which provides a considerable amount of employment in a wide range of ancillary industries.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I understand that several Members desire to speak on this Motion, therefore I will put my points in a tabloid speech of headlines, so as not to occupy too much time. I would first like, on behalf of the deep sea industry which I represent, to offer our thanks to the Admiralty—in doing this I have the concurrence of my hon. Friend the Member who represents South West Hull (Mr. Grotrian)—to Captain Evans and the officers and men of His Majesty's ships "Harebell" and "Godetia" for the very gallant efforts which they put forward to try to rescue the two Hull trawlers who went out to the far north to bring food to this country, and unfortunately were lost. Captain Evans and his men took a chance in a thousand at a time of the year when there was most deplorable weather, and it was indeed plucky action on their part to take this chance. They took it, but unfortunately they were not successful. We of the trade wish to offer our sincerest thanks to them for their very gallant effort.
Speaking of the fishing industry, the importance of it is not generally realised. Probably, it is not widely known that it is the sixth largest industry in the country to-day. It employs directly and indirectly 264,000 people, and one-fortieth of the population of Great Britain depend on fishing for a livelihood. Again, it is of great importance to the mining industry. The coal consumed by the steam trawlers and drifters provides full-time employment for 9,000 miners all the year round. To those Members who represent mining constituencies I think T can appeal for sympathetic support of this Resolution. I represent Grimsby, the largest fishing part in the world, and, probably. I represent a different side of the industry from that represented by the there' hon. Members preceding me, but I do wish to pay my tribute to the fishermen from the small ports around the coast. We in Grimsby, Hull and all the large ports realise the value of these men when they come forward to help to man our trawlers and our large boats, but I would point out that 80 per cent. of the fish consumed in this country is caught by the deep-sea fishermen, the steam trawlers and the sea-net boats, so the deep-sea 259 fishermen really represent the major part of the industry, and we have some little matters which we wish the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to bear in mind.
We ask that representations should be made to the Government of Iceland for an alteration in the law which says that gear must be stowed on any vessel in the territorial waters, that is, within three miles of the shore. Difficulty arises in this way. In times of storm and stress when these men have to make a rush for shelter in the harbours, it is not possible for them to stow away their gear. We do not inflict this on the Iceland boats which visit our ports, and we think that they ought to extend to us the same treatment as that which we extend to them. I know from practical experience that, when a storm suddenly springs up, the skipper of the vessel in his wheelhouse has to send all his men down below, because if he kept them on board, in order to try and store away the gear, it would probably result in sacrificing their lives when they are running against the heavy seas which they get in winter time in these waters. I would ask that representations should be made to the Icelandic authorities on these matters.
Then the harbour dues are very excessive. They are very much in excess of what we charge their vessels which visit our ports. Again, if a max is taken sick and we want to land him in an Icelandic harbour we are charged heavily for doing so. These are little matters, I admit, but they are very irritating matters, and attention ought to be drawn to them. Then we want the Government to insist upon an international agreement for the three-mile limit. We do not care whether it is Russia, Iceland, Faroe, or any other part of the world where fishing is done. We are prepared to observe the three-mile limit and they ought to do the same. All we ask is that the same treatment should be meted out to our men as we mete out to the foreigner. We ask for nothing more and nothing less.
Research work is of importance to the side of the industry which I represent We were told a few weeks ago that a sum of 227,000 was spent by the Government last year on research work, and this work has been of such a nature that it has probably been of some benefit to the industry in being able to trace the 260 migration of fish, but the industry is followed by men of a practical turn of mind, and they say that research work would be better carried on in the direction of exploration. That is, in the finding of new fishing grounds, because though our operations range to the far north to Faroe and Iceland around the North Cape into the White Sea, and along the Murmansk coast, and south to the Bay of Biscay and the coast of Morocco, those who are engaged practically in the industry know that far away to the north, particularly to the West of Scotland, there are valuable fishing grounds, and that it is only necessary to go and find them out and this will be for the benefit of all fishing, whether from Grimsby or Hull or any other port. It may be said, "Why does not the trade do this'?" If a man ventures and finds a new ground, naturally the other people get to know about it, and his work is in vain; he spends his money and the other people follow along. We say that it would be in the best interests of the trade concerned if the Government would provide another vessel for research work, a vessel fitted out specially for exploration work. Probably there are valuable fishing grounds yet to be discovered.
There has been some talk about harbour difficulties and local difficulties. I shall not apologise for introducing our own local difficulties in Grimsby. Grimsby's position is that at the moment we have not accommodation for the fleets of vessels that wish to use the port. Our geographical position has given us a certain advantage, as we are the nearest fishing port to the great Dogger Bank, where the finest fish in the world are caught. Before the War the railway company was prepared to build an extension dock and tenders were prepared. That dock would have been built had the War not intervened. The company was not allowed to go on with the work, and the position is that work which would have cost £500,000 before the War would cost £1,250,000 to-day. The company is prepared to take unemployed men on to the work, provided that the Government will treat the company in the same way as they treat other harbour authorities, namely, by making a grant towards the work. The railway company is prepared to spend £1,050,000 on the work, but a subsidy is required to make up the dif- 261 ference in the efficiency of the men obtained from the Employment Exchange and to help the company over the difficulty of the great increase in the cost of the work.
We say that this would be a splendid scheme for the relief of unemployment on work of national importance. It would be an undertaking which would find continuing work for many, for the, permanent men on the staff, for fishermen, for men ashore who unload and load the ships, and for merchants and their assistants, and it would indeed be a great boon to the district. I ask the Government seriously to consider the question, seeing that there is a scheme under which public utility concerns can receive assistance towards docks and harbours. I would like to see the benefits of that scheme extended to the railway company. The great handicap to the fishing industry is the fact that during the War and after the War, when our men were engaged in sweeping up mines instead of sweeping up fish, we lost seven years of efficiency. I believe that the industry is slowly but surely coming back to its own again, and that it will become once again a paying proposition, if given a reasonable chance. We are not asking for subsidies for the industry itself. What we do ask for is that assistance shall be given by providing a vessel for exploration work and as regards certain harbour and dock work. We ask also that representations shall be made to the railway companies to abolish the absurd prepayment of carriage on fish by passenger train. This prepayment is one of the reasons why the working classes of the country are not now getting the cheap fish that they had in pre-War days. At the week-ends when we had gluts of fish at a port like Grimsby in the old days, men would send it away to the large inland markets absolutely "on spec" to be sold for what it would fetch, knowing that the commission man at the other end would be sure to get sufficient to pay the carriage because he would have to pay it before he got the fish. Now a man may buy, on the day of gluts, cheap fish, but the carriage will be a large amount, and when it arrives at the other end it may not realise half the cost of the carriage. That has happened time and time again. Consequently, you cannot get what we call the speculative 262 merchant to buy this cheap fish and send it to the inland markets.
