Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £45,076, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, including Expenses of Marine Superintendence, Loans to Herring Fishermen for the Purchase of Drift Nets, and Grants-in-Aid of Piers or Quays."—[Note: £22,800 has been voted on, account.]
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I desire to approach the question from no party standpoint. The position of the fishing industry in Scotland is a subject of deepest anxiety to all who are concerned in the welfare of Scotland, and especially of the countryside, and although I feel bound to criticise the inaction of the Government, and their failure to use the opportunities which they alone possess of bringing help and hope to the industry, I trust to receive in that criticism the support of hon. Members in all quarters of the House. Hon. Members opposite who have lately been freely criticising the Government will not grudge members of the Opposition a little indulgence in the same exercise. If we obtain substantial assurances from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the action which he is prepared to take to help the industry, we shall not dream of asking the Committee to divide, so anxious are we to keep this matter, if possible, above the spirit of party contention; but if, on the other hand, such assurances are lacking, we shall certainly divide the Committee, and we shall hope to receive support from all quarters of the House on this matter, which is of such vital importance to the 420 prosperity of Scotland and so inseparably connected with important considerations of national defence.
The fishing industry is a far larger element in the economic life of Scotland than is the same industry in any country of Europe, with the possible exception of Norway. It is one of the twin economic pillars of Scottish social and economic life. Even now, in the depths of depression, 26,000 fishermen are employed, besides 40,000 directly employed in the industry. In addition, a very large number, some thousands, of other workers are employed in ancillary trades, and many thousands are employed in the still wider range of industries to which the fishing industry gives employment. In its structure the industry should appeal to hon. Members opposite and to hon. Members on these benches, because it represents the purest form of individualism. The fishermen are a brave, loyal, devout, intelligent, energetic race of men whose influence, spread as it is in the course of their calling, roaming as they do all round the coast, is wholesome and far-reaching in the social life of Scotland; but one thing they lack and that is, scattered as they are in communities all round the coast, an effective organ of expression to voice their needs and give expression to their well-justified alarms and apprehensions. It will be our duty this afternoon to bring home to the Government, if we can, and to the public outside how parlous and perilous is the condition of the industry. There is no industry, not even excepting the coal industry, which has filled so many of our debates. Or agriculture, in a more parlous condition in Scotland at the present time than the fishing industry.
In the official Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland for 1926 they say that in recent Years the fishermen have had one continuous struggle against adversity. The industry is year after year visibly shrinking and shrivelling up before our eyes into a mere fraction of its pre-War importance and prosperity. I must use a number of figures and quotations from the Official Report of the Fishery Board to prove this contention, but they shall be short. I am not going to quote the speeches of hon. Members or to score any debating points, but the quotations which I intend to use are 421 essential to prove the case and to bring it home to the Government and public opinion. Before the War, in 1913, there were 38,000 fishermen employed in the industry. They have gone down year after year by scores and hundreds until in 1926 there were only 26,300. The crofter fishermen have also decreased. They are a very important element in rural life, but they have decreased from 7,300 in 1924 to 6,600 in 1926. The number of boats employed in the industry have gone down from 8,512 in 1913 to 6,551 to-day. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt say that that is, in part, due to the transference from sailing boats to motor boats and steam drifters. He will say that there are larger boats now and therefore fewer of them; but the motor boats and drifters in recent years show a decline. In 1923 they totalled 2,769, but they have fallen until now they only number 1,806. The same story can be told in regard to the number of boats being built. I have not the pre-War figures, but in 1923 the number was 68 and it has sunk to 49. These criteria show that the industry is steadily shrinking.
There is another very important point in regard to the prosperity of the industry, and that is the earnings of the men employed in it. There is at the present time no industry so sweated as the fishing industry, not sweated in the sense that they are being exploited by capitalists; they are not, they are on a thoroughly individual basis. There is no industry in which smaller weekly wages are being earned than in the fishing industry. Here are the facts, taken from the Fishery Board's Report of last year. For the eight weeks of the winter fishing the men who only had the labour share in the boats earned an average of £5 10s. each. I should explain that there are two hired hands on a boat, the fireman and the cook, and they are paid weekly wages. Their wages are paid out of the gross profits, so that this statement does not apply to them. The net profits are divided into three shares; one goes to the crew for labour, one to the nets, and one to the boats. In the old days large numbers of the crews had shares in the nets and a good many in the boats but far fewer have shares in the boats and nets to-day, because they cannot afford to keep up the nets. Because the industry is decaying, more and more fishermen are depending upon the labour share. The 422 vast majority of fishermen now depend upon the labour share, and for the eight weeks of the winter fishing they earned £5 10s. in all, or 14s. a week. For the summer fishing, which is the best, they obtained £25 per man in the eight weeks, which was less than £2 a week.
It is not very much for a perilous occupation like that of fishing. For the eight weeks of the autumn fishing their share was only £2, that is to say, less than 5s. a week, and the total, therefore, is from £32 to £33 for 28 weeks. That is for the herring fishing. They do a little white fishing when they are not engaged in the herring fishing, but that can hardly make a difference of £15 or £20 to their total income, and if you say they are getting £1 per week throughout the year, you are exaggerating. They are not getting that amount; they are getting much less. And, as I say, these figures are taken from the official Report of the Fishery Board. In view of this it is not surprising that we are told in the Report of the Fishery Board for 1925 that the numbers employed in the industry are decreasing, and that:It arises chiefly through the disinclination of many of the younger generation to step into the places vacated by older men through death or retirement.Is it not likely that there will be some disinclination to step into places where the wages earned amount to the total I have quoted? Take a further test as to the present position of the industry. Here, again, I do not intend to quote from speeches made by hon. Members, but from the official Reports, authorities which the Secretary of State himself must admit are unimpeachable. In the Fishery Board's Report for 1926 it is stated that:Owing to the depressed condition of the herring fishing industry the extent of drift nets has shown a continuous decline during post-War years, except in 1924 and 1925, when increases were made following the success of the herring fishing in the former year.That is after the very worst depression in 1923. Again, in the official Report of the Fishery Board, we find:The result of the last year's fishing was that although there were the usual variations of fortune as between individual vessels the earnings of the fleet were wholly absorbed by working expenses and the majority of the vessels returned to Scotland more or less deeply in debt. The net 423 result of the year's operation was to throw the herring communities of the Moray Firth and East Coast back to the position in which they found themselves in the dark days of 1923.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Yes, I will. It says:At the close of the year their financial resources were again practically exhausted and they were once more burdened with a load of debt from which only a series of successful seasons will extricate them.This is the Report of the Chief Inspector of Sea Fisheries for Scotland:A number have during the past few years incurred liabilities which only a succession of profitable seasons will enable them to liquidate. The stringency is most apparent at ports to which the exclusive employment of steam drifters in the past brought prosperity. It is to be hoped that these self-reliant and persevering men may soon be enabled to retrieve their position.One more quotation from the Fishery Board's Report for 1926:The year 1925 proved most disappointing after the good promise of 1924, and for the majority of the fishermen the year 1926 was much worse. As already stated, the fishermen most severely hit were the men serving on steam drifters who have gone in most whole-heartedly for herring fishing and given their energy and capital most freely to its development.It would be a shameful thing because an industry is not well organised to deny the same support which the Government gives to better organised and more politically influential industries throughout the country. The mining industry gets help, so also does agriculture, unintelligent, perhaps, and wasteful and inadequate, but the fishing industry alone, which is in a worse condition, is the one for which the Government refuses to do anything. Some help was given in 1920 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He gave a substantial measure of help at a time when the industry was on the verge of foundering; and without that help it would most inevitably have gone under. It was given rather hurriedly and, perhaps, in a costly way, and I am not suggesting that the same kind of help on the same lines should be given again. Still, it undoubtedly saved the industry at a desperate crisis in its history, and the names of my right 424 hon. Friend and Mr. Munro, now Lord Allness, who was then Secretary for Scotland, will long be remembered with gratitude by the fishermen of Scotland. Another measure of help was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) when he was Secretary for Scotland, but it was smaller in scope and amount and did not quite realise what was hoped from it.
I have shown the need for help, the value of this industry to Scotland, and the parlous condition in which it is at the present moment, now I want to make one or two constructive proposals by which the Government can assist the industry. The first thing which is absolutely vital to the herring fishing industry is to regain its lost markets. Its best market is Russia; there is no question about that. Of all the herrings exported—and these are figures I have taken from the statistics supplied by the Scottish Herrings Curers' Association—in 1913, 75 per cent. of the catch went to Russia and 25 per cent. to the remainder of Europe. In 1923–24 and 1925, taking the average of these three years and a much smaller catch, the percentage exported to Russia, including Finland and the Baltic States, was 46 per cent., while the rest of Europe received 54 per cent. These figures show the vital importance of the Russian market to the herring trade. Let me quote the view of the Chairman of the Fishery Board—and of all public Departments of which I have any knowledge at all the Fishery Board is almost unique in the high degree of confidence it has won for itself from the people engaged in the industry which it exists to help and protect. The Chairman of the Fishery Board, Commander Jones, in a speech which he delivered at a Rotary Luncheon in Edinburgh on the 25th of November last year said:The Scottish fishermen are passing through parlous times through no fault of their own, but due to the loss of markets abroad, especially old Russia.He went on to mention other things, and I am going to say other things as well, which can be done to help the industry, but it is well to note that the thing which he places first is that the industry must regain its lost markets abroad, "especially old Russia." Let me 425 quote the Report of the Fishery Board for 1925. They say:A revival of the Continental markets for these goods, and particularly that of Soviet Russia, is needed to place the Scottish herring fishery once more on a sound financial basis.Again, they say:Until the markets in Soviet Russia can absorb cured herrings freely there appears little prospect of the industry regaining its pre-War position.In face of those opinions of people who exist to study the interest of the industry, it is childish for hon. Members or for the Government to say that the question of the Russian market is not vital and urgent for this great industry. One hon. Member said in a public speech that "we must not recognise evil-doers who at present afflict the people of Russia." Arguments of that kind are absolutely childish in the crisis which the herring fishery industry has reached through the loss of its Russian market.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Will the hon. Baronet tell us whether he knows what the condition of the market is this year? I am informed that the market for herrings has almost entirely recovered this season.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I will answer the hon. Gentleman at once. The answer is that we must judge the market at the end of the year. The market in Germany and in other parts of Europe always takes the catch in the early part of the season. It is at the end of the season that the difficulty comes. It is then that we stand in need of the Russian market.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Can the hon. Baronet tell the Committee how, so far as this season has gone, it compares with the other post-War seasons? I am told that it is infinitely better than anything since the War.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is very much too early to say that that is the case. The winter fishing was almost an unprecedented failure. That is this year. The summer fishing, so far as it has gone, has been better. In some parts it has been a success, in Aberdeen a greater success, but further North it has been worse. On the whole it is very difficult to say. That refers to the catch of herrings. Now comes the question of selling those herrings.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
At the beginning of the season nobody can say that there is likely to be any improvement. It is at the end of the season, when stocks have accumulated, that you find a difficulty in getting rid of the herrings if the Russian market has not been buying. These statements and figures I have given are not my statements. I have given the Committee the opinion of the highest authorities, the curers themselves, and above all, the opinion of the Fishery Board and of the Chairman of that Board, whose speeches I have quoted. Therefore I say that the rupture with Russia has played a part, the full effects of which will not be felt until the end of the season. It would not be in order to discuss now the question whether the action taken by the Government in regard to Russia is justifiable or not, but I do say that there is now a need for a firm declaration of policy by the Government, for the throwing over of those people who talk about the impossibility of doing business with evil-doers and using language of that kind—throwing them over definitely, and saying that the Government intend to do the maximum amount of trade possible, provided there is no interference with us in our affairs, no sapping and under-mining of the fabric of our Constitution; that if that is clearly understood we are willing and anxious to trade, and that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, the Fishery Board and the Department of Overseas Trade, are willing and anxious to co-operate, so as to extend to the maximum the trade that can be done in herrings and other goods with the present Government of Russia. So much for the Russian market.
The next constructive suggestion I have to make to the right hon. Gentleman is the need of help for these fishermen to enable them to provide themselves with the nets and gear which are necessary. The position with regard to nets has been getting worse and worse for the last few years. In particular I would quote, in the first place, from a report of the Fishery Board for 1924. I was pressing the need for this on the Government of the day in 1923. I made a particular point of it. Again, when the Labour Government came in in 1924, I pressed 427 upon them the need of giving fishermen credit for replacing their lost and damaged gear. The Fishery Board Report for 1924 refers to "urgent and well-founded representations" being made to the Board for this purpose. I am very glad to quote that statement, because many people said at the time that it was merely a sort of stunt and was not required by the fishermen. That reference to "urgent and well-founded representations" shows that the matter was well-founded and urgent. If the representations I made were urgent and well-founded then, they must be urgent and well-founded now, because the Fishery Board Report for 1926 distinctly says that "the quantity of nets now held is about the same as in 1924." Therefore, the demand that we make for help in replacing lost or damaged gear is equally urgent and well-founded today. There is the further fact that if the fishermen are not able to replace their nets and gear they are thrown hack on only a limited share in the nett profits of the boat. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to tackle the question of the scandalously low wages—men earning £32 to £33 in the course of a year—this is one way to tackle it—to enable men to replace worn nets.
The right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) did tackle the question, and I wish to give him all credit for that. He produced a scheme for supplying nets. When he produced the scheme I felt sincerely grateful to him, but at the same time I felt bound to criticise the scheme, because it was inadequate and did not meet the case on account of the terms arranged. The terms were that the fisherman had to provide 50 per cent. in cash. He then got a loan of 50 per cent., on which he had to pay 5 per cent. interest, and he had to go on paying that 5 per cent. for three years, and then to repay the whole of the loan that had been advanced. Of course, the scheme was not a success; it could not be a success under those conditions. Further, it could not apply to the class which needed it most, the poorest fishermen, the men who had, probably, had a very bad fishing with heavy losses of gear at Yarmouth, where the water is shallow and the effect of the rough seas on the gear is much worse. Such men had heavy losses of gear. 428 When the present Secretary of State for Scotland took office, I appealed to him to improve this scheme. Instead of improving it he scrapped it. For that, I think he is to be condemned far more than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife. Therefore, I would appeal to the Secretary of State to reconsider it. He is told by his own officials, in the Fishery Board's Report, that the position now is as bad as it was then, and if the representations I made then were urgent and well-founded, they are urgent and well-founded now. Of course, they were not his officials when they said that. That was in 1924, but I have no doubt it was true, and if it was true then, it is true now, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to act upon this information, and to supply the much-needed credits.
The third constructive proposal I wish to make is that we want to reduce the heavy cost of running these drifters, the coal, oil and other things. It is referred to in one of the Fishery, Board's Reports. We want to get a smaller and more suitable vessel. This is where the Government could help. They could help the fishermen by experiments in vessels, by trying to find out which is the best kind of vessel. They could build one or two experimental craft, make inquiries from boat designers in this country and other countries to find out what kind of boat is likely to be the best for this purpose, and, having found that out, give the men credits, which they will pay back. They paid back the credits granted, on what were almost usurious terms, by the right hon. Member for West Fife, and they will repay the money you advance to give them that little help to change over to a better type from these expensive boats, which, according to the Fishery Board's Report of 1926, are wearing out rapidly, and are coming to an end of their life. Give them the necessary credit to enable them to transfer to modern, up-to-date and more suitable motor boats. That would reduce their overhead costs. That is the third suggestion.
I have a fourth suggestion to make, and it is that wireless receiving sets should be put on all these drifters, not to entertain the man in the long hours of the night, but to enable them—and this is another method of reducing costs—to 429 get news of where the shoals of herrings are to be found. As it is, they steam out into the ocean, and, if unlucky, they fail to find the shoals. They go steaming up and down the coast trying to find the best place to go, wasting valuable time and fuel, with a rather doubtful prospect of success. Very often, after steaming aimlessly about, they return to port, frequently 100 miles, to get information as to where shoals of herring are to be found. If they had wireless receiving sets, they would be saved all the cost of this useless steaming about. It would be an invaluable boon to these fishermen to be able to get the necessary information in this way. That is also referred to in a recent Fishery Board Report. It cannot be described as a fantastic fad which can be brushed aside, and it is a direction in which the Secretary of State could move.
