§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
I beg to move,That this House, while appreciating the steps already taken to improve the position of the white fishing industry, views with concern the depressed state of the herring fishing industry, and, being of opinion that the maintenance of a prosperous fishing population is essential for the national welfare, urges His Majesty's Government to direct its attention to the distress in the herring fishing centres and to do everything in its power to assist the efforts of the industry to establish itself on such a footing as to enable it to afford to those engaged in it a fair living.In introducing this Motion, I must ask for more than the usual measure of indulgence from the House. I cannot and do not claim the authority, which many hon. Members can claim to speak on the subject of the fishing industry. The House recognises, as I do, the knowledge and experience of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood), who is not yet in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord), who is going to second this Motion. Each of these hon. Members has a long connection with the fishing industry. But if my association with it is less extensive than theirs it is no less intimate, for I have the honour to represent a division in which there is an important fishing population recognised by all men in the trade as containing some of the best and most skilled fishermen in the country. Perhaps I may be allowed to make this further claim to speak on this subject. Six or seven years ago I had the honour and great pleasure of working in association with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who, I regret, is also not in his place, on an inquiry into Scottish conditions which included the conditions of the fishing industry in the north. I might go so far as to say that the proposals we then laid before the country met with a considerable measure of acceptance in fishing districts. Of course, in those days my right hon. and gallant Friend and his colleagues were in good company and in a safe harbour. I do not know into what uncharted sea they have now set sail, but I wish them bon voyage and God speed!
1656 It is not necessary for me to remind the House of the position which the fishing industry occupies in the national economy as a primary producer of foodstuffs: this country consumes something in the region of £12,000,000 worth of fish each year, almost all of which is landed by British vessels; as a defence force in time of war—we were told the other day by the First Lord of the Admiralty that no less than 53,000 fishermen served in minesweepers and on patrol boats; as a nursery for the Navy and the mercantile marine in the defence and transport services of this country. A seafaring nation such as ours cannot risk allowing the fishing industry to decline.
Yet how fares this industry, so vital to the national economy? In 1913, before the War, there were 80,000 men engaged in sea-fishing directly. To-day the numbers have fallen to 57,000, a decline of about 30 per cent. And those figures take no account of the great numbers of men and women who are engaged in ancillary occupations like curing, distribution, and net making, whose numbers have also declined. The same tale is true of boats. Before the War there were some 18,000 fishing vessels in England, Wales and Scotland available for the defence and food services of the country. To-day, if a war were to come, which God forbid, but for which we must not be unprepared, there would be only 13,000 vessels, or a third less, available for the country's defence, and large numbers of those would be found quite unsuitable and unfit for any proper service.
In the fishing villages of Scotland, where herring fishing is the chief industry, stark poverty is to be found at every second door. Hon. Members of the Labour party are accustomed, and rightly so, to tell us of the trials of industrial workers. Let the House believe that they are not to be compared with the distress of fishermen at this time. Unemployed men in the towns can have recourse to standard benefit or the "dole," but there is neither standard benefit nor "dole" for fishermen. In the last resort factory workers can turn to public assistance, but even that crutch is refused to fishermen. We have to evade the strict provisions of the law in order to prevent destitution in these fishing centres. I hope the House will not think I am exaggerating the position. My hon. 1657 and right hon. Friends from the north of Scotland will bear me out that the things I have described are no more than truth.
May I also hope the House will not seek to make this distress a plaything of party politics by attempting to lay blame for the present situation upon this or that Government of recent years. We are all inclined to do so, but I beg the House on this occasion to take the bigger view. The truth is that the fishing industry, particularly the herring side of it, has suffered eclipse ever since the War. It is a national problem, not of any one Government's making, but the result of the catastrophe that overwhelmed the world during the War and which struck at the foundations of industry in all countries. Let the House, therefore, view this problem as a Council of State, such as hon. Members of the Labour party proclaimed in 1929. The subject is altogether too serious for party wrangles. The livelihood of 100 or more fishing communities is at stake, and our duty as representatives of the people is, as I see it, to examine the problem fearlessly without party bias and find a means to solve it.