This prepayment of carriage of fish by passenger train excludes a large number of small merchants who in the past provided cheap fish for the people by dealing directly with them. These men probably have to give credit for the fish to the people to whom they send it. They themselves have to pay cash at the end of the week, and that requires capital. On the top of that they have to pay to the railway company cash for the carriage before the goods are sent. All this means that a man with very small capital cannot carry on the business. It would be a boon to the trade and a benefit to the consumer if the companies could be induced to go back to the pre-War system of carriage, either prepaid or payment at the other end. Another small matter is the question of the minimum charge for cwts of fish. There is a minimum charge, whether it is a cwt. or less that is carried. That question ought to be taken up with the companies by the Minister of Transport, and I hope that the Minister, of Agriculture will make representations to him on the point. In the fishing industry we are prepared to fight our own battles, provided that we are given fairplay. We want the same treatment meted out to our men as has been meted out to the foreigner, and then we shall pull through and once more make the trade successful.
§ Mr. HAWKE:
I am grateful for the opportunity of intervening in this Debate. I claim to do so because I represent a coast line which in extent must rival even that of the hon. Baronet who represents Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). It is a, coastline on which men are dotted about in small fishing ports, many of them several miles from railway communication of any kind, as I dare say is the case also in the North of Scotland. They are a self-reliant race of men, because they have no one but themselves on whom they can rely, and they are frugal and temperate. Those virtues, if they did not practise them for their own sake, would be forced upon them by the conditions under which they live. But it is not for that reason that I appeal on their behalf. It is because of their value to us as contributors to the food supply of the country. Something has been said of their value in supplying the personnel 263 of our Navy. I do not want to repeat what has been said, but I would like to state that four days before the late War began, on a Sunday afternoon, with my own eyes I saw no fewer than 97 men go from one small fishing town in the County of Cornwall to join His Majesty's ships. These were men of the type who from all the villages from the West of Cornwall went to serve their country, not only in the ships that fought at Gallipoli, but in the drifters which watched our coasts for us. We could not do without them and we cannot afford to lose them, and it is because I feel there is the possibility of the loss which has been taking place in that fishing population continuing and increasing that I want to make an earnest appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to-night on their behalf. Their employment is precarious. The more precarious employment is, the more it needs capital to assist it. These men have none, and if they can get no assistance from the State, I little know where they can look for it.
Before the last General Election the Prime Minister, in his election address, expressed his intention to make some inquiry as to whether further provision should not be made for further and extended facilities in the interests of the fishing industry. Some weeks after that I ventured to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman as to what form this inquiry should take, and the answer came from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture. The answer was this:I do not propose at present to institute any formal investigation into the condition of the fishing industry in England and Wales, as conditions have latterly shown signs of improvement, but I will engage in an examination of various directions in which it may be possible to take action in order to assist the expansion of our fisheries.I heard that answer with some gratification and with some regret—gratification, because I saw in the words "I do not propose at present" some hope for the future, regret because I fear that the source from which the right hon. Gentleman got his information as to the recent signs of improvement in the industry are sources which are not known to myself. The fishing industry in this country is 264 one with a long history, with great variations, with great ups and downs, and I hope that if there be some slight improvement since last October the right hon. Gentleman will not think that is any guarantee that the improvement is likely to continue. I am unaware of the sources of the right hon. Gentleman's information. I fear he may have got it from the great capitalists in the fishing world, some of whom are represented by the last speaker and some by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul). Many of the men whom I represent are capitalists, although they would be surprised if told that they were. Their capital consists probably of some little boat, perhaps only a share in a net Hon. Members opposite will realise that makes them capitalists, but it is small capital; it is little to fall back upon. Has their condition improved 4 I have had the opportunity of reading the report made to the Cornwall County Council for the past year by their fishery inspector as to the importance of that small industry. The conditions throughout the year have been very bad indeed. Some fishermen have losses every year. Pilchards, the great West country fish—quantity bad but price has been good Herring catches have not been so large as the herring last year New buyers came who had not been in here before and prices have improved at times and places, but many of the boats are hundreds of pounds in debt Long lining not worthy of mention.That is a condition of affairs which says Little in the way of improvement in conditions, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not close the door against an inquiry as to the improvement in fisheries. I want to deal with that point for this reason. Some 10 years ago those of whom I have spoken of as the capitalists of the fishing world on the East coast of this country came to our part of the West, and I suppose that the Cornish fishing industry would have come to an end but for the fact that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries came to their rescue and granted them loans to put motors into their boats. That saved the industry. Not only is it a policy which I want to impress upon the Ministry now, but I think I am more justified in impressing it upon them when I point out that those loans have been practically repaid already. It now they have run out, new credits 265 are wanted for new boats, new gears—new motors, sometimes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not close his eyes to the advantage of making some inquiry as to whether or not such credits should be given to the fishing population in the future. Now I think there was an honourable understanding among many of us this evening that our observations this evening should be, to use the words of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), put in tabloid form, because there are so many of us who feel so strongly for these men we represent that we all wish for an opportunity of addressing the House on this subject, therefore, I wish to bring my observations to an end merely by saying that I note with interest and with great satisfaction, apart from what I have endeavoured to say myself about credits, what has been said this evening about the desirability of providing harbour authorities with assistance which would not be only assistance to them, but would help us to employ a large number of people now unemployed in this country. I have heard with satisfaction the suggestion of co-operation for the purposes of distribution and marketing. I hope that the Ministry w ill endeavour to obtain powers for the removal of wrecks. Wrecks may not be removed from the fairway of the Channel. Why not, if they are in the fairway of the employment of these men who rely so much upon a precarious livelihood? There are other things which I should desire to say, but I feel that my time has gone by. Therefore, thanking you, Mr. Speaker, again for the opportunity you have given me, I hope to make way for some other speaker.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS:
I want to add my support to the Motion that has been moved and seconded by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do so chiefly for the reason that the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, could he have been in his place, would have given what support he could to this particular Motion. Unfortunately he is ill, and for that reason I want to state my sympathy with the Motion. I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I regret, and I think most Members of the House will regret, his reply to the question put by the hon. Gentleman who last spoke with regard to the credit facilities with regard for the small fishermen. We are advised that in many 266 instances the smaller men who are suffering from lack of capital have been driven into the hands of certain merchants from whom they are compelled to hire their motors and as a part of the bargain they are also compelled to purchase from the owners of the motors both petrol and oil on terms so onerous that it is quite impossible for the smaller fishermen to do themselves justice and eke out a reasonable existence. If the House can agree to a grant of credit facilities to the agricultural industry for the purpose of ensuring to that industry proper equipment and the best kind of organisation, I see no reason why the same thing should not apply to the fishing industry. If such credit facilities were granted to the fishing industry, on the same basis or even on a more suitable basis the fishermen would to a large extent be freed from exploiting merchants who render no real service whatever.