May I make a fifth suggestion? Co-operation and better marketing would help these men. The Food Council, I know, is inquiring into prices of retail fish, and I hope the Secretary of State will give some help to establish co-operation among the fishermen. It is referred to in various Fishery Board Reports, but you must help these men to set up their organisation. Fishermen are not qualified by training or experience to run a co-operative organisation. It is a business question, and ordinary fishermen, who have spent their lives in the fishing industry, cannot be expected to run a co-operative society. It is difficult enough, in all conscience, in agriculture, but you are far more likely to find a farmer or smallholder, who have more business experience, able to do it than a fisherman. That is one of the reasons you cannot get it started. Fishermen know that it would be an advantage, but unless you give them real help and encouragement and advice from official quarters, you will not get this co-operative marketing on the way. A number of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, such as Lord Novar, were theoretically keen and sympathetic, and all that, but nothing has been really done to help the men to organise, and it is a direction in which the right hon. Gentleman could move.
I am not going to say a great deal to-day about trawling. Others, I know, will deal with that question, but I would like 430 to quote an answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave on the 28th July last year when he said he was "considering the possibility of introducing legislation next Session dealing with the question of trawling." That is what he told me last Session, but we have not had the promised legislation, and I should like to ask whether we are going to have it next Session? Then, I would also say that the reports of the Fishery Board show that we are now suffering from the renewed incursions of the foreign trawlers into the Moray Firth. I know there is a Committee sitting on that question now, but the Secretary of State, in some answers to questions, has given an indication that he thinks it is a lessening evil, whereas, if he refers to the Fishery Board's Report, he will find that, as a matter of fact, it is getting worse now than it was. In the 1925 Report they say:It will be seen that the number of foreign trawlers which resorted to the Moray Firth during the year and the number of occasions on which they were observed show increases on the corresponding figures for the previous few years.Therefore, I hope the Secretary of State will realise the importance of the subject. Another question is that of harbours. The small harbours are simply falling into decay. Larger harbours, places like Wick, Peterhead and Fraserburgh, which are absolutely vital to the successful conduct of the industry, and especially Wick, the premier herring fishing port on the mainland of Scotland, require extension to accommodate the fishing fleet adequately, but all the smaller harbours are in a state of complete disrepair. You can see from the carriage windows of the train as you go along, that they are falling to pieces. The pier at Helmsdale is leaning at the same sort of angle as the Tower of Pisa. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman can deal with all these harbours at once, and spend £10,000,000, but he could, and ought to, get a schedule of these harbours in order of importance, their proximity to the fishing grounds, and the number of the population dependent upon them, and gradually take them in due turn, instead of allowing them to decay more and more rapidly.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is a very important point. Some belong to private individuals, and some to small authorities. I am very much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and hope he will press upon the right hon. Gentleman to get powers to acquire some of these small harbours, which, at the present moment, people do not even know to whom they belong. They belong to people who have not the legal power, in some cases, to dispose of them. Then we are told by the Fishery Board that they cannot help these harbours, because they are in private ownership, that in some cases the owner cannot be found and in other cases he cannot hand them over. There is a real need for the right hon. Gentleman to acquire powers to take over the harbour in that case, so that it could be handed over to the local authority to maintain, if the Fishery Board would help with a grant to put it in repair.
I have shown how bad are the conditions of the fishing industry. I have shown some ways in which the Government can help. The Government are pledged to help. That is a point I wish to make absolutely clear. This is a letter which the Prime Minister wrote to a gentleman of the name of Mr. Wallace, who was, I think, a candidate in East Aberdeenshire at the Election in December, 1923:I realise fully the unfortunate position of the fishing industry on the East and North Coasts of Scotland. It is the Government's intention carefully to consider how assistance can best be given, as the key of our policy is at present abnormal unemployment in the country.The Prime Minister had the misfortune not to be returned to power at that particular Election, but he was a year later, and I am not aware that he has done anything for the fishing industry. What is the position of the industry at the present time compared with what it was when the Prime Minister wrote that letter? There were then 28,700 fishermen employed in the industry; there are now only 26,300. When the Prime Minister wrote the letter there were 7,300 crofter fishermen; now there are 6,500. When the Prime Minister wrote the letter there were over 7,000 boats employed in the industry, of which 2,770 were motor boats and steam drifters; now there are only 6,550, of which only 1,800 are steam drifters and motor boats. Then, again, there were 68 boats being built, and now 432 there are only 49 boats being built. By every criterion you can take, the position of the industry at the present time is worse than it was when the Prime Minister wrote that letter. I, therefore, ask the Government what are they going to do to fulfil that pledge? There is a great argument at the present time in the public Press about the standard of naval power in this country in relation to other great and friendly Powers. It all centres round the construction of 10,000-ton cruisers with 8-inch guns, involving the expenditure of millions of money; but these considerations, important as they are—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I want to point out that it is the rule of the House not to read newspapers in the House.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
—but these considerations, important as they are, are not the only considerations which affect British naval power. British naval power, from the days of Drake and the Armada, has been won largely as a triumph of the skill, courage and resource of British sailors, very often against great material odds, and the collapse, therefore, of the fishing industry would constitute a far greater peril to the national defence than the loss of a cruiser. Yet the Government stand helplessly by, while the industry languishes, and young men are forsaking our shores for far countries.The British Navy saved Europe, but the fishermen saved the British Navy,said Lord Jellicoe, and he ought to know.The sword and buckler of the Allied cause,said Lord Balfour at Washington, speaking of the British fishermen in the War and the anti-submarine work they did. A mere fraction of the cost of a cruiser would avail to preserve, repair and fortify that shield. Therefore those of us who are concerned for the soundness of our national and imperial defence will stand with those who are concerned for the economic and social welfare, and for the prosperity of Scotland, to demand that the Government shall disclose now what they are prepared to do to redeem the Prime Minister's pledge.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
The hon. and gallant Baronet, the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has left very little for any other Scottish Member to say on this question from the 433 fishermen's point of view. I represent the consumers' point of view and I believe this question of the fishing industry is just as important to my constituency in which there are no fishermen, as it is to the constituency represented by the hon. and gallant Baronet where there are many fishermen. I am not going to attempt to repeat what he said in a speech which seemed to cover the whole industry, and I wish to confine myself to one or two questions of a more general nature. In emphasising the points made by the last speaker in regard to the decay of the fishing industry I put this question as straight as I can to the Secretary of State for Scotland: Is it true to say that the number of fishermen engaged in the industry is decreasing by between 500 and 600 a year? The other question which I wish to address to the Secretary of State relates to the comparison between the figures for Scotland and the figures for England in regard to the amount and value of fish caught. It seems strange that while the value of the fish caught has been increasing in the case of England and Wales it has been decreasing in the case of Scotland. Can the Secretary of State give any satisfactory reason as to why that should be so?
I find that in 1923 the amount of fish landed in England and Wales was 11,514,148 cwts. and the value was £13,871,993. In 1924 the catch in England and Wales increased to 13,698,589 cwts., and the value to £15,151,737. Whilst the value has increased in England and Wales it has decreased in the case of Scotland. In 1923 the total catch in Scotland was 5,417,635 cwts., and the value was £3,512,778 and in 1924 the catch was 6,696,387 cwts., and the value £4,754,870. Those figures raise a very interesting point on which I hope we shall get some information from the representative of the Government. Further I desire to put a question with regard to the use of seine nets in inshore waters. On pages 9 and 10 of the Report reference is made to further consideration being given to this question. I have had the opportunity of speaking on another occasion about this very questionable practice and we are entitled to ask what has been the result of any reconsideration which has been given to the subject and what the Government intend 434 to do with regard to it. The hon. and gallant Baronet did not refer at great length to the question of trawling, but, however much experts may differ on this question, the fact remains that villages along the coast of Scotland are becoming grass-grown and the inshore fishermen are disappearing altogether. Those facts are in front of us and cannot be ignored. I have in my possession a letter from a fisherman in South Uist. I have never been there and I know nothing at all about it but evidently the fishermen who wrote this letter had a grievous complaint to make against trawlers who carry on illegal trawling in the waters around the South Uist. He writes:The fishing here has been spoiled by the trawlers, who fish where they please. The policing of the waters is most inadequate. We hardly ever see the fishery cruiser, and in any case she is too small, most of the trawlers being faster. The Minch ought to be closed to trawlers.I do not know whether that is the right view or not. I cannot say that it would be the best course to take in the circumstances but, whatever experts may argue as to that point, I believe that grievous damage has been done by the use of seine nets in inshore fishing. What decision has the Government taken in regard to it? From the standpoint of the consumer I would emphasise what has been said by the last speaker as to the necessity for some marketing arrangement. It is a serious question. We read in the agricultural report about an attempt at putting into practice co-operative methods in agriculture and the fishing industry is an industry where co-operative methods would, I believe, prove very successful. One thing is perfectly plain. This Report, which is the only evidence we have of the activities of the Board, deals with the value of the catch and the amount of the catch, but we have no knowledge as to the price which the consumer has to pay in the market for the fish. It would be well if we were able to get a comparative statement showing the difference between the price of the fish to the consumer and the price paid to the fishermen who catches the fish. That, I suppose, would be outside the scope of the Department of the Secretary of State, but I think such a statement could be compiled if the various Departments concerned agreed to do it. I do not know that I have much to add to the very complete 435 statement of the hon. Baronet, and I conclude with the hope that the Secretary of State will be able to reply to my questions.
§ Mr. STUART
The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) I understand has put forward various constructive proposals. I regret very sincerely that I was not present to hear the whole of his speech, but I did hear the latter part of it. He called upon the Secretary of State to take various steps to assist the fishing industry, but I am sure he will agree that one thing which no Government, not even a Liberal Government, can do is to bring about miracles such as we have read of, causing the fishermen's nets to burst with the weight of their catch. One of the chief problems affecting the fishing industry is that it depends to a great extent upon whether the season is good or bad, and no Government can bring about a good season for fishing. From what I heard of the hon. and gallant Baronet's speech, he appeared to be advocating a system of subsidies in a veiled form and later on a system not only of nationalisation but of confiscation. The reason why I use those terms is because when the hon. and gallant Baronet was referring to the harbours he said that the Secretary of State should acquire powers to take over those small harbours and he also appeared to be of the opinion that those harbours should become a national charge, having been taken over by the Secretary of State, whether the owners desired it or not, to be run by the Government for the benefit of the fishing industry.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I wish to put him right as to what I actually said. There are two points, one about confiscation and the other about making the harbours a national charge. On the first point I can assure the hon. Member that I did not advocate confiscation and he will find that the OFFICIAL REPORT will bear me out in that statement. I said there were some cases in which it is not known actually who is the owner of a particular harbour owing to complicated questions concerning mortgages and so forth. In the case of at least one of them—Helmsdale—it is not 436 actually known who is the owner, and the Fishery Board will not make an advance because it is not in public ownership. That was a case in which I suggested that the harbour should be taken over by the Government, but I never suggested that there should be confiscation.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Baronet seems to have made his point quite clear. He cannot now make a second speech.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. and gallant Baronet has successfully repudiated the charge of supporting confiscation, and he should leave the matter there.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
But there is the other point—that I said I wanted to make them a national charge. I want the present system maintained under which the Fishery Board advances money, provided the local authorities look after the maintenance and upkeep of the harbours.
§ Mr. STUART
I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Baronet is not an advocate of either nationalisation or confiscation. I should very much regret to think that he had leanings in that direction. I would only suggest to him, if he is anxious that the Government should take this action in regard to the harbours, that he should look through the accounts of the majority of these small harbours in recent years. He will find that in these days of economy to advance money to them would be a very doubtful course to pursue. There would not be much hope of recovering the money. There have been numerous cases in which I think the Treasury has been considerably out of pocket on account of advances of financial assistance to some of these harbours. As a matter of fact, so far as the bigger and more important harbours are concerned, the Treasury is giving assistance. In the case of Nairn Harbour at the present time a Bill has been passed, and the Development Commissioners have agreed to make a considerable grant towards re-building and re-conditioning the harbour. I think one might reasonably expect that harbours which have recently 437 been doing good business should be assisted. The hon. and gallant Baronet also suggested that wireless sets should be distributed by the Fishery Board.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
This is the third time the hon. Member has misrepresented what I said. He knows perfectly well I made no such suggestion. I said that credit might be given them to enable them to provide themselves with these wireless sets.
§ Mr. STUART
The only thing with regard to the question of credits is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the Secretary for Scotland in the Labour Government had introduced a scheme which, he said, he had to criticise because it was so inadequate. It was useless, he said. [HON. MEMBERS: No!"] Well, he complained that it was inadequate and also that the present Secretary of State had discontinued the scheme. It appears to me to be an entirely unnecessary policy to continue a scheme when he himself apparently considers it most Made-quite. It is a well-known fact that the scheme was inadequate, and I said at the time when it was introduced that I thought it was inadequate. The poor fishermen who most needed assistance were unable to make use of the scheme, because they could not possibly comply with the terms imposed upon them. I feel that there is no scheme which any Government can introduce which will bring back the fishing industry to that state of prosperity which we should like to see it enjoy. It depends upon trade, and it is an unfortunate fact that during the War the export trade in herrings fell off and that apparently herrings have to a great extent lost their popularity. I cannot say that I personally regard that as entirely remarkable, but it is a very sad fact that during the War, when the trade did fall off apparently, the popularity of the herring declined to a great extent, and it has not been recovered.
