§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsin view of the great importance of the fishing industry both as a source of food supply and a valuable adjunct to the Navy and mercantile marine, this House views with concern the present condition of the deep-sea fishing fleets, which, mainly owing to the economic conditions of recent years, have not been adequately maintained by the building of new vessels to replace those which have become too old for efficient service in peace or war, and considers that all practicable means should be adopted for encouraging and enabling the industry to build new vessels and maintain them in a satisfactory state of efficiency,I should like to call attention to the great importance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Minister!"] Hon. Members are very desirous to know where the Minister of Agriculture is. I have had a note from him regretting that owing to a very important engagement, connected with his work, he is not able to be here for the commencement of the Debate, but he will be here as soon as possible. I am satisfied that there is no discourtesy on his part. He has deputed the Secretary of State for Scotland to take notes in his absence. When I was interrupted, I was remarking upon the importance of the industry as a national asset, in peace time a source of food supply and employment to our people, and in war time an adjunct to the Navy which proved of incalculable value in the last war. It is the sixth largest industry in the country. That may be a revelation to some hon. Members, who may not regard it as of such importance as I do, seeing that I represent the largest fishing port in the world, and I am very proud of the fact that I do represent it.
1608 Directly and indirectly, this industry finds employment for some 264,000 people, and, if you take into account their dependants, over 1,000,000 people are dependent upon the industry for a livelihood. One-fortieth of the population depend on fishing for a living. Therefore, it is indeed an important industry and one worthy of consideration by the House. The range of operations of the fishing fleet is extensive. We go as far north as Iceland, the Faroes, Greenland, round the North Cape and along the Murman coast. The North Sea itself, of course, is the most prolific fishing ground of all. Then we go south into the Bay of Biscay and along the coast of Morocco, so the extent of our operations is very great indeed. As regards the war work of our men in the fishing fleet, a great Admiral said:The fisheries are the nursery of men inured to hardship and danger, bred to seamanlike qualities, resourceful, daring and self-reliant.When the War broke out, 3,000 of our steam trawlers and drifters were immediately taken over by the Navy with some 52,000 of our fishermen, who are the best seamen the country has. The Commander of the Grand Fleet said, even during the war period, that it was the fishermen who saved the Navy and the Navy that saved Britain. Lord Balfour made a statement in 1916 which I think is worthy of repetition:In mine sweepers and armed trawlers, vast numbers of men, alone, unsupported, in circumstances of great difficulty, often of great peril, have done work of incalculable magnitude. I cannot do justice to all I feel about the work of these men. Necessarily it is little known to the public. Small crews in stormy seas, suddenly face to face with unexpected perils, they have never seemed to fail. The debt of this country to them is beyond all calculation.Recently, the King has done a great honour to the fishermen by appointing the Prince of Wales Master of the Fishing Fleet, We of Grimsby and other fishing ports are proud of that fact. We acknowledge His Majesty's graciousness in appointing him to that office, and we are looking forward to a visit he is going to pay to our port in June next. Further, we had a reference made at a recent banquet by His Royal Highness and by the Prime Minister to the work of the fishing fleet. As one who has lived for many years among these men and mixed 1609 with them in their workaday life and in their hours of leisure, I am indeed a proud man to represent them. I regard them as the finest and bravest men in the country, absolutely the salt of the earth, and of the sea if you like.
I remember several incidents that occurred during war time that are worth repeating. In one week, the following things happened to a fine sample of the type of man on whose behalf I am speaking. His home was bombed by a Zeppelin, he himself was responsible for the sinking of a German submarine, and his own fishing vessel was sunk, and he was taken prisoner aboard a German destroyer. They threatened him with a court-martial and told him he would certainly be shot for having sunk the submarine. He did not lose his courage and the German commander, thinking to dishearten him, said: "Where is your British Fleet? We have been looking for it for a long time." This fellow, with the unconscious humour you always find among the fishermen, replied: "You ease up a bit. They are looking for you, and they will catch you." He was not afraid even under these circumstances.
I hope I have said enough to convince the House that this industry is of importance both as a food-producing industry and for finding employment and also as a valuable adjunct to the Navy in time of war. I want to call attention to certain difficulties with which it is faced with at the moment, and, to do so, I shall have to quote figures as to the trade that is being done. The quantity of wet fish landed, of British taking, in England and Wales in 1926, the latest year for which I have been able to get official figures, was 12,504,000 cwt.—8 per cent. less than in 1925—and the value was £13,202,000–10 per cent. less than in 1925. The total of all kinds of fish landed in Great Britain during that period was 19,000,000 cwts., of the value of £17,000,000.
There has been a steady decline in the building of first-class fishing vessels for some years, and I want to quote figures to prove my contention. On 31st January, 1926, altogether we had 2,626 vessels—a drop of 91 on the previous year's figures. They consisted of 1,760 steamers, 442 motor boats, and 424 sailing vessels. The main point, apart from the drop in the numbers, is the age of many of these 1610 vessels. This is rather a serious matter, particularly to the Admiralty, because they say the vessels for use as mine sweepers must be not more than 10 years old if possible. To show the condition the fishing fleets are getting into, I want to give some tables grouped up in ages of five years. Less than five years old, 52 vessels not suitable for mine sweeping purposes. Over five and under 10, 438. Over 10 and under 15 years, 376; between 15 and 20 years old, 223; 20 to 25 years, 163; and over 25 years of age, 243. I think the House will readily grasp, that unless we have additional vessels built within the next year or two, either with some assistance from the Government or by the enterprise of the industry itself, the Admiralty, if the time comes when they require the use of these vessels again as they did during the Great War, will find that suitable vessels are not available for their purpose.
During the last year or two, the industry, like many other industries in this country, has been up against very severe foreign competition. This is a matter which requires some attention on the part of this House. In 1926, the imports of foreign fish were the largest on record. The total value, including fresh, frozen and canned fish, was £11,212,000, as against £10,768,000 in 1925. Going back to the first full year before the War, 1913, the value of the imports was £4,887,000. Thus, there has been a tremendous growth in the importation of foreign fish. The value of fresh caught fish landed in 1926 amounted to £4,410,000. Forty-nine per cent, of it came direct to British ports from the fishing grounds, and the balance by cargo vessels, mostly to Billingsgate. I would ask the House to bear with me with regard to this matter for a moment or two, because I am going to quote some more figures. I am bound to do so in order to prove how severe is this foreign competition and how detrimental it is to the work of our own fishermen.
Taking the imports of the demersal fish, that is, the fish that trawlers bring in— because this directly affects the deep sea fishermen whom I represent—we find that in 1913 the landings of British-caught fish totalled 11,756,304 cwts., or 93 per cent, of the whole amount landed in this country. Foreign catches landed totalled 855,616 cwt., or 7 per cent, of the catch. In 1926—these are the latest official 1611 figres that I can get, though I have some unofficial figures for 1927 which are reliable—the total landings of British-caught fish amounted to 10,957,295 cwts., or 83½ per cent, of the total catch, the foreigner landing 2,168,596 cwts., or 16½ per cent, of the total catch. In 1927, the figures were: British takings 11,927,505 cwts., or 84½ per cent, of the total catch, and foreign 2,168,338 cwts., or 15½ per cent; When we come to the question of values, we find that the value of the British-caught fish landed in 1913 was £9,383,443, and the value of the foreign-caught fish landed was £627,061—a percentage of 93¾ per cent, of British-caught fish and 6¼ per cent, of foreign-caught fish. In 1927, the value of British-caught.fish had jumped to £13,478,795, or 81 per cent., and the foreign-caught fish amounted to £3,201,536, or 19 per cent. I want the House to notice the vast jump in the value of the catch landed by foreign fishermen in this country.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
No, Sir; it is demersal fish only—trawler fish. It does not include either herrings or mackerel. It comprises what we call the deep-sea or wet fish. There is another matter to which I must call the attention of the House in making a comparison in regard to the landing of British-caught fish and foreign-caught fish. We must find out how the wages run in both cases, because if the foreign vessels had to meet the same amount of expenditure as our own vessels it might be said that this was a question of fair competition. We find this position. I have had the figures prepared very carefully in regard to the competition existing between British and foreign vessels landing at the same port. I want the House to understand that the system of wages on our fishing vessels is rather different from the wages system in operation in an ordinary factory. Some of the men are paid wages and poundage, while the skipper receives a share in the vessel's earnings. We have to take into account, therefore, in the case of the fishermen, wages, plus bonus, and, in the case of the skipper, his share of the vessel's profit.
1612 Two vessels—a German and a British—were away for the same length of time. They landed the same day, and their catches realised about the same amount of money. Therefore, in general expenses, there was practically no difference at all between the vessels. It was entirely a question of the amounts paid in wages. The wages and bonus for the voyage, which occupied 21 days, amounted, in the case of the German vessel, to £181 16s., and in the case of the British vessel to £277 4s. 3d. This is a typical example of what happens in regard to wages as between the foreigner and the Britisher. I would never be a party to the slightest reduction in the British fishermen's rate of earnings. He gets paid little enough for the work he does. He earns every penny he receives, and, if there should be any talk about making any reductions in his wages, I should be the first man to say that such a thing should not happen if I could help it.
I want to ask the House to allow me to give the case of another foreign country and its vessels. It is Belgium. Here we get great competition at the Western ports. There is a great deal of competition at Milford Haven, because the Belgian vessels use Milford Haven considerably. I have had typical balance-sheets prepared for me—in the same way as those from which I have just quoted—in regard to a British vessel and a Belgian vessel landing their catches at Milford Haven. I find that the amount paid to the crew of the English vessel for the voyage was £296 19s. whereas the amount paid to the Belgian crew was £151 8s. 9d. When I quote figures such as these, I think hon. Members will realise that we are almost up against the competition of sweated labour. The fireman of the British vessel was paid £15 17s. 6d., whereas the Belgian fireman received £8 7s. 3d. in respect of the same length of time at sea and for the same amount of work. I can quote other instances, but I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House on this matter. I want to try and make my case clear in order to show that our fishermen are up against unfair foreign competition.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
That will come later in my speech. I wish to point out another direction where the foreigner is getting an advantage over the Britisher. It is undoubtedly the case that the Governments of France, Germany, Denmark and Norway render financial assistance to their fishing industry, but in what manner it is difficult to ascertain. Possibly the Minister of Agriculture will be able to deal with this matter. I shall be very grateful for any information as to what these foreign countries are doing to assist the fishing industry as regard their own nationals. I know that in some cases loans at reasonable interest have been granted. In other cases, bonuses have been granted, and in other cases definite grants have been made. Let me give the House figures relating to the building of some of the competing countries, which will give an idea of the way in which the fishing industry has grown in those countries. In pre-War days, Denmark had 750 first-class fishing vessels registered at Danish ports. To-day, Denmark has 2,000 up-to-date first-class vessels, mostly seine net motor boats and most of them are owned by individual fishermen and not by large companies, and they have had financial assistance and encouragement from the Danish Government.
Germany surrendered all her supposed obsolete and up-to-date fishing vessels under the Peace Treaty, and she has built since 1918 some 400 new up-to-date trawlers, every one built with Government assistance, I understand. I hope the Minister will deal with that point in his reply, because it is very important. It is far more important than merely a question of food supplies and competition with our own fishermen. There is something more than that behind the building of these 400 large new trawlers by Germany, because Germany is not a fish-consuming country to the same extent as this country. Most of these boats are landing their catches in English ports and competing with our own fishermen. No one realised more than the Germans in the early part of the War the value of the trawler fleet as an auxiliary to the British Navy, in the way of mine sweeping, and the Germans determined then that if ever they had the opportunity they would encourage the building 1614 of similar vessels in their own country, so that they would be useful in time of war. My own opinion is that in carrying out that policy in the building of new trawlers the German Government have in view the building of up-to-date vessels suitable for mine sweeping as well as fishing.