If the same terms were granted as those granted to agriculture, that is to say if no repayments were expected in the first two years, and if a fairly long period—say 10 years—were allowed for the full repayment of loans made through a cooperative organisation, I have no doubt the small fishermen would be able to carry on their good work and supply quantities of fish such as we enjoyed prior to the War. If such credit facilities were granted, not only for the purchasing of equipment but for the setting up of central markets on a co-operative basis, it would remove the useless middleman and the smaller fishermen would be in a much better economic position than they are in to-day and there would be few such pleas as this submitted in the future to this House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look into the question of granting credit facilities to the fishing industry similar to those operating at present in the agricultural industry.
The working fishermen in many of the smaller ports find themselves in this position. During periods of bad weather owners of boats may refuse to let the fishermen go out unless they are certain of a good catch, and some of the men are suffering from very low wages. In certain cases they receive as little as 18s. per week, and as they are not in an insurable trade they are suffering hardships which those engaged in this very dangerous trade should not be called upon to 267 undergo. It seems to me that by such facilities as I suggest many of these men could be removed from their present perilous plight. Finally, I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one other point. On the coast of Norfolk, at Blakeney Point, I understand the fishing grounds have been almost destroyed as a result of sea vermin. No steps have been taken by the State or the local authority or anybody else to deal with this matter, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman if something could not be done to remove the pest from which this district is now suffering and to make these grounds again available for fishing as they were formerly. I do not wish to take up more time and I conclude by emphasising the necessity for helping these smaller people to help themselves, and I feel the nation as a whole will benefit by a grant of facilities such as I have indicated.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
I had the privilege a year ago, having been fortunate in the Ballot, to move a Resolution calling attention to the condition of the fishing industry—the first substantive Motion of that kind on that subject, so I am informed, debated in this House for about 20 years. It is naturally gratifying to those who represent the fishing industry that we should have been afforded another opportunity so soon of discussing this important matter, especially as many of the problems and difficulties to which attention was directed a year ago have not become less acute in the meantime. Unfortunately, the condition of the industry as a whole has not undergone any substantial improvement. This Motion suggests that the present condition of the industry is one which the House ought to view with grave concern, and no one familiar with the circumstances will regard that statement as an exaggeration. I have been trying to ascertain from those connected with the fishing industry some of the root causes for this long-continued depression. On every hand one hears the same tale—that it is utterly impossible for owners to continue to run their boats much longer unless there is a radical change in the situation. Nor indeed is this to be wondered at when;one remembers that practically everything in connection with the industry, from the first cost of boat construction to the ball of twine required to mend broken nets, 268 stands something like 200 per cent. above pre-War cost while substantially speaking the earnings of the boats have remained more or less stationary.
There is little doubt that the cause of the present situation is two-fold. First, there are the high running costs, especially in regard to such essentials as coal, ice, ropes, twine, and so forth. Secondly, there is the loss of some of our great pre-War foreign markets, coupled with severe and ever-increasing foreign competition, in regard to certain aspects of which our fishermen to-day are largely fighting with their hands tied behind their backs. The Motion suggests that assistance should be given to the industry by the Government. When this subject was last before the House the Debate took place, like to-night's Debate, in a sympathetic atmosphere. The then Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries made a sympathetic but highly official reply—which no doubt was intended to be stimulating, but had all the depressing effects of a cold douche—in which he said the Government would do everything they possibly could. I can quite understand that the present Minister may well say: "It is all very well to point out all these difficulties, but what is it that you really suggest that the Government should do 7 What is it that you propose?" I would reply to that question that there are many steps which the Government might take. Some of them have been emphasised already, and I want to mention two points which may possibly strike the House at first glance as matters of comparatively trivial import, and also as matters in which Government action is hardly possible.
The first is with regard to the question of coal. I think most people are aware that coal is by far the heaviest item in the running of a steam trawler. Many Fast Coast ports, such as Grimsby, Hull, Boston, King's Lynn, and, I believe, one or two others, have what is known as a shipping rate for coal, by which they receive a very substantial concession from the railway companies, a concession which amounts to something like 4s. to 5s. a ton of coal, and as will be easily understood, that makes the difference in many cases between prosperity and bankruptcy, so far as running the boats is concerned. In other words, it amounts to this, that it costs £400 or £500 a year 269 more to run a trawler at a port that is not on the shipping rate, than at a port that is on that rate. The railway companies have been pressed literally for years to treat all the ports alike in this respect, in order to give this much-needed assistance to the industry, but up till now they have resolutely declined to do so, and I submit that this is one matter, at any rate, where the Government might use its influence.
The second point that I want to emphasise is the one that has already been dealt with by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), the question of the prepayment of carriage on fish That again, it may be said, is a trivial and comparatively unimportant matter, but I can assure the Minister that it is regarded in my constituency, at any rate, as a matter of the most vital importance. It is a question that affects largely the prosperity of the industry to-day, and there seems to be no logical reason on earth why we should not in this country revert to the pre-war system of fish being sent carriage forward, more especially as this has already been done in Scotland. To-day we have the situation of the railways running their joint lines up the East coasts of England and Scotland and up the West Coasts, too, and in England carriage has to be paid in advance, but directly it gets across the border the fish is sent carriage forward. I have never heard any justification or defence: From the railway companies that one can understand as to why that state of affairs should continue.