§ Mr. STUART
I hope very sincerely that it will be recovered, but, as a matter of fact, the fishing population must look as far as possible to bettering their trade, and I quite agree that the Department of Overseas Trade should do all in its power to assist in the marketing of these herrings abroad. I agree entirely with 438 the hon. and gallant Member on the subject of co-operation, but I will not say more on it, as I realise that, as in the case of agriculture, there is extreme difficulty in getting co-operation on sound lines and in getting people to take part in the schemes. I think the present Government cannot in any way be blamed for their failure to put the industry back into the position which it enjoyed before the War. I agree also with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is a tragedy for this country to see its fishing population decline. The great services which they have rendered to this country and their value to the country in times of danger are fully realised on this side of the House as well as in any other quarter. [Interruption.] I will only say that I would like to see this Government or any other Government introduce some plan or scheme or policy which would resuscitate the industry—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. STUART
I can only say in conclusion that I regret that I personally am unable to see what line the Government could take which would have the desired effect of restoring the industry to its pre-war prosperity.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) represented the views of the Government, but if the fishermen on the East coast of Scotland have to rely on help such as he is likely to afford them, they will try for a very long time. He said he regrets, as we all regret, to see the industry in a bad way, but what suggestions did he make to help it? Is that where the fishermen of the north-east coast of Scotland are to look for help and assistance? My hon. and gallant friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) covered the ground so amply—and there are many other hon. Members, I know, who wish to take part in this Debate—that I am going to avoid as far as I can going over what he has already said, but there are one or two points which I think it might be well to emphasise. The condition of the industry is admittedly bad. You have only to go to the Report of the Fishery Board for 439 Scotland to see that the condition of the industry is very, very bad indeed. There is one most remarkable paragraph which my hon. and gallant Friend omitted to quote, and I should like to call the attention of the Committee to it. It is on page 6, and is to the following effect:The entire community is at the moment living in an elaborate cycle of credit, in which the firms which undertake the reconditioning of drifters, the manufacturing firms who supply gear, and the wholesalers who supply the local retailers with food and other necessities of life are alike involved.That is a miserable condition, and that is the official Report of the state of the industry at the present time. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, they have been facing bad years, getting deeper into difficulties, and finding even deeper difficulties in recovering their position. We all know that last year—I am speaking particularly of the herring industry on the East coast of Scotland, because fortunately there was some very good business done by the herring fishing on the West coast of Scotland—the condition in which they are was undoubtedly rendered worse by the coal crisis, which increased the expenses of working the boats to such an extent that it practically did away with 90 per cent. of the profits which they might otherwise have made. We have to realise that, but I do not want too much emphasis to be placed on that consideration from the other side, because the condition of the industry has been not suddenly, but progressively reached. Last year the effects of the coal strike—
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
The hon. Member should have heard what the fishermen said about it. Their labour went very largely in vain in consequence of it, but the point I wanted to make was that the difficulties of the industry have been progressive over a series of years. The people engaged in it—the fishermen particularly—have been getting deeper into debt, they have not been able to meet their engagements, they have been 440 getting credit from the retailer, the retailer has been getting credit from the wholesaler, and, as the official Report says, there is a vicious cycle of debt in which almost the whole industry is involved at the present time. I should like to quote from a report for which I asked the other day from Lerwick, which I received only a few days ago, Lerwick being the premier fishing port on the East coast of Scotland. The report says:Generally speaking, 1927 shows the continuance of that stagnation in trade which has been our unfortunate experience for many years. … Whether one speaks to fish-curers, boat-owners, or fishermen, they all tell you the same doleful tale of carrying on because they cannot afford to shift out. … There are no new firms coming into the fish-curing trade, and the securing of good men to man the fishing boats becomes a more difficult problem every year.That, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, is one of the most serious parts of the whole problem.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
It was written on 16th July. As I was saying, that decrease in the numbers of men engaged in the trade is one of the most serious factors of the whole problem. My hon. and gallant Friend gave the figures showing how the fishing population in Scotland, those who are engaged in whole time fishing and those who are crofter fishermen, has been steadily decreasing year by year during the last 10 or 15 years. Do we want that to go on? Can we do anything to alter the present state of affairs? That is the reason why we are taking this Debate now, to ask the Government how they are going to face the present position, what their policy is, whether they are going to let things drift, or whether they have a policy to deal with this admittedly difficult position. To go back again to the Report, it says:One is accustomed almost at any time to find people who will tell you that their own particular line of business is not prospering, but the facts about the herring trade are so outstanding that there can be no doubt of the unhealthiness of the industry.Here is a quotation from a man who is a very important figure in the fishing business in that part of the country. He says:Experience since the War has been that where they had a crew as co-partners in the 441 boats, and consequently very careful with gear and economical in expenses, the boats, taking one year with another and the good with the bad, might balance accounts, but that for the employment of crews not holding shares, but remunerated on the half catch principle, the results were hopeless. This year so far the boats have not had paying results. It is a case of the fishermen who were already in the business carrying on, but it is impossible to get young men to take the place of the older men who are going out. The fleet lessens as the men available decrease in number. It seems to be the general opinion, and a well-founded opinion, that there are still lean years in front of the herring fishing industry, and that these will continue till the Russian markets are again taking herring or otherwise till the fishing fleet are very much further reduced, so that there will be such competition in remaining markets as will force up prices to give living wages do those engaged in the industry.My hon. and gallant Friend quoted the official opinion to show what importance that opinion attaches to the Russian market and I quote the opinion of people engaged in the industry to show what importance they attach to the Russian market. There are people in this House who cannot bear to hear the word "Russia," and who always think, when Russia is mentioned, that there is some occult propaganda about. I was rather amused to see in the "Aberdeen Press" the other day an interview with a trader in the herring trade, a Mr. Michie. The interview has an introduction as follows:For some time past the question of trade between this country and Russia has been used by political propagandists in the region of the Moray Firth in an effort to arouse hostility, on the part of the fishing population, against the present Government.Then the interview goes on to belittle the value of the Russian market. I can only say that what I may have to say about Russia has in no sense any connection whatever with political propaganda. All that I am concerned with is the sale of herrings. Seeing that that interview was devoted to belittling the value of the Russian market, I have been at some pains to go into the pre-War figures and the figures of the last three years with regard to the export of herrings from this country, and they show rather remarkable results. I give round figures, leaving out the hundreds. They are taken from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 2nd March, 1926 (columns 1269–70, Volume 192), in an answer given to a question put by myself. They show that the imports in pre-War 442 Russia of herrings, not only from Scotland but from Great Britain, were in 1911, 2,977,000 cwts.; in 1912, 3,310,000 cwts.; and in 1913, 3,566,000 cwts.—a large and increasing volume of imports. In the years 1923, 1924 and 1925, taking post-War Russia and the Baltic States, which were carved out of pre-War Russia, we get the following figures:—In 1923, 1,991,000 cwts., of which Russia took 13,000. In 1924 the figures jumped up to nearly 3,000,000 cwts.—2,918,000. Why? Because in that year Russia took 806,000 cwts. In 1925 the figures dropped to 1,629,000 cwts., Russia taking only 195,000. That is pretty clear evidence of the vast importance of the Russian markets for the sale of our herring. Further to prove that point, I will go to the general statistics of the Fishery Board published this year, which show that in 1925 Russia took 56,000 ewts.—that is, Scotch herring—and in 1926 they took none. The gentleman who was interviewed to whom I have already referred says that a matter of 50,000 barrels is neither here nor there, and would not make any great difference to the general trade, but I think it is of very great importance that we should sell every barrel we can, and 50,000 barrels is not a quantity to be despised. Russia would take a great deal more than 50,000 barrels if her markets were fully open, as they were before the War.
My hon. Friend referred to certain constructive suggestions for getting the industry out of its difficulties. Generally I agree with all that he has said. If we let the industry alone, what is going to happen? The fleet will diminish in numbers, the younger men will give up fishing and go abroad in greater numbers, the gear will get worse. If we let what is called "the full play of economic forces" have effect, the fleet will be smaller and the catch will be less, and although better prices will probably be obtained markets will not expand because there will be fewer fish to sell. Is that what we are looking forward to? I trust not. I want to see the industry reinstated, to see it on the up grade and finding fresh markets. If old markets are closed, cannot we find new markets? Is anything being done to find fresh markets—leaving Russia out of the question? What about Poland? I have information to the effect that an official 443 deputation from Poland are coming to this country shortly in order to buy herring. They say they are willing to take 1,000,000 barrels, but the great difficulty is that they have not ready money and want credit. Will the Government be prepared to lend credit to finance a deal on that scale? If Poland will import herring through the free city of Dantzig, no doubt a good many may go into Russia. I throw that out as a suggestion, and would like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say upon it. If any of these States, who have not too good credit, come along and say they want to buy our herring if we can arrange credit, will the Government be willing to make any arrangement to assist them?
An important factor in reinstating the herring fishery would be a reduction in the cost of running the boats. That is the great difficulty at the present time. An instructive chart, published on page 14 of the Report of the Fishery Board, shows how the cost of running boats has increased and how it takes away what might otherwise be a profit. They say in the Report:The present tendency of the catch would appear to be upwards, towards a recovery of the pre-War position; but the price unfortunately also shows a tendency towards the pre-War level at which, with the great increase in working costs, fishing would in the present circumstances be unremunerative.If anything can be done to keep down the increased cost of fishing, we shall be doing a good deal towards reinstating the industry in its old position. It has been suggested that the motor boat will take the place of the steam drifter as a more useful and a less costly vessel, hut we are not quite certain about that. Small motor boats fishing in the inshore waters have done pretty well, but whether larger motor boats which can undertake deep sea herring fishing will be a success we do not know. My hon. Friend suggested that some experiments in that direction should be made, or that some assistance should be given towards ascertaining how we can reduce the cost of catching fish, whether by the machinery employed or the type of boat or the means of propulsion. That is a matter which the Government might very well take into consideration.
444 I was speaking just now of new markets. Have the Empire Marketing Board been doing anything to assist the sale of herring? Has the Secretary of State for Scotland approached the Empire Marketing Board? Like many other hon. Members, I have seen some most attractive posters issued by the Marketing Board, representing in some cases a market town in the centre of England, and in other cases a fishing boat on the sea at night. They are very pretty pictures, but I do not know that they will help the sale of herring. What we want is a crusade to get those people to eat herring who do not eat it now. Some little time ago, with the aid of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade, I got herring included in the menu of the dining room of the House of Commons, but when I asked for herring a few nights ago I was told they were no longer supplied, because people did not ask for them. I said: "Of course, people do not ask for them, because you do not put them on the menu." There was a little chance to advertise herring. If you do not advertise your goods you cannot expect people to ask for them, and I do suggest there is a possibility of a crusade in favour of herring. Why should our Protectionist friends opposite eat French sardines when they can get Scotch herring? [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. Herring are excellent food, and they have what the medical profession call splendid dietetic qualities. Something ought to be done to advertise herring in our home markets.
The trade in kippers has rather got into difficulties lately because the way in which the kipper has been kippered has not been very satisfactory. New methods of kippering have been introduced which brown the kipper in a shorter space of time but do not cure it properly. The consequence is that people have had bad kippers to eat, and when you have had bad kippers to eat several times you get out of the habit of eating kippers. Steps ought to be taken to stop this improper system of curing kippers. We know that this improper cure is on the market and the Secretary of State ought to take such steps as he may be advised to take to get kippers back to their pre-war quality.
445 My hon. Friend spoke of the value of putting wireless receiving sets on herring-boats, so that they might be able to receive news of where the herring shoals were to be found. When I first heard of that suggestion I thought it an extremely valuable one, and I was particularly anxious to see how it would work. To my astonishment, I found a good deal of objection raised to it by some of the fishermen in my own constituency, on the ground that it was not only our own boats that had receiving sets but that the Dutch boats also have them, and that when our boats were in port the Dutch boats would get the news and scoop on the herring. I believe the Fishery Board for Scotland have had to take that question into serious consideration in connection with the problem of giving information of where the fish are to be found. Three or four years ago experiments were made in locating shoals by means of aeroplanes. They were not, I regret to say, as successful as it was hoped they might be, but I hope that on that account they will not be dropped altogether. Because experiments tried under certain conditions in one year are not successful, it does not necessarily follow that that should end the question for all time, and I hope that another effort may be made to see whether the shoals cannot be successfully located.
The question of trawlers is a burning one in my constituency. Beyond all question and without any doubt, trawlers have done an immense amount of damage to the in-shore fishing. They are very difficult to detect among the islands. Directly the fishery-cruiser comes up, that fact becomes known, and illegal trawlers are on the look out. I see the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) waiting to say a word on behalf of the trawlers. I have not one word to say against honest trawlers who do very good work, but I have not one good word to say for the man who covers up the number of his trawler and comes in at night and scoops up the fish on the in-shore ground, taking them away from the crofter fishermen who depend so very largely on the inshore grounds. Something has been done to improve the policing of those waters and to stop illegal trawling, but not enough, and I urge upon the Secretary of State that greater efforts should be made to stop illegal trawling. A Bill has 446 been on the stocks for some time which proposes to increase the penalties for the second and third and, I am sorry to say, sometimes the fifth and sixth offences by illegal trawlers. It was recommended by the McKenzie Commission and, as we have heard this afternoon, the Secretary of State has in his mind the possibility of introducing legislation to deal with the question of trawling. If before this Government come to an end the Secretary of State can introduce a satisfactory Bill to deal with that question, he will have done something which will be of great help to the in-shore fishermen. I have nothing to add now to what has already been said as to the plight of the industry. No argument can alter the facts. The industry is in a very serious condition and what we want to know is what are the Government going to do? It is not by the operation of the Merchandise Marks Act, it is not by safeguarding here and there that we are going to help the herring fishing industry. We want some serious considered policy in order to put that industry back into the condition it was in before the War.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
There will be general agreement that there is no more deserving body of men in Scotland than the Scottish fishermen. When we see by the official figures, and from other evidence, that the industry is in a very declining condition, and that the numbers of our fishermen are going down every year, I think it brings to our mind a very serious state of affairs. It is a pathetic sight to see the condition of affairs in some of our fishing villages, and it is not enough merely that we should perceive that the numbers of these men are going down. When we talk about so many subjects in this House on other occasions, it is only right that to-day we ought to give our very best attention to this problem and see whether there are not some things, perhaps small things in themselves, but which, in their cumulative effect, would do something to help that most deserving class.
The fishery figures prove that the numbers of our fishermen and of their boats are declining, but that is not the whole position. There is another side of the question which we ought to recognise if we want to see the whole picture. At the 447 very time when their numbers are declining, and when our fishermen are being driven out of the industry, we have an enormous import of fish, which are caught by German trawlers, being landed in the port of Aberdeen. We have these large German vessels fishing in distant waters, in the Icelandic and other waters, bringing fish into the Aberdeen market, and these catches are having a most detrimental effect upon the industry of our own men.
It would, of course, be quite out of order for me to make any reference now to the steps that might be taken to deal with that, but when we recognise that our harbours are, after all, something of a national asset, can we not see that there might be some source of revenue which would be most valuable in helping to maintain these necessary harbours? The hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) who commenced this discussion, touched upon a very vital point when he spoke about the harbours round our coast. I think it would be a step in the right direction if we took a national inventory of these harbours, so that we could know whose they are and whether those who possess them can afford to keep them up, so that thereby we might be able to do something to help many of them. I know many of the small harbours round the East Coast of Scotland which at the present time are practically falling into rack and ruin, and, if we are to permit that to go on, I think we shall be negligent of our national interests. All round where these little harbours are situated we have a virile, strong manhood, which has done much to build up our Scottish race, and to help towards the welfare of the country. If we are to quietly acquiesce in seeing those harbours still further broken up by the stormy seas, I think we will be failing to perform a national duty. The first step surely might be that we should have what we might call a survey or a national inventory of all our harbours, and after that is done, we would be better able to know how national help could be given to the owners of them to keep them up.
Our inshore fishermen are having, as the other men are, a very hard and precarious time of it. Round the coasts that I am associated with, we have the case of our inshore fishermen who use the seinenets. 448 I would ask that the men who use the seine net might be allowed to go into some of these inshore bays, and I am thinking particularly of St. Andrews Bay and similar places, so that they would be able to get a living from these waters. This may be a small point, but I do place it before the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland in order that, in that part of our coasts, there may be some help given to our fishermen. The fishermen round our Scottish coasts can render, as they have done in the past, much national service to us; they can do so if we look after their interests in a practical way. There is no use of us being actuated by merely theoretical views. We have to recognise the changed conditions which have come about, and, just as in other things, larger implements and weapons of all sorts have come into use, so I think, probably, it is inevitable that larger vessels will now have to be used by our fishermen. The bringing of fish to our harbours from distant waters is a new thing, and, therefore, it will be necessary for our men to provide themselves with larger vessels. That may be beyond their own means, and, therefore, I think we might consider—or the question might be examined—how far it would be in the national interest to allow the use of national credit to these men to get these larger implements for carrying on their industry. If we do that, we shall do something to keep alive this manly, virile race of men of whom we all ought to be so proud.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland can scarcely congratulate himself upon the Reports of the Scottish Fisheries Board. The survey that has been made to-day by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) is certainly a very gloomy picture of the condition of this section of our population. I think it is absolutely certain, in connection with this industry, that the Government have got to bear a certain amount of responsibility for its present state. As I was listening to the last speech, and also to the speech of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) I wondered if the policy of the Government towards the Scottish fishing 449 industry is due to the fact that the representatives of the fishermen in Moray anti Nairn can come to this House and make such a statement as he made here to-day. There was an attempt made by two previous speakers to try to explain that the Government should realise the critical position in which this industry is placed, and all that the representatives on the other side could say was that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland had said something that he had not said. Then the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn said he hoped that some plan would be found. If that is all that a representative of one of these fishing districts has to say on this matter to compel the Government to recognise its responsibility, I think there is very little hope for those districts and for the people concerned.