What can be done by our own Government to assist the fishing industry? The Prime Minister gave a pledge at the last General Election that he would not agree to any taxation of food supplies. I honour him for that pledge and I am not going to suggest that he should put a tax on foreign fish for the benefit even of our British fishermen; but there are certain ways in which the Government can help, which would cost very little money, because they have all that they require at their disposal at the present time, and it is only a question of diverting it to the right channel. My first suggestion is the necessity for exploration. At the present time we have a research department which is doing very valuable work; but the practical fishermen cannot quite see how valuable that work is. They say that instead of carrying on merely scientific research, studying the habits of fish and the migration of fish, a vessel should be equipped for exploration purposes in uncharted seas, and that it should go out to search for new fishing grounds which can be exploited, ready made, so to speak, for the benefit of this country and its fishermen.
An exploratory vessel was sent out from the port of Fleetwood to explore certain parts of the ocean, and at the time that vessel made the voyages I took particular notice of what happened, and the report which was issued dealing with it. I will give a few details in support of my argument that it would be a very good thing if the Government would carry this exploration work further. The vessel wae called the "Florence Brierley," and the voyage was financed jointly by the Development Commission and the Fleetwood Fishing Vessel Owners' Association. The total cost of the voyage was £l,500, and the object of the voyage was to explore the regions in the neighbourhood of the hundred-fathom line from the North-West of Scotland towards the Coast of Norway, where it was believed that hake could be found, although no commercial fishing had 1615 actually taken place in that particular part of the ocean. As a result of the voyages, valuable information, both positive and negative, was gained. New grounds were discovered where hake was found, while examination of other grounds showed that it was no use going there for hake because, owing to natural conditions, it was unlikely that fish of that kind would ever be found there. In addition, valuable scientific data were obtained and a number of new soundings were furnished to the Admiralty. Although the "Florence Brierley" had not the catching of fish commercially as part of her object, she brought in £l,200 worth of fish.
The fishing industry would like more work on the same lines as those followed by the "Florence Brierley," and that is where the Admiralty can help. The Admiralty have a highly efficient surveying service, of which the general public hear very little. Probably it is not known that the Admiralty provide accurate charts of the whole world for the shipping of all nations. We of the fishing industry know something of the value of their work; we see their ships working from fishing ports, and we know that when we want a new chart of any fishing grounds and we apply to the Admiralty for one, we generally get it even though it involves a special survey being made. Therefore, we are very grateful to the Admiralty for what they do for us. Gratitude is expressed with a sense of favours to come, and we would like them to do a little more for us in the future than they have done in the past. I understand that these ships have recently been fitted with echo-sounding apparatus which enables them to take soundings while the ships are going at full speed, thereby enabling them to explore an enormous quantity of grounds in a short time and to locate new banks, if there are any, very quickly. We hope that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries will work in conjunction with the Admiralty in this matter and see that we get all assistance possible.
It has always been believed by the fishermen that there is a line of banks extending in a southerly and westerly direction from the Faroe and Bill Bailey Banks, and sometime ago a bank in that direction was discovered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. 1616 We would like to ask that one of the surveying ships should run a line or lines of soundings in the direction in which the banks are believed to be, and that if she discovers any new banks their fishing capacity should then be tested at the joint expense of the Government and the fishing industry by commercial vessels working on the same lines as the "Florence Brierley." There are, no doubt, many other regions in which similar methods might be adopted for the benefit of the fishing industry, and at a comparatively small cost to the nation.
We consider that this is a matter of very great importance to the industry. Practical fishermen are convinced that in certain parts of the ocean, as yet unexplored, there are fertile fields for the fishing industry, promising great new catches of fish that will be profitable to those who catch them, and at the same time provide food for the nation. It does not require a great deal of money to deal with the matter. Two years ago it was felt that it would be wise to explore the Greenland fishery grounds. The Norwegians had been there and had got fairly good catches. Some of our men had been there, but had not been successful in striking the right bank, and a suggestion was made that an exploration vessel might be sent out. In fact, the fishing industry offered to supply it, provided the Government would put on board an expert hydrographer and a man expert in dealing with fish and their habits. It was suggested that the cost should be divided. I am sorry we did not succeed in getting the Department to help us in the matter. They told us the usual story, that they had no money which they could use for that particular purpose, but I am hoping that it will be possible to provide a little money to deal with this great question. It would help our men very much indeed, and if the Minister would take note of it, I should be very pleased to hear from him that it is the intention of the Government seriously to consider this matter. With regard to research, no doubt there has been a great deal of valuable work in the study of the habits of food fishes, their migrations and, incidentally, the best ways of preventing over-fishing or uneconomic fishing by means of the 1617 Ministry's ordinary scientific work on which it appears that over £20,000 is spent annually, and no doubt the industry will benefit greatly from this when the researches are completed, though it will take many years before their completion. What, however, is desired by the industry is a different branch of research which will give immediate results in finding new grounds, and in giving relief to the existing grounds which are, no doubt, hardly worked, which can only be done by exploratory voyages, such as have been suggested.
There is another matter which has been suggested whereby the Government should assist the industry in the same way as it is suggested that the agricultural industry shall be dealt with, namely, by extended credits. I am in a somewhat difficult position this afternoon in speaking of this because the great trawling industry with which I am connected, or rather those who are members of the industry representing the various ports, have not yet come to a definite decision on this matter. There is no doubt that certain men in the industry think that a system of extended credits would be of great benefit to the industry. On the other hand, there are men who do not quite agree with that point of view. The position at the moment is that all the ports are carefully considering the matter, and when their reports come through and are made up into one complete report, the Members of this House who represent the trawling ports will no doubt receive that report, and possibly a conference can be arranged between the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Scotland and those Members who represent fishing ports for the purpose of discussing this matter.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether this will include the longshore fishing of Scotland which the trawling industry is destroying?
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The right hon. Gentleman asks me a question I really cannot answer. I am speaking on behalf of the deep-sea fishermen and the trawling industry at the moment. I believe that the Scottish herring fishermen and the inshore fishermen have made representations for a deputation to be received on the matter, and, if not, they intend to do 1618 so. The latter part of the question I prefer not to answer at any length, because, really, an answer is not required. The right hon. Gentleman says that the trawler men are destroying the others. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that our trawler men keep well outside the three-mile limit. On the question of the inshore fishermen versus the deep-sea fishermen, I am sure Mr. Speaker would rule that it is hardly a fit Debate for this House, though I should be very delighted to debate the question with my right hon. Friend on any platform in Scotland or anywhere else.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I ought to point out that the question of credits would require an Act of Parliament, and, therefore, it is not open to discussion in this Debate.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
There is another matter which would be of assistance to the industry. I have mentioned it before in this House. Would it not be possible for the Government to provide a retainer for the vessels which are kept up to a certain standard of efficiency, ready for the nation's service if and when required. There was some scheme of this kind in operation before the War, and, as regards the personnel of the Royal Naval Reserve, there is such a thing as a retaining fee being paid to-day. It is felt that it would be wise for the Government to pay a retainer in the case of vessels that are suitable for mine-sweeping and patrol work, provided those vessels are kept up to a certain standard as regards engine power, boiler power, and general efficiency of the vessel. They could be built to suit the Admiralty, and therefore be really an auxiliary force for the Navy, without the Navy Estimates having to be drawn upon to any large extent. I hope that something in that way will be considered by the Government in dealing with the question of assistance to the fishing industry.
A subject which is of very great importance to my constituency, the port of Grimsby, is that of the Government assisting with harbour works, not only there but round the whole coast, because as I have travelled along the coast—and I am not now speaking particularly for the deep sea fishermen—I find that also in the smaller ports there is a great lack of berth accommodation and harbour space. As the Government in times past 1619 have assisted in this matter, I think it is worth while mentioning it here again, and asking that this should be given very careful consideration. It does not matter how good your vessels are or how efficient your fishermen may be, if it so happens that they are crowded out at the time they want to land their fish, thereby missing the market, resulting in the loss of valuable food and the men are not getting what they should receive for the work they put in. In Grimsby we are "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd" in a very small space in comparison with a large number of vessels that sail from that port, and the addition of many foreign vessels coming into the port is making it harder for our people to get in at all. Time and time again vessels have had to lie out in the river, instead of coming into the docks to land their catches and get them away to inland markets. There is, consequently, deterioration of fish, loss of time and aggravation all round.
In 1914, the Great Central Railway, which is now merged in the London and North Eastern Railway Company, promoted a Bill in this House to build additional fish docks in Grimsby. The House gave its consent, and a contract was made, the sum being £500,000. That would have met all the needs of the district. Then the War came, and the Government at that time said, "You must not go on with this work," quite rightly, I agree. But what happened? When the War was over, and these people were asked to go on with the work, which they were quite willing to do, they found in getting out a new contract that the price would be £1,050,000, or more than double what it would have cost in 1914. Naturally, the railway company said that they must wait until conditions were better and prices lower. At that time, schemes were being brought forward for public assistance to provide work for the unemployed, and application was made on behalf of this scheme for a grant under the circular that had been issued by the Unemployment Grants Committee that harbour works and dock works could be included. Everybody thought that we were going to get a new dock at least. The company said that if the Government would provide £200,000 they would go on with the work, taking all their labour from the local Employment Exchange. Something like 5,000 1620 men would have been employed on that particular job, and it would have been started right away. We brought the matter before various Ministers and various Governments. I, myself, headed deputation after deputation. Unfortunately, we did not get the answer we wanted, which was "Yes, we will make the grant."
During that period a very careful inquiry was made by the Ministry of Labour to find out exactly the position of unemployment in Grimsby. Unemployment has varied during the last three or four years from 3,000 men to over 4,000 men on the register, and the amount paid out has varied from £80,000 to £100,000 a year. In 1922, a real attempt was made to get the Government to agree to this grant of £200,000. From 1922 to 1928, the average paid out from the Employment Exchange has been something like £100,000 a year. I ask the House to consider the question. With two years' expenditure we could have kept 5,000 men employed for something like six years, which would have meant a great saving of the nation's money. I am wondering when we are going to realise the position. There are other fishing ports round the coast which require harbour and dock improvement, and I wish them good luck in their endeavours to get Government assistance. If I could get it for my own constituency, I should think I had done a great service not only to that constituency, but to the country, for surely it is better to spend £200,000 in order to find five years' work for 5,000 men, than to pay several times that amount merely to make men sign at the Employment Exchange. It is sound common sense, and I cannot understand why we cannot get even my own Government to see it. It is not only this Government that has turned it down, but successive Governments, including the Labour Government. In my opinion, this is a sound scheme, but evidently, in the opinion of the Ministers of the Crown, it is not so sound, though I require a good deal of convincing.
I hope that I have been able to convince the House that the fishing industry is an industry of some importance to the country, that it is worthy of being encouraged and fostered, and that it is the duty of this or any other Government to do all that lies in their power 1621 to help this industry back to prosperity. Our men are not the men to ask for favours. They are prepared to shoulder the burden, and to try to bring the industry back to a state of prosperity, but they are faced with various difficulties, difficulties such as I have mentioned with regard to foreign competition, difficuties connected even with such a small thing as carriage, which is a matter with which, I think, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Price) will deal. There is, howver, one figure on that which I should like to quote to show the difficulties we are up against. Take the question of Danish fish which comes from Esbjerg to Harwich and then by rail to Billingsgate. The carriage on that delivered at Billingsgate is 57s. l0d. per ton for prime fish and 39s. 6d. for class 2 fish. They are sending nearly all the fish as class 2, although claimed to be prime when sold in the market. Now take fish from Grimsby to London, and, of course, there is no sea passage. This is simply carriage from Grimsby to London, and there are delivery charges on top of that. Common fish, equal to class 2 fish in the other rate quoted, is 2s. 3d. per cwt., or 45s. a ton, as against 39s. 6d. for class 2 fish all the way from Esbjerg to London, and delivered at that and prime fish 70s. a ton against 57s. 10d. The handicap to the industry may not seem much per ton, but it makes a difference when you consider the vast quantity that is carried. It is a handicap to the industry.