The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that the late Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries would have liked to be here in order to give his support to this Motion. I should have heard that statement with a little more satisfaction if I had not remembered what the right hon. Gentleman said in the course of his speech last year. These particular points were then emphasised, and, in his reply, he made a statement, and gave what I and, I think, many others understood to be a promise, on behalf of his Department whet, he used these words:We shall only be too glad to put before the Ministry of Transport, and before the railway companies any grievances which are felt deeply." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1924; col. 2278, Vol. 170.]These were the grievances in regard to the prepayment- of carriage and the ques- 270 tion of a shipping rate for coal. I should like to ask the present Minister whether any and what steps have been taken to implement that promise, whether representations have been made in fact by the Ministry during the past 12 months in regard to these matters, and, if so, with what result. There are many other questions upon which one would like to touch, if time permitted. There is, for instance, the question of foreign competition. I quite realise that that raises an enormously controversial issue, but, at the same time, our hopes were raised some little while ago by the suggestion that there might be an inquiry into the state of the shipping industry generally, and I would like to ask the Minister whether there is any reason why some general inquiry should not be held, if not on the broadest lines, at any rate on some lines, one might say, analogous to those inquiries that arc being held under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, with regard to the effect of foreign competition on our fishing industry. We have a situation in which practically every country in the world to-day has high protective duties, and in some cases prohibitive duties, against- British-caught fish, and we have, on the other hand, enormous quantities of foreign-caught fish being dumped here and seriously affecting the livelihood and prosperity of the men of our own race. Surely, under those circumstances, something might be done by the Government to achieve a certain measure of reciprocity with regard to these other countries.
I want, to ask, in conclusion, whether some steps might not be taken under the Merchandise Marks Act or by some other means to ensure that foreign-caught fish fish, for instance, which comes in in large quantities from Norway and other places, is marked in some way in order that the consumers, purchasers or retailers might know that it is foreign-caught fish. This fish comes in barrels and boxes, and there would be no practical difficulty in steps of that kind being taken. The question with regard to the removal of wrecks in particular is a matter of very great importance to the shipping industry, but as other hon. Members desire to take part in the Debate, I do not want to deal with other questions now. There is a disposition, I think, not unnaturally, to regard discussions of this kind as being more or less academic, and as unlikely and, indeed, 271 hardly expected to lead to any definite and practical results, but I can assure the Minister, from my own knowledge of the conditions prevailing in the fishing industry to-day, that any crumbs of comfort that he is able to drop will be seized with avidity by the industry, and that if only something can be done to lighten a few even of these minor burdens that press so hardly on an industry which, in the words of the Motion, vitally affects "the Navy, the merchant service, and the food supply of this country," then, I venture to think, this Debate may well prove to have been, from a national point of view, not one of the least useful and important that has taken place during the lifetime of this Parliament.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Edward Wood)
I realise that there are several other hon. Members who still wish to address the House, and I can assure them I have no wish to occupy more than a very few moments at this stage. I think that the House as a whole has welcomed the opportunity that has been afforded to it by hon. Friends of mine who have been responsible for bringing forward this Motion about the fishing industry this evening, and I think also that all who have taken part in this Debate have presented their case to the House, not only with a brevity, but with a lucidity and a force that have carried great weight in all quarters of the House. The fishing industry, of course, shares with the other industry for which I have the honour to be in part responsible, the pride of antiquity and importance, and I have often supposed, in my failure to discover any more convincing reason, that that must be the explanation why they should both be under the responsibility of the same Minister. I was very glad to notice the emphasis that was laid by more than one speaker—my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Harrison), who moved the Motion, was the first to do so—upon the old, revered, and intimate acquaintance that has always existed between the fishing industry and the Royal Navy. Time does not permit me to remind hon. Members of any of the history, with which I think they may well be more familiar than I am But I may remind them that it was primarily out of regard to the interests of the then infant Navy that, in the days of Edward VI, Parliament ordained a law 272 under which people were condemned to eat fish for two or three days a week. That was not thought sufficient by Queen Elizabeth, and another day was subsequently added. Even that compulsory statutory self-denial, however, was not sufficient to remove all adversity from the fishing industry.
The reason I mention that to-night is because I do want to add my testimony to that which was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) to the work of the Auxiliary Patrol in their recent search for those unhappy trawlers in February and March. To anybody who had to follow the day-today history of the business, and the telegrams in detail, it really revealed an epic of effort, adventure and chivalry. The first of those rescue ships was off within 24 hours after the receipt of the request for assistance, and the other followed almost immediately. They were searching for something like a fortnight in the most violent weather, encountering great peril for themselves, covering thousands of miles, and only abandoning their search when they had, perforce, also to abandon hope of finding the trawlers; and I think we do well in this House on behalf of the fishing industry to record our most sincere appreciation of that, which is only one example of the efforts which the Auxiliary Patrol are always ready to make whenever called upon for assistance.
A great deal has been said to-night about the position in which the fishing industry finds itself to-day. Although some have spoken from somewhat different angles, I hope all who have spoken will feel able to agree that, treating the matter broadly, the industry is to-day slowly recovering from the depression of the War period. The War, of course, threw everything completely, and, as it seemed at the time, hopelessly out of gear, and it is, I think, satisfactory to know that last year, although it was still below 1913, a bumper year, a very large catch of wet fish, amounting to 13j million cwt.,was taken, which is a very substantial advance indeed on the figures of preceding years. noticed that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Hawke) criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) as a representative largely of capitalists. I do not enter 273 into these internal domestic amenities, but I was interested the other day to read a report that came to me from the Inspector of the Eastern Area, which my hon. Friend who spoke last represents, which L must say gave to me a somewhat more favourable view than he, I think felt able to take. The picture that was painted to me—and I believe it to be an accurate picture—was that in Lowestoft, the average share that the fisherman was reaping had advanced to about double that in 1923, and debts were being paid off. Various tests of recovering prosperity revealed themselves. More bicycles were being bought by various members of the fishing families, and more toys were being bought, and, perhaps the best test of all, more weddings were being celebrated.