I know something about the fishing industry, because I have visited the fishing districts and have had conversations and conferences with the fishermen. We must realise that in these communities in Scotland we have a very virile population, and one to which our country owes a very great deal. One also realises, in going to these districts, the increasing sense of despair that is coming to the people. I am quite convinced that the fishing industry has never got over the policy of the Government in connection with Russia, in the days that succeeded the Armistice, when trade with Russia was cut off. I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has a very great responsibility for the condition of the Scottish fishing industry, because of the policy which his Government followed with regard to Russia. But if that is so, it is no reason why we should allow this industry to get into a worse and worse position. The present Government, in its attitude to Russia and the Russian market, is certainly going to repeat the error of the Coalition Government; it is going to make it more and more impossible for the fishermen to get out of their difficulties. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out that the whole industry is involved in a cycle of debt. It is in an impossible position, and it is certainly the case that it tended to fall into this condition when the policy of the exclusion of Russia from trade with this country was 450 decided upon by the British Government.
Since this industry has become loaded with debt very little has been done to try and relieve it of that burden in order to give it a chance of getting into a decent state again. To-day, I met a fisherman from Fraserburgh in the Lobby, and he is in the Strangers' Gallery at the present time. I had a talk with him about the position of the fishing industry in Fraserburgh, and he told me that they found it impossible to renew their nets and gear, which was necessary in order to allow them to make a decent living. The Government ought to do something to make it possible for these fishermen to obtain nets and general gear for their industry on terms-that would enable them to carry on. I know we had a scheme put forward by the Labour Government for the provision of nets, and some of us who supported the Government at that time tried to persuade the Scottish Secretary that the terms offered were not generous enough, and that is on record.
I want to say to the Secretary of State for Scotland that I hope, as a result of this Debate, he is going to see what can be done to make it possible for greater facilities to be given to the fishermen in order to give them some hope for the future. At the same time, I am conscious that so long as the policy of the Government with regard to Russia remains what it is, any amount of credit facilities will not be sufficient to tide these fishermen over the unfortunate circumstances in which they are placed at the present time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something to carry out the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland about finding an additional market with Poland. I also want to stress the possibility of something being done in connection with the Empire Marketing Board. It is true that Scotland has something to do with the Empire Marketing Board through the Browett Institute. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will also consider what can be done in the direction of making use of the Empire Marketing Board to help Scottish fishermen to find additional markets for their fish.
Another point I wish to draw attention to is in connection with our harbours. Much has been said about piers and harbours in this discussion, and the hon. 451 Member who initiated this Debate suggested that the Secretary of State for Scotland should take powers to do everything that was possible to develop the harbours and piers in Scotland. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn talked about confiscation and nationalisation and a lot of nonsense of that kind, but there is on record the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland had had a great deal of difficulty in connection with one pier about which he was bothered a great deal by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Livingstone). The hon. Member at that time was very doubtful about the right hon. Gentleman's promise, and I am sure that the whole of the Scottish Members in this House would welcome action on the part of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the direction of taking powers that would enable him to make the fullest use and development of the harbours and piers of Scotland. I wish to draw attention to a paragraph on page 51 of the Fishery Board Report, where it is stated that an attempt has been made to set up dredging facilities in connection with the fishery harbours. This is what it says:Notwithstanding the above concession, the serious financial position of the harbours has continued to prevent them from taking advantage of the scheme, and during the year the dredger has been laid up at Aberdeen with simply a watchman on board. There is ample scope for the employment of the vessel at Scottish fishery harbours, and it is unfortunate that money obstacles should render it impossible to carry out much needed dredging.That is the very damaging sentence about money obstacles standing in the way of this much-needed dredging taking place. The fishery towns in Scotland are in an almost hopeless condition, the fishermen are suffering, and the industry generally is in a wretched condition, not for lack of skill or industry on the part of the fishermen, but as a result of the policy of the Government of the country, and the failure of one Government after another to deal with the needs of this industry. You have a vessel provided in order to give dredging facilities, and yet the vessel is allowed to lie up with only a watchman on board. Consequently, the money invested in that vessel is being wasted. It is bad business on the part of the Government to spend money on a vessel of this kind and not use it.
452 I believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland has got a good case with which to go to the Cabinet and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and obtain more money for this purpose. After all, there is a certain amount of money which has not been spent, and which has been voted in the Estimates during the last two years in connection with agriculture and small holdings, and, if Scotland is losing the money which was not spent for those particular purposes, surely the right hon. Gentleman should be able to get that money in order that this dredger may be put to the use for which it was purchased. The decline of the Scottish fishing industry presents a very painful picture, and the right hon. Gentleman must take his share of responsibility. If there had been more clamour in the fishery district, and if the fishermen had broken the law, possibly something would have been done by the Scottish Office and notice would have been taken of the state of this industry. If Scotland had sent representatives to Parliament who had insisted in season and out of season in this House upon something being done in regard to this question, then I am confident that something would have been done to help the fishermen.
I appreciate very much what was said by the hon. Member who opened this discussion, but what I have heard since from hon. Members opposite does not make me very hopeful as to what may be done in the future. I believe that, if the influence of Scottish Members who support the Government was brought to bear on the Government, it would be far more effective than pressure exerted by the political opponents of the Government. I hope that as a result of this discussion the fishermen of Scotland will find that the Government will get down to this problem in a far more serious fashion than has been the case hitherto.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is with fear and trembling that I, as a Southerner, venture to intervene in a Scottish Debate. It is almost an unwritten part of the Constitution that no Southerner shall take any part in a Scottish Debate, and that has been very honourably observed in most of the Debates which I have heard in this House. Therefore, it is almost treason for a Member representing a Welsh constituency to intervene. I do so 453 only for reasons which I think are quite justifiable. My first reason is that the fishermen themselves have asked me to assist in the presentation of their case. I have had frequent communications with them, and I have gone into their case very closely. When I was in Scotland recently, they came to me as a deputation and put some very interesting facts and figures before me. I may say that I think this is a case which calls for the serious attention of the House of Commons and the Government.
The condition of these fishermen is indeed a very distressing one, and, as to my share of the responsibility, I will deal with that point later on. I went into the figures as to what these men were earning. I had some very elaborate figures given to me by the men working in the trade, showing what they had earned during the last four or five years. As one hon. Member has already stated, sometimes these men have a very fine catch, and they are able to market their fish, but at other times they do very badly. I will take a period covering the last four or five years, and I am dealing with some 20 or 30 fishing boats. These men are not capitalists, but fishermen interested in the boats, each having a share. I find that on an average for the period I have mentioned they have earned £47 a year. That is a very disgraceful wage to pay to men who devote, not merely an eight-hour day, but unlimited service, very often unlimited toil, and very often unlimited danger; and the fact that that body of men—a very fine body of men, a very deserving body of men, hardworking, industrious and frugal—who contributed a good deal to the saving of this country at a very critical juncture in its history, should only be earning £47 a year, does demand investigation on the part of the Government, and an effort on the part of the Government and of the House of Commons to come to their rescue.
Let us see what the position is in this industry. Their costs have gone up, since before the War, by 80 per cent. Undoubtedly, the receipts per barrel have been increased, but they are only receiving one-half of what they were earning before the War. What is the result? The young men are shunning this business; the old men are perforce 454 sticking to it. It is practically the same story as you have in agriculture. These are the two hardiest industries, which produce, on the whole, the finest specimens of manhood in this country. These are the two industries that are the most essential, in many respects, for the preservation of the virility of the race. Both of them are decaying, and the symptoms are the same. The old men cannot get away, and they stick to it, although they are only making about £47 a year, but the young men do not go into it at all—there is no recruiting.
What is the other thing that I have discovered? The average life of their boats is about 18½ years, and they are deteriorating from year to year. They have an interest in their boats, their nets and their gear, and they are just the kind of people who, I should have thought, would have been regarded in all quarters of the House as needing special encouragement. Their boats are deteriorating, and they cannot repair them, except to the extent which is absolutely essential. They cannot keep them quite up to the condition in which they ought to be; they have to restrict their expenditure, so that their boats are deteriorating all the more rapidly, and they have no prospect of replacing them. The nets and the gear, naturally, deteriorate even more rapidly, and some of them told me that they knew of cases where nets had to be sold to provide food, while many of them have had to sell their shares to capitalists. I use the word "capitalists," not as a term of reproach, but merely as describing people who have the money to buy their shares and to put into the concern, and no doubt they are doing it, not because they expect to get any profit out of it, but largely for reasons of compassion. A man comes along and says: "I really cannot buy food, and must sell even my nets." They gave me cases of that kind.
That is really a very serious matter. Here is an industry which every one who had anything to do with the conduct of the War knows was one of the most vital contributors to our success in that War. I find that before the War there were 90,000 engaged in the fishing industry, while in 1926 there were only 66,000. There has been a decrease of 24,000 in the number of fishermen. I say that that 455 is a very serious matter for this country, apart altogether from the question of the diminution of the numbers in an industry. I am not going to dwell upon the service which was rendered during that time; it is enough for me to quote the official History of the War on the subject, which says:If the fishing industry of the British Isles had not existed in a flourishing state"—I call special attention to that phrase—it would have been impossible to deal with the submarine menace.That is a very formidable statement to make. The existence of this industry in a flourishing state is essential to protect us against a peril which I hope will never be repeated, but I would not like to stand here and say that it never will be; and it is a very serious fact that, when we may have to meet again a similar condition of things, with more formidable submarines, that industry may not be there in a flourishing condition—indeed, may not be there at all. There were 25,000 of these men who volunteered. It is so important that I will continue to read from the official History of the War:The U-boats would have acted almost as they pleased. More food-carrying steamers would have been sunk, greater hardships would have had to be endured ashore, and the Armies would have lacked adequate supplies. Gales of wind, thick weather, dark nights, intricate pilotage, ship-salving on the high seas, ship-handling in narrow waters—these are the common experiences of fishermen, and keep alive that spirit which has meant, and will continue to mean, so much to an island people. The liner, the tramp, the trawler and the drifter are all parts of the nation's essential sea services.That is a very fine official tribute from the Report of the Admiralty.
One of these men said to me a very striking thing. After telling me how they were gradually disappearing, how the old men were sticking to it and the young men were not coming in, he said to me, "The men who swept the seas are being swept off the seas." I thought that that was a very striking sentence—and they are not a type of men who are in the least sentimental, but just hardy, virile people who have faced all kinds of dangers, not merely in their own trade, but the perils of the deep in their worst form during the War. I think they are 456 entitled to a good deal of consideration. If ever there was an unsheltered industry, here is one. The Government of which I was the head had to consider the condition of things, which was very hopeless for these people, as soon as they came back. There was a strong feeling of deep gratitude for what they had done, and at that time we voted £1,500,000 just to give them a re-start. I think that, if it had not been for that, the industry might have collapsed altogether. That, however, is exhausted. It enabled them to go on up to the present, but something must now be done to set them right.
I do not want to make an attack or criticism, but rather to make as helpful an appeal as I can to the right hon. Gentleman to consider their case. An hon. Friend of mine complained about the Germans, who were coming in and landing fish in Aberdeen. That is very unpleasant, but I did not see any desire on the part of the fishermen themselves to do what my hon. Friend suggested—I cannot discuss it now, and am only just mentioning the fact—namely, to put on a duty. The Germans are about our best customers at the present moment, and, if you put a duty on the fish landed by German trawlers in Aberdeen, you may have a duty on the very much larger quantity of fish which our fishermen are landing in Germany. They know that, and it is very much too risky an expedient to try. Therefore, no suggestion of that kind was made to me. The difficulty is largely a temporary one.
I cannot discuss the question on this Vote, and do not propose to do so, but I may be allowed to make one observation in reply to what was said by an hon. Gentleman above the Gangway, who attributed the failure of the Russian market to something which was done by my Government in 1919 and 1920. It is hardly necessary to mention the fact that that Government was the first Government in Europe, and, indeed, in the world, to open up trade with Russia in 1920. We set the example, and it was followed afterwards by 33 other Governments. The hon. Gentleman, naturally, did not think it necessary to state the whole of the facts, nor did he think it necessary to quote the fact that £1,500,000 had been given. Those are things which are not useful from his point of view, but I thought it necessary just to point 457 out these things, rather for the information of the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that the next time he makes that speech he will repeat most of these facts. There is no doubt at all that the difficulty is largely due to the failure of the Russian market, but the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for what has happened in regard to our trade with Russia. There are other Ministers, whose salaries are not being discussed now, and the right hon. Gentleman has no responsibility, except as one of 20 who were called in too late to consider that transaction. I see it suggested in the "Times" to-day that some of them have been in so many pickles that they are fit for export, like the herrings.
I wish that something could be done, within the very narrow limits of the possibilities after a breach with Russia, to encourage the Russian trade. Very nearly half—I think more than half—of the herrings we exported before the War were sold to Russia. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) reminds me that it was somewhere about 75 per cent. The Russian market was the great market for cured herrings. Since then, I believe, it has dropped to something like 30 or 40 per cent.; at any rate, there has been a very considerable drop. At the end of last year there was a special order for £100,000 worth from Russia, but that is a small fraction of what was formerly spent. In the old days they took, I think, 1,200,000 barrels, which, at £2 a barrel, would be very nearly £2,500,000. That is a very serious loss. It has been partly made up, I believe, by encouraging the consumption of herrings in Holland, in Germany, and in other parts of the world, and, perhaps, to a certain extent in this country. I was very glad to see the other day a statement by a doctor that there are more vitamines in a herring than in any other fish, and, as everyone is now hunting for vitamines, it is just possible that, if that fact were advertised, it might help the industry.
I hope it will be possible, somehow or other, to secure the Russian market. Who knows whether the herring may not bring peace between us? He has a better chance of doing so than the Home Secretary has. The right hon. Gentleman 458 might find some quiet and unobtrusive means of doing something in this direction, without informing his colleagues on the subject. The Home Secretary, I believe, has no jurisdiction in Aberdeen, I suppose because it is such a peaceful and righteous city. If the right hon. Gentleman can manage to open up some sort of fishy relations with Russia, he will render a very great service to that industry, because it is in a very bad state altogether. While we are waiting until Europe is educated to the dietetic value and the flavour of the herring, there are one or two things that could be done. I think more could be done in the way of credits. A very unhelpful speech was made from the other side of the House. It is no use saying, because my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) criticised some of the proposals of my right hon. Friend the late Secretary for Scotland, that that means that nothing more can be done. At any rate, my right hon. Friend made a start in that direction. That does not mean that you cannot go on developing. I have no doubt if he were Secretary of State for Scotland to-day he would propose something very much more powerful than that.
I was in the House at the time when Lord Balfour was Secretary for Ireland. It seems a long way off now. He took in hand the development of the fisheries on the West Coast of Ireland, because it was so essential there as a contribution to the livelihood of the people. He dealt deliberately, with the assent of the whole House of Commons, with harbours, with credits for boats, and with credits for nets. I agree that that was in the blessed 2¾ per cent. days, which have disappeared, but all the same the credits were very much more favourable than anything that he could borrow, and they were very helpful to an extraordinarily poor population. I think the line taken by him then on the West Coast of Ireland might very usefully be pursued by the Secretary for Scotland, and that more could be done in the way of granting credits, even at some expense of interest to the State. It is no use talking about 5 per cent. You have to help them to bridge over the gap. This fracture with Russia cannot remain. That is perfectly clear. It is too perilous. 459 I am prepared to treat it as temporary and, therefore, there are, it may be, a year or two or three years that you have to bridge over. During that time I certainly hope the Secretary for Scotland will be able to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give credits upon favourable terms for the equipment, for the gear, for the nets, for helping with the boats and also for facilitating markets. I do not know to what extent export credits and trading facilities are available for this purpose. I believe a good deal of business has been done under those two schemes in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) suggested that you might be able to establish a new business with Poland. If you could make an advance perhaps for a year, it might not be necessary in the second year. Would it not be possible to do something of that kind, to give liberal assistance for marketing purposes?