I should like to refer to the system which prevails in this country of compelling pre-payment of carriage on fish before it is accepted for transit by passenger train. It has caused a good deal of trouble to the industry. It was done during the War, and our people agreed to it as a wartime Measure on the understanding that it would be withdrawn when the War was over. Scotsmen were too canny even to agree to this, and they do not therefore have to pre-pay the carriage. This is also a great handicap to the industry, and you have to pay for a full cwt. even if the consignment is less than that amount. All these are little matters which require attention. If we could get some assistance from the Government, it would help to bring prosperity to the industry. What we want is a fair field and no favour. If the foreigner 1622 paid the same wages as we pay; if he contributed in the shape of taxes and rates in the same way as our own people, if he received no subsidies from his own Government, but was in the same position as our own people and had to fight his own battles in the same way as our own people, we should have nothing to complain about, but this competition is distinctly unfair. We do ask the Government, not to keep out foreign caught fish but to assist the industry in other ways; and in all the circumstances we have a right to ask for this assistance.
§ Major PRICE
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has covered the ground so very well indeed that I feel there is very little for me to say. I should like, however, to emphasise a few of the facts he has brought before the House. In the first place, the House should thoroughly understand the very parlous state of the trawling industry in this country, and unless something is done to place it on a sound and proper basis it must gradually die. No industry can remain stationary. It must progress or go back; and anyone who looks at the trawling industry to-day and compares it with what it was before the War must admit that it has gone backward and not forward. It is absolutely essential if we are going to keep this industry up to date that we should build new vessels if we are to keep them on the fishing grounds. The older vessels are less economic to work, less able to withstand foreign competition, and become more difficult and more unseaworthy. Take the period before the War; what do we find? The number of fishing vessels to-day less than five years old is 52, that means that in five years 52 vessels have been built. In the year 1910, 122 vessels were built, and for the years 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914, 789 trawlers and drifters were built as against about 50 in the last five years. It means that the industry is going backward; that fresh capital is not coming in, and unless fresh capital comes in you cannot keep your industry alive.
Personally, I do not think that a credit scheme is going to help the industry. If the industry was a progressive one plenty of capital would be available. People with capital, if they saw that the industry was progressing and 1623 that an ordinary profit was to be made out of it, would invest their capital in it; but to-day trawling company after trawling company is finding it quite impossible to put anything to reserve; they cannot even meet current expenses. Recently, although the banks have been holding up year after year hoping for better times, it has been the case that in certain ports they have had to realise their securities, and so trawlers on which advances of from £12,000 to £14,000 were made have had to be sacrificed for from £3,000 to £5,000. Many of these boats are purchased by the foreigner. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in a question asked what was a remedy. In my opinion, the remedy is twofold. One remedy for this and similar matters is that which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Grimsby, and there is the bolder policy, to see that we should get fair play for our own people in our own markets. If we suggest a tariff on fish, immediately our political opponents say: "You are taxing the food of the people." But I would ask the House to remember that the figures which have been given to the House show that, in my own port of Milford Haven, we cannot compete with foreign trawlers because of the cost to ourselves. You may send our trawlers to sea and keep them at sea exactly as long as the foreign trawlers. They may come in at exactly the same moment, with the same amount of fish, and sell it at the same price on the same day, yet the foreigner makes a profit and our own trawlers make a loss, because the wages of the foreigner are so much less than those of our own men.
There is also the cost of food. In a foreign trawler you will see the men sitting round a dish, generally it is a fish dish, each man helping himself. Our own people see that they have the food for which they have stipulated; and quite rightly. There are proper joints of meat, and vegetables served in a proper manner, with a cook to look after them. If we are desirous that our people should be treated in this way, then it is our duty to protect them against the unfair competition of the foreigner, otherwise you are not giving them a chance of treating the men fairly and properly. 1624 It must also be remembered that every penny of profit which the foreigner makes at the dockside is taken out of the country; not a single penny is paid in taxation or anything else. If our own people make a profit they have to pay 20 per cent, in taxation. This is unfair foreign competition, and it is something, which could be put right if we had the common sense and feeling of the nation at our back; if the matter was treated without prejudice, not made a party question, and was looked upon as an industrial matter for the benefit of those engaged in the industry.
There is another point with regard to this unfair competition which affects the port of Milford Haven very much. We ask to be put on the same footing as the foreigner with regard to trawling and the limits within which we can trawl. Some years ago it was suggested that there should be an international arrangement with regard to international waters, that there should be freedom of navigation and fishery on the high seas for vessels of all nations within certain limits and with certain restrictions. Unfortunately this arrangement was not brought about, and to-day we have numerous cases of our own trawlers fishing within certain limits off the coast of Ireland, ten miles away from land, and fishing inside them, seven miles inside them, have been foreign trawlers, yet our own vessels have been seized, the gear confiscated and the men brought before the Irish Courts and fined. The foreigner goes on with his fishing, brings his catch back to Milford Haven and sells it. That is manifestly unfair and unjust, and I hope something will be done to put all trawlers on the same footing. If hon. Members opposite prefer a larger limit than three miles I do not mind, but I think we should all be put on the same footing, whether the limit is three miles or ten miles.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I hope the hon. Member is not speaking for the Government in suggesting that the limit should be three miles.
§ Major PRICE
I say let us all be on the same footing. If we cannot go within three miles then other trawlers should not be allowed to go within three miles. Let us all go within three miles or all outside 10 miles. Let us have equality of treatment. Then there is the question 1625 of research grants. I suggested some years ago that a research vessel should be detailed for the Atlantic fisheries. We have had no research vessel there. There are large fishing grounds in that area, but nobody knows where they are, at least if the skipper of a trawler is fortunate enough to come across one he keeps it to himself; and small blame to him. I think a great deal more could be done in regard to this research work. I suppose it is a question of funds. The only result of the appeal I made some years ago was that last year we had a research vessel around for a few weeks. It was very nice to see the vessel but it was quite impossible for any results to accrue from a visit of such short duration. Research work must extend overyears; it must be done systematically, and in conjunction with trawl owners and skippers who have a knowledge of the fishing grounds. Research work might also be extended in the direction of the preservation of fish and the canning of fish; the preparation of fish for food in all its forms. If work was done in that direction a great deal of help would be given to the fishing industry.
I would ask all hon. Members who have the idea that the slightest duty on an article puts up the price to the consumer to remember that the price of fish at the dockside does not rule the price of fish in the market. The price to the consumer does not vary to the same degree as it does on the dockside. You may have fish brought in and sold at £2 per kit and the same fish may be selling the day after at £6 per kit, but the price to the consumer in the retail shops will be exactly the same. Research work in regard to fish preservation would help the industry very much. To sell fish at the lowest price is utterly unremunerative, but fish being such a perishable food it is impossible to do otherwise on certain occasions. I know that the sympathy of the Ministry of Agriculture is with the industry. There are no more accessible or sympathetic officials in any Government Department than those in the Department of Fisheries, but I should like to see it made bigger and more worthy of the great food producing industry with which it deals.
If we turn to the Estimates we see there something which is agreed to by all 1626 parties, namely, a vast expenditure of money on agricultural research. If we look through the Estimates a little further we find that the amount spent on fishery research is an exceedingly small sum. I do not want to quote figures, because it might be suggested that I am pitting fisheries against agriculture. I do not suggest that enough is spent on agriculture, but I do suggest that not nearly enough is spent on fishery research and fishery work by the Ministry. I dare say it is because the Ministry cannot get the money to spend, but I hope they will not be backward in asking for it, as I am certain that they will have the support of the House, for it would be money well spent and in the interests of the country. I feel that the great trawling industry must be taken in hand and must be treated seriously by the Government if it is to be kept alive. I know that it is the wish of the House that the industry should be kept alive. Therefore, I ask the Minister to go forward with a good heart and to be courageous in his demand on the Treasury for the money which would be spent in the interests of the nation in upholding the fishery industry.
We have listened to two interesting speeches by the two hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Amendment before the House, but in both cases the hon. Members addressed themselves to what they called the trawling industry. I venture to put in a plea for the inshore fishermen, whose interests are not identical with those of the trawling industry and sometimes are antagonistic. The trawlers undoubtedly are passing through a period of great depression, but I do not think that even the Mover of the Amendment told us the whole story. I listened to him very carefully for about 40 minutes, during a most interesting description of the state of the industry and the proposals that he had to make for its recovery, but he said little or nothing about the financial complications which have done more to cripple the industry than almost anything else. The trawling companies in some districts have been over-capitalised. They went through a period of considerable prosperity, like a good many other trades, shortly after the War, and over-capitalisation has done nothing but cripple them ever since. It is one of the reasons why they are not now able to use their reserves, indeed why they have no reserves to use, for the 1627 rebuilding of their fleet. Their problems, therefore, are different from those of the inshore men. It is to a plea for the inshore men that I ask the attention of the Minister. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will lend a ready ear to the appeals from Grimsby, Milford Haven and Hull, but I hope he will remember also the hundreds of fishing villages around the coast which have not as eloquent or forcible or barefaced spokesman, but which are just as much entitled to the support and assistance of the Ministry as are the more wealthy concerns which run the big trawlers and trade all over the world.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I represent more inshore fishermen in my constituency than any other Member of the House.
§ Major PRICE
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not forget the trawling industry of Swansea.
I am prepared to help them, too, but I am for the moment out to help the small men. They do not receive the same abundance of assistance, although they need it most. Let me describe the position of the small men, not only in England but in Scotland. They cannot go very far afield; the size of their craft will not permit them to do so. The nature of their industry demands that they shall work, not only near their own harbours, but that they shall be able to link up with some railway terminus whence they can send their fish to market. They have open to them the area within the three miles limit, and nothing is more exasperating or infuriating than to find that, when the fishery cruiser is not about, one or other of the constituents of my three hon. Friends turns up and scours out, not only these bays, but also destroys the spawning ground from which some of the best of our inshore fisheries are replenished.
§ Major PRICE
As the right hon. Gentleman has levied a charge against my trawlers, I must ask him to produce the evidence with which to support the charge, because the fishery cruiser's duty is to see that we do not break the law.
I do not accuse all constituents of my hon. and gallant Friend, but there are black sheep even in Milford Haven, and some also in Grimbsy.
There are complaints made every week in the year. The trouble is that we cannot catch the delinquents.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN rose—
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
The right hon. Gentleman is slandering the whole trawling industry. The trawlers go to Iceland and Greenland, and never go anywhere near the inshore fisheries.
I do not wish to slander any class of fishermen as a whole, but everyone knows that every now and again there are men who come into our bays and scour them out. Let me impress on the House this fact: It is not necessary to do this every week in order to destroy the inshore fisheries; one complete scour out of a single bay will destroy a fishery for a whole year. That is indeed the reason why the Minister has to implore the assistance of the Admiralty to protect the inshore men, and the reason why the Secretary for Scotland has to employ a fishery cruiser to protect the inshore men. If there were no offence committed, and if, as the hon. and learned Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Grotrian) said, nothing but the most virtuous trawlers sail out of the ports mentioned, there are some other ports which supply these trawlers that do the real damage.