I was also cheered to observe the other day, in an article in the "Fishing News" of a week or two ago, very much the same signs of greater buoyancy, which I was glad to see was not confined to the capitalistic class, but went down to the recesses of the West Country which my hon. and learned Friend so ably represents. I have not the knowledge, and it would be wrong for me to exaggerate these signs and to put my opinion in opposition to theirs as necessarily more intimate or more complete. I only mention those things in order to preserve, as may, perhaps, be necessary, a proper perspective of the elements in this problem; but it is no doubt true, as my hon. Friend who introduced the Motion said, that the ultimate question is one, and is bound to be one, of consumption, and it is in relation to that question of the amount of consumption that the various suggestions that have been made in this Debate have their particular importance.
A great deal of stress has been laid upon the question of railway administration in more than one direction. I hesitate to say that I appreciate the importance of the question, for fear of bringing myself under the condemnation extended to my predecessor, and therefore I am at a loss to express my own feeling about it, but I will simply say that I confess that before I came in to this Debate, and before I had heard the case made by my hon. Friends, I had been inclined to take the view that it was a matter entirely between the fishermen, the traders and the railway companies, and that it was 274 not one in which the Government ought properly to be concerned. I still adhere to the view, as I understand it, that it is a matter of trade interests between the different parties concerned and the railway companies, but, in view of what my hon. Friends have said, I am bound to admit they have convinced me that it is a matter of sufficient importance if the Government can use its offices to bring the parties on to a new angle of discussion and view with regard to it. So that whatever my predecessor may or may not have been able to do, I shall certainly undertake to renew what efforts he made in the sense that the observations suggest. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Commander Williams) touched upon the possible development of co-operation in the, matter of bringing the consumer and the producer into closer touch. That is, I think, after all, one, and only one, of the directions in which modern society is trying to meet the difficulty, and the new problem of endeavouring to marry the producer and the consumer in order, as far as possible, to make a happy and continuing match for both of them.
I come now to some of the more particular points that have been raised in debate. The hon. and gallant Member for Torquay may rest quite assured that I am fuly alive to the difficulties experienced by his friends at Brixham, which has a very peculiar claim upon the sympathies of us all. It is a historic port, famous, as every historian knows, for the landing of William III—and for some ether more historical people recently! In Brixham, the interest of my hon. and gallant Friend is more immediate and more practical than that attaching to William It is quite true, as he says, that Brixham is suffering from the unfortunate effect of War wrecks. The problem is a very familiar one. I was interested to hear my hon. and gallant Friend say that Brixham had proposed to submit a scheme to the Ministry for the alleviation of the difficulty. He was good enough to state that I might find a better scheme. I am not so sanguine. I am not sure, either, that Brixham will be able to find a scheme—if I may be quite frank with my hon. and gallant- Friend—that will be satisfactory. I would certainly, however, undertake to examine any scheme that Brixham ad 275 vances with a very open and sympathetic mind There are many wrecks we are told, and I am afraid the blowing of them up would increase the danger. Then again, there is the question of compensation which is a very difficult one to administer fairly, and to guard against evasion or against improper use. Moreover, I am bound to remind my hon. and gallant Friend that Brixham is not the only place that suffers. For example, Lowestoft, which has not made this claim, has had no less than 40 losses of gear in the first three months of this year, whilst Brixham's losses were 115 in the whole of 1924. However, any suggestions that are made shall. be examined with an open and a sympathetic mind.
I am fully alive to the question of improving the harbours, to which I have had my attention more particularly directed, in the first place to Brixham, and in the second place to Port Isaac. We have now reached the stage in which we are considering the expenditure involved in the proposals put forward, and the money at our disposal. In each case the Department is perfectly ready, subject to the necessary amount of local aid being forthcoming, to have the matter put forward for discussion between my hon. Friends and my Department, or, if they wish it, myself. Subject to that, the Government is perfectly ready to assist in the necessary developments or the construction of harbour works. I hope, therefore, before very much time elapses that these various matters may be placed on a more satisfactory footing.
A great deal has been said about the importance of research. I subscribe to every word of it. In 1920, I think it was, the Development Commissioners of that day recognised the need for more deep-sea research, and would, I think, had they not been prevented by financial difficulties, have proceeded to supply an additional vessel for the purpose. I have resumed the task of exploring the possibilities of the case, and of securing an additional vessel, and I hope—though I am not in a position to speak of an accomplished fact—that I may be successful in the effort. I believe that form of assistance will be most valuable to the deep-sea fishing industry. I hope, as I say, to obtain that vessel, and to use it to assist in the many objects to which 276 attention has been drawn in the Debate. I refer to the exploration of the trawling grounds, the examination of improved methods of fish cultivation and preservation, and other matters. If I am fortunate enough to get a vessel I think it is only right and reasonable that it should be largely placed, or for a large part of its time, upon the West Coast.
§ Mr. WOOD
No, I cannot give my hon. Friend any figure with accuracy. I should hope the cost would be shared between my Department and another Department, but I imagine it will not be excessive; and I really think we may rest quite assured that the outlay would be more than compensated for by the advantage to the fishing industry.
Lastly, the question has been raised of protection in various forms—I do not mean economic protection—but protection of the rights of British fishermen in their relation to foreign fishermen. As hon. Members in all parts of the House are aware, for the last few months we have been engaged in negotiations with Norway upon the question of the three-mile limit, as it affects the general problem. Those negotiations are still proceeding, and it is not possible for me to give details of them at this stage; but I can assure those who are interested in the matter that before any definite arrangement is made with Norway an opportunity will be given to the fishing industry of expressing any views they may have upon the suggested agreement.
The hon. Member for Grimsby drew attention to various administrative proceedings by, I think, a number of Icelandic authorities which in his view, and the view of others of his friends, press hardly upon our fishermen. He knows, and I may tell others who may not know, that the Foreign Office is always ready and prompt to take up with the proper foreign authorities any cases of harsh administration, and where cases are harsh and such as to justify complaint we have been successful in those representations in achieving very considerable results. I spoke just now of the search for lost trawlers, and I am not without hope that the fact that in that search there were associated with our fishery-patrol 277 boats Icelandic boats, which went through common risks and dangers with them, may have considerable effect and importance in easing those hard corners in administration to which the hon. Gentleman quite properly drew attention.
