§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn".—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The Minister of Agriculture and myself have been Members of this House for ten years, and I have watched his progress with interest and satisfaction. I do not think I shall be accused of having taken up any sectional interest, but I make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the fishing industry which is greatly in need of some assistance. Let me begin by quoting the Prime Minister's election address which was issued in October, 1024, and in which the Prime Minister said:The interests of the fishing industry will not be neglected, and with that object in view the provision of further and extended credit facilities in this direction will be the subject of inquiry.I need not go over what happened between 1924 and now except to say that last year the agricultural industry had a credit scheme extended to it, and the Minister of Agriculture was pressed by all parties to look into the question of providing credits for the fishing industry. We are told that a certain section of trawler owners said, in relation to a credit system: "It is not necessary, and we have no details; all we want is an inquiry." When the agricultural credits system was first proposed I could have brought forward quite a number of large farmers and others engaged in glasshouse farming who were ready to tell the Minister of Agriculture that they did not need credits, and therefore the farming industry did not need credits. The same argument applies to the trawlers. The population of the fishing communities since the War has declined by 25 per cent., and I think it would be a national disaster if these small communities of fishermen were allowed to die out, because they are a very valuable part of the population, especially in providing 153 recruits for the Navy and the merchant service. Besides that, these men are needed to man the lifeboats. They are a hardy, independent and fine body of men from all points of view. For these reasons, I think the Minister of Agriculture ought to examine thoroughly this question of credits for the fishing industry. In the case of the credits scheme of the Cornish fishermen, a sum of £14,000 was advanced in order that those fishermen could purchase motor engines. Only a few hundred pounds have been lost in connection with that scheme, and 3 per cent. and 3½ per cent. interest has been paid on the loans to those fishermen. I think that is a model which could be followed elsewhere. It would be well worth while to give credits to fishermen at a very low rate of interest or even at no interest at all.
I raised this matter last Monday, and the Minister of Agriculture told me on that occasion that he had made certain inquiries. The right hon. Gentleman said his inquiries were not altogether of a formal nature, but he has opportunities at the Ministry of Agriculture of finding out the real needs of credits for fishermen. I do not think the Minister of Agriculture has adopted a fair way of treating this question. I think he ought to have had a formal inquiry and have taken evidence from people round the coast. A great many new factors have arisen in this industry during recent years relating to such questions as transport, marketing, and canning, and all kinds of questions which ought to form the subject of an inquiry. It is in that spirit that I ask the Minister of Agriculture to set up a formal and searching inquiry without any further delay. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will find, as I have found, that there are many interests involved, such as the in-shore fishermen, the shell fishermen, the herring fishermen, and others. On this question there is only one national interest, and I think this House will agree that, quite irrespective of party, it is in the national interests to see that the fishing industry should be fostered and its decay avoided if possible. Once these in-shore fishermen and their communities are dispersed, it will be very difficult to get them together again. Once the hereditary fishermen have left their villages and joined other industries it will be very difficult to start 154 the fishing industries again. This is a very important question from the point of view of our food supplies. If Government credits can be usefully employed in agriculture, then they can also be usefully employed in the fishing industry. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to institute the necessary inquiry.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I must congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) on having brought forward this matter to-night. The question of credits has caused a good deal of contention in the fishing industry itself. When the suggestion was brought forward by him last year and broadcast throughout the country, both he and I received a large number of communications on this subject, some dead against credit schemes, and some in favour of them. I have taken a deep interest in this question, and have not merely inquired in my own constituency, which is a trawling constituency, but I have taken a busman's holiday, and gone round the coast to inquire of the in-shore fishermen. From my observations, I am convinced that the trawling industry, which is responsible for 80 per cent. of the white fish landed in this country, do not desire anything in the way of Government credits, but the in-shore fishermen and the herring fishermen in Scotland would welcome a scheme if it were on lines which would suit them. That is the difficulty. We have to find a scheme by which they will be able to borrow this money at a very low rate of interest indeed, while the terms of repayment must be spread over a long period. That is a difficult matter when you are dealing with something like a fishing vessel, because, if the scheme is to be on sound lines—and if it is not on sound lines it would be unfair to the general taxpayer of the country—you are bound to take into account the life of the vessel. If you spread the repayment over a period longer than the life of the vessel, you will be in very great difficulty indeed.