If they are Frenchmen let us catch them as well. I do not mind whether they are French or British; if they destroy the fisheries they are both criminals. Let us see how the inshore men are now suffering. They are suffering not only as a result of considerable depression, which appears to be affecting every branch of the fishing industry as well as a good many of our 1629 basic trades, but their markets are not as good as they were. Prices have steadily declined during the last two years. As far as one can tell, even during the present year there has been a decline in prices rather than a rise. That may be to the good of the consuming class, but the only way in which the inshore fishermen can make up for it is either by a reduction of their costs or by other means. It is not for them so much a question of wages, for they nearly all work on the share system. The level of French wages or Belgian wages or Dutch wages, therefore, does not affect them. If they are to make any reduction of costs they must each do with a smaller share, or they must be able to embark on their industry with a smaller capital expenditure. The only way in which they can do that is to build at the present low cost of building and with very much lower costs of motors. But a great many of them are already embarrassed with boats and motors bought on a high market.
The Ministry in the past has done good work in providing credits in a great many of our fishing villages, and without them it would have been impossible for the fishermen to have proceeded with the installation of motors in their boats. The assistance given by the Ministry and the Development Fund in this way was one of the best pieces of work ever done. It has enabled the fishermen to change over their sailing boats into mechanically driven boats, but at the present time the fishermen are embarrassed with mechanically driven boats which were bought and installed at a high cost. So far as I know the inshore fishers, I have never come across any men anywhere who were more grateful for Government assistance. That assistance was given very largely under the guidance of a most valuable Committee, of which Mr. Cecil Harmsworth was chairman, and he has kept up his support of the inshore fishermen through the Fishery Organisation Society up to the present time. Gratitude is expressed to Mr. Cecil Harmsworth and his Committee in every village round the English coast, and, I believe, in Scotland also. Then the Department has also had the assistance of some admirable advisers. Probably the ablest was the late Mr. Stephen Reynolds, who knew the inshore 1630 fishermen well, because he lived as one of them himself, and up to the time of his death laboured to secure for the inshore fishermen not only justice in the home markets but an equal meed of assistance with other great industries from the Development Fund.
At the present time the fishermen are suffering not only from these expensive boats but from the instalments which they have to repay. Though most valuable, the system has been in the nature of revolving credit. It has involved them in having to make their repayments and make them punctually, and in some of our fishing villages they find it impossible to keep up these repayments month by month or year by year. The Department has already, I believe, had to grant release from a good many of these loans. I do not know what the Minister will propose with regard to some of the outstanding loans, but there are still a good many of them which during the present year, I believe, it will be almost impossible for the fisherman to repay. Would the right hon. Gentleman let us know whether he has any proposals to make to the fishing industry for the deferring or postponing of the payment of instalments in the present year. If there were a postponement for 12 months it would be of the greatest assistance to these fishing villages and would enable them to tide over what is an exceedingly bad time.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) who moved the Amendment said there were two things he advocated, and these I would like to endorse. The first was further expenditure on research work. There is no doubt that we still know far too little about the habits of the fish around our island. After all these years we still know little about the habits of the herring or mackerel. The salmon is very much more a matter of river fishing by fresh-water men, although I know that there are still some, very valuable salmon reaches along our shores. The habits of the herring and mackerel are still matters of mystery, for we know very little about them. We have learnt more about the eel than about the herring in the last 25 years. Yet the herring industry is almost as great as the trawling industry; it is of vast importance, particularly in Scotland. There are 1631 some hon. Members who would not be in this House to-day if they had not the support of the herring fishermen of Scotland. These men are just as much entitled to expenditure from the Development Fund and to expenditure on research work as are agriculturists; they are just as much entitled to assistance from such funds as are the growers of sugar beet.
The maintenance of our herring fisheries is a matter of real national importance to us. It is true that the men who sail in the trawlers are amongst some of the bravest of our seamen and that they form an immensely valuable adjunct to the Royal Navy. The men who sail in the herring fishery boats sail in smaller craft and have to conduct their work in uncommonly bad weather; they are subject to the sudden gales of the North Sea and they have developed a trade that is second to none. They are entitled to all the Government assistance that we can give them in the finding out of the habits of the fish which they pursue. The same is equally true of the men who fish mackerel. Especially in the South-West of England you will find men going out in the roughest possible weather trying to get into contact with the mackerel shoals. If they could only receive such guidance and help as the Government could give them, it would mean that they would be able to conduct their industry with much less danger to human life. That, in itself, is one of the prime reasons why more money should be devoted to fishery research.
They can be caught just as well as other fish. We want to know more about them. We want to pool our national knowledge on the subject, and unless we have knowledge it is certain that we cannot, with scientific accuracy, pursue even the pilchard. Let me come to another aspect of the work which must be done, if we are to help our inshore fishermen. They not only require to have good boats and to be themselves skilled fishermen and to know where to go for the fish—receiving certain guidance from those better informed than themselves, and able to take advantage of national knowledge—but they 1632 are also entitled to good harbours out of which they can proceed and to which they can return, in rough weather, and land their fish. All round the coast there are numbers of small harbours which, for the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money on breakwaters or small wharves, could be turned into places in which fishing boats could shelter during stormy weather, places which they could enter no matter how great a wind was blowing or how heavy a sea was running, and places with wharves alongside on which they could land their fish without having a double expenditure on carriage.
One of the best pieces of national expenditure we could undertake would be to see that these little fishing ports are re-surveyed, and if necessary, in some cases, partially rebuilt. Breakwaters have been washed away in the great storms of this winter. On the North-East coast two of the most important fishing ports have had their outer breakwaters entirely destroyed during the high tides and the heavy gales. The result is that every fisherman in those ports is suffering. They cannot lie inside the harbour without danger to their ships. The deterioration in their boats has been very great even during the present winter. They are crowded together, a large number of craft all landing their fish at the same time, and the crunching and grinding of these vessels, owing to the sea breaking in without the interruption or protection of breakwaters, has done a great deal towards destroying the capital value of the local fishing fleets. Equally, they need to be protected not only from the sea, but also from the heavy landing charges, which in some places almost destroy the chance of a profitable market. I agree with the Mover about the heavy expenditure on carriage by rail. That is one direction in which reform undoubtedly is possible and ought to be pursued, but one of the expenses which bites heavily into the profits of fishermen is the expenditure, not on carriage by rail, but on carriage to the rail. Whether it be by motor wagons, as in a great many places, or by carts and horses as in most of them, the expense of that extra carriage often wipes out the profit on which the fishermen depend.
I would support the hon. Member for Grimsby all the way in trying to get a 1633 reduction of railway rates, and perhaps I may suggest to him that one of the best services which he could do to Grimsby would be to persuade the Coast Lines to call in there more regularly, and to take fish as part of their regular cargoes. I undertake to say that it would be carried cheaper by sea than it is carried by land. But these smaller places have to be linked up with the railway services. We shall shortly be discussing in this House the connection between carriage by rail and the way in which it is linked up with traffic by road. I do not think we ought to stop there. If there is to be an extension of railway activities on to the roads, let there also be an extension of railway activities within the shores of these islands, linking up these little ports and villages in closer connection with the big markets of the country. By an extension of that kind of traffic, by the lowering of the cost of the sending of our herrings and of our harder fish, and especially of shell fish—which we have left altogether out of our discussions this afternoon, although a very important part of the fishing industry—we might do our part towards making the industry, which is now suffering from heavy and prolonged losses, once more a profitable national industry.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
The Ministry which is under discussion to-day has been justly called "the Ministry of loaves and fishes," and I want to call the attention of the House to the fact that on the famous occasion alluded to in the terms "loaves and fishes," both articles of food were treated with the same method and advantage. I suggest to the House that the Ministry of Fisheries might take a leaf out of the book of the Ministry of Agriculture, and that the right hon. Gentleman who combines the functions of Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Fisheries should apply to the question of fisheries the same development of regulation that he has applied to agriculture. I allude particularly to the field of marketing, in which the Ministry of Agriculture has displayed marked activity. When we look at this matter from the point of view of marketing, and of the profits to be made—out of which a population has to be maintained—we must take a general and national view of the whole matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member 1634 for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) seemed to distinguish some rivalry between the interests of the inshore fishermen and those of the deep-sea and capitalistic fisheries, but I think he will admit that a national view can be taken, which covers both spheres, and includes, without any rivalry at all, the whole of this great national interest.
Although it only represents a production of something like 10 per cent, of our agricultural output, the fishing, industry is yet a national asset of extraordinary value, and it seems to me that, while the Ministry of Agriculture has been extending its activities in very important ways, the functions of the Ministry of Fisheries have been regarded in rather a narrow spirit. Its work and its reports are all of a highly technical character, and I think it might with advantage copy the developments of the sister Ministry. Why should not the staff which has been studying marketing conditions and making suggestions regarding agriculture, and which, I understand, is getting through its labours, go on to devote its attention to the fishery question? I hope the Minister will consider the idea of extending a series, like the series of Orange Books which follows on the Report of the Linlithgow Committee, to the whole question of improving the fishing trade. When one considers the profits that are to be made in this trade, one finds the last Report of the Ministry of Fisheries very depressing reading. The whole output in the last year reported on was less in value than that of the year before. Germany has now become our best customer, and the most striking decline is in the case of the Russian trade. There was an extraordinary drop in 1924 in Russian trade. From 807,000 cwts. it fell in 1925 to under 200,000 cwts., and in 1926 it actually fell to 12,000 cwts.—this, from 807,000 cwts. two years previously.
Such a drop as that is so striking that I hope the Minister will be willing to defend on its merits the question of the treatment of Russian trade. It is not to be lightly brushed aside with a laugh at the Russian proposals. It is a fact that in 1924 a tremendous development of trade with Russia was taking place, and it is the breach with Russia which has taken away a living from so many of our men. When we look at the home trade we find that the prices have been 1635 disastrous for the industry, but the consumer has not by any means secured the advantage which ought to correspond with the lowered prices received by the fishermen. Foreign landings were nearly doubled in the year last under review: and our imports were 30 percent., above 1913, being 15 percent, of our total consumption. The total value of the imports came to £11,000,000. While the Ministry of Agriculture has been developing in various ways, the functions of the Ministry of Fisheries have remained much the same. They began on the same footing. In the case of agriculture it was necessary to form a Ministry in order to make Regulations regarding certain matters, and we have the counterpart in the fishery world of those Regulations. Then we went on to research, and on that point I cordially agree with what has been said as to the extraordinary importance of further research. There might be a vastly greater production if research work were carried further. Take the question of plaice alone. Much might be achieved if the findings of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea were put into enforcement by international regulation.
Next, the Ministry of Agriculture went on to the question of developing resources in regard to small holdings, and, corresponding with that, we have had in the fishery world a certain development of the shell-fish industry more or less of the same kind. Then in agriculture you bad an increased interest in the workers, and I think the Report of the Ministry of Fisheries might display a great deal more interesting information in regard to the position of the men working in the industry. There is a study to be made of their conditions which would be extremely valuable; and, corresponding with the wage question in agriculture—which gets a whole Report under the Ministry of Agriculture—there ought to be a great deal more public interest aroused by the Fisheries Report on this branch of its subject. Finally, there is the marketing question, which is just now proving to be a most important sphere of activity in regard to agriculture. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has called attention again and again to the 1636 failure to bring to the public advantage gluts of fish. In the same way there are losses to the public in gluts of fruit, and it is only since we have had systematic investigation turned on by the marketing officers of the Ministry of Agriculture that light has been thrown on the question of what to do. The same advantage would accrue from an investigation into marketing and distribution conditions in regard to fish.