I do not think we are really justified in treating these people on stern usurious lines. I will go further and say we are not entitled to treat them on stern business principles. We owe so much to them. If the Admiralty report is right it is quite possible that we may owe to them the difference between victory and defeat. These people are not beggars. They are not the type of men who come cap in hand to the Government, or anyone else. They are the most independent people in the British Isles. They have been fighting hard. They have very largely built their own homes. I made some inquiries about that. They planted their own little homes, and bought their boats and gear, and so on, and it is not too much to ask that the Government should deal with them with a liberal hand. It is not a question of spoon-feeding them for a whole generation, or putting them on a sort of dole and subsidising their industry, although I know industries that were subsidised at £23,000,000. It is not a question of subsidising them from year to year and year to year, and you would not see the end of it. Then, of course, it might not be desirable. It would be better to face it. But, looking at the prospects, this industry will recover when the conditions are re-established. That is quite clear. If that be the case, I ask the Secretary 460 for Scotland to use the whole of his influence to bring pressure to bear upon the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in the main will have to determine the question, to deal liberally and generously with the industry to enable it to bridge over a chasm into which, otherwise, one of the most valuable, honourable and gallant industries of the country may fall.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
I think everyone will agree, and particularly those who are interested in the fishing industry, that it is fitting that this House of Commons should take under review the problem that faces that great industry. The right hon. Gentleman apologised for speaking in a Scottish Debate, but I think this House has never considered that the intervention of a Member from any part of the Kingdom would be anything but welcome when any helpful suggestion can be made. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the men engaged in this industry and the service they have rendered to their country, and repeated the tribute, well deserved and undisputed, paid at a time when those who wrote it were well able to judge of the value of that service. I feel that at least one thing is clear, that hon. Members in all parts of the House recognise the debt this country owes to these men and are honestly desirous of trying to find a solution of this problem.
The right hon. Gentleman said there was a great measure of similarity between the circumstances of this industry and of agriculture. I am in a measure in agreement with that, but is it not true that the real problem that is facing both these industries is that of finding a market for their produce at a price which will be decently remunerative to the producer? I claim no special credit for the interest which either this or other Governments have taken in this problem, but I am glad to note that the hon. Baronet who opened the Debate said the Fishery Board for Scotland was recognised by all those who are interested in our fisheries as being a body which was net only knowledgeable, but which had at heart the real interests of the industry. I think that is very true, and I think those who are the servants of the Fishery Board working at sea have done their utmost to carry out the 461 very arduous and difficult duties which have been imposed upon them for the protection of the rights of those who are engaged in this industry, and that they have performed their arduous duties, not in a vindictive spirit but with an earnest desire to see fair play amongst what are admittedly the competing interests in seeking for the products of the seas.
We cannot, I think, blink the fact that there are competing interests in the great fishing industry. On the one hand you have the inshore fisherman with his line, you have the other fishermen who goes slightly further afield and who, to-day, is breaking fresh ground by the use of the seine net, and on the other you have the trawler, and a great variety of trawlers, some small and less able to compete, others larger and more up-to-date. If I may touch a single note from the Scottish point of view, of course you have the competition of the English trawler coming into Scottish waters. As far as I know the duties, because they are, in a measure, police and supervisory duties, of the Scottish Board, have been rightly directed to keeping a fair and honest balance between this variety of interests.
Reference has been made to the problem of introducing further legislation with greater penalties for those who infringe the rules and regulations of the Board. I think it will be admitted that those who habitually break these rules, and particularly those who obscure their numbers deliberately and repeatedly, deserve the severest penalty. In regard to that problem, in consultation with the Board of Trade we have now reached an understanding that those who have been proved to have infringed the regulations will lose their master's certificate for a period. I trust that the steps which have been taken will be a warning to those who are habitual offenders. I think this is going to prove effective in dealing with that problem without, I trust, troubling this House with further legislation at this moment, but I do not disguise from the Committee or from the industry, that if and when it should be proved that these regulations and powers which we possess and are exercising are inadequate, then I should not hesitate to reconsider that problem. When I spoke of the competing interests between the 462 various fishing populations I was reminded that an hon. Member spoke of the seine net fishermen, and desired that they should be given greater freedom to pursue their avocation, as in the past, on the east coast of Scotland. As I indicated in the Report, we are very carefully considering that problem as a whole.
Experiments have been made in permitting seine nets to be used in certain areas where hitherto they have been prohibited. It is, perhaps, too early to express an opinion as to the results of that operation, but it is clear that many of these men who hitherto confined themselves to the ordinary inshore method of fishing are adopting the seine net, and that the seine net, operated by new methods, motor boats and trawlers, is becoming an engine of great destruction. If it is used in certain waters where the young fish are bred, undoubtedly it is going to be detrimental, not only to those who are in the immediate vicinity, but to the whole general population of this country. Therefore, I think it is right that the Fishery Board should investigate this problem most carefully, and should resist, even at the present time, the use of some of these engines in certain areas where undoubtedly young and immature fish shelter in large numbers.
We may claim—as I think we can claim—that we have helped, as far as our finances will permit, the reconstruction of some of the harbours which are, of course, essential to the industry. I would like to say with regard to this problem of the harbours, that just as it is clear that the seine net has come as a new engine of capture, so it is equally clear that, as this industry develops, new forms of ships and new methods of propulsion of great power and of greater range are bound to take the place of the older and smaller fishing craft. That, of course, entails an increase in harbour accommodation and with that comes a very largely increased burden upon an industry which is already struggling to keep its place. Sentiment, if it were to rule, might say to one that as you have round your coast many small fishing hamlets which through generations have been the birthplace and raising ground of those fishermen whose service is undisputed and whose value to the country is enormous it is essential to maintain every one of these little hamlets. I do 463 not prejudge this question, but I am bound to say that, in so far as I have been able to study this problem and consider the matter, it seems to me that the policy of a Board, or indeed of any Government, should be directed towards curtailing the smaller centres, as it is clear that with the larger boats you must have larger harbours. It is certain that mechanical means have made the power and range of these boats greater. It is equally certain that it would be more economic—and it may be the only possible way—to concentrate upon certain harbours in certain areas rather than to dissipate the whole of our resources. Those are problems which, no doubt, will become increasingly important, and while I am as anxious as any hon. Members in this Committee to obtain for the fishing industry such support as the Government may give, hon. Members must realise that the circumstances and the times in which we live do not permit of any Minister, however willing or anxious, to be able to go to the Treasury and to ask for an unlimited amount of money to be spent upon these undertakings.
If we turn to the problem of the replacement of our fishing fleet, that, I am bound to say, is a matter which is giving very great concern to all who are interested in this problem. It is quite clear that many of the existing fleet are old boats, that they are gradually serving out their useful time, and it happens, very unfortunately, that these boats are reaching the end of their career at a time when the industry is in a very difficult condition. I cannot here and now say what may be possible to help or to stimulate or assist that development, but what I will say is this, that I understand that already certain experiments are being made by those who are interested in building rather smaller craft with motor propulsion instead of steam.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I am afraid I cannot for the moment, but I think there is a considerable variety, and it is not limited to one particular size. At least, experiments are being made in that direction, and it is clear that if the motor boat of sea-going qualities, capable of traveling 464 for long distances, can be produced, undoubtedly your costs are going to be greatly cheapened, and that is essential. I believe that some of these boats, at any rate, are 50 foot keel measurements. Of course, in the past year that problem of cost has been enormously and cruelly brought home to the whole fishing industry. Everyone knows that the coal stoppage and the necessity of buying coal at very enhanced prices from abroad practically added something like £90 to £100 to the cost of every fishing boat. The result has been that those who are working in this industry have received, as the right hon. Gentleman says, very small returns for their Labours. If that has been true from that cause, it was true also because of the stormy character of the weather and certain other things, and these things are not blinked in the Report I have submitted to the House. It is not my desire to place before the Members of this Committee or the general public other than a true picture of the circumstances as we find them.
While one recognises the circumstances of which I am speaking, it brings one back entirely to the problem of what we can do to increase our markets and to get a price for the product of this industry. Reference has been made to the fact that in previous times something like 75 per cent. of the exported product of the herring industry was sold in Russia. That is perfectly true, but there has been nothing done in the policy either of this Government or of any other Government which has prevented Russia purchasing these herrings if she so desired. As far as my information goes—and I have made it my business to make inquiry—the truth is that the disorganisation of communications in Russia has had no small effect upon this problem. The population in Russia who took the herrings were the country population distributed over distant areas, and, as everybody knows, one of the great difficulties in Russia, even before the War, was this question of transport and the problem of taking the herrings from the ports into the country. During the past year the Russian Government bought herrings in this country. But what does one find? One finds that they bought herrings at a very modest price in this country, and retailed them in Russia at so prohibitive a price that it was impossible 465 to hope or to expect that the consumption of herrings in that country would be increased. That is not a side of this problem with which either this Government or anyone in my position can deal. As far as the policy of the Government is concerned, we are anxious to see the trade increased with Russia. We have never said anything to the contrary as far as I am aware. No responsible Minister either in this House or outside it has said anything to the contrary, and anything that we can do to stimulate and improve it we shall do.
Now what are we doing? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nothing!"] The hon. Member is not anxious to hear what we are doing. The fact is, that though we have lost a large part of the Russian market, we have succeeded in finding in a great measure in Germany, in Holland and elsewhere alternative markets. When we speak of this great fishing industry, let us remember that there are two distinct sides to it, at least so it seems to me. You have on the one side the fisherman who sails the seas and who makes the catch. He comes back to the ports, and he sells his catch at auction through the usual channels. That organization—strong as I understand it is—make it their business to visit the Continent and to explore every market and to develop, as far as they can, fresh outlets for their product. In addition to that, my Department has sent over to Europe during the last few years representatives to explore and to endeavour to assist those who are working in this industry. A considerable measure of success has attended those efforts.
Suggestions have been made to-day that systems of credit ought to be employed. I would like to see the ordinary channels of trade explored without our having recourse to that method.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Is the right hon. Gentleman's Department, or any official of his Department, doing anything to break down the ring which exists inside the country between the fish markets on the quay and the fish sellers in the cities, seeing that the exorbitant prices charged for fish are detrimental to the marketing of fish at home?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
No doubt, if the circumstances which the hon. Member indicates 466 become a real scandal—[HON. MEMBERS: "They are!"]—they will call for inquiry and attention. There is an inquiry dealing with the whole industry going on at the present time. The efforts of my Department have been directed towards opening up new channels of trade, and for the very reason which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) gave when he asked if anything could be done to help in regard to Poland. Poland has been visited. Some two years ago the representatives of my Department went over to that country, and since then the actual amount of this product that is being taken in Poland has materially increased. A representative of Poland is in this country at the present time, I understand, and it is to be hoped that from the conversations and arrangements an increased market will be procured. On the other hand, the Empire Marketing Board is not blind to the possibilities of dealing with this problem. It has, I understand, a committee dealing with the fish problems of the Empire which is sitting at the present time, dealing with any kind of channel through which they can advertise and improve the sale of fish.
It may seem that we are passing through a very difficult period in the fishing industry. It is certain that, the number employed in the industry has been reduced, but it has been reduced in some measure by the adoption of new methods and new means of capture, and that was inevitable. Whether it is possible by any means—I have listened in vain to hear from any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite any suggestion which appeared to me to be of real value—to bring back into the industry an increased number of men or not, I do not know. Subsidising, as it is a temporary problem, would be foolish. It might be that certain means of credit would be of utility, but I would observe in passing that when the credits were offered to the great fishing industry only something like £5,000 out of £50,000 was taken up. When hon. Members say to me that the terms offered were harsh, all I would say is that those who did take up those terms have been able to meet them, and in spite of the terms—
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
If the industry has sunk into a condition so low as that, surely it is an extraordinary state of affairs—
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
—and I do not think that any subsidy will meet that state of things. I think it would do rather an injury to try to spoon-feed in a matter of that kind. If the demand has been so great, surely we should have had many more applicants under the circumstances which existed under the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
If we look at the signs of the times, we know that on the West Coast of Scotland there have been phenomenal catches, and great successes in that area. Only one further word in regard to the help which we might give to the industry. I refer to scientific research and the knowledge which could be acquired by study of the movements of the fish in the various districts. Some hon. Members have suggested that wireless should be employed. I am aware that wireless has been installed on some of the larger fishing boats, particularly some of the larger foreign boats. It has been stated that because of the knowledge which they acquire by that method, they are able to scoop in certain shoals, to the disadvantage of those who do not have it. I do not know of any practical system by which it would be possible to give that information to those who are really concerned, and I am a little doubtful as to the real measure of profit which the installation of wireless may have. We are not neglectful of the necessity of installing wireless, and have done so on the fishery cruisers, but the installation of wireless and the keeping of a man who knows how to use it is not inexpensive, and it may add to the cost. I am not certain or satisfied that at the present time it would be of very material advantage.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is no proposal to have a transmitting set installed? 468 It is only proposed to have an ordinary one or two valve set which anybody, even I, can understand, and on which anyone can listen-in. When the right hon. Gentleman says that he is not sure about the value of wireless, will he tell us on whose advice he has formed that opinion, seeing that his official advisers have said in their Report that they are convinced of its value?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The complaints which have reached us have been on the part of some of the local fishermen in our waters, that the Dutchmen got the information. It is quite clear that if they have the wireless the information would go to the Dutchmen just as soon as it goes to them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Send it in some other language!"] It is suggested that the information should be given in some other language. While I express my doubt on this matter, I can assure the Committee that the question will be kept in view. I do think that scientific research, which I regret to say, owing to the shortage of coal and the troubled times through which we have been passing, has been somewhat impeded, will be of great value, and that the information which is being gathered by the Department will be of material advantage to the fishing industry.
I do not think that I have answered all the questions which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) put to me, but I have dealt with most of them. He mentioned the question of the Moray Firth. That is a matter which has been before a Committee of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and I understand a Report will shortly be in the hands of His Majesty's Government; it is not yet in my hands. What that Report will bring forward I do not know, but I trust that it may be helpful in that the subject has been explored by those who are acquainted not only with the situation as it affects the Moray Firth, but as it affects the fishing in other areas. I should be very glad at a later stage to answer any further questions which may be addressed to me.
Mr. WILLIAM ADAMSON
The Committee has had a very interesting statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland, although he did not deal with some of the problems which have been raised in debate. He admits, as we all 469 admit, that the fishing industry and the fishing population present under existing conditions a problem which demands the serious attention of every Member of this House. The fishing industry in Scotland is organised upon a special basis which has a peculiar value to the community, industrial and economical, the special feature being that a large part of the Scottish fishing vessels, with their gear and nets, are owned by the men who work them. This feature has been a means of enabling the industry to provide a living for a considerable population of hardy, thrifty people around our coasts. Since the War, this industry has been passing through troublous times. There has been a decline in the industry from one cause or another. Most speakers have attributed that decline to the loss of markets.
I listened with attention to the Secretary of State for Scotland on the question of markets. I agree that the loss of markets presents the biggest difficulty that our fishing population has to face to-day, and anything that can be done to cultivate the old markets and to extend into new markets would be of real value not only to the fishing population but to the country as a whole. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that he had been in communication with Poland and Germany. I did not notice that anything was said about America. There has been a market for certain brands of our herring in the United States which has been falling off, and it might be well to keep that in mind when special efforts are being made with a view to trying to find new markets for the fishing industry. The largest market, pre-War for our herring fishery was Russia, and those associated with me are strongly of opinion that the steps recently taken by the Government in breaking off trade relations with Russia will not stimulate the Russian market.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman here. His Majesty's Government broke off diplomatic relations, not trading relations.