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull mentioned that the Prime Minister said in his election address that he would give full consideration to the fishing industry and its needs and would institute an inquiry into this question of credits. Although a fishing inquiry has not been held, as far as Parliament is 155 concerned through a Committee or by Royal Commission, yet inquiries have been made as to whether such a scheme could be brought out on the lines I have stated which would be acceptable to the fisherman and fair to the taxpayer. Up to now I cannot suggest a scheme which will meet those two points. Hon. Members in favour of credits should try and devise a scheme that will consider the needs of both the fisherman and the general taxpayer. Unless we do that, we cannot get this House to agree to it. The hon. and gallant Member has mentioned that he has brought this matter forward in a non-party spirit. In an article which he contributed recently to the newspapers he stated definitely that the Labour party, if returned to power, would provide cheap credits to enable practical fishermen to purchase their own craft, renew existing vessels, and provide gear. I hope he is able to speak officially on behalf of the Labour party. He must justify that promise, and put before the House a scheme which will be fair to the taxpayer and to the fisherman. I would like to quote a right hon. Gentleman who can speak more officially on behalf of the Labour party and of their policy, the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald). He was interviewed not long ago by a representative of the "Fishing News" on this very question, and this is the result:On grants to fishermen the pronouncement is little more equivocal. He could not make a definite statement. They were not going to throw money away, a hint that is possible of more than one interpretation, and at least leaves the reader, if not the narrator of the interview, in a somewhat dubious frame of mind.I submit that all parties in the House are desirous that the fishing industry should progress, that the in-shore fishermen should not be squeezed out of existence, and that opportunities should be provided to enable them to carry on their business profitably, so that they can maintain themselves and their families. It is no use, however, coming forward with mere academic resolutions. We want to bring before the Government, whether this Government or any other Government, a concrete scheme, based on sound lines financially, which will be accepted by the fishermen. Until that is done, we cannot do more than merely debate this as an academic question and 156 those are not the right lines on which to debate it.
§ Major-General Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
I am glad this matter has been raised. It brings to my mind what has been put forward by the fishing community I represent in Montrose. They have written to me that, owing to the enforcement of certain fishing regulations, boats over a certain length have been excluded from St. Andrew's Bay, a sheet of water at the mouth of the Tay. They are therefore driven 10 find other occupation for these boats, and they have asked me whether a sum could be available to allow them to purchase nets and other gear, so that those boats can be fitted out to go into the open North Sea after the herrings. I hope this credit to the in-shore fishermen will be granted as it is even more pressing than agricultural credits for the farmers.
§ Major PRICE
I agree with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) that the demand for credits by trawler owners in order that they may purchase their trawlers is not very clamorous at the present moment, but there is a demand from the in-shore fishermen for assistance. Whether that assistance can be given by credit or whether it can be given by grants plus credit is a matter that the Minister should carefully consider. Undoubtedly, we do wish to preserve these men, who are partly agriculturists working on a small holding or on the land at harvest time, and who spend the rest of the year making their living fishing. In my part of the country, there are not many of them, but they are a valuable help to that coast. Money there is very scarce. The fishermen are unable to get proper appliances for hauling their boats up. If they have a bad season or bad weather destroys their gear, they suffer severely. A fund to give help to these men would keep alive a small but very important industry.
The trawler owners are dissatisfied in many respects. One of the things from which we suffer in our fishing grounds off the Irish coast is that we see the foreign trawlers trawling well inside the limits allowed for British trawlers. They are able at certain times of the year to make big catches, bring them to the same ports as the British trawlers, and sell them at 157 what is to them a profit, but to the British trawlers a loss. It is very galling indeed that we have to stand off our men while the foreigner is able to come here and sell his fish profitably, because he pays lower wages and because the requirements he has to observe are lower than ours. While our men are idle, he takes the money out of the country. Some attention might well be paid to this question. It was raised when the Labour Government were in office. I know that there are treaty difficulties in the way, but it is distinctly hard that our people should be forbidden to fish in grounds on which the foreigner fishes at a profit, although they are off the coast of a part of the British Dominions.