I will present the case as shortly as possible. There are three main sections in the fishing industry: deep sea white fishing, giving employment to some 20,000 men regularly; in-shore fishing, giving work to some 23,000 men; and herring fishing, giving employment to some 16,000 men directly, and at least as many more men and women indirectly, throughout the year. The main distress in the industry is to be found in the last of these three sections and I must therefore pass very quickly over the conditions in the first two. But I think it is necessary to say something about the position of the deep sea white fishing section, because that supplies the great bulk of this country's requirements of fish. Let it be recognised at once that there is to-day a measure of prosperity in this section, thanks partly, at any rate, to the action of the Government. The consumption of white fish in this country has risen in the last 10 years by about 20 per cent. Indeed, but for the comparative success of trawling the whole fishing industry might have gone under. The increased consumption of white fish is due partly to a change in taste from 1658 herring, the consumption of which has dropped in the same period by some 30 per cent.—that is part of the trouble with herring and partly it is due to cheapness. For white fish are not yet considered by the British working-man to be a necessary item of his diet. The haddock, or even the wise sole, whose Maskelyne manoeuvres through the mesh so intrigued the scientific mind of the Ministry of Agriculture, and which therefore should obtain a higher place in the menu, is looked upon only as an extra, a dainty for the evening tea in the average home. The knowledge that the sole has been psycho-analysed does not induce the British working-man to make a meal of it first thing in the morning! But this very cheapness, while increasing production, has been a source of danger to the industry in the past few years. As the Minister of Agriculture pointed out, since 1929 the landings of white fish have increased by about 1,500,000 cwt., but the price received in return has fallen by £2,500,000. It was to arrest that fall that the Sea-Fishing Industry Act was passed a few months ago. Let the House recognise and acknowledge the spirit of that Act, which represents a constructive effort on the part of the Government to deal with a big problem. It is too early yet to estimate its effects, but reports which I have had in the last few days from some of the leading fishing centres show that its value is appreciated by the trawling trade of this country.
I know that in some parts of the House, the Sections in that Act imposing restrictions upon imports of foreign fish do not find favour. But that, I think, is because hon. Members are out of touch with public opinion. I travel about the country a good deal and I have come to this conclusion, whether we like it or not, the British people have made up their minds that they are going to enter the trade race of the future on terms of equality, that the interests of our own country must come first, and that wherever necessary and possible the fortunes of our primary producers shall be safeguarded. I am perfectly satisfied, with the assurance of the hon. Member for Banff, that the catching side of the white-fish industry is efficient, but the marketing side needs thorough reorganisation, 1659 like most of the branches of agriculture. There is no time to discuss the case for that reorganisation, or the schemes that one may have in mind for overcoming the present inefficiency, but I am sure that this industry, just as much as the milk, bacon or potato industries, needs a marketing reorganisation scheme to standardise and stabilise the supply of fish upon the British market. That will be one of the problems for the Sea Fish Commission.
May I pass to the consideration of the inshore fishing branch of the industry? In Scotland, inshore fishermen are of robust physique and sturdy independence, and yet they are gradually declining. What is the problem of the inshore fishermen? It is again one of marketing and of finding an outlet, at a remunerative price, for the fish that they produce. Having little or no capital, the inshore fisherman cannot buy as cheaply or sell as profitably as the trawling companies, and suggestions have been made from time to time for the establishment of some form of co-operation among inshore fishermen. I know a little about co-operation and about Scottish fishermen, and I am perfectly sure that co-operation among those men is as impossible as it appears to be among the various sections of the Liberal party in this House.
Inshore fishermen do not ask for that kind of assistance. But they do ask for Government aid in the protection of their fishing grounds. In every rich bay and firth along the coast of Scotland, and, I suppose, of England, illegal trawling is being carried out by foreign or home vessels to such an extent as to be a deliberate flouting of the law. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in his tour of Scotland in the summer, heard complaint about illegal trawling as often, I suppose, as that about oats and barley, though I think the fishermen were less obstreperous in making their protests than were the farmers of the Moray Firth. Inshore fishermen have just grounds for indignation in this matter, and action must be taken, and taken quickly. They demand protection as a right. I understand that a Bill is now on the stocks in the Scottish Office to deal with illegal trawling; I hope that it will not become emaciated by too long an imprisonment in those stocks, and that the 1660 Scottish Office will not weaken the provisions of it.
Two steps are necessary in this matter; the first is a better policing service and the second is an increase in penalties. The Scottish Fishery Board, which has for years been asking for funds to carry out these services, has been starved of funds from its very inception. To furnish the board with the resources necessary for the efficient performance of its duties is not extravagance; to refuse such funds is not economy; it is the worst kind of waste. I hope the Secretary of State will not hesitate to rectify this longstanding grievance. The present policing service is not only inadequate; it is farcical, on most parts of the coast. One police boat, called the "Brenda"—round about Fife they call it the "Brandy," but it is a very milk-and-water intoxicant—is supposed to patrol the whole coast from Berwick to Aberdeen. Poaching trawlers, some of which, I am sorry to say, harry the waters of Fife from bases in which the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) is not uninterested. I hope that he will assure me that he will apply a quota to those marauders as he does to coal—these poaching trawlers play hide-and-seek with the "Brenda," and make the whole service look ridiculous. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland would not wish a service which he controls to continue to appear ridiculous in the eyes of the world.