I will take it at the value placed upon it by the Secretary of State. He says that the Government have not broken off trade relations; that diplomatic relations only have been broken off. It is not very much use to have trading relations with a nation with whom 470 you have broken off all diplomatic relations. During 1924 there were better prospects in the fishing industry of Scotland than at any period since the War. The last half of that year saw the fishing industry in a healthier state than it had been up till that time or has been since. I do not attribute that to any of the things which I, personally, attempted to do for the industry while I was Secretary for Scotland. I attribute those healthier conditions to the improved relations which existed between Russia and ourselves as the result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald) who was at that time Foreign Secretary as well as Prime Minister. I attribute the increased markets in Russia during that time to the closer relations which the Labour Government established with Russia, and I would advise the Secretary of State to use his influence with His Majesty's Government to get into as close relations as possible with all sections of our fellowmen. If we improve our relations with every other nation, we shall improve the atmosphere under which trade is done. If you break off diplomatic relations you do not improve the relations between the two countries, and you are taking the very step that is likely—
I did not think I was going very far beyond the rules of Order when I was dealing with the steps that are necessary, in my opinion, to improve the conditions of this particular industry and pointing out that if this great market which we had before the War is to be made available for the fishermen of Scotland it can only be done by improving the relations between ourselves and the Russian people. However, if you think that I am entrenching on a matter which should be discussed on the Foreign Office Vote, I will leave it at that. I have got in my point. Whatever may be the cause of the present condition of the fishing industry, there is no doubt that it is serious and demands the attention of everyone, and that whatever can be done towards improving it should be done. I have some idea of the difficulties of the Secretary of State in finding the wherewithal to assist this industry in a way which, I am sure, 471 most hon. Members would like. During the time I was Secretary for Scotland I tried my best to help the fishing industry. I provided £150,000, which was made available under certain conditions. It was a loan to the fishermen. Some of my own colleagues on these benches, and other hon. Members, thought the terms were rather too stiff. I, at least, thought I was providing £150,000 of new capital for the fishing industry, and if the terms were too stiff the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson)—
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. If he and his colleagues thought the terms were too stiff, they at any rate thanked me most effusively for having provided that new capital. It would have been one of the pleasures of my life if I could have provided it as a gift.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
May I point out the facts of the case? The right hon. Gentleman has made that statement several times. I am speaking for my colleagues from Scotland. We did thank him when he made the statement that a sum of £150,000 was to be allocated to the needs of the fishermen. We had not heard at that moment the conditions. We thought it was to be a gift, or grant, and when we suddenly realised that it was to be hemmed round by all sorts of conditions, which the poor fishermen could not meet, we altered our views.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) must not be on his feet unless the right hon. Gentleman gives way.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent what I said. I spoke on the occasion to which he refers. I did not effusively thank him; I did not fall on his neck and thank him. What I said was this:I would say about his scheme that any words such as 'an act of generosity' do 472 not apply to it. … My suggestion to the Secretary for Scotland is that if he confines his loan to 50 per cent. of the amount required, a great many of the poorest class of fishermen …. will be unable to avail themselves of the scheme.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1924; col. 1414, Vol. 174.]I criticised him at the time.
If I may now be allowed to continue what I was saying; the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty and the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair)—
The OFFICIAL REPORT will prove what I am about to say. I was saying that the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty thanked me effusively at the time. He now informs the Committee, by an intersection, that he did not know the conditions under which the loan was to be given. May I point out that during the Debate in which he thanked me I had stated specifically the terms of the loan before the thanks were tendered?
The only person who criticised the terms of the loan during the course of that Debate was the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). Not a single word of criticism came from hon. Members below the Gangway.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. and gallant Member has anything further to say, I have no doubt the Committee will be willing to hear it later.
I come now to the point raised by the hen and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland. He said that at the time he pointed out that if the loan was only granted to the extent of 50 per cent. of the cost, many of the fishermen would not be able to avail themselves of the offer. During that same Debate I stated in reply to the hon. and gallant Member that in many cases it would be 75 per cent. of the sum required which would be advanced from the amount allocated, and I made it quite clear to him that 75 per 473 cent. of the sum necessary would be provided by loan in certain cases. That is the statement I made in reply to the very point he raised. I should have been glad if I could have done it by way of a grant instead of a loan. Now as to the amount that has been taken up under that loan.
I will answer the hon. and gallant Member before I have finished. The amount taken up was £5,440, and, as the Secretary of State has already intimated, it has been repaid, showing that the people who took up the loan were able to repay it. That is part of the answer. The other part is this. I have already informed the Committee that during the latter part of 1924 there was a marked improvement in the industry and I believe that mainly accounted for the fact that so little of the loan was taken up. In addition to the provision I made by way of this loan, I made another offer during the very short time I occupied the office of Secretary for Scotland. During one of the discussions I was reminded by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) that I had intimated I would provide so much money to assist co-operation in agriculture to assist the agriculturists of Scotland in building up a system of co-operation that would enable them to get greater benefits from their industry than the system under which they have worked hitherto has provided. The hon. Member asked me during that discussion if anything of that kind could be done to help the fishermen. I then stated:I would like to remind him that the grants which were made to agriculture in the Estimates put forward last week were made for the purpose of furthering the principle of co-operation in agriculture. If those connected with the fishing industry are willing to take the same line, I believe they would be able to form themselves into co-operative societies for the purpose of disposing of their produce without the intervention of so many middlemen, who rob them of a considerable amount of the fruits of their labour. The fishing industry can get assistance from the Development Commission in order to help them through their difficulties.The fishing industry during that period got as much attention from me as any 474 other section of our people. Whatever I was able to do I was prepared to do. In addition to what I have stated, both with regard to the loan and the offer to provide money to extend the principle of co-operation among them, in consultation with my colleagues the Minister of Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had proposed that a sum of nearly £500,000 should be provided for repairing and extending harbours along the east coast of Scotland with a view of still further assisting an industry that we knew was in great difficulties. Those are some of the ways in which, during that time, we set ourselves to help the fishing industry. Whether it is a Tory Government or a Labour Government or a Liberal Government that is in office, we have reached the stage when certain of our main industries, including agriculture and fishing, are requiring to be stimulated and set on their feet. The Secretary of State has talked of the difficulty of finding the necessary money. I know it is difficult, for I have had some experience of the difficulty, and therefore I can sympathise with him. What I say to him and to the Committee is that if it is impossible for the responsible Government to find the money to stimulate and rebuild these particular industries, we are rapidly reaching the time when we shall not be able to earn money to do anything else. It will pay the Government to stimulate and improve these bedrock industries, because if these break down and become derelict, where is the money to be earned with which we are to run the nation? We are requiring to look at these problems from a different angle from that to which we have been accustomed. Notwithstanding the difficulty, it is possible to find the money that will enable us to stimulate these industries. If we were wise men we would face the difficulty and try to find the wherewithal to enable these vital industries to be set on their feet again.
There are other directions in which we can help and stimulate an industry of this kind. The Secretary of State for Scotland mentioned the difficulty of finding markets. There is inside our own country a considerable market which could be encouraged and 475 developed and be of the greatest assistance to our fishing population. But there are difficulties standing in the way. One difficulty is transport. If we take the fishing population along the north coast of Scotland and in the Islands of Scotland, we find that they have great difficulties in getting to our own home markets. If the system of transport were properly organised a lot would be done to develop home markets. Means whereby the harvest of the sea can be brought to the population in the industrial centres is of the greatest importance. If my right hon. Friend will examine that aspect of the matter closely he will find that a lot can be done under present conditions. The Islands and North of Scotland population is practically strangled for want of transport. Take the Islands of Lewis and Skye and the Islands represented by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton). They are practically strangled for want of means to bring their fish into centres where there is a market. On the western side of Scotland transport is in the hands of one firm, and those of us who know anything about the prices charged by that firm, MacBrayne, know the difficulties under which the fishing and the agricultural population labour. That is one of the problems to which whoever is responsible for administering Scottish affairs requires to apply his mind seriously.
I would appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland to try to get a system of co-operation established among the fishing population. I believe that so far as agriculture and fishing are concerned, one of the things that will help, without providing the subsidy that the hon. Member for North Newcastle (Sir N. Grattan-Doyle) was so concerned about, is the development of a system of co-operation. If there were a closer system of co-operation in disposing of the fish, as there is in providing the boat and the net and the gear, a larger amount of the money earned in the fishing industry would find its way into the pockets of the fishing population. It is because there is no system of co-operation that the fishermen are in the hands of the middlemen, who fleece not only the fishermen but as mercilessly fleece the consumers. I have already given an indication of what I 476 was doing during the few months I was responsible as Secretary for Scotland. I want to refer also to the senseless waste that takes place in the fishing industry. It is a waste for which the fishermen are not responsible. The people who are to blame for turning back into the sea large quantities of fish which would provde cheap food, are the middlemen who are engaged in marketing the fish. The reason why that waste takes place is that the middlemen want to restrict the supply and so to keep up prices. The various matters to which I have referred have become clamant. It behoves every one of us to do everything in our power to keep this worthy population, that has been of the greatest value to the people of this country, along our shores. By the means I have described we may bring about the redemption of an industry in which we are all interested.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Commander COCHRANE
In the early part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) gave an account of the work and worth of the fishing population, and with his statement I am in entire agreement. But the right hon. Gentleman also gave examples of the earnings of fishermen, and he mentioned £47 as the earnings of one man during a year. I do not wish to contradict that as a possibility. My only comment on the statement is to draw attention to the extreme danger of generalities in connection with the fishing industry. There is no other industry in which the difference between effort and reward is so large as in the fishing industry. That comment applies also to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Caithness (Major Sir A. Sinclair), who opened the Debate, with regard to the installation of wireless in the drifters. I do not wish to belittle the suggestion. There are circumstances in which it might be of advantage, but I would ask the Committee to consider the conditions in which the herring fishing is generally carried on. Take the fishing off Yarmouth. There, you have an area of about 40 square miles which is fished night after night by boats with nets as closely together as they can get. It is never known, and no one can possibly predict, which boats will get a good catch and which will have empty nets when they come home in the morning. The hon. 477 Member says, "Fit these boats with wireless, so that they may know where the shoals of fish are." If he is going to carry that out effectively, he will also have to find some method of marking the movements of the shoals of fish, and that is something which even the most experienced fishermen have always failed so far to do.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) said that as far as he was concerned the question of trade with Russia was not a political question, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs adhered to that to a truly remarkable extent. Certainly, in anything I may say with regard to Russia there will be no political complexion, because I have always held that this question of selling herrings to Russia should be reduced to its proper proportions as an economic problem. During the course of the Debate my hopes and fears in that respect have alternated. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) rather depressed me on that point. He said, "Bring about better diplomatic relations, and all will be well."
§ The CHAIRMAN
I intervened at that point to tell the right hon. Member that he could not pursue that subject on this Vote.
§ Commander COCHRANE
I apologise, but it was a situation which I was unable to envisage—hundreds and thousands of barrels of herrings lying, perhaps, at Peterhead, an improvement in relations, and the herrings are consumed by the Russians. That is the only point in which the fisherman takes an interest in reference to the sale of herrings to Russia—when the herring finally disappears down the throat of the consumer. Until that happens, no amount of export credit or bogus sales or transfer of herrings from this or that port to Russia can in any way benefit the fisherman. It is only when the stock has been removed off the market that there will be free buying when the new fishing harvest comes along.
Members who have addressed the Committee from the opposite side appear to have taken it for granted that the ultimate fate of every herring caught in Scotland is to be pickled. I admire the conservatism of hon. Members who have spoken from below the Gangway, but I would prefer to consider if there are not 478 other means of dealing with the herrings, and whether it is not possible to find other markets than that for pickled herrings. The figures of the latest Report of the Fishery Board give an interesting indication in that respect. In 1924, there were 52,000 cwts. of Scottish herrings treated by the process known as Klondykeing. In 1925, the figure had gone up to 280,000 cwts., and in 1926 to over 500,000 cwts. This process, as hon. Members may know, is one by which the herrings are exported fresh. It is a primitive process. The herrings are lying in the harbour, and an empty trawler or other small ship is cleared. With some ice and a seasoning of salt they are all dumped into the hold of the ship and taken across to Germany, where they are treated in many ways which make them far more palatable than the ordinary pickled herring.
In Scotland, a generation or two ago there was a considerable consumption of pickled herrings, but that has largely died out on account of the increased prosperity of the people. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may smile, but I am perfectly certain that, if they had to choose between a pickled herring and a beef steak, they would not choose the pickled herring. The point I wish to make is that the same tendency is taking place in Northern Europe. In Russia, we have the difficulty of the poverty of the people, and the inability to buy these pickled herrings. In other parts of Northern Europe, we have the phenomenon of the increased prosperity of the people as the beneficent result of the capitalist system which they enjoy. The import of meat has largely increased—there is no doubt about that—and, as a consequence, the demand for pickled herrings is being reduced.
I made reference just now to this increase in the Klondykeing of herrings. There is no doubt that a large quantity of those exported are treated in Germany in ways which make them very much more palatable than ordinary pickling, and I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether some research could not be conducted into this matter with a view to finding a more palatable way of preparing the herring. Certainly, there are great difficulties in marketing pickled herrings, owing to the conditions in Russia, though may we not, if we may feel a little optimistic, look to these difficulties as temporary? But this other 479 condition of the increased prosperity in Europe reducing the demand for pickled herring is, to my mind, a permanent and growing one, and I ask that every effort should be made, so far as large-scale research is concerned, to try and find if there are not other methods of preparing the herring which will make it more palatable. I know the difficulties. The trade will say that the herrings are landed at uncertain times, in many different ports widely apart, and in unknown quantities, that they have to deal with them quickly, and that so far they have only been able to discover pickling as a means by which that can be done. There have in Canada quite recently, however, been very great developments in the freezing of fish, and, by a combination of our knowledge in this country and the knowledge which they have developed in Canada, we might be able to find a solution of this difficult problem, because I do not believe prosperity can come to the herring trade until this question has been definitely and successfully tackled.
I would like to say a word or two on the other branch of the great fishing trade, namely, trawling, and that only in a very general way. Before the War there was a conflict of opinion amongst scientists and practical people as to whether trawling was injurious to the stock of fish, particularly in the North Sea. About that we are hardly concerned at the moment. The circumstances of the War enabled us to carry out what I may perhaps describe as a large-scale experiment. Trawling was very much restricted over a period of years, and, when it was resumed after the War, it was possible to judge what the effect of the partial cessation of trawling had been on the fish populations of the seas. The figures adduced as the result of investigation, and which are contained in the Annual Reports of the Ministry of Fisheries for England, are very striking. In the Report for 1925, which is the last one I have been able to get, attention is drawn to the extent to which small fish are forming a larger and larger percentage of the catch of our trawlers. Referring to the figures for different years, the Report says that those figures are, as a whole, fairly comparable and justify the Board in the deduction that the proportion of small fish was distinctly larger in 1925 than in 1924 and, except in the 480 case of haddocks, larger in both those years than in the other post-War years or in the pre-War years of 1906 to 1912. That refers particularly to cod, haddock, hake and plaice, which are the main standby of the trawlers.
I will only give a few other comparable figures. In the North Sea—and this is perhaps the best comparison that can be given to show the commercial results of trawling—for every hundred hours' fishing the catch averages 122 cwts.; in Iceland, during a hundred hours' fishing the catch averages over 1,000 cwts.; and in the Faroe Islands district it is somewhere about 400 cwts. These figures appear to me to show a tendency towards the depletion of stock in the North Sea, which should be seriously considered, and, if in addition to that tendency there are causes which are likely to increase the effect, I think the time has come when it should receive the serious attention of the Government.