§ Major PRICE
Our gunboats have nothing whatever to do with it; it is a question of treaty obligations. We are not allowed to fish inside a certain line drawn from the headland, while the foreigner can fish in what he calls international waters, right up to the three-mile limit. That is the difference, and that is the trouble. I am not complaining of the fishery protection at all; it is adequate and fairly good; it is a question of foreign trawlers coming here and landing their fish caught in these grounds and in other grounds, at a time when our fishermen could get the best prices for their fish. That is a very grave difficulty. I do not quite know what could be done to remedy it. The moment we suggest a tax on foreign fish, up go the hands of the Opposition in horror, and hon. Members say it would be a tax on food. Another suggestion is that the foreigner should be put in the same position as our people. In foreign countries our people are prevented from landing fish, in some cases by regulations and in others by duties, and surely we might have similar conditions applied in the same way.
§ Major PRICE
It has nothing to do with credits. If the hon. Member imagines that credits are the one and only solution of the difficulties of the fishing industry, the sooner he goes fishing and learns about those difficulties the better. [Interruption]. I am suggesting 158 that the hon. Member should not go fishing for votes, but fishing for fish. I know that the Minister gives sympathetic consideration to the case of the fishermen, but I think that, if some further inquiries were made to see what practical help could be given, whether by credits or in any other fashion, he would find that the right response would be forthcoming from the whole of the fishing industry, and that they are quite prepared to do their share by putting their house in order if they are given a fair chance in their own markets.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) struck a bad patch when he suggested that I should go fishing. I happen to be the only Member of this House who has ever been a deep-sea fisherman, and I can say quite seriously and sincerely that my interjection was not in order to make a debating point, but because I wanted to know what was the connection between the hon. and gallant Member's speech and the question before the House, which is the question of credits, and not the question of Protection.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
The fact remains that the question before the House is the question of credits. [HON. MEMBERS: "No; the Motion for Adjournment."] The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) gave notice that he would raise the question of credits on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, and, whatever the technical position may be, the question actually before the House is the question of credits; how the question of Protection can be brought in by a sidewind passes my comprehension. I am one of those who believe that the fishing industry is an essential one. I know that, if there is any one section of people who get little out of the industry, it is the fishermen themselves. At any rate, that was so in my time. I spent some part of my life on the North Sea at 17s. 6d. a week, with stocker and liver money, and I am desirous of giving every possible assistance to the inshore fishermen.
I have been round the coast and made good friends among the inshore fishermen, and, if there is one section to-day that 159 has been depleted, it is that of these small fishermen, who are gradually having to give up being employers themselves, owning their own boats with perhaps a relative to help, and are having to go on to the trawlers, or perhaps into some other industry. These men represent a very important section of our industry, and I would ask the Minister to help them. Those whom I know most, in the district between Filey and Scarborough, have carried on this industry from father to son, owning their own boats and handing down their traits of character from one generation to another. Some of my dear old friends in that district have had to cease being owners of their own boats, because they could not afford to replace them and their gear except by borrowing money at a usurious rate of interest. I would ask the Minister to do what he can for them, and, even if the large trawler owners do not want this assistance, I hope he will be able to give some assistance to these small fishermen who do need it.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I have been engaged for some time past in looking after the interests of the fishing industry in Scotland, and have come to the conclusion that something in the nature of credits is absolutely necessary to assist the herring fleet to restore old boats and replace old gear. As has been said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), it is not an easy matter to arrange how these credits should be given, and personally I regret particularly that the Prime Minister has not appointed the Committee of Inquiry which he promised in his election address. He then said definitely that this question should be gone into and that there should be an inquiry into the matter of credits for fishermen. When I put a question two or three weeks ago, the reply that I got from the Minister was that the matter had not been lost sight of, or words to that effect, but there has never been any definite Government inquiry into the matter.
