HC Deb 06 November 1929 vol 231 cc1204-10

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kennedy.]


There is a matter to which I wish to call the attention of the House It is the question of the Fishery Inquiry Committee as set up by the Government. The Labour party, in the manifesto which they issued at the time of the General Election, promised a full and complete inquiry into the fishing industry, and in accordance with that promise they have set up a Committee of Inquiry. It is about the composition of that Committee that I ask permission to lay a few facts before that House. There are three kinds of Committee which the Government could have selected. They might have selected a Committee of Members of this House; but I am glad to know that they have not done so. They might have selected a Committee of people of experience in the industry; but I am sorry to say that they have not taken that course. They might have brought into being an impartial Committee of people neither connected with the industry nor connected with politics at all, to inquire into this very important industry; but they have chosen a far different course, and it is of that that I have to complain. This is a vast industry, the sixth largest industry of the country, about which there has been no real inquiry for many years, but about which those who are interested in the industry have called upon successive Governments time and time again to institute a thorough inquiry; but this present Government thinks so little about that great industry that they have relegated this inquiry to a sub-committee of a committee. I ask hon. Members just to consider the position. How can you expect the people who are interested in this industry to have any real faith in the composition of this Committee and in the way in which it is going to do its work? I have not the time to read the protests which I have received from all over the country, but I will read a typical one. The protests are coming not from political organisations but from people who are really interested in the fishing industry. Here is a letter which I have received from the Devon and Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee: It is felt that if the Government really intended the Commission to hold a useful inquiry into what is a matter of prime national importance it would surely have appointed upon it some members with actual experience of the difficulties and conditions which are peculiar to the industry. It was confidently expected that the constitution of any such Commission would certainly include some representatives of the sea fisheries' committees of the country, who are, at any rate, in close and constant contact with the various problems presented. What do we find as regards the personnel of the Committee, which is really a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Civil Research? We find that there is a Member of Parliament upon the Committee. I have no complaint against the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Duncan). I believe he will do his duty as a member of the Committee, but I submit that it is not a right thing to appoint one member of one party in this House on a Committee such as this and not appoint representatives of other parties. I prefer to have no Members of Parliament on the Committee, so that it should be entirely free from the influence of politics as far as this House is concerned. I also find that Captain Basil Hall is a member of the Committee. Captain Hall was the Socialist candidate for Lowestoft at the last Election. I read some of this gentleman's speeches, and I say, as a man who does claim, and rightly so, to know something about this industry, that Captain Hall knows nothing whatever about it. There is also a former Socialist Member of this House upon the Committee—Mr. Robert Murray. Mr. Murray may be a very excellent gentleman, and he may do good work on the Committee, but to have three members on the Committee who are directly identified with one political party is, to my mind, entirely wrong, and not in the interests either of the Government or of the industry, in which I and many other hon. Members are so keenly interested.

I want to give the Minister a reasonable time in which to reply, and therefore I will not press the matter any further except to say that in July last I put a question to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries as to whether he would consult the British Trawlers' Federation, the Federation of Wholesale Fish Merchants, the Fisheries Organisation Society—a society that can speak on behalf of the insured fishermen, the type of men who really requires something in the way of Government help at the present moment—and also other organisations connected with the fisheries. I wanted consultations to take place with the organisations that represent the men, and those who are responsible for the carrying on of the industry so far as owning the vessels are concerned. I wanted it to be a fair committee. The right hon. Gentleman replied "Yes." I saw him afterwards, and he said, "Are you satisfied with my reply?" I said, "I certainly am, and if you do consult these organisations before you set up the committee, I do not think you will go far wrong, and you will satisfy those people in the industry who are so anxious that this inquiry should take place, and that it should be a fair, impartial inquiry and one that will be helpful, not only to this great industry, but to the nation as a whole." My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Dr. Addison) is to reply. I am glad that I can address him as my right hon. Friend. He is a Lincolnshire man and knows something about the fishing industry. I am glad that he is to be chairman of the Committee. I hope he will be able to give reasons why in setting up the Committee, instead of going along the excellent lines set up by the Minister of Agriculture in July, they have appointed what I consider is a thoroughly unsatisfactory Committee.


I want to enter a protest before the Parliamentary Secretary replies. There is nobody on this Committee who represents the shell-fishing industry. The Department of Overseas Trade is trying to find openings for fresh trade, and here we have a great opportunity for the development of the shell fishing, and especially oysters in this country. No attempt has been made to revive and restock the oyster fisheries, about which I have had some discussion with the Minister of Agriculture. In my young days there was a big oyster-fishing industry in and around Norfolk, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see that someone is put on this Committee to explore the possibility of reviving this oyster fishery with a view to keeping money in the country which is now going out of it.