I suggest two causes which are likely to increase the unfortunate depletion of stock in the North Sea. Undoubtedly, during the last few years there has been a great increase in the efficiency of methods of trawling. I do not wish to give a gratuitous advertisement to any particular type of trawl, but trawlers have been working in the past few years alternately using the old otter type of trawl with some of the new trawls, and there can be no doubt that the new trawls do catch fish over ground where the stock has been so depleted that the otter trawl would have been unable to take fish in paying quantities. As a result of that, the stock is being still further depleted. The other cause which I would refer to has not yet come into full value. It was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife in a direction which I did not quite appreciate, and that was in regard to the question of immature fish. As far as I could understand him, he said that it was the wicked middleman who prevented immature fish from being sold on the markets of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Perhaps I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and I will not press it. The point with regard to immature fish is that in the past there has been no effective demand for it and the catching has been mainly a matter of accident. But there has recently grown up an increasing trade in fish offal.
481 So far as this is confined to offal, it can be of nothing but the greatest advantage to the fishing industry, but I would suggest a word of warning as to the increasing demand for fish products, such as fish meal for the feeding of stock. I think there is no doubt that that will be largely increased when the Government's agricultural policy comes to be better understood and appreciated.
§ Commander COCHRANE
The policy contained in the White Paper, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman must have read. At present, this meal is largely exported to Germany, where it is used for feeding stock. I suggest to the Secretary of State, as a definite proposition, that fish-meal and fish by-products ought not to be acquired from edible fish. There are large quantities of fish in other parts of the Empire, particularly in tropical seas, which are not really edible. They can be eaten but are not pleasant to eat, and certainly would not be eaten in this country. The problem of maintaining our stock of edible fish in the North Sea and the waters surrounding this country is such a vital one that we ought not to allow any quantity of edible fish caught here to be used for conversion into feeding stuffs for cattle. These questions of the regulation of the taking of fish by trawl and the use of the product can only be settled by international agreement. For that reason, I ask my right hon. Friend to give the subject his careful attention. What is required now is an authoritative statement as to whether trawling does dangerously deplete the stock of fish in the sea or not. In the past, there has been a difference of opinion. In so far as I am competent to express a view, I believe the experience of the War has given evidence—which cannot be disputed—of the fact that human effort by way of trawling depletes the stock of fish. In view of the fact that to obtain an international agreement must take, on the most optimistic view, at least three or four years, I beg of my right hon. Friend to give this question his most serious attention.
§ Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
As one who is in touch with certain sections of the fishing community in Scotland, I wish to express disappointment at the speech 482 of the Secretary of State. The fishing communities in Scotland will not get much comfort from reading that speech to-morrow morning. We all know the dreadful state of the industry and of the smaller villages round the North-east Coast of Scotland. Those villages have been almost depopulated owing to economic conditions, and the fishermen now are unable to make a living. Surely the last thing the Secretary of State would wish to see is the population of those villages following in the wake of the crofters who have disappeared from so many parts of the Highlands. The Government ought to do something towards providing new gear and new boats for these people and helping them with capital to carry through a very depressed period. In conversation with the leaders of these men, in the villages along the coast of my constituency, I have learned of the great difficulties which they are experiencing. I ask the Secretary of State to do something towards removing certain restrictions which apply to fishing at present. At such a time as this, every restriction or obstruction which interferes with the fisherman in earning his livelihood ought to be removed if possible.
Concerning inshore fishermen, I would point out the case of the area of water called St. Andrew's Bay. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for East Fife (Commander Cochrane) knows something about it. This is a wide area of water very suitable for the catching of plaice, and during the autumn fishing a number of the fishermen along that coast from Arbroath northwards go into that bay in order to catch those fish. In 1921, certain regulations were issued by the Fishery Board to the effect that boats larger than 40 feet should not fish in those waters. No notice was taken by the inspectors of these regulations up to 1926, when certain complaints were made from the constituents of my hon. and gallant Friend; and suddenly the inspectors came along and prohibited boats of 43 feet or 44 feet from fishing in those waters. The fishermen had put money into these boats owing to the fact that the regulations were not enforced from 1921 to 1926. The inspectors knew that these boats were fishing, and suddenly they were prohibited from fishing. Surely, in the present state of the industry, especially 483 in regard to inshore fishermen, there should be some amelioration of these regulations. The Secretary of State ought to be able to do something to help this very hard-pressed and hard-working section of the population. The argument has been used, I think wrongly, that the use of the larger boats depletes the stock of plaice in the bay. The actual data of the catches made disprove that theory. There are more plaice in the bay to-day than there have been for some years, and the number of catches reported by these fishers, who have very good data in this respect, shows that there is no depletion and that the larger boats have in no way destroyed the growth of the fish.
It is very sad to see, as I saw in one of those harbours only the other day, a beautiful 44-feet boat being cut, and a regular stern post being put into the bow, so that one wondered what kind of craft she was, in order that she might come inside the 40-feet regulation laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. It was a pity to see the beautiful lines of that boat mutilated in order that she might be able to go into the bay and fish. Anyone knows that each of these fishing boats can only use one net, whether she is a 40-feet boat or a 45-feet boat. Further, in the rough seas which are experienced in that bay, especially in the outlying parts, it is necessary for the safety of the men to have stronger and stouter boats. The whole tendency of this industry, like other industries, is to get better equipment, thereby cutting down overhead costs, and I would beg of the right hon. Gentleman to consider the matter carefully. If there be a doubt, let him give these people the benefit of the doubt, and let them have something to go on with in these very hard times.
There is one last point I wish to make. If there is to be any reconstruction of the Fishery Board, I would ask him to see that a representative of the inshore fishermen is included. There are many leading men among the inshore fishermen who would be suitable and people who represent other fishery interests may not be able to put exactly the point of view of the smaller men from the villages on the north-east coast. With every hope that the Secretary of State will see fit to help this 484 deserving class, I conclude by saying that the concession for which we ask would enable them to tide over a period of exceptional severity.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I, too, must apologise, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for intervening in a Debate which is supposed to be purely Scottish. The right hon. Gentleman at any rate had a perfect right to intervene in this Debate. We know the great efficiency of the Scottish Fishery Board, but I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman is aware of that that the chairman of that Board is a Welshman. I wish to mke a few remarks on this subject which may be helpful to the Committee. I have a great admiration for the Scottish fishermen. I have known many of them for many years. I know a great deal of the work which they did during the War along with our English fishermen, in minesweeping and so forth and those who are interested in the trawling industry realise the great value of these men when they leave their small boats and come as fishermen in the big trawlers. We find that they are the best men for that purpose, and I feel it would be a great matter if something could be done to assist them over a difficult time. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on his statement. As a practical man who knows something about the industry, I say it was a clear, straightforward statement of the position. The right hon. Gentleman told of the difficulties which confront the industry and dealt with the subject very well indeed. At the same time, I also offer a word of congratulation to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) who held the position of Secretary for Scotland under the Labour Government. He did all that was possible to help the industry. In some ways I think he was mistaken in his policy, but his was an earnest and honest attempt to help the industry over a great difficulty.
The question of the Russian market has been mentioned time and again in this Debate. I know something of the position in that respect and the figures of imports of herrings from Scotland and from other parts of the United Kingdom into Russia for the last few years are astounding. They are astounding in this 485 respect, that they fluctuate enormously. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) gave us figures of the total imports into Russia in pre-War days, but he carefully pointed out that we are now dealing with a different territory altogether. Territory which was reckoned as Russian territory before the War no longer belongs to that country, and it is very difficult to compare pre-War figures with post-War figures in that respect.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
My point is that this question of the Russian market is not what some hon. Members think it is, and that in comparing the figures you have to take Russia as she is to-day and Russia as she was before the War. I admit that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland gave us the two figures. According to the official reports in 1924, which cover the period when the Labour Government were in office, 806,841 cwts. were imported into Russia. Why had they such a large import in that year? In the previous year they imported only some 13,545 cwts. There is only one reason. The Russian Government undoubtedly wanted to create a very favourable impression in this country so that the Trade Agreement which they were angling after might be completed, and they made a huge purchase in that year for that purpose. When they got the herring into Russia, the prices which they put on, for sale to their own people, were so prohibitive that quantities were left on their hands and there was no demand for herrings in the following year.
Then we have a remarkable figure for 1926, and I call attention to this figure because we shall no doubt hear that the present Government in severing certain relationships did injury to the trade. In 1926 when they had a trading agreement and could do anything they liked as regards buying they only took from us 11,750 cwts. of herring. That was simply because they wanted to get the herrings at the very lowest possible price, and they held back from buying during that period. Being in a position to create what is, to all intents and purposes, a ring in buying, they could command the 486 market, and they came immediately into the market and took, not from the Scottish but from the East Anglian boats, in the first three months of this year, 63,300 cwts. at a very low price indeed, buying at this low price after the market had been spoiled by their remaining outside during that period. If hon. Members imagine that they will help this industry to any large extent by anything the Government can do as regards further agreements with Russia, I can assure them they are very much mistaken. The position will right itself in time, because the Russian people must have this fish, which is a staple article of food for them, and the less interference there is on the part of Governments in this matter, the better will be the chance which the industry will have to recover itself.
There is another great difficulty facing these in-shore fishermen—leaving the herring fishery alone for the moment—and that is the fact that steam trawling and the motor-driven seine-net boats have come to stay. It is really machine fishing as against hand fishing, and just as in other industries the machine-made article is driving out, slowly but surely, the hand-made article, so it is with the fishing industry, and we must face that position. At this very moment, according to the figures of the Department, 80 per cent. of the fish caught and exported is caught by steam trawlers. We must face the position as we find it. I think it would be a great pity indeed if this very fine type of man were driven out of the industry altogether, and anything that can be done to assist him should be done. I want to point out that at the moment there is a great advertising scheme being considered by the fishing industry, and I would like the Government, through the Empire Marketing Board, to assist in this matter. A scheme has been brought out by an eminent Scottish trawler owner, Sir John Irvine, which is a very fine scheme indeed, and they are asking the trade to subscribe a matter of £50,000 towards it.
When the Empire Marketing Board scheme was brought before this House, in answer to questions put by myself and other hon. Members, we were told that there was going to be a fair allocation to help advertise the fishing industry, and the Scottish industry would, of course, get the benefit along with the 487 rest, but so far I have seen very little that has been done in that direction, and I hope we shall see some help given in the near future to the industry in that way. As regards the question of the industry receiving some benefit from a Government scheme, I want to point out that, in my opinion, it is up to the industry itself to bring forward a reasonable, sound scheme and to put it to the Government, and if the Government will not accept it, the industry will then have some reason to complain. This is a very intricate and difficult industry to understand from the outside, and I say that if a reasonable scheme could be brought forward by the industry itself, it ought to receive some assistance from the Government.
What has been the fate of former attempts to help the Scottish, and incidentally the English, fishermen, but principally the Scottish fishermen? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs told us this afternoon of his own scheme, and there is no doubt that a real, square attempt was made to help, but when it was attempted to be carried out in practice, it was an awful muddle. A sum of £1,250,000 was allocated for this particular job, and what happened? Official purchases of boats were made at high prices, and men were placed in them who could not hope to make them pay under the conditions. Like everything else that is managed by a State Department, when it comes to trade and industry, it was not a success, and I hope we shall never again see an attempt made to do anything of the sort. There is one way which I could suggest whereby the Scottish drifter owners, or at any rate the Scottish trawler owners, and the English drifter and trawler owners could be helped by the Government, without it being anything in the way of a subsidy or protection against foreign fish.
It has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that the work done by these men and by their boats in mine-sweeping during the War was of great value, and he told us that the position for the future was rather doubtful, inasmuch as many of the boats were getting old, obsolete, out-of-date, and would not be available if required again. The suggestion that I would make would be this: Why should not the 488 Admiralty, instead of building elaborate mine-sweeping boats of their own, specify that if these boats came up to the standard required by them for the particular work of mine-sweeping, they should receive a small subsidy per annum to help maintain them in that position? If a reasonable subsidy was given, it would enable the owners of these boats to keep them absolutely up-to-date in the way of renewals and repairs, and they would be available for the use of the Admiralty at any time if required, and, in my opinion, it would help considerably both the men who are trying to keep their boats in an efficient state for fishing, and the Admiralty, if necessary.
Mention has been made of the trouble caused by illegal trawling, and we had an illuminating speech by the hon. Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) on the difficulties that confront any Minister who is trying to deal with this question. He told us that some of his own Scottish boat owners were complaining because the constituents of another hon. and gallant Member had complained about them going into St. Andrew's Bay to fish. You have a very difficult question to face when you take up this question of illegal trawling. You have a great stretch of water, known as the Moray Firth, which has been marked off as not for English or Scottish fishermen, but the foreigner can come in, because the biggest portion of it is outside the three-miles limit. That is a question which has given rise to criticism on the part of the Scottish and English trawler owners for some years, and we know the difficulties of the position, but there it is—a large stretch of water, well outside the three-miles limit, and it is declared to be illegal to fish in it. Can hon. Members wonder that men sometimes get over the line inadvertently? I say that in dealing with any legislation on this matter, whoever undertakes the task will have to be very careful indeed, because it is possible otherwise that he may do far more harm to the fishing industry as a whole than he would do good, by making these penalties so prohibitive that men would fear to go anywhere near the water.
The existing legislation, in my opinion, is adequate to deal with any offence. It provides for a penalty of £100, or 60 days' imprisonment and forfeiture of the nets, 489 and if you were to double that penalty, I doubt whether it would make very much difference. I am not here to defend the type of man who is a persistent poacher. I believe he ought to be wiped off the face of the sea. He is no pride either to our trawler fleets or to the country in which he lives, but there are so many cases where men inadvertently get inside the line, and are therefore liable to be prosecuted and fined, which does happen, that you want to be very careful in any legislation that you may bring about. The suggestion was made this afternoon—and I was astounded to hear it—by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that he was at present consulting with the Board of Trade about the question of the cancellation of certificates. I hope that nothing will be done in that matter until this House has been consulted and given a fair opportunity to deal with it, because there is another side to the question than the one that has been placed before the right hon. Gentleman. A certificate is granted to a man by the Board of Trade for competency, for passing certain examinations, and if inadvertently, or even guiltily, he goes within these limits, I doubt whether it is a reasonable suggestion to make that he should be deprived of the certificate whereby he earns his living. If a man goes to prison for burgling a house, at any rate you do not say to him, when he comes out, "You shall not earn your living," but that is what it would amount to if this certificate were forfeited. I hope that, before any decision is reached on that matter, this House will be given some opportunity of dealing with the question.
I think this discussion has served a very useful purpose indeed, because there is no doubt that the fishing industry is passing through a very critical period of its history. Not merely the herring fishermen and the small in-shore fishermen, but, believe me, the larger trawlers are having a very difficult time indeed to get along at all. Many of the share fishermen that are going to sea in those trawlers from Aberdeen and Grimsby- and other ports along the coast are finding it very difficult indeed to earn a living at all, and, in fact, many of them are in debt. The question as to whether anything can be done by the Government is a very difficult one, in my opinion. My own opinion is that much could be done, 490 at any rate for the Scottish trawlers and the English trawlers, if we went in more for what I call voyages of exploration rather than merely research work. I think also it is possible that assistance could be given in the way that I have indicated, as regards a subsidy to the boats which are at the disposal of the Admiralty when necessary, and I suggest that questions that have arisen during this Debate will, at any rate, have brought some enlightenment to the Committee.
A question was propounded by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland as regards kippers. I do not want it to go out that the Scottish or the English kipper is not fit to eat, because statements have been made about certain kippers being coloured and dyed. I prepared a short memorandum myself on the question of kippers, and I would like to read it, because it may dispose of a good deal of misapprehension on this subject. The best kippers are made from fresh herrings—it is essential to have them fresh—which, after being split, washed, and pickled for a short time, are cured by being smoked over a fire of oak turnings for about 10 hours. In order to save expense, some curers—and I am sure we have not any of them in Grimsby—use soft wood turnings instead of oak and smoke the kippers for a shorter period, and make them look as though they had been thoroughly and properly smoked by dyeing them with certain vegetable colouring matters. These colouring matters are, in themselves, harmless, and you could take any quantity of them without hurt, but the kippers upon which they are used are not so well cured, and have not the same taste as those cured in the proper way. They are also said to be less wholesome, and they certainly would not keep as long as the properly cured herrings.