Let me say a word upon other subjects with which I think the Report ought to deal more fully in further issues. The number of men engaged in the fishing industry fell, it appears from the 1926 Report, from 37,000 to 36,000. There ought to be an inquiry into the cause of that fall. The number of boats also fell, not only first-class boats but second-class boats. We are not given any information as to the methods by which or the categories in which earnings were made or losses incurred by these boats. There ought to be further information, also, on the vital matter of accidents and loss of life. The end of every industry is the support of human life, and while we have the number engaged in the industry falling, we have here a trade in which men are incurring extraordinary risk, and in which the rate of accident and loss of life is very great. I find that 68 lives are recorded as having been lost in the year under review. We ought to know if investigations are on foot for the development of wireless, or other provision to avoid such lamentable loss.
Then might we not have reports a little more up-to-date? This Report, which is called the Report for 1926, is really in a great measure the Report for 1925, which we only get in 1928, and when we get it it falls very short in the information that it might give us. No doubt those who compile it wait for instructions from the Minister to let the Report cover more ground, and I hope the Minister will attend to that and give a freer hand for the very able men who conduct the Ministry and can make the Report so interesting. It is only once a year, as a rule, that we get any discussion of the fishery question, and, therefore, it ought to be a general review and cover all the important points. It ought to be one of the most interesting discussions of the year. It is not 1637 only economically urgent, but extraordinarily romantic. There is nothing to equal the hardihood of the men concerned, the danger that they run, and the courage that they display, and those of us who became acquainted with the writings of Stephen Reynolds could never fail to regard a fishery debate as one of the most attractive and interesting of the year.
The inshore fishermen, I trust, are not forgotten by the mover and seconder of the Amendment, although they appear to limit their affections to deep-sea men, but it is an extraordinary fact that, viewing the great importance, in numberless ways, of the inshore men, we are allowing their interests to be overruled again and again at our coast villages and towns. These men furnish the crews of our lifeboats, and at intervals they become famous, almost national heroes, by some incident where extraordinary courage is displayed, as was displayed the other day on the Happisburgh Sands, where the men of the Cromer lifeboat risked being smashed on the steamer that was on the sands because by no other means could they get off to the men who were left on the boat. These things illustrate now and then the priceless services which are rendered by the inshore men, and yet you get, again and again, where coast villages are developing into pleasure resorts, an overruling of the interests of the fishermen and a subjugation of their success to interests which are on a larger scale.
Again and again, I have thought, these men are helpless in the provision of what they need—it may be of windlasses, of shelters, or perhaps of the improvement of some small harbour—because they are not numerous enough, not always skilful enough in political wangling, to get attention from the public bodies concerned; and I think the Ministry might, through its officers, increased if necessary, do something to see that the interests of these men are not overruled, because they are of extraordinary value, not only for the fish which they catch—a not inconsiderable national asset—but because they are a priceless element in the provision of men for lifeboats, for the Navy, and for the mercantile marine. It is true that they carry individualism to a point unrivalled perhaps by any other set of men, but 1638 they are not on that account of less interest to us on these benches. They are people whose interests ought to be a matter of great public concern.
Those are the points that we, on these benches, want to urge on the Ministry—more attention to the marketing question, marketing investigation, fuller, more interesting and more up-to-date reports, and more attention to the real interests of the inshore men as well as of those working in capitalist fishing. Therefore, I hope the Minister will authorise a more general report to succeed the one which is now before us, and that he will not insist on its restriction to dry facts, but that he will make it more worthy of the great interests concerned.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
I shall not intervene for very long in this Debate because my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has made such an admirable and complete survey of most of the fishing questions that I do not think there is very much left for anybody else to say, but I should like to associate myself with the remarks that, he made as to the men who engage in these industries. He described them as the bravest in the land, and certainly, in my experience, that is not an exaggeration in the very slightest degree. In that regard, we were very pleased to see the tribute paid to them by the Prime Minister a few days ago. I should like to enter a friendly warning to my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, who now represents, and is proud to represent, the premier fishing port, but I have been looking at the figures, and I am afraid that, unless he can instil into some of the fishing people in Grimsby some of the enthusiasm with which he represents them here, the honour of representing the premier fishing port will have passed from the hon. Member for Grimsby to the hon. Member for South West Hull, because, so far as I can make out the figures, in 1927, including herrings and foreign fish, there was lauded in Grimsby 177,000 tons and in Hull 168,000 tons, and the disquieting part for the hon. Member for Grimsby is that, whereas the Hull figures are increasing all the time, the Grimsby figures seem to be more or less stationary. I only give him that friendly warning.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Price), 1639 who seconded this Amendment, used the expression that this industry was in a parlous state. I do not think any good purpose is served by exaggeration, and that is an exaggeration of the state of the trawling industry, at any rate so far as I know. I am not able—I have not the knowledge—to speak about inshore fishermen, because there are none in my constituency, which is concerned simply and solely with long distance, deep-sea trawling, and although they are not making large fortunes, it is certainly an exaggeration to say that their industry is in a parlous state, and I am sure they will not thank the hon. and gallant Member for so describing it. With regard to the difficulty of getting credits, either from the Government or from the banks, I think that to-day any well-managed concern, which is not over-capitalised, can still get all the credit it wants. In Hull, at any rate, during the last three years we have built 40 new trawlers, at a cost of £17,000 each, equipped for sea, and 20 of those have been built since 1st January, 1926, while there are now, I believe, eight more building and seven in contemplation—that is to say, they are projected, and the plans have been got out. I do not think, therefore, it is quite right to say that, so far as Hull is concerned, at any rate, the trade is in a parlous condition.
I agree with most of what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) said, but I really must protest—although there is no one to whom to protest, as there are at the moment no Members on the Liberal Benches, but perhaps someone will tell him that I do protest—that he should utter his Slanders in this House against Hull trawlers and then run away and not hear the answer. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby), who is just coming in, will convey my message to his right hon. Friend. It is absolutely untrue that the Hull trawlers are fishing within the three miles limit where his men fish.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
I am afraid I shall not still be speaking when he comes back, but I will tell him myself. It is quite untrue. All the Hull trawlers fish off Iceland and the Faroes, and they go as far away as Greenland now, but they do not go sneaking around places in Scotland or Wales or wherever it is the right hon. Gentleman represents; and, therefore, that is a slander, which we repudiate. I am sorry my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is not here at the moment, because he is the father of this idea of getting Government money for trawlers, and some newspapers which represent his views in Hull had, I saw, a headline "Hull Trawler Heroes; Proposed Help," and then they had what the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull would do for them. I do not think the heroes are going to get much of that help. I think that probably it will go to the people whom I have sometimes heard described from the benches opposite as "bloated capitalists." I am not suggesting that that is the language of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, because he is a thoroughly good capitalist himself, and he knows the services which capitalism renders to the country. Perhaps he has not been on those benches long enough to have caught the sort of jargon that we hear from them, such as "bloated capitalists," but, so far as he is concerned, he was in an admirable position, because he might have a chance of getting those credits, and at the same time he and his supporters could represent that it was being done for these heroes who go on the trawlers.
I am sure he will agree with me that that is not a complete statement of the case. I do not say it is inaccurate, but it is not complete, and I should ask the Minister to be very careful before embarking upon anything of the sort, because I think it would do a great deal of harm eventually. It would simply mean that the inefficient people would be brought into competition with the efficient, by means of some Government subsidy or something of the sort, and I do not think that that would be quite fair or beneficial to the industry. Some years ago the industry was in what I might call an over-built condition, which meant that a good many ships had to be laid up and, of course, men thrown out 1641 of work, and I very much fear that the same sort of thing might happen if anybody offered cheap money to speculators and amateurs in the trade with which to build trawlers at this time.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the hon. and learned Member aware that in the Prime Minister's election address he said thatextended credit facilities in this direction"—in the direction, that is, of the fishing industry—will be the subject of inquiry"?
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
I have no doubt it will be a subject of inquiry, and I am trying to issue a warning to the Minister that when the inquiry comes he will be very careful how he does anything of the sort without taking the opinion of all the trawler owners in this country. I know that I am not speaking for the Trawlers' Federation of Great Britain, who have not yet met or decided this question, but I can say that the Hull people will thoroughly oppose it. If that be so, I am sure the Minister will be very careful before he embarks on anything of the sort. Many other suggestions have been made as to ways in which this industry could be helped. I could talk about these for a long time, but I promised to be short, and I shall refer shortly only to one or two. Last year upon the Navy Estimates I referred to the question of retainers for up-to-date trawlers, so that the Admiralty might have their services; therefore, I will not refer to that again. The question of exploration and research work is important. The individual cannot afford to do that work, and he finds that, if he does do it, he gets only one or two voyages to the particular grounds which he has discovered, and the knowledge gets about so that everybody benefits from the expenditure to which he has been put.
One point which has not been sufficiently emphasised is the importance of this country strictly adhering to, and getting other countries to adhere to, the three-mile limit. Most of our troubles come from countries not adopting the 1642 practice, which is almost universal. We adhere to the three-mile limit, but Norway and Russia do not, and it makes it very difficult for our men, when they go to other countries, to know exactly where they can fish, I hope that, if ever any discussion takes place, the Government will keep a stiff upper lip on this question, because it is one of the most important things for this industry.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I want to intervene for only a few minutes to reply to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Grotrian). It is unfortunate that this Debate should degenerate into a contest between the different interests in this industry—between the trawling interests, or between the Scottish and English interests, or between in-shore and deep-sea fishermen. The fishing industry is a great industry. It is the sixth in the country, and employs, directly or indirectly, 800,000 people; and it is big enough for all of us to try and help it. I beg my hon. and learned Friend to look at it from a national point of view. I do not want to go into the attitude of the British Trawlers' Federation or of the Hull trawlers, but I do know this, that the industry was promised help by the Prime Minister in his election address. I am not the author of the proposal for credit; I happen to have raised it, because credits for agriculture were mentioned in the King's Speech, and I took the first, opportunity of doing it. The hon. and learned Gentleman's own leader is the originator of it, and I want to ask the Minister of Agriculture what he has done practically to carry out the Prime Minister's pledge. This is what the Prime Minister said, not in a speech at an emotional gathering of enthusiastic Tories, but in his calmly-considered election address:The interests of the fishing industry will not be neglected"—?that is in case the lieges were so ill-advised as to return him to power, and this is what he said he would do in that unhappy event—and with that object in view, the provision of further and extended credit facilities in this direction will be the subject of inquiry.Those are the Prime Minister's words, and I am being attacked by my hon. and learned colleague, who tries to help the 1643 city of Hull as I do in this House, because I took the opportunity of the King's Speech to remind the Government, three years afterwards, of this promise, and to ask them to implement it.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
I apologise to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I had not remembered that the Prime Minister had raised the question, and I did not expect to find him in such good company.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
My hon. and learned Friend is the acme of courtesy, and I do not object to any of his well-meant remarks, which I know he made in all good humour. We all want to do our best by the industry, and to see assistance given to it as a whole. There should not be one section divided off in support of the trawlers, another in favour of the line fishermen, and another in favour of the herring fishermen. We have to look at the industry from the national standpoint. I think I am voicing the Labour point of view when I say that help should be given to the English fishermen in the trawling industry to enable them to become joint owners of their boats, as the Scottish fishermen are. In the Scottish fishing industry, fathers, brothers, sons and nephews can own a boat between them, and I should like to see English fishermen given the same facilities. I do not think they could get them from the great banks. If facilities are given to farmers, the fishermen should be given similar facilities. The distinctive Labour point of view on this important subject is that some of these men, who have been praised by the hon. Member for Grimbsy (Mr. Womersley) and other hon. Members on many occasions for their great work in the War, should be enabled to set up as their own masters in charge of their own boats.