I have only one other thing to say. Since I have been at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries I have asked myself in what way the Government can best hope to help the fishing industry, which has been built up by the resource and enterprise of generations of British fishermen. A great deal more has been done by the State than is always or commonly realised. If I had time I could give the House fuller details of what I have in mind. We have to face a situation, as I said just now, in which the industry has passed through and has not yet emerged from an unprecedented depression. It will be within the recollection of the House, as it was within the recollection of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams)—who reminded us of it—that the question of credits for the fishing industry was included in the election address of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the last election. When I became Minister of Agriculture I had my attention drawn, of course, to the words of my right hon. Friend, but simultaneously my attention was drawn to the fact that the conditions of the industry were changing, and that it was not so certain that the industry as a whole wanted that particular form of credit help to which my right hon. Friend had referred more than any other help. Therefore, on my own responsibility, and I think the House will feel that I was right, I decided to await this Debate in order to have the opportunity of hearing the free expression of Members representing fishing constituencies—to hear what, on he whole, they would suggest for the benefit of the industry. I confess I have learned a great deal from this Debate, and if it is so desired, and if arrangements could conveniently be made to do so, I should be very glad if I might have an opportunity of meeting and discussing these problems, including the problem of credit, with hon. Members, or those they represent, and who themselves speak with authority for the various branches of the 278 fishing industry. There are obvious limits to what this or any other Government can usefully, rightly or properly do, but I shall certainly do all in my power to assist an industry which holds such a very prominent place in the economy of this country as a source of food, as A nursery of mariners, and ultimately as a source of supply of men for the Navy, and a source from which our first line of defence is largely drawn. There are other points to which I have not had time to refer, and I hope my hon. Friends who made those points will not think I have forgotten them, because they will all be carefully considered. I have not referred to them, because I wish to keep my observations within a reasonable length.
Mr. WILLIAM DAMSON:
The House is much indebted to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Harrison) for giving us An opportunity of discussing the development of the fishing industry and its importance to the nation. The question of the production of the greatest amount of food from the harvest of the land or the harvest of the sea is one of the greatest importance to every man, woman and child in the country. When discussing land settlement a few days ago, I pointed out that, for many years past we have devoted the major part of our energies to industrial development, thereby earning the money necessary to purchase food from every source. We have now reached a stage when we shall require to reconsider that position.
I think most hon. Members will agree with me when I say that we cannot hope to continue to be the workshop of the world, and, therefore, we shall have to consider the question of providing a much larger proportion of our food from our own resources and at the same time providing a larger amount of work for our people by such development. One of the ways in which this can be done is by developing to the fullest extent our fisheries. By doing this not only shall we provide our own people with a greater amount of food from our own resources, but at the same time we shall be providing an additional amount of work to that which is available and it will also enable us to develop the export part of our fishing industry to a greater extent, and thus secure money whereby we can purchase the necessary imports.
279 The hon. Member for Bodmin drew our attention to the depressed condition in which the fishing industry has been for a few years past. Every one of us who has had any acquaintance at all with the conditions obtaining in that industry during the whole of the period of the War, and since the War, knows that the hon. Member has not overstated the amount of depression that has existed in that industry. That was due, as the Minister of Agriculture has stated, largely to the War practically destroying the export market; but fortunately, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, last year there was an improvement in the industry. There was a considerable improvement with regard to the amount of herring that was caught and disposed of to our former customers. Evidently our former customers are coming back again, including Germany and Russia Russia, for the first time since the War, was a purchaser in our markets last year, and I understand, from certain figures that have been placed at my disposal, that they purchased from us almost half the amount that pre-War Russia used to purchase, as far as herring was concerned. I think that that of itself should be a lesson to us, and not only with regard to the fishing industry, because I think it shows clearly that, if we are prepared to take the necessary steps to develop trade with Russia, we can get a considerable amount of relief for our unemployed people by dealing to a greater extent with that country, if we are prepared to provide the necessary credits for the purpose. I think it ought to encourage us to strike out in other directions as well as in that of disposing of our fish to Russia. I think we have a market there which every one of us should be prepared to do our best to develop.
If we are to develop the fishing industry as some of us would like to see it developed, there are a number of matters that must. receive our serious attention, some of which have already been mentioned. For example, I agree with those who have mentioned the development of co-operation, which I think would largely stimulate the fishing industry. There is also, as others have already pointed out, the question of railway facilities and the easing of railway rates, which in some parts of the country, such as the more 280 remote parts represented by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sunderland (Sir A. Sinclair), are a serious matter so far as the fishing industry is concerned, and well deserve the attention of the Minister of Agriculture arid the Secretary for Scotland. There is another thing which I think ought particularly to have the attention of the Secretary for Scotland, and that is the development, as far as possible, of a line of swift steamers that could bring the fish caught in the extreme North of Scotland more rapidly to market than present facilities permit. These are matters which ought to receive consideration both from the Minister of Agriculture and from the Secretary for Scotland.
Another matter upon which I should like to say a word is that of harbours Not only do harbours in England require to be specially looked into, and to have money spent on them, in order to put them in proper condition for the purpose of giving our fishing population the greatest facilities, but we also require. even more attention, if possible, given to harbours in Scotland. Some of the harbours in Scotland require money to be spent on them in order to put them in a condition which will give our fishing population the necessary facilities. I was quite glad to hear the sympathetic manner in which the Minister for Agriculture spoke of the various matters which have been put forward, and I hope the same sympathetic consideration will he exhibited by the Secretary or Scotland. The development of the fishing industry is as important for the scottish people as it is for the people of England and Wales, if not more so. Reverting to the question of harbours, I can assure the Secretary for Scotland that when I filled the post he fills to-day, I was looking very closely into the question and took the opportunity of examining some of the harbours and ascertaining the difficulties that our fishing population had with regard to them, and had I had the good fortune to remain much longer in the office he now adorns I would have taken every opportunity that lay within my power to put these harbours, in a number of instances, into a better state of repair.