Anyone who has any knowledge of the industry must be satisfied that something in the nature of credits is necessary, certainly as regards the herring fishing industry in Scotland—I cannot speak for England so much—in order to put the men on the footing on which they were 160 before the War. A great many boats in Scotland are ageing to such an extent that the cost of running them is becoming very high, on account of the necessity for constant repairs and constant patching. That cannot go on for ever. The cost of a drifter to-day is about double what it was before the War, and it is extremely difficult for these men to replace boats without some assistance. Therefore, I hope that a really searching inquiry will be made into the whole question. It should be made by the Government, and, if the Government appoint a Commission, I feel sure that that Commission will come to the same conclusion which has been reached by others who have given consideration to the matter, namely, that, in order to put the industry on its feet, some assistance must be given by way of credits. I am not suggesting exactly how it should be done, but it will have to be done, and the Government are the people to appoint the Committee of Inquiry.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
No doubt what has been said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) is quite right, namely, that, those whom he represents require credits to re-establish their industry, rebuild their boats, and get new gear. I take it that he is speaking for the smaller men, if I may quite respectfully call them so—
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
So far however, as the trawler owners are concerned—and, next to the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), I represent the largest section of trawler owners in this country—I do not think there is any necessity for asking for Government credits; any firm of any capacity and reputation can get all the credit that they want. They have in the last few years built a very great number of trawlers, so therefore they are not asking for credit. In fact, they would be very much against a measure being used for any such purpose, because they are apprehensive that, if Government money can be obtained for this purpose, it will bring into the 161 industry the speculator and the inefficients who have perhaps already failed to make good with their own money, and therefore they think Government money should not be risked in any such enterprise. If the trawler owners in my constituency were canvassed, they would say that they do not want this. They would go further and say that they think the greatest service the Government has done to the industry has been to let it alone, and, on the whole, I am of opinion that the great majority of them would be against any such scheme. I cannot speak for the people my hon. Friend speaks for, but I can speak for the trawler owners, and that, I believe, is their opinion.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
I should like, first, to clear away a little misunderstanding that exists in the mind of the hon. Baronet the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton). He suggested that the Prime Minister promised an ad hoc inquiry into the provision of credits for the fishing industry. What my right hon. Friend promised was that the necessity for these facilities would be the subject of inquiry. He did not promise an ad hoc inquiry. Careful inquiry has been made by the Fisheries Department, which is in an exceptional position for gauging the needs of the industry. I am very glad this matter has been brought forward, because the short speeches by Members representing various fishing interests have shown that the problem of the in-shore fishermen is not a simple problem that can be dealt with merely by the provision of credit. The in-shore fisheries have unfortunately fallen on evil times, Their decline is due to the large scale organisation of the deep sea fishermen. We know that the trawling industry does not need credit. The Hull Fishing Vessels Owners' Association went into the matter when it was raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) last year and passed a resolution that, in the case of the trawling industry, credits were neither necessary nor desirable, and they pointed out that it was not sound policy for the trawling industry to build ships in advance of economic demand or of the provision of the necessary dock and harbour accommodation. 162 They expressed the opinion that, as and when the industry expanded and justified further building, there would be no difficulty about the means. I think that attitude is justified when we look at the figures. It is a deplorable fact that fewer people are employed, but it is the same result, as we have seen in other industries, of greater efficiency and what is often known as rationalisation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY indicated dissent.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
We are now, with fewer steamships, landing 250,000 cwts. more fish on the average than before the War. You cannot get away from that fact.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
They are bigger ships, surely, carrying more hands. When I went to sea we used to have nine hands. Now I am told they carry 22.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The greater range of the ships and the greater catching power does not need a proportionate increase in crew. One can only go by the figures, and, owing to this development of larger tonnage and a wider range, we are employing fewer men and landing more fish. In the case of drifters, there is no doubt that there is greater catching power than the market at present are able to absorb. The market used to depend largely on Russian demand, and, though a certain quantity of herring is still bought by Russia, there are certain financial difficulties which prevent that great population from indulging their taste for salt herring to the extent that they did before the War. It would certainly be unsound to do anything to encourage the building of more drifters when a great many of these ships are laid up and when there are no markets to absorb the catch that they might land.