I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture would call together a general inquiry, either an inter-Departmental inquiry, or a Royal Commission, or some other form of inquiry, for the whole fishing industry, on which there should be representation of the Admiralty, the Ministry of Transport, the Board of Trade, and, of course, the Ministry of Fisheries, to see how we can best assist the whole calling of fishing by better transport facilities, more refrigerator trucks on the railways, better 1644 marketing reports, better marketing organisations, credit facilities, if you like, and any other way in which help could be given. It cannot be done by piece-meal methods, or by single deputations to the Ministry, but only by taking into consideration all the facts, and by consultation of the Departments of State which are concerned. The railways could give far greater facilities, and therefore, there would have to be a representative of the Ministry of Transport on such an inquiry. It is high time that that should be done, because, after three years, it is common ground in this House among representatives of the fishing industry, that the industry needs help, and that little or nothing is being done to implement the Prime Minister's pledge.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
I am sure that the House has valued the opportunity—a rare opportunity—to hear something about the fishing industry. It is an industry which is, in the main, very silent, in spite of the activities of some of its able representatives in this House. We all recognise how much we owe to it, and that it is of national importance that it should be kept efficient, and not allowed to fall into decay. A well-known admiral stated that the Spanish Armada was defeated by the British fishermen. I do not know whether that is an entirely full account of the defeat of the Armada, but there is no doubt that, in the last War, we owed to our fishing fleet, and the trained personnel which they provided to the Navy, a debt which it would be difficult to exaggerate. It is therefore, in the national interest to encourage the fisherman, not only because of the valuable food supplies which he furnishes, but also because he is an important part of our naval defence. Undoubtedly, although the fishing industry has not been going through the difficult times of agriculture, or say, the coal industry, it has had in the last few years to face very anxious problems. It has, to a great extent, lost its old export markets, especially in Russia. These markets at the present time are largely closed, or greatly diminished in their capacity to buy fish of British taking, and there is not a great deal that any Government, however well disposed, ran do by direct action to help the industry.
1645 The public have it in their power to do very much more. Perhaps it is not inappropriate that this Debate should take place on the first day of Holy Week, because, in former times, it was the custom to eat more fish at this time of the year than at any other. The Debate we had in this House a few weeks ago showed that there is a great interest in religious topics, and, whatever may be the attitude of the Churches to fasting, I am sure that it would be in the interest of the good health of the community if some of the old-time customs in the way of eating fish could be revived. It would be of the greatest possible assistance to the two industries for which I have to speak if the community would eat more fish and drink more milk.
The hon. and gallant member for Pembroke (Major Price) suggested that one effective way out of the difficulties which are confronting the fishing industry would be a measure of protection. I should be out of order if I were to pursue that topic in detail, but I would point out that, apart from the great political obstacles to putting what would be called a tax on food, there is a great difference of opinion in the industry itself as to the wisdom of any such duty, because, in the diverse industries which depend upon fishing there are those who are anxious to get cheap sources of supply for the curing of fish, and who would probably urge that they can only compete in the foreign markets for cured fish if they are able to get their supplies under present conditions. It must be pointed out, also, that if we were to have any interference with the present system we might well be faced with certain disadvantages in the way of retaliation, seeing that at the present time we export nearly half as much again in weight of fish as we import, that is taking the figures for fresh fish and cured fish together.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
No, I am afraid I have not got the value. I have got the values of imports from abroad, and I am glad to be able to say that there was a satisfactory falling off last year as compared with the previous year. We imported £35,000 worth less of foreign fish, 1646 and 216,000 cwts. less in quantity of wet fish.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I think those are figures of the total quantity of fresh fish, imported into Great Britain.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
During 1926, with the long coal stoppage and the general strike, foreign trawlers undoubtedly benefited. We had to compete with them with their cheaper coal from their own ports, and they found here a very good market for their fish.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
As I said, I have been rather nervous about straying outside the bounds of Order on a Supply Vote, but I did want to point out that there are different interests in the industry, and certainly there are overwhelming obstacles against imposing a duty on fish, anyhow in the lifetime of the present Parliament. On the question of railway rates, my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) pointed out that in certain respects the rate from Grimsby to London compares very unfavourably with the rate from Esbjerg, in Denmark, but he has compared rates per ton from Esbjerg with rates per cwt. from Grimsby. In the case of Grimsby, I am told that where lots are of less weight than four cwts. the rates are cheaper than the rates from Esbjerg, and, of course, it is obvious that all railway rates must give an advantage to those who offer their traffic in large quantities. We must also remember that this rate from Esbjerg includes only about half the mileage over the railway which is comprised in the rate from Grimsby, because the fish from Esbjerg comes most of the way by sea, and is landed at Harwich.
I was glad to hear the tribute which several speakers paid to the research which is being carried on to help the fishing industry. The fact that we are now so often pressed to start voyages of exploration to new and distant fishing 1647 grounds suggests a belief on the part of the fishing industry that many of the nearer grounds are in danger of being over-fished. It may be that we have too many boats at work. It may be that with our modern and more intensive methods we are killing too many young and immature fish. Perhaps research will find a way of fishing more efficiently, and therefore more economically, but none of these results can be achieved except by patient effort, biological and statistical, extended over a considerable period. The scientific staffs of the Fisheries Department of the Board of Fishery in Scotland, and the various unofficial institutions to which the Government afford financial support, are steadily adding to that knowledge upon which alone improvement in our methods can be based, and I should like to pay my tribute to the admirable way in which the officials under the Ministry of Fisheries and other scientific workers are carrying out their task. We are now starting on a new side of the research, thanks to the financial help afforded by the Empire Marketing Board. We are fitting out two new ships for research, at a cost of about £18,000, to discover the best methods of preserving and treating fish after it has been caught, and I am sure that hon. Members in touch with the problems of the industry will agree that this is a field of research which is fertile in promise.
Reference has been made to the advantage that was gained by the exploratory voyage of the "Florence Brierley." That voyage cost a good deal less than we anticipated, owing to the fact that they brought home a valuable cargo of fish. Their task was to explore in the region of the 100-fathom line from the north-west coast of Scotland to the coast of Norway, and the chief object of that exploration was to find new hake grounds. They were very successful, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby that it would be to the great advantage of the fishing industry if the experiment of the "Florence Brierley" could be repeated. The Admiralty might perhaps help in the preliminary work. I have not discussed it with them, but I will be glad to do so. It is quite true, as I think my hon. Friend pointed out, that the Admiralty, by means of the 1648 modern appliances for echo sounding, are able to locate banks when steaming much faster than was possible by the old methods, and if we could get the assistance of the Admiralty in carrying out—perhaps in the ordinary course of their work—the location of banks at suitable depths, it might be possible and profitable to send fishery research vessels to explore the fish life which may be found upon them. My hon. Friend suggested another way in which the Admiralty might help our fishing fleet, and that was by paying a retaining fee to suitable ships. That, again, is a matter which I will be glad to take up with the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I have no idea what attitude he may take on it.
The right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) raised the case of the in-shore fishermen, and pleaded for more favourable treatment in the case of those men who have been able to buy boats with the help of State credit. Hitherto, nearly one-third of the loans which have been advanced for this purpose to the in-shore fishermen have been written off, and it is obvious that it would be neither consistent with the interests of the public nor fair to those fishermen who have loyally carried out their obligations, and done their best to pay off their loans, if any indiscriminate writing-off were to take place; but I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are administering these loans in a very reasonable way, and are not unduly pressing for repayment from those fishermen who are unable to pay in view of their present circumstances. My right hon. Friend also raised the question of the small harbours. I am glad to say that at Port Isaac, in North Cornwall, work is starting this week on the improvement of the harbour. The Government are finding £22,000 towards the cost of these works, and the locality is finding £11,000, of which the Cornwall County Council provide £2,000 and the Bodmin Rural District Council £5,000. Port Isaac Harbour has been a very difficult problem ever since I have been at the Ministry, and I am very glad that a solution has at last been reached.
Perhaps the most disquieting fact which has been brought out in this Debate is as to the age of the vessels; it was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke. The 1649 age of our trawlers is unduly high; and in the case of our drifters where the average age is about 18 years the position is even more disquieting. The drifter fleet has considerably diminished in comparison with what it was before the War. It now numbers only about 1,200, as compared with 1,600 in 1913, but owing to the unfortunate drop in the demand for herring from Continental countries, it is still doubtful whether the fleet is not capable of providing more than markets are able to absorb. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) mentioned the undertaking in the Prime Minister's election address that the question of providing credits for the fishing industry would be the subject of inquiry.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The phrase was:The provision of further and extended credit facilities in this direction will be the subject of inquiry, and the interests of the fishing industry will not be neglected.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
We have inquired. As the hon. and gallant Member is aware, there has been a good deal of discussion recently in the area which he represents, and we have got strong evidence that there is by no means a unanimous opinion amongst those who might be expected to take advantage of this State credit if it were provided.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
Certainly the owners in Hull have said that they do not require credit, but they do not represent the whole of the industry, and various ports are considering this question. When the reports come in from the central authority, the recommendation will be sent to the Ministry, and I hope he will not say now that he is against granting credit. I trust he will keep an open mind on the subject until these reports have been received.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I do not suggest that the partial information which has reached us hitherto from the industry would be a fair ground for coming to any definite decision. I do not, however, think it is right to argue that because we propose to provide credits for agriculture we ought necessarily to do the same thing for the fishing industry. The two industries are run on an entirely different basis. In the case of agriculture the need for long-term credit 1650 is caused by the method of organisation, because it is carried on by individuals, and by hundreds of thousands of small capitalists who are largely shut out from the normal methods by which other industries obtain their capital and credit. That does not apply to the fishing industry to anything like the same extent. The House is aware that a large proportion of the fishing industry is based upon joint stock enterprise, and it has facilities which have grown up for the benefit of that form of enterprise which are not easily applicable to agriculture. The problem therefore cannot be compared with that which confronts the farmer. As regards short-term credit the fisherman carries on his business under conditions which in comparison with the farmer may be described as a cash business. He sells his fish before he has to pay for his requirements. He does not have that long delay between seed-time and harvest which characterises those engaged in the agricultural industry, and which is so serious a problem in that industry.
The inquiries I have made in various directions lead me to think that there is no urgent need for capital in the fishing industry at the present time and that capital will probably be forthcoming as soon as the building of new ships becomes a really paying proposition.
I am sure the House will agree that it would not be helpful to the industry to furnish capital and an artificial stimulus to building before the demand for fish and the general position of the industry justified such a measure. There is evidence that we are now going through a transition period. The cost of building has not perhaps yet been stabilised, and there is doubt whether in the case of drifters motor engines may not replace steam engines. Under these conditions of doubt any artificial stimulation might do great damage, and might do the most damage to the small men whose interests are in the minds of many of those who are anxious about the present position. If by providing State credit we encourage people to build ships before such a course is economically justifiable, it would only mean the scrapping of a lot of old ships with a great loss of capital to a number of the smaller men. I am quite sure that it would be a mistake to press 1651 the industry to build ships until they are satisfied that the new construction is justified on the basis of paying its way.