§ Sir CHARLES WILSON:
I wish to point out how this House can rid itself of a gross inconsistency and do some 281 thing to support not merely the British fishing industry, but the British canning industry. I have listened to some speeches of a patriotic order, but when I come to try to make the actions of hon. Members fit I am totally at a loss to do so. I wish to refer to on of the smallest fish, technically known by the name of sardine, which is not a sardine at all. There is no such thing. What we know as the sardine is the common British sprat or, as the Norwegians would say, bristling. It does not matter what brand may be utilised or by what name they may be known, but it does matter to me that instead of supporting the British canning industry, the only one in the Kingdom, which is situated at Leeds—the rest of the towns and cities lack the necessary force to develop these things, but having developed them in Leeds and found work for hundreds of people I suggest to hon. Members that they should demand British canned fish, instead of which they are content to eat sprats which are caught abroad and canned abroad, notably in Norway, in France and in Portugal. Some of you may say, "Why not go to the Kitchen Committee" but I have my answer. I have already been, but they are a hard-hearted lot. I am going to attack the Kitchen Committee, and the House too. The Kitchen Committee take no notice of the fact that we are being supplied—a/I of you who have made these patriotic speeches—with foreign fish, when fish equally good, caught by our own fishermen and canned by our own people in Leeds, are not used in the Houses of Parliament. There is a celebrated and much advertised sauce known as H.P. I do not know whether it is good, bad or indifferent, but it is used in the Houses of Parliament and is known all over the world. If hon. Members will demand from the Kitchen Committee in the dining rooms of this House British canned fish, and the people who produce it and cure it can say, "As used in the House of Commons." it will be worth a fortune to them. You might as well talk to a stone wall as to the Kitchen Committee. I am not here to mince matters. I want to sell British fish.
What happens to these fish? They travel slowly round the coast, coming from the north-east of Scotland right down here and up again northwards at a very slow pace, and our fishing boats follow them 282 and capture them in millions. When they are dealt with from the fishing boats there is great revenue to the railway companies, because they have to be sent to the canning factory from the nearest port. When they arrive at the factory, they go through a certain process. I have seen the process and I will describe it. The fish are put into a splendid fountain of water and their scales taken off. Then they are put on long steel bars and their heads are shaved off by machinery. The next process is to place them in specially prepared tins, but before they are sealed up, the necessary olive oil or tomato mixture is dropped on to them. They are then sealed up and placed under high steam pressure. Nothing could be finer.
The process is absolutely perfect, yet here we are content to support French industries. I have great sympathy with France. I am a French Consular agent. I am not here to attack France, but I am here to speak for British industries. We also support Norway and Portugal. It is ridiculous. After hearing the speeches that have been made tonight, I suggest that we put our words into action and demand from the Kitchen Committee that they shall stock British canned fish, thereby making a very great contribution to the welfare of the fishing industry and the British canning industry.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY:
I will endeavour to put before hon. Members the position of the herring fishermen in Scotland as I have seen it during the last six months. I do not think it is necessary for me to emphasise their merits. Hon. Members will agree with me that there is no finer class of men in the Kingdom than the men who man the drifters which work round the coast of Scotland year in and year out. Before the War, these men managed to make ends meet. During the War the Admiralty took over practically the whole of the harbours around the north and the north-east coasts of Scotland for war purposes. Harbours were closed up and revenue ceased to come in. The drifters and the men passed into the naval service, the men becoming members of the Royal Naval Reserve. It is not necessary for me to say what great service they rendered during the War. If the Government want testimony to the services that these men rendered, they have only to ask for tributes from the 283 two commanders-in-chief of the Grand Fleet. The men rendered invaluable service at Scapa Flow and elsewhere.
After the War, the men returned to their boats, which were in a much further used condition, and endeavoured to make their living once more. By the end of 1923 their position was absolutely desperate. They should never have been allowed to get into that position, and it reflects no credit upon the Governments concerned that they were allowed to reach such a desperate position. The Labour Government last year made a loan to these fishermen, but that loan, as everybody knows, was no use for its purpose. It has not been taken advantage of, practically speaking. The terms were perfectly fantastic as far as the fishermen were concerned. During last year there did come a temporary revival in the fishing industry the extent of which had been greatly exaggerated. It was due primarily to a Russian and German demand. The German demand has fallen off and the Russian demand I believe to be a very uncertain factor. The fishermen disposed of the herrings to the curers. About October the demand suddenly ceased and the curers found themselves with a very large amount of stocks on hand. The position was so grave that the curers combined, in conjunction with curers on the opposite side of the North Sea, to dispose of their surplus stock at controlled prices. The stock has not yet been disposed of, and the fishermen face this season with the Russian demand completely uncertain, and a great deal of the surplus stock from last year still not disposed of by the curers. The position is a very precarious one indeed.
To-day nets cost £5 17s. each. The men are simply unable to pay that sum at present. This net business is really the crux of the problem. At any given moment in a storm the whole of the nets may he swept away, and they must replace them to carry on. They cannot pay £5 17s. for a fully rigged net. Whether the Secretary for Scotland can suggest any means of assisting them to buy new nets or not, I do not know, but I hope that he will give the matter his very earnest attention, because I believe that the fishing industry in this country is still in a very precarious condition. They have not all cleared their debts as 284 a result of last year's good fishing, and I believe that the cost of the nets is at the root of the whole problem, though coal and oil are also factors which have to be considered.
I cannot think that this country, with its great sea-going traditions, which is absolutely depending on the sea, can allow these men, who rendered such imperative and essential service in the War, to continue to live in this precarious position for very much longer. They were asked for their assistance in the most critical sphere of all, to protect the Grand Fleet on which we depended. Now, when they ask us for our assistance, I think that this very great powerful seafaring country ought to grant assistance in some form to these fishermen, who must not be allowed to die out. They are a small but absolutely essential and hardly set of men who have a place in our community.
I join with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in appealing to the Secretary for Scotland to help us in our struggle with the Treasury on. behalf of the harbour Boards of these harbours. The hon. Member has Wick, and I have Fraserburgh and Peterhead, which, as the Secretary for Scotland knows, are a more formidable proposition. But at any rate we are trying to get favourable terms from the Treasury. These harbours are struggling with a hopeless load of debt, which was incurred on behalf of the country during the War, and I would ask the Secretary for Scotland to help us, it he can, by using his influence to get good terms from the Treasury for these harbours, and also to endeavour to devise some scheme of assistance for the fishermen to enable them to buy nets. I am prepared to leave it to the Secretary for Scotland to work out the details of the scheme himself, but I would ask him to devise some scheme in order to assist them.
§ Mr. JAMES BROWN:
I should not have intervened had my part of the country been mentioned in this Debate. When I have finished my short speech, I think we shall have circumnavigated the whole of the island.