The reason why this is done is this: Kippers insufficiently smoked do not shrink so much as those properly smoked, and, therefore, it takes a less number to fill the standard box, and the manufacturer is able to get a larger number of boxes out of a given quantity of herrings. My advice to the British public is this: Insist on having kippers that are not dyed and smoked in this way. Do not be deceived by the size of the kipper, because that may indicate the fact that it has not been properly 491 cured. See to it that you buy your goods from a reliable fishmonger, who will not sell you a wrong article; and then I think perhaps after all we shall begin to realise that there is nothing more palatable than a well-cured kipper.
§ Mr. MAXTON
As English and Welsh Members have apologised for intervening in this Debate, I, as representing an industrial constituency, wish to enter my apologies also for intruding on a matter which is essentially of interest to the coast-wise population, but I feel that I have a duty in the matter, and I am going to try to emulate the half-smoked kipper, and not shrink from it. I notice that several of the speakers representing constituencies interested in this trade seemed to think that the way out for the fishing industry is for us to eat more fish. I am anxious to serve my country in every possible way, and I have endeavoured to buy British goods, to eat more fruit, and to drink more milk. And I am being asked to put on the top of all that, and on to a very defective digestion to begin with, a larger dose of fish, in order that this industry should prosper. I do not feel that I, personally, can make any response that can encourage the right hon. Gentleman to believe that the fishing industry, by my efforts, will be much better this year than last year, and I was frankly disappointed that that was the only practical suggestion that has been made in the whole course of this Debate.
I have listened to every speech that has been made to-day, and there has been no really practical suggestion made as to putting the fishing industry of Scotland back on its feet. The fact that strikes my attention is that this industry, one of our primary industries, is in precisely the same position as the mining industry and the agricultural industry. A large proportion of the capital is going out of use, a large proportion of the men who have been used to working in those industries are standing by uncalled for. The products are on the market, but are not able to command on that market a price which will adequately recompense the persons engaged in the industry. The right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member far Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), and 492 several others, in talking about the fishing industry, said it was passing through a bad time. If I could believe it was "passing through" this bad time I would be prepared to be philosophical, but every year since I have been in this House, whether we have been discussing agriculture or coal or fishing, we have been told that we were "passing through" a bad time, and next year the figures are worse than they were the year before.
What reason have we to believe that we are passing through this bad time? The figures would lead any ordinary person to believe that, instead of passing through the bad time, We are going into an infinitely worse time, that we are approaching a state of affairs where our primary industries, those that go right to the natural sources of wealth, like fish and coal and agricultural produce, are in a process of decay which is growing increasingly bad year by year, with no Government making any attempt to arrest that decline? I am inclined to think the Government must depart from the attitude they have adopted of looking for cures inside individual Industries and look for the causes of the decay and their removal, not in anything that applies to any particular industry, but in some general reconstruction that will apply to industry generally. Probably I have been getting on to a somewhat wide train of reasoning, seeing that we are discussing only a Fishery Vote, but after listening to this same Debate for several years, and always finding the figures worse each year, I feel that the philosophical attitude adopted by the right hon. Gentleman when he presents his report is not good enough, and that the Prime Minister must direct the attention of his Cabinet to the fact that, although we are spending money in fishery research, in agricultural research and in mining research, none of those industries is showing any signs of improvement and all are growing steadily worse.
After that I want to raise one or two minor matters that apply to the fishery trade. I cannot congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the condition of the fishing industry. I cannot congratulate the Prime Minister upon the condition of the Scottish fishing industry three 493 years after he has come into office. The promise of a steady revival in trade and industry, which was to be brought about by the confidence which was to spread through all sections of the community by his election to office and the return of a constitutional and safe Government to power, has not, so far, borne any result in the Scottish fishing industry. I cannot congratulate those two right hon. Gentlemen, but I can congratulate those workers in the office of the Fishery Board, who have produced the Annual Report, on having accomplished a very good piece of work, with an admirable collection of statistics and some useful graphs. I would like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that with the other statistics he should include some showing the ownership of the fishing fleet, and, if possible, the change that is taking place in the ownership of that fleet. I mean how many boats are now owned by the men sailing them, how many boats are owned by individual owners who take no personal part in the fishing, and how many boats are owned by limited liability companies, who have very little interest in the fishing industry except to own boats and to draw interest on money. I would like statistics showing what is the trend of the change. Is the limited liability company, with its fishermen having absolutely no interest in the catch or in the profits obtained, on the increase? To put it in the language that I know best and use most frequently, is the proletarian fisherman on the increase, as distinct from the small-owner fisherman?
I would also like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me on what principle loans and grants are given to the various fishing villages and towns for harbour construction? A certain portion of the money advanced is grant, and a certain proportion is loan. Perhaps I should not use the words "certain proportion," because the one thing noticeable about the figures is that it is an uncertain proportion, and that no principle seems to run through the expenditure of this public money. Some of the villages or towns seem to get mostly grants and only a small portion on loan—which they have to repay and on which they have to pay interest while it remains unpaid—and others seem to get a very small proportion 494 of grant and a very large proportion of loan. I would like some explanation as to how these grants are made.
There is another branch of research which the Fishery Board might take up. I think it would be desirable to have more adequate facts as to where Scottish fish goes. About £4,500,000 worth of fish is brought into Scottish ports in the course of the year. That is about the same figure as the population of Scotland. If the people of Scotland consumed £1 per head of fish per annum, they would consume the whole of the Scottish catch. That works out at an expenditure of somewhere about 4½d. per head per week. I should like the experts of the Board to trace in some detail where the fish is actually consumed, in order to find out whether the working people of Scotland are able to get fish at all. In the rather more prosperous years towards the end of the War and immediately after the War, there was a tremendous development of the fried fish industry in my constituency in the East end of Glasgow. Now a huge proportion of those traders have gone bankrupt and have had to shut up shop, which seems to indicate that the working people, whose wages have been reduced, and the unemployed people, are now unable to get fish, even in that cheapest and simplest form in which they got it in fried fish shops. I think the right hon. Gentleman will probably find that the weakness of the fishing industry, the lack of progress and development and profit and employment for the people engaged in it, turns in the ultimate on the poverty of the working classes in our big aggregations of population. They are unable to purchase that variety of food which in easier times they were able to enjoy. They have to stick to the simplest and plainest commodities, those which provide the maximum of nutrition and the minimum of cost. If the right hon. Gentleman will persuade his Government to direct their attention to the remuneration of the working-class population generally throughout Scotland it will be a big step in the direction of stimulating both Scottish fisheries and Scottish agriculture.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), in that very pleasant way he has, managed while keeping within the limits of Parliamentary procedure to work in some of 495 his favourite views, and of course one has no quarrel with the general proposition he has made that if everybody was a great deal better off we would all be a great deal more comfortable.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sure my hon. and learned Friend does not want to misrepresent me. I would not for one moment put forward the proposition that if everybody was a lot better off, but I say that if some of the people were a lot better off it would be better.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The art of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) consisted in his keeping those observations in one sentence. If he had gone on to a second sentence I should have had something to say.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
When you see the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, Mr. Chairman, I hope you will find that there is only one full stop in the remarks I have made. With regard to the interdependence of different people, nothing strikes one more than the fact that 75 per cent. of the herring trade used to be with Russia and that now we do not get that trade. It is not our fault. The herring are there, but the Russian people cannot buy. The Russian Government do not leave them with sufficient money. If the fishermen of this country found on returning from their fishing that all the fish they had caught except what was sufficient for themselves was taken over by the Government and the local town council, I think the fishing industry would languish for the want of people to catch fish. That is precisely what happens under the Government of Russia, which is so much admired by the hon. Member for Bridgeton. The producers are left with only a bare subsistence; the balance is taken from them, and they have nothing left with which to buy. That is the true explanation of why the Russian market has gone, and until Russia is reconstituted morally and politically we shall not got that market back.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
No possible arrangement that we can make with them will alter that, even if we go on to any further Trade Agreement.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This is a matter that would be appropriate to the Foreign Office Vote, as I have already stated to two or three other hon. Members who have referred to it.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was only giving a bit of history; I was not suggesting any remedy. That is the real position. We cannot get that market for some time, and we must just hope for the best and that wiser counsels will prevail on the part of our late customers. I can confirm what has been said to-day in regard to the large market we have in Germany. It is a good and growing market, and it is a peculiarly beneficial market to the west coast fishermen. The Germans have acquired the practice of coming across here and buying the smaller fish which are thought to be too small for our own markets. They put them into the holds of their ships, in salt and ice, and take them swiftly across to Germany and dispose of them in all the European markets. I have seen two or three German trawlers lying outside the little harbour at Tarbert in Loch Fyne, waiting for the small fish which were formerly thrown away but which they can dispose of in the German market. That is an entirely new outlet for fish of a small size for which there was formerly no market at all. During the last three or four years, it has been of immense benefit to that part of the west coast fishings. Many fishermen have come from the east coast, and they have confessed that the west coast fishermen can give them all a lesson in the fishing industry. We are very hopeful that this benefit will continue. It is in these markets that I think we can hope to supply the lost market of the late Russian Empire.
I do concur with various hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate in that I would like to see our home market very much more developed. Why is it that fish is so costly? It is not that the fishermen get a large price for it, because they do not. It is because of the cost of marketing the fish, and marketing is the problem not only with fish but with agricultural produce. The price of nearly everything that is seen in the retail fish shops is quite out of proportion to the price that is paid to the producer or the appropriate profit that ought to go to the middleman. It 497 is no use denouncing the middleman, because you must have the middleman, and you must remember that the middleman has to spend a large proportion of his turnover in paying rates and rent and taxes. The retailer, however, has learned from his experience in the War that it is much better to have a small turnover at a high price than it is to have a large turnover at a small price, and that is why the consumer has to pay so much and why the producer gets so little. That applies not only to the fishermen but to the agricultural producer. The system is largely due to restrictions which still exist. If we could restore the large number of small shopkeepers, who used to carry on business in back streets, paying a small rent and engaging little or no assistance, it would do an immense lot to bring down the cost of living, but we cannot get that, and the party who say they are trying to obtain better wages and better conditions for the shop assistants are the Prætorian Guard of the large multiple stores all over the country which are exterminating the small shopkeepers.
You will find in any part of London that the owners of the fish shops are advised by telephone as to what price the fish is to be sold at. If it were a small shopkeeper that was concerned, he would not have a telephone to begin with, and he would be content with a small profit. I remember being told of a small shop, which was run by an ex-soldier who charged very moderate prices and took small profits; but in time his prices increased. When he was asked the reason for this he said, "I used to be content with the prices that I got, but people came in and when they saw how moderate my prices were they sniffed at my goods and said, 'they cannot be fresh!'" It is very unfortunate that a very large number of the people in this country have no other standard by which to judge value than the standard of price. They do not know a good article when they see one, and, if it happens to be cheap, they are suspicious of it and will not buy it. The consumers themselves have done a great deal to encourage high prices. If we could solve the problem of getting the producer in the fishing industry to come closer to the consumer—although how it is to be done in an industry which is so 498 widely scattered I do not know—it would mean that the consumer would get fish at cheaper prices and it would be a great advantage to both. If the price were even 50 per cent. above what the producer gets, it would not be so bad; but we find that the prices are 150 per cent. or 250 per cent. above it, owing to the profits that have to be paid to the wholesaler, the middleman and the retailer, and on account of the overhead charges, the rent, rates and taxes and the cost of transport. There is not a chance for the poor fisherman.
The same applies very largely to the agriculturist. He is solving the problem a little because of road transport, but the fisherman has not got the same chance. That is the problem to which all parties must direct themselves—the problem of marketing, because there is nothing that would bring the same results as would be obtained by getting the consumer and the producer closer to one another. There is far too little fish consumed in this country. When I was in the East, I was astonished to find that an enormous number of people in China and in the other largely populated countries subsist largely on fish. There the sea is not covered with great fleets of trawlers spoiling the fishing banks, but it is covered with tens of thousands of small fishing boats, many of them motor boats which bring in a colossal harvest. These hundreds and millions of people find that fish is an excellent diet. It may be true that our people here do not fully appreciate the value of herring as a food. I remember hearing people saying in Scotland, "It is wonderful to see a man brought up on herring," but I am glad to see that medical men are now assuring the public that herring is one of the most nourishing foods, not only among fish, but among foods of all kinds. When I was a boy, I could go and buy a whole string of herring for 3d., but now you have to pay 2d. or 3d. for one herring. I believe if you could get closer to that price level, there would be an enormous consumption of herring in this country.
Certain remarks were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) as to what he did for the fishermen when he was Secretary for Scotland. I wish to say that we all feel that he was very sympathetic to the fishing industry in Scotland when he was 499 in office, and he did his best with the means at his disposal, but I am afraid a great deal of what he wished to do did not go further than good intention. We found that not more than 3 or 4 per cent. of the loan which he offered to the fishermen was taken up; the terms were too steep. I am not so sure, however, that that was the only cause which prevented the loan being taken up. I think it was due largely to the native integrity of the Scottish fishermen, who do not want to borrow money even from the Government unless they are sure they can see their way to repay it. Then he also spoke about a matter which strikes one as being very shocking; he spoke about fish being brought in and thrown back again into the sea. But that is not confined to fish. It is only a few years ago since there was a tremendous production of potatoes in this country, and one big potato-grower had no less than seven miles of potato pits. There, again, you came up against the question of transport and distribution. Although the potatoes were so plentiful that it was not worth anyone's while to lift them, you were made to pay 8d. or 10d. a stone for them in the greengrocers' shops. That is where the trouble comes in; you cannot get the producers and the consumers together.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was only giving that as an illustration. On the question of trawlers, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated that there was some proposal to cancel the certificates of captains who were convicted of trawling in-shore. But that is not the proper remedy at all. The people who are realy guilty are the owners who drive these men on to do it, and I suggest that the proper remedy is to lay up the boats for a number of months. Fines of £100, or even of £200, will not do any good, because the trawlers can get catches worth £2,000, and they can avoid having to pay the fines by not coming too close to the land. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) spoke about the trawlers accidentally slipping over the line, but the real reason why they do so is because 500 they are so close to the land and that they are watching the fishery cruiser. This is certainly a very great grievance in the Highlands and Islands, and it destroys the livelihood of the land fishermen and the small fishermen. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will take very much more drastic steps than I think he is proposing to put an end to this practice.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
I rise to take part in this Debate after having prepared a speech which I shall not now be able to deliver. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] If hon. Members below the Gangway knew that I am the only Member of this House who is the son of a fisherman I think they would allow me to have a word or two on a Fisheries Vote. I only rise to say two things; the rest will keep for another time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he is making up his mind as to discrimination between the harbours, will not act on the lines which he seemed to indicate in his speech to-day. The ablest and best seamen are the men who learn to sail small boats in small and difficult harbours. If you go to Cowes during the yachting season, you will see that the ablest skippers and hands on the great yachts are men who came out of very small villages on the coasts of England and Scotland. That is why it is so difficult to get co-operation among these men; they are scattered so much in small communities. As one who has tumbled in and out of a boat since I was a small boy, I would like to say that there is nothing which makes so much for independent judgment in difficult situations as the occupation I have been alluding to.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give a kindly thought to the small harbours rather that to the larger ones. The small harbours breed the very finest of this very fine race of men. Hon. Members seem to deal with trawling in a manner entirely out of all proportion. Trawling appears to be discussed always from the point of view of illegality. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) seems to think that the policy adopted should be a sort of universal sabbatarianism for trawlers—seven days a week off the sea. I can assure him that the relations between the inshore men and the trawlers are not on that basis at all. As a matter of fact, 501 convictions are very few, and the Report of the Fishery Board points out that they are growing less, and that illegal trawling has been more successfully dealt with in the last year or two. On this point, I would like to read just one extract.