There are great difficulties at the present time and great uncertainties although we must not forget that conditions in certain respects show an undoubted improvement. Coal is now several shillings cheaper than it was a year ago, and naturally coal is the biggest outgoing in this industry. On the other side of the account, the landings of the fish last year showed that they were 500,000 cwts. up on the year before, although it is true that the total value did not show much difference. It is a satisfactory position that while the cost in this most important respect of coal is down, the receipts have not been decreasing accordingly. I hope that the improvement in the financial position which seems to be shown by these developments may enable the industry itself to find a way of removing those causes of alarm which have been expressed this afternoon chiefly owing to the ago and obsolescence of our fishing fleets.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I want to say a word or two about the Scottish herring fishing industry, which is quite a separate branch. I do not think any fishermen have more claim upon the consideration of this House, and I believe they have a greater claim than those engaged in the other parts of the industry, because these men are absolutely vital to the security of the Fleet in time of war. During the first 18 months of the War the Fleet could not have existed without these drifters, and Lord Jellicoe and Lord Beatty have paid their tribute to the services rendered by these fishermen. I wish to put one or two points which concern the Secretary of State for Scotland more than the Minister of Agriculture. I want to raise the question of the obsolescence of the fishing fleet which is causing us a great deal of anxiety. I agree that this is not a matter of great urgency just now, but it will be in another couple of years, or even less. I think something will have to be done to help these fishermen to replace their craft, as they begin to go out of action in very large numbers and simultaneously. I should say that several hundreds of them have not more than three or four years to run. This matter is of sufficient 1652 urgency to warrant the serious consideration of the Department of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
The Minister of Agriculture referred to joint stock companies running the trawling fleet companies, which he said might be able to raise capital for replacement purposes in a short time. The position is quite different in the herring fishing industry, where the same confusion obtains as in agriculture, and no difference can be drawn between the two. The fishing fleet is largely owned by the fishermen themselves, and they are the sort of men who cannot raise capital unless they have two or three amazingly good seasons. It cannot be suggested that on this account the fleet should be allowed to rot. When this question of credits comes up in the future, I think the herring fishing fleet should be put in a different category from the trawling fleet, because the drifter fleet cannot raise capital in the same way, and a difference must be made. While there is a considerable difference of opinion among the trawling fleet as to the advantages of credit, there is no difference of opinion in the herring fishing industry among the drifter owners that when the time comes to replace the drifters they will require credit, and some form of assistance from the Government will be necessary.
There is only one other point I want to mention with regard to credits. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is not yet quite certain whether the future of the industry lies in the modification of the present steam drifter or a new kind of craft altogether, with a new internal combustion engine. Now is the time for the Government to carry out a series of experimental tests to find out which of these crafts is the most suitable. Personally, I think we shall require a certain number of both types. We shall require the steam drifter for considerable distances and the small craft for inshore work. There is no doubt that the herring fishing industry is suffering from the total absence of the Russian market, which in former years was its chief market. I believe that about 75 per cent, of the export trade in herrings went to Russia, Poland and the Baltic States. Consequently, the position is not quite so bad as hon. Members opposite are inclined to make out when they quote that figure as being the total for Russia. As a matter of fact, we have only lost that 1653 portion of the herring export trade which does not include Poland and the Baltic States.
Recently there have been many rumours concerning some great deal involving a large amount of capital in this country which has been arrived at between certain representatives of the herring fishing industry in Scotland and Poland, whereby a very large quantity of herrings will receive preferential treatment if they are imported into Poland through a new port near Danzig. A lot of rumours are current to the effect that this scheme will do a lot of harm to the herring fishing industry, while others say that the scheme will mean the salvation of the industry. In the interests of all concerned, the sooner the full details of this scheme are published the better it will be for the herring fishing industry and for Poland and the Baltic States as a whole. I think the time has arrived when we should know the full facts in regard to this scheme. The policy of "hush, hush" should not go on any longer, and I am perfectly sure that these rumours ought to be stopped.
I would urge my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to stir up the Department of Overseas Trade. He is no longer there, but, while he was there, he did a great deal to promote the sale and export of herrings, and I would urge him, and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, to keep stirring them up, and to do everything that they possibly can to get any barriers removed that may be set up by Poland or any other European country, so that the export and sale of British cured herrings all over the Continent, and particularly in Germany, Central Europe and Poland, may be facilitated.
There is another aspect of the marketing question. Canada and the United States are capable of affording an immense outlet for cured herrings from this country. This is a matter which the Empire Marketing Board, in conjunction with the Imperial Economic Committee, might well take up and carry through, because those two markets have been for all practical purposes entirely unexploited. I would also urge my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary 1654 of State for Scotland, when he is considering his harbour policy on the North-East of Scotland, not to waste time and money on little harbours which are only capable of sheltering six or seven drifters, and cannot shelter anything like a substantial part of the main fleet. The fact that two of them are in my own constituency does not prevent me from saying that there are only three harbours on the North-East of Scotland, namely, Wick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead, which are fit to be kept up to full pitch and tune for the purpose of conducting the summer fishing in an efficient manner. Money will be thrown away if it is spent on keeping up little harbours which can only take two or three drifters, which can only work in connection with small inshore boats, whereas at Wick. Fraserburgh and Peterhead large and necessary schemes have been held up for the last two or three years, and these must be carried through if the fleet is to be maintained during the height of the season. Those schemes have been held up by lack of funds, and I would urge my hon. and gallant Friend to get these big harbours kept in good trim, even if it means sacrificing some of the smaller harbours.
With regard to scientific research, I know that a depot has been established at Aberdeen for the purpose of research work, but that is entirely concerned with the white fishing and the trawling industry. Obviously, that is going to be of immense value, because, if it is possible, as it is hoped it will be, to keen the fish in fresh condition for over a week, the result will be enormously beneficial to the industry. I also think, however, that some research ought to be carried out, as has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), in connection purely with the herring fishing industry and the herring itself. We know nothing about the herring. We do not know where they spawn, we do not know where they come from, or where they go to; we do not know the right time at which to start fishing for them, and, really, we know nothing about their habits or their life. I am sure that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will support me when I say that a great deal more research might properly be conducted into the habits of the herring, in 1655 spite of all his own research work in that direction.
There is also room for a great deal of research into what can be done with the herring when it is caught. A great many things can be done with it besides eating it. It can be converted into a most valuable fertiliser, oil can be extracted from it, and there are various processes which have been conducted, but up to the present, I am sorry to say, to a large extent in Germany. Experiments on these scientific processes for dealing with the herring might well be conducted in this country as well as in Germany, and I trust that the Minister of Agriculture will press on with the development of scientific research in connection with the fishing industry in every possible way. We have a market which is capable of still further development in Europe, and we have one that has hardly been touched in the United States and in Canada; and I do solicit the support of the Empire Marketing Board in helping us to get cured herrings across there. What fills me, however, with absolute amazement is the way in which the people of this country have flatly declined hitherto to eat herrings in any reasonable quantities. We have heard a great deal about the distressed areas in the minefields; we have heard about the lower standard of living, and the miserable wages paid; and yet, throughout those distressed areas, you hardly ever hear of herrings being sold, although I am certain that they are the cheapest food that can possibly be obtained, and by far the most nutritious.
It is not merely a question of the fresh herring. In the coalfields of South Wales, Durham, Northumberland and so on, no cheaper or more nutritious food could possibly be sold than cured herrings. It is libellous to say that cured herrings are unpalatable, if they are properly prepared. If the salt is boiled out of them they can be made practically as good as fresh herrings, and they are the best tasting fish of any. I have eaten many of them myself. We shall be glad of the assistance of this House, of the Empire Marketing Board, and of anyone whom we can enlist in support of our efforts to popularise the herring. Here we have these swarms of herring round our coasts; we catch them 1656 in millions, we cure them, and where do we sell them? Everywhere but to our own people, who stand in the most need. I am certain that the Minister of Agriculture was right when he said that far too much meat is eaten in this country, and I am quite ready to join him in a fasting campaign—
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I did not say that too much meat was eaten; I said that there was too little fish eaten.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
—I agree, but I will go further, and say that there is too much meat eaten, and I am perfectly certain that, until this country gets back to oatmeal and milk and herrings and potatoes as the staple diet of the people, we shall never be the people that we have been in the past.
§ Sir FRANK MEYER
No one can say that my hon. Friend who has just sat down is not a keen advocate of the herring, and I am only sorry that, at this late stage of the Debate, I have to weary the House with a few more remarks on the same subject. I certainly should not do so if the matter to which I desire to draw attention were not one which I believe to be of considerable importance. No reference hitherto has been made to it in the Debate, except the brief reference by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). We all know that the greater part of our herring trade is an export trade, and that, without the export trade, the herring fishery could not be be carried on. As my hon. Friend has said, a very important part of our export of herrings at the present times goes to Poland, and Poland now takes a very large proportion of the herrings which used formerly to go to Russia. Considerable difficulty has been placed in the way of that export trade during the past few months. There has been a system of licences by the Polish Government, under which the number of herrings allowed to go into the country is restricted, and the industry has been faced with considerable difficulties on that account. There is also a very high tariff—something like 12s.—against our herrings, and, unfortunately, they give a preferential treatment to Norwegian herrings, which is supposed to be based merely upon the size and type of herring, but which in fact operates most unfairly against the herring fishery of this country.
§ Sir F. MEYER
That interjection seems to me be so irrelevant that I decline to follow it up. The Polish Government, as my hon. Friend has just said, recently adumbrated a scheme whereby, in combination with certain British members of the herring industry, it is proposed that they should set up a herring fleet of their own and an import industry of their own. Anything which would encourage the herring industry, and result in more herrings caught by British fishermen and cured in Britain being sent to Poland, would naturally receive the support, not only of Members representing fishing constituencies, but of the House as a whole; but the crux of the matter, and this is the only reason why I am putting it before the House, is that a company is to be formed for which the subscription of British capital is to be invited, but which is to be controlled by Polish capital. There are to be British directors, but, as is usual in these cases, the deferred shares, which will probably be of the shilling denomination that is so popular at the present time, and in which the control of the company will rest, will be held in Poland.
These facts in themselves would not necessarily condemn the scheme if it would provide a market for British fish, but the only way in which that can be done is by getting over the present tariff against British herrings, and this, in turn, is only possible if the herrings are not landed in any country other than Poland. If they are landed anywhere in Britain or in any other country, they at once become liable to the tariff. Again, the Polish Government cannot give preferential treatment to their own port of Gydinia as against Danzig, because they are prevented from doing so by treaty obligations. They cannot differentiate between the herrings caught by the boats of this proposed company and herrings caught by British boats or boats from other countries, this, again, being prevented by treaty obligations. The only way, therefore, is to cure the herrings on board. That has been tried in the past—
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Is my hon. Friend quite certain that, under the terms of this scheme, the herrings caught would have to be cured at sea, and not landed or cured in either Scotland or England, 1658 before they could be imported into Poland?
§ Sir F. MEYER
I can only say that they cannot get preferential treatment, which is the sole object of this company, if they are landed in Scotland or in England. Therefore, the only way is for them to be cured on board. That has been tried by certain Dutch fishing interests in the past, but it has never been a success. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity of asking the Government whether they know anything about this scheme, and whether they have given it their blessing or regard it in any way favourably. I also want to issue a warning to the public, in case this scheme comes to early fruition, and in case the public are invited to subscribe capital—no doubt preference capital—to it. If they do so, they will not only be subscribing to something which is going to take work away from British fishermen and British curers in order to put it into the hands of Polish fishermen and Polish curers, but they will be embarking their money in what I am firmly convinced will be a hazardous gamble. The Polish market in the past has only been able to take the very best herrings from this country, cured by the most skilful people, who have had generations of experience. The Polish market will not absorb herrings cured at sea, and, if any British investors are induced to put money into the scheme on the basis of preferential treatment for herrings caught by the fleet in connection with this scheme, they are, in my opinion, certain to lose their money. The Polish Government are, if I may use the expression, "on a good thing to nothing," and the putting of money into this scheme will deal a severe blow to the British fishing and curing industry. For this reason I am grateful for this opportunity of stating in the House what I believe to be the facts about this scheme of an Anglo-Polish Fishing Company, which the public may shortly see put before them in the newspapers.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
I only desire to intervene for a few moments, one of my reasons for doing so being to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) on having afforded us this opportunity of calling attention to some of the more pressing 1659 problems and difficulties which confront our fishing industry to-day. I am afraid that the importance of that industry, in spite of the sympathetic references which are generally made to it whenever it is discussed in this House, is not sufficiently realised by the nation at large. It is an industry which, as we know, is not, highly organised, is not represented by any powerful trade union, as are other industries; and, consequently, its interests are occasionaly apt to be overlooked. Therefore, I think that those of us who are brought into close touch with this industry, and recognise the work that it is doing and the difficulties under which it labours, should be glad to seize any occasion such as the present one of raising the matter in this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, in his most interesting speech, strayed some distance away from the actual Amendment which he put down. He gave us, all the same, an admirable survey of the position of the fishing industry as a whole at present. He also made one or two practical suggestions, some of which have commended themselves to the Minister and from which we hope some result may be forthcoming.