§ Mr. BROWN
I want hon. Members to remember that there is a part of our sea 285 board known as the Firth of Clyde and that it is no less in need of assistance than other parts of Scotland and of Eng land that have been mentioned. The last speaker reminded the House that he had one harbour to consider, and that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland had another. I want to remind House that I have five or six harbours, among them Ballantrae, Girvan, Maidens and Dunure. These places are important. and we need all the assistance that we can get to develop the fishing there. Our men, like other men, went to the War quite freely, and I am sure that every hon. Member recognises the fact that all fishermen, from Lands End to John o' Groats, whether from the East or from the West, did noble service dering the War, and are now worthy of all the recognition that we can give them. I want to put in a plea also for better carrying facilities for fish. It is a matter for wonder that one can live almost within sight of our fishing harbours and yet be unable to get fish at a reasonable price. If we had better and cheaper transport facilities the villages would be supplied with fish at more reasonable prices and in a condition fit for consumption. I would urge the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary for Scotland to do everything they can to help us and to insist that our Scottish harbours and fishermen are as well taken care of as are the fishermen in other places. Research has been mentioned. If either of the right hon. Gentlemen mentioned would make an investigation as to the kinds of nets that are used, he would be doing a useful service to the country. I believe that many immature fish are taken and destroyed, and that if some attention were given to the nets—not the production of nets, though that is necessary—so that these immature fish would not be taken, a very useful service would be performed. I ask the Secretary for Scotland to get all the assistance possible for the maintenance of harbours, for better facilities in the carrying of fish, and for research work.
§ Major PRICE
I intervene at this late hour because I represent the biggest. and the most important fishing harbour on the West Coast, namely, the harbour of Milford Haven. We have about 100 trawlers, and there is a population of 2,000 people dependent on the fishing 286 industry. I am exceedingly glad that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has to-day given us hope that within a reasonable time a research vessel will be devoted to the service on the West Coast, because up to the present hardly a single penny has been spent upon the deep sea fisheries, except in the way of preventive work against poaching, and that can hardly be called an assistance to them. One other matter that I would mention that relates to the limit within which our trawlers can fish off the Irish Coast. There was a regulation made which means in practice that in some places off the Irish Coast, although you are out of sight of land, you are within the limit within which fishing is prohibited. Many trawlers have been fined during their absence very heavily, and proceedings in the Irish Court have been taken against them, but process has not yet been issued in the English Courts to try to get the fines that have been levied. What we feel is that it is unfair that foreign vessels should go miles within the limit in which our own trawlers are allowed to go and that we should be put upon the same footing as the foreign trawlers that fish off the coast of Ireland surely that is a reasonable request.
There is only one other matter I should like to mention, that is regarding popularising the use of fish. Very little has been done by the Government to put before the people of this country the benefit to be. derived from a fish diet. We have by the Board of Education some means of educating people in regard to this. There are cooking classes and I think if the children were taught how best to cook fish, how best to buy fish and what sort of fish is the best to provide the cheapest meal with they would be doing something to enable a greater extension of our fish markets. If these two things are kept in mind, first of all the research necessary as to where we could get the best fish from and then the best way of using it, the Government would be doing some real good work for the benefit of the fishing industry. The only other matter is this. It is highly important that the railways should be pot back into the position of pro-War days when we could send fish for cash on delivery, because it, is a very great burden and a very great loss to the fishing industry at the present moment that they 287 should have to pay cash before they send fish off. These may seem minor matters, but they are of the greatest importance to this industry. Although it is not comparable in extent with the great industry of agriculture, yet it is under the guidance of the same Ministry, and I do think that the importance of the fishery question should not be lost sight of in that greater question of agriculture.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
As the representative of a fishing port which had the greatest reputation during the War, and especially in certain times of the War, I feel that to-night I should be lacking in my duty did not I say a word from the standpoint of the fishermen of Hartle-pools. During the bombardment they took a part which was not equalled by any other port in this country, and which added to the renown of their country as well as the magnificent bravery of fishermen as a class. In these later times those people who served their country sometimes are forgotten. So in this in stance there is not the clamour of the public that these folk, whose example of thrift and frugality is simply remarkable, there is the fact that they almost unaided are struggling first with competition, German and Dutch, which is neither equitable nor fair, and they believe and they accept the position that, although in their straitened circumstances there should be no taxation of food in respect to their own industry, they do ask this: that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Fisheries should see that in respect of dues, protective rights and regulations which are put upon the fishermen of the Hartlepools in respect of the products that:hey take into foreign ports, the same rules should obtain in respect of the foreigner coming into their ports. Something has been said on the matter of carriage, but no speaker to-night has informed the House that, not only is there an improper differentiation between the carriage paid system which obtains in Scotland and that which obtains in the Hartlepools, but that in some cases where carriage is called for on consignments delivered in London or elsewhere, even if part of the consignment is lost or stolen in transit, no rebate on the carriage is permitted to the sender. For example, if on the one hand 20 boxes of fish are sent 288 to London which would realise £20, and if the carriage paid thereon at the Hartle-pools is £2 13s. 4d., and, on the other hand, if only 17 boxes arrive and realise only £17 the same amount of carriage is required, namely, £2 13s. 4d., and no repayment is made. It is essential that there should be first some kind of protection in respect to foreign competition and there are many means of same. It need not be of a tariff type, although there are some of us who think that system helpful and useful but having regard to what the Prime Minister has said, and which we fully accept, we leave that method out of our considerations. Secondly, there is the question of carriage, and, thirdly, the question of harbour considerations? I have examined the report on the Port Facilities of Great Britain prepared by the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom, and I find they make special reference to the Hartlepools and suggest that if monies could be granted in connection with harbour works it would be helpful not only as regards general trading facilities but as regards the fishing industry in the matters of quay haulage and accommodation. I was interested to hear the comment of the Minister as to the improvement of sea fisheries in this country, but when I read his report I do not exactly follow how it reads helpfully as to the North Sea. I find he says among other things:The rapidity with which the average catch has fallen to below the pre-War standard is remarkable. If we except motor trawlers, of which before the War there were few, the average catch per day was actually less in 1923 than in 1913. This decline is the more serious since the North Sea remains the most Important of all the waters fished from British ports, and contributes 52 per cent. to the wet fish landed."That means to say that unless we are prepared to give serious and special attention to the North Sea, the food of the people will cost more than it does at present. I hope the Minister will assist us and especially the fishers in the North Sea in respect of our duty and in respect of our craft.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
" That this House views with grave concern the present state of the fishing industry of Great Britain, and that., in the interests of the Navy, the Merchant Service, and the food supply of this country. this industry should receive every possible assistance from the Government."