Then we come to the in-shore fishermen. I agree with all that was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to their importance from the national point of view. There is no class of men with greater seamanship and greater traditions than the in-shore fishermen. For centuries they have been the recruiting ground and training ground of our Navy and our mercantile marine, and no year passes without the exploits of the inshore fishermen manning our lifeboats causing a thrill of pride at the seamanship 163 they show. But these in-shore fishermen, with the development of the deep sea fisheries, now only land about 5 per cent. of our total fish supply. I am very glad that two representatives of our greatest fishing ports should have brought forward their claim to consideration. The hon Baronet the Member for Orkney and Shetland has said that he wished to see them placed again on a pre-War footing.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I meant placing the boats and gear in a pre-War condition.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Unfortunately, even if you give them boats and gear on a pre-War basis, conditions have changed, and it would by no means follow that they would make the same living that they did at that time, and really it is not kind to encourage people to build boats unless they have a prospect of economic success.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
My point is that the existing fleet ought to be replaced. I am not suggesting that you should increase the catching capacity of the fleet, because that is no good till you get the Russian market again. It is merely to replace the ageing boats.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
It is not possible to base ourselves on conditions before the War. We have really to be sure that the present-day conditions will justify a larger provision of fishing facilities than now exists. It is no use giving public money to any particular section of the industry unless there is a prospect of thereby achieving independence for those fishermen. It is quite true, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull said, that a very satisfactory result was achieved by a small scheme which took effect in Cornwall just before the War. That scheme enjoyed very exceptional advantages. It was launched because of a certain exceptional difficulty, and it was carried into effect just on the eve of the outbreak of the War. When the War absorbed a great many of our steam fishing boats into the service of mine-sweeping and so forth, it obviously caused a great opening for the smaller inshore boats which were under that Cornish scheme of 1914 equipped with motor engines. Owing to this exceptional opportunity of the four years of the War, 164 that scheme, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, justified itself in every way. Unfortunately, the same success did not meet the scheme which was launched in 1917. When the steamboats had been withdrawn, it was felt necessary, as a war measure, to enable the in-shore fishermen to increase their output, and £71,500 was advanced by the Development Commissioners with a view to putting motor engines into these in-shore boats. Out of that £71,500, practically one-half had to be written off as a bad debt; £34,500 out of a total of £71,500 had to be written off under this scheme of providing engines.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Yes, it began under what seemed to be ideal conditions for the in-shore fishermen when there was very little competition from the deep-sea grounds, and when the personnel of the bigger boats had been absorbed into the fighting services, and when there was an unparalleled demand for fish supply. And even on that scheme, launched in 1917, nearly half the capital advanced by the State has beer lost.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not use this wartime experiment as a means of doing nothing in this matter. How many more cases of the same sort have there been of millions being wiped off by the State. It really is not a fair comparison.
§ 10.00 p.m.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I have not so far drawn any conclusion. I am telling the House what happened. I think that that is the best way to enable hon. Members to judge. I will come to a later period. After the War, the Fisheries Department had a scheme for building standard vessels. They spent £19,050 in building those standard vessels, and they had again to write off nearly half, namely, £9,579. Certainly experience under schemes carefully examined and brought forward to try and help the in-shore fishermen has not shown any very great success to the credit of State effort. At the present time, the channel for this in-shore credit are the builders and fish salesmen who are quite prepared to finance the building of boats on repayment terms spread over a number of years when there is any 165 prospect of the fishermen finding an economic independence. But recent experiences have not been very encouraging. The Torbay Fishermen's Society, with whom we have been in correspondence on this matter, lent to a very skilful man a sum of money to build a boat. They have been selling his fish, and transacting all his business, and during two years on that boat he has only been able to pay off £50 of the principal of his loan. It is quite evident that on that kind of basis, if we started a scheme, it is very doubtful whether it would really help the fishermen if it encouraged them to embark upon uneconomic fishing. It would mean, from any figures we have been able to obtain, a very large loss of State money.