I am a little surpirsed that more attention has not been paid to the altogether invaluable Report published last year by the Imperial Economic Committee, because in that Report most of the points which have been raised to-day are considered and commented upon. The hon. Member for Grimsby mentioned that certain other countries give State aid to their fishing industry. It would be interesting to know a little more about that in detail, because I notice that on page 30 the Committee say:Whilst it certainly appears from the evidence which has been placed before us that wages on German trawlers are below those paid on British vessels, we have received no evidence of direct foreign subventions, though certain Governments have afforded facilities to their own fishing industries by means of loans to enable them to refit their vessels or to equip them with steam or motor power.Possibly, that is what my hon. Friend had in mind. The importance of research has been emphasised by many who have spoken, and undoubtedly if you study the Report you are led to the conclusion that, if we could by means of research only discover some better method 1660 of preserving fish, many of the difficulties that confront the fishing industry as a whole would be solved, because by that means you would be able to equalise the supply and to deal with what is undoubtedly the greatest difficulty that faces the industry, namely, these periods of glut and shortage; and, secondly, if some improvement of cold storage could be discovered it would, I think, be of enormous benefit to the fishing industry as a whole.
With regard to the question of credits to which some reference has been made, speaking of the area I represent, I agree with what the Minister said, that certainly it is by no means clear that there is any unanimous opinion at all in favour of such a scheme coming from the industry. We should not look upon this question as altogether decided. To a certain extent, it is necessary to preserve an open mind until we receive the considered opinion of those who are entitled to speak on behalf of the industry as a whole. I quite agree it is important not to lose sight of the herring fishing part of the industry, because that is of the greatest importance both in its effect on food supply and also in view of the special problems that arise in connection with it. There has undoubtedly been a decline in the herring side of the fishing industry. It is not quite clear what the causes of that decline are. There has been a decline, to begin with, in consumption. The Committee in their Report' suggest various reasons for that decline. They say, for instance, that it may be due to the inability of people to get herrings, or the failure of supply, but they go on to say that they have had no evidence of any failure in supply. Then they suggest that it may be due to the fact that herrings have undoubtedly become more expensive than white fish, either actually or relatively, and they refer to various other causes. No one who is brought into touch with this industry can fail to appreciate that, great as is the importance of the trawling side of it, under no circumstances must we lost sight of the herring fishing side of the industry.
The Amendment itself refers to what is undoubtedly a most disquieting feature, namely, the decline in shipbuilding which has been going on for some years past. There is no place in the country that has been harder hit in that connection 1661 than my own constituency. Here, again, we find one or two very significant facts in the Report of the Committee. In paragraph 52 they say:Two-thirds of the steam trawlers at present on the register are over 10 years old and one-sixth are over 25 years, which is usually considered to be the limit of the useful life of a steam vessel. Again, it is customary to lay up the vessels for a time in the summer months for repairs. The practice in the last few years has been to extend, not to curtail, that period of compulsory idleness. If these conditions persist for long, men will tend to leave the industry.While appreciating all these difficulties, of course we are anxious to discover practical methods that can be applied for dealing with them. It is admitted that to introduce any general scheme of protection for the benefit of our fishermen would be a breach of the Prime Minister's pledge. It has, on the other hand, been suggested that a definite campaign might be initiated to induce people to eat more fish. That is one of the recommendations contained in the Report. The Committee suggest that the help of the Empire Marketing Board might be called upon in order to carry through such a campaign, and I should like to have heard from the Minister whether anything has been done to carry out the precise and definite recommendations of the Report both in regard to the provision of additional vessels for research and with regard to better marketing and more publicity for the fishing industry, it being borne in mind that if we could increase the consumption of fish by 30 per cent., which after all is not very much, it would place the industry in a position of prosperity compared with the difficulties with which it is contending to-day. At all events if this discussion does nothing else it will have served a useful purpose in having called attention to the special problems which confront one of the hardest working and most essential industries of the country to-day.
§ Mr. J. JONES
This has been, so far as I have been able to hear it, a very fishy discussion. The red herring has been brought in, and all sorts of herrings, and the relative possibility of getting more people in every part of the world to consume herrings. When hon. Members opposite talk about research in the matter of fish they are leaving out the real essential in not asking for research 1662 to discover what fish are made of. There are all kinds of herring, but hon. Members opposite are adepts at the red herring. They find them at every election when red letters are missing. While they are talking about the necessity of people eating more fish they are doing their best to reduce the purchasing power of the people so that they cannot buy fish. Red herring for the worker, salmon for the other fellow! I will undertake to say that hon. Members who have been speaking to-day do not consume a dozen fish of the herring type in the course of 12 months.
§ Mr. JONES
You can get them in a hotel as part of your breakfast, but you do not consume them as a meal. It is only part of a meal. You advise the workmen to eat them as a whole meal. That is your idea of the relative value of fish. We want to know what you mean. The Government have to find the money to subsidise an industry in the matter of research and in the matter of equipment. If the industry is so poor that it cannot afford to carry on, why not hand it over to the nation and run it as a national industry? Are we to find the means and equipment to subsidise private capital? It is not good enough. The Minister paid a tribute to some of us on these benches when he said Holy Week was a good week for the fishing industry, yet he has been one of the most bitter opponents of the idea behind the organisation which has Holy Week for one of its principal weeks in the year. Fish goes up in Holy Week. The price increases enormously. It is the best week in the year for the fishing industry, and the Orange men make a big profit out of it. [Interruption.] Do not contradict me, because it is a fact. If is the best week in the year for Orange fishmongers. They are all here cheering to the echo.
I believe the time has arrived when, if you are going to subsidise industry at all, you have to own it and control if and not subsidise private owners to run their own industry. If they cannot run it without subsidies they ought not to be allowed to control it at all. The only one thing between us is the question of ownership, the right of the people to own the industry on behalf of the nation. 1663 There is no right to subsidise any industry in the interest of private individuals. The right hon. Gentleman talked about coal. He was pleased to know the price of coal had gone down, which is helping the fishing industry. What a confession! Coal has gone down. The miner is being starved to death almost in order to reduce the price of fish production. The miner cannot buy herring because his wages have been forced down till it is impossible. An hon. Member wished he could urge people to consume herrings. They have consumed so many herrings that hon. Members opposite are in a majority in this House.
§ Mr. JONES
Yes, they swallowed the herring. At the next election you will find that their digestion has been over-stressed. As the result of their experience of the red herring provided by the Government they will turn them out as unanimously as they put them in. Your herrings have been indigestible and you are asking the Poles to swallow what the British working man will not swallow. I have been abroad a bit. A shilling for a herring, soused in vinegar and prepared by clever people who know how to do it! In England we can get them cheaper than that. The worker in this country is not used to herrings except at election time. The best of everything is good enough for us. I would not go to my constituency and tell them to eat herrings. I want them to eat salmon, and not in tins. You tell us what we ought to eat and drink, how we ought to live and what we ought to do. Do it yourselves. If herrings are good enough for us they are good enough for you. I do not see you eating them. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, as a beginning to your breakfast in the morning. You do not eat them as a staple article of food; you eat them when you fancy them. You want the workers to eat them as a matter of course, regientalised—red herrings all in a row, and we are not having it.
I want to see the herring fishing industry grow like other industries. If you cannot carry on the industry as a private enterprise, let us nationalise the fishing fleet. Make the fleet national property and make the people organise the industry 1664 for a public purpose. You want the Government to subsidise it in order to help the lame dog over the stile and enable the cosmopolitan patriots who sing "God save the King" in broken English to make profits out of the deal. If the fishing industry cannot live without the Government subsidising it, the nation ought to take it over. We can keep a fleet to kill people; why cannot we keep a fleet to feed people? When the Navy Estimates are debated in this House, hon. Gentlemen opposite ask for more and more power, and for more and more national enterprise to be shown in the direction of having our Fleet prepared. The fishing fleet is a fleet to feed the people. Why cannot we use it as a, national concern? No, it is to be left to private ownership, and the Government are to come along, help it over the stile, and find the money that it has lost. Who is going to get the profit when it wins? The gentlemen from Grimsby and Lowestoft.
§ Mr. JONES
They get the last part of it; they get what is left. The fishermen always get the smallest share, and hon. Gentlemen know that as well as I do. There are members of my union working on trawlers at Grimsby. We know what they get. They get all the risks. Some of them lose their lives. Owners never lose their lives. It is the men who go out in the ships who lose their lives. People who put their money into these concerns do not lose anything but their money, and they get that back again later on by gambling, because all their eggs are not in the same basket. The people who go out in trawlers risk their lives, which are more important than considerations of money. They only receive votes of thanks and read passages in the newspapers about their heroism. If you are going to subsidise the industry, make it a national industry and make it responsible for feeding the people of this country. If herrings are good enough for the workers of the country, they are good enough for other people.
I wish to say a few words in answer to the speech of the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) and to other speeches delivered 1665 from that side of the House. In the first place, I should like to say that in that part of the country to which I belong, the owners of fishing vessels very often lose their lives like the fishermen. I think it ought to be emphasised that it has been laid down clearly and definitely this afternoon by a representative speaker of the Socialist party that he wishes to nationalise the fishing industry in this country.
That may or may not be the proposition, but really you cannot nationalise part of the industry and not the other part. You must deal with the whole thing, or not deal with it at all. I do not intend to be led away on these lines, but I would like to emphasise that point. During almost the whole of the discussion on this Amendment we have not heard anything said, or, at any rate, very little, on one of the most important aspects of it, that is, the position of the fishing fleet as a recruiting ground for the Navy in the future, and, indeed, for other Services. Unfortunately, at the present time, as far as the West country is concerned, at any rate, you are not getting the recruits into the fishing fleet, with the result that sooner or later you will get an older standard of fishermen which must in the end lead to a great restriction of the industry as a whole.
There is another point which I should like to emphasise and that is that the Minister of Agriculture should his utmost to urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do what he can to get fresh capital into the industry. Very great sums have gone to agriculture and to other industries, but I do not think that sufficient attention has been given by the Ministry in regard to devoting money to the progressive side of the fisting industry. We have heard a great deal during the last few weeks about the very heavily depressed areas in the coal trade and other trades. There are equally depressed areas as far as the fishing industry is concerned. I say quite frankly that the Minister of Agriculture should, as far as it is his duty to do so, place the matter clearly before the Chancellor of the Exchequer and should urge that when the 1666 Government deal with the question of the reorganisation of rates, they should not merely deal with the question of the reorganisation of rates in these particular areas, but should also see whether it is not possible, instead of putting continuous and increasing burdens on the small fishing harbours, to give them some additional help, and to encourage them in the future rather more than has been the case in the past. I think that it is one of the principal duties of the Minister of Agriculture to fight for the good of the fishing industry as a whole, and I believe he can put up a really good fight on its behalf.
§ Main Question again proposed.