I am indebted to the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) for his interjection. There can be no better justification for the position which the Government are taking up on this matter, as I will explain later. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has entirely misapprehended the character of this Committee. It has not been appointed under a Department, but under the Cabinet, and it follows exactly the type of inquiry which has been set up in regard to the great industries of steel, iron and cotton. It is a Committee which is responsible to the Cabinet as a whole instead of to a Department, but that is a distinction which the hon. Member has not seen. It is a more authoritative kind of Committee, and not a less authoritative Committee.

His next contention is that the Committee is not constituted on the basis of a representation of interests. The Committees which are inquiring into the steel and iron and cotton industries were deliberately not constituted on the basis of representing interests. I could not have a better illustration of the wisdom of the course of the Government than the interjection of the hon. Member for Farnham, not a better illustration as to the position in which we should find ourselves if we had followed the hon. Member's prescription in constituting this Committee. We deliberately abstained from making it a Committee representing the various interests concerned. If we had done so we should have had members for the three associations mentioned by the hon. Member for Grimsby and a representative of the oyster fisheries. I have here a list of the representative organisations associated with the industry—25 in number—and if we had departed from the principle of not constituting the Committee on the basis of representation there is not a single one which it would have been fair to exclude, and you would have had a Committee entirely unwieldy and not the type of body to examine evidence and report impartially. It would have been biased, unconsciously. We abstained deliberately from constituting the Committee on those lines, because it would have been an entirely unworkable body.


Did you consult them?


I have no knowledge of the statement to which the hon. Member refers, but I know that we consulted quite a number of important persons, and the advice given to me, without exception, when we were considering the constitution of the Committee was: "Deliver us from a Committee which is made up of representatives of different interests. That was the unanimous view given to me by people who know the business. I am certain that our decision was entirely wise. Let me come to the hon. Member's criticism of the personnel. In the case of Captain Basil Hall, late of the Royal Navy, we were looking for someone who is familiar with the problems of the inshore fishermen in our small ports around our coasts. For 20 years Captain Basil Hall, a distinguished officer of the Navy, has been the inspector of the lifeboats around our shores. Here therefore you have a man who knows every small port throughout the land and who is able to advise us on their peculiar and special difficulties. He is a good choice. He is the type of man we were looking for because he knows our little ports as well as any man we could possibly find. The next one is Mr. Holland Martin, who is Prime Warden of the Fishmongers' Company and we selected him because the Fishmongers' Company concerns itself with research into fisheries and takes an active interest in promoting the well-being of the industry. At all events nobody can dispute that he is a man of high standing in the City and will bring to the Committee the benefit of ripe experience. Then there is Sir Felix Pole, formerly general manager of the Great Western Railway Company, who can advise us on the transport question. We have also Mr. Robert Murray, director of the Scottish Co-operative Society, because we are considering the marketing issue. Finally, there is Professor Scott, of the University of Glasgow, to bring the economist type of mind on to the Committee. We were aiming at collecting a body of men not biased in any particular direction. And let me say this to the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) that the Government of which he was a member never did anything at all in this direction, but we have already taken steps to obtain evidence on the very point which he has just brought out.


A year ago when I was Financial Secretary to the Treasury I made a speech and took some particular steps about the oyster fishery with the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He is under a complete misapprehension. A year ago I started it.


I am not saying what the hon. Member said but what he did. The Government of which he was a mem- ber failed to take this initial step to obtain authoritative guidance on how we could help this industry, and before we had been in office four months we set up this Committee. Our proposal is to take evidence from every one of the bodies mentioned by the hon. Member for Grimsby. We know very well the enormous importance of that port and I can assure him that we shall spare no pains to be advised as well as possible by every responsible body representing all sections of the industry. Already this week we have had a special journey down to Yarmouth for a special report on the interests represented in the herring industry, and already steps are being taken to do useful work. We shall go round our shores and not spare either time or trouble to get the best evidence we can. That evidence will be considered by a body of capable people, and they will present to us, I hope, useful and valuable recommendations. It will be a much better type of committee, more serviceable and workable, than if we set up a great body of people representing vast numbers of industries.


Those of us who are interested in this question have failed to obtain any satisfaction from the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has made, and we shall take an opportunity of raising the matter on another occasion. Can he give us an assurance that it is intended to proceed immediately with the great problem of work which is immediately called for in connection with the fishing industry, and not to await the deliberations or the Report of this Committee, particularly in relation to the urgent requirements of the Scottish fishermen?


So far as work is concerned, nothing will be delayed by this Committee. We have already started five separate harbour improvements, and sanctioned a great dock at Grimsby. They are already in operation, and several other harbour improvement schemes are already being gone into and some have already been done. I can assure the hon. Member that the Secretary of State for Scotland is collecting information as to what, is required in Scotland.

It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.