For those reasons, I do not think that it would be wise to hold a formal inquiry. Such an inquiry would inevitably excite great expectations. Fishermen would form the impression that the Government had set aside a sum of money to be spent in building in-shore fishing boats and that they had only to put forward their demands and they would be provided with equipment. It would inevitably create an artificial demand if we were to set up a formal inquiry of the kind for which hon. Members opposite have asked. At the same time, we are most anxious to find an economic scheme, and one which can offer the prospect of independence and revival to these in-shore fishermen. I shall gladly go into any practical proposal which hon. Members may frame and bring forward. The brains of the Fisheries Department have been exercised on that subject, and either by credit or by any other means which can be suggested we shall consider and examine every possible method of helping this invaluable in-shore fishing fleet.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what was the type of boat in Torbay. I have a recollection of tumbling into and out of my father's old fishing boat at Torquay, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the type of fishing carried out there by in-shore fishermen is a very different type from that carried out by in-shore fishermen on the East Coast of Scotland. It is precisely the same difference as was found by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was arguing from the point of view of Fraserburgh and 166 found out that the small South Devon boats and the Cornwall boats were of an entirely different nature. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture to go a little further into this matter and to make up his mind. Those concerned with this matter of the in-shore men are not concerned with having additional boats; they are concerned with giving these invaluable men a chance to keep going, and the real question is the replacement of the boats that are now wearing out. I believe the country as a whole would be prepared to meet that case. While we pay our tribute to the deep-sea men, there can be no question that the most skilful men in handling boats are those bred in the small and difficult harbours. Everyone who goes yachting knows that the bulk of the skilful crews do not come out of the great ports, but out of the little harbours, and it is quite natural, because, the more difficult your harbour, the more actual technical skill is demanded. As the son of a fisherman myself, I say that the Minister should take a more reasonable view. It is not fair to press the purely Scottish view upon him because he is not responsible for Scotland; but I would ask whether there has been any consultation between the Fishery Board of Scotland and his own Department about the inshore fishermen. If there has not been such consultation, I think there ought to be. I am very sorry that the Minister's speech has left me with a very pessimistic impression of further steps being taken, and that pessimism will be reflected all round the coast when the report of the Debate is read to-morrow morning.
§ Mr. PILCHER
As the representative of two or three places where in-shore fisheries are carried on, I would like to add a word in support of the general principles advanced. It is possible that some thousands of tons more fish are being caught at the present time, but is it not possible also that the country, with its changed habits since the War, is in a position to consume much larger quantities of fish—an increase which would make it quite easy to restore these in-shore fishermen to their old-time prosperity? I do not know whether the attention of the Minister has been drawn to the suggestion that the canning trade might be developed in close proximity to the fishing, but that is a point worthy 167 of consideration. There is no question of the enormous wastage which occurs in what is called the excess supply of fish. We have large quantities of good fish being dumped, and it is notorious that in the distressed areas of Northumberland and Durham and South Wales the people would give anything to have the chance to consume them. May I call attention to what has happened recently in Cornwall? A firm has established a factory there to take some of what is called the redundant fish. On these lines, and on others there is scope for real constructive work.
There is another suggestion, and I treat it very cautiously, because I understand the fisherman's temperament. In the Eastern counties recently attention has been drawn to the possibility of resuscitating the native oyster fisheries. What a tragedy it is that the great oyster fisheries of this country have been allowed to get into their present condition. It only wants the application of science to put these industries in good order again. I could go on for the best part of an hour with suggestions, some of which might be considered a little futile, but I am certain there is, in some of them at least, the germ of possible constructive effort. In regard to the conference which has been suggested, would it not be possible, in conjunction with the Empire Marketing Board, to have some sort of conference and to treat this great question of the decline of our fisheries in some constructive way, with a view to keeping men who are there at that sort of work. These men are essential in time of war, and they are a magnificent type. I saw in the report of the Education Committee of my own county quite recently a statement to the effect that the number of young men who have gone into the fisheries on that part of the coast would be only a score or two. That is a great tragedy, when we realise what these men mean to the country.
§ Mr. W. BENNETT
We on this side of the House have no delusions about the difficulties of this subject, but we are anxious that something should be done for the in-shore fishermen. I think there are some practical things that the Government could do. We do not speak here entirely without experience. I my-self 168 have been out as a third hand in a boat and I know something about it. But you have such a variety of interests and methods that it is not possible to lay down a single line of thought about it. There are two things that break the hearts of the in-shore fishermen. One is the war wrecks. There are scores and scores of wrecks off the South coast, and there is not a week passes but some fisherman loses the whole or part of his gear. The only protection they have is a co-operative insurance. It is unfair that these men should have to bear the brunt of this tremendous loss due to the War and the wrecks sunk by enemy action. Portions of the Fleet might be usefully employed in seeing that some of these wrecks are flung up or taken away, or State assistance should be given to the men to help them to replace their gear which is lost in that way.
There is no doubt that conditions around the coast are deplorable. Men are going out of the trade; boats are not being built, and we are losing this class of men. The second thing which breaks their hearts is the price of their product after they have caught it. Men employed in bringing in this highly perishable commodity are entirely in the hands of the dealers who are prepared to offer him a price for the fish on the quay that morning; and the prices made for fish locally are deplorable as far as the fishermen are concerned, yet the housewives in coast towns to-day have to pay as big a price as ever for the fish they purchase. There is no real relationship between the retail price of fish and the price which the fisherman gets on the quay. How can that be remedied? You talk about losing markets abroad. There is more fish caught and eaten in our coast towns, where it is easily obtained, than in the inland towns. There is an enormous market in our inland towns for fish but it requires organising in some form or another. How can it be done? If it is possible for fish to be caught in the North Sea and kept on ice for weeks, and then not only landed in England at Hull and other places for sale, but also sent down to Torquay and Brixham to be sold in competition with fish caught locally, where it keeps down the price of fish on the spot, it stands to reason that scientific methods of cold storage, supplied 169 by the Government in the various ports, would enable the fishermen, if there was a good catch this week and a poor catch next week to pass it over for a week. They would not then be entirely at the mercy of the dealers.
You are starting one of the most interesting experiments ever tried in connection with the marketing of English farm produce. Why cannot some such system as that be extended to the fishing ports; a scientific system of cold storage and marketing at reasonable prices cutting out the tremendous difference between the price of fish on the quay and the retail price to the consumer. Sometimes it is a farthing and a penny per pound on the quay, and 4d. and 6d. in the shops. I do not think it is possible for fishermen to organise this co-operative system themselves, partly because of their prejudices. Only by Government intervention can a really sound co-operative system for the sale and marketing of fish be brought about. When I was going out as a third hand we caught different crops, if I might use the word, during the course of the year, but when we came to shell fish, in as much as they could be put into store pots in the harbour and kept, we were not so much at the mercy of the auctioneer on the quay. The stuff which will not keep the fishermen are compelled to sacrifice, and it is in this direction that some scheme of co-operation might be instituted.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Elliot)
I should like to answer the point put by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) as to whether the two Departments are in touch and reviewing this question as a whole. That is so. I was myself Chairman of an inter-Departmental meeting only within the last three weeks, when we considered this question, and one or two lines of possible advance. I do not want to say anything more on that at the moment but, undoubtedly, we are keeping in close touch with the Fisheries Department in England. A great deal has been done in the matter of investigations carried out by the two Departments. The question of low temperature has been raised. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is going extensively into the question of the transport of fish. Then there are the investigations by Sir William Hardy at 170 Cambridge. Fish is by no means as perishable as we imagine. It perishes largely on account of the vicious treatment that it receives. If bread or milk or other foods were walked on and treated as fish is treated, they would certainly be as perishable as fish. If a few precautions were taken by those on the trawlers, such as the running of a steam jet over the metal table on which the cutting up is done, fish could be kept for a very much longer period than is generally supposed. Extensive experiments are also being carried on at Aberdeen, and there are other interesting developments which it would be premature to discuss. The fishing situation is being kept under review not as regards England and Scotland only, but as regards the industry as a whole, and the point particularly raised to-night about the inshore fishermen and the heavy weight bearing on them at the moment is not being lost sight of.
§ Major ELLIOT
I cannot imagine any more practical action than to discover why fish goes bad. The Government Department cannot be expected to run round and preserve all the fish, but if it can find by experiment what are the reasons for fish going bad, I cannot imagine any more immediate help to the fishermen.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
Is it not a fact that two vessels of the Development Commissioners are going out to catch the fish and making experiments all the time?
§ Major ELLIOT
Undoubtedly. These are not small ad hoc experiments, but experiments in the North Sea. A great deal is being done in that respect. The question of marketing has also to be studied. I might add that many of the fishing journals have commented with great approval on the work that is being done.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-four Minutes after Ten o'Clock.