With regard to increased penalties, I commend to the Secretary of State for Scotland the Bill introduced by my predecessor, the late Member for East Fife, and supported by some of my hon. Friends opposite, in which he suggested a penalty of £100 for a first offence and £250 for each subsequent offence. I do not think that those would be excessive fines, and I myself would add a forfeiture of the catch; and, if the Secretary of State for Scotland would like to go down to fishermen's posterity not only as a Secretary of State, but also as a Saint of Scotland, he might set aside the income from these fines for the benefit of aged fishermen.
I apologise to the House for taking a little more time than I intended, because there is much to be said yet, not necessarily by me but by other Members. The herring side of the industry is that in 1661 which at the present moment there is the greatest need of Government assistance. The House will recall the critical situation which arose in Yarmouth a week or two ago, when the curers intimated their decision to close down earlier than usual. A deputation was sent to meet the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I would take this opportunity of thanking the Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleague for their courtesy and readiness at very short notice in receiving these gentlemen and listening with so much sympathy to their case. The proposals which the deputation put forward were found to be unacceptable, and, personally, I think the Ministers were right in the view which they took. To have adopted at this time a principle which says that, if an export industry is in trouble, all it has to do is to come to the Government and ask the Government to buy its surplus produce or guarantee its sale, would be to undermine the whole edifice which has been built up with such labour during the last two or three years. But to propound such a view, although I think it was right to do so, is not, I hope, to say that nothing can be done. I hope very much that the Government have not barred and bolted the door to further appeal from the herring industry.
I have already referred to the suffering in herring centres at the present time. It is real and acute. I have here some figures supplied to me from some of the Fife drifters. I will take one village, the village of St. Monan's, which sent 26 boats to Yarmouth. Of these 26, only four covered expenses. The remaining 22 suffered losses, sometimes small, often great, but in all cases losses. The best of the four that covered expenses earned £352, but, when expenses were taken off, there remained for each member of the crew only £6 13s. That was equivalent to a wage of 17s. per week for the Yarmouth season, and in addition they lost £100 worth of rope and nets. The other three made smaller surpluses, and the money paid to their crews was less. This morning I hear from Anstruther that the bulk of the boats there have suffered heavy losses, and I understand that in those parts of the country which are represented by some of my hon. Friends opposite the position is much the same.
Let the House realise, however, that the Yarmouth season is not the only part 1662 of the herring industry which has been unprofitable. The tale of loss has been told right through the summer fishings, and it was almost as bad then as in the case of Yarmouth. Here is a case, which is quite typical, of a man with a wife and seven children, the eldest of whom is 12. He has been working all the time since March of this year, and his total earnings have amounted to £18. That is equivalent to a wage, for 32 weeks, of 11s. per week. There is another man with a wife and a family of two; his earnings have amounted to £14 since March; and another, with a family of four, whose earnings amount to £17. These are not exceptional cases; such cases are the rule in the herring centres of Scotland. The bulk of the families in these districts are penniless. What is their outlook? For most of them there is no possibility of work, and, therefore, of earnings, until the winter herring season begins about the end of January. In the meantime, they must either obtain further credit from the local shopkeepers—grocers, butchers, bakers and so on—or they must resort to the Poor Law.
The credit facilities of local merchants are almost exhausted. There is scarcely a merchant in these fishing villages that I know whose financial position is not strained to the very limit. One of them, with whom I was speaking the other day—a small draper—told me that a month or two ago the total debts owing to him, in a small village, amounted to £400. He is one merchant in a small village. At the end of the summer season the fishermen were able to pay back £30, that is less than 10 per cent., and he sees no prospect of getting the remainder of his money back. As regards public assistance, too, we have almost reached the limit. As the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) remarked the other day, it is no use rating penniless men to maintain themselves.
We hear much about the distressed areas, but the herring centres are equally distressed. There are special grants for industrial distressed areas. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour last night, were at pains to assure to the House that the grants to these distressed areas were to be increased. I appeal to the Secretary of 1663 State for Scotland to make a similar grant to the equally distressed areas in the fishing centres, where destitution is rife at the present time. I ask for a temporary measure of relief to tide them over the period between now and the time when the herring industry is placed on a proper footing. I know that the Unemployment Bill will be of great assistance to fishermen, and I am grateful for it; but that Bill will not be of any practical value to fishermen until at least the summer. I beg the Secretary of State for Scotland to accede to this request for special relief.
It is not much that I ask in comparison with what is given to other industries. Take, for example, the case of agriculture. This year farmers are receiving through the Beet-Sugar subsidy, £3,000,000 from the Exchequer, while under the various rate relief measures they are obtaining now the equivalent of £9,000,000. That is a total cost to the Exchequer of £12,000,000 a year. The wheat quota; scheme, too, which, while it is not a charge upon the Exchequer, is a charge upon the consumer, puts money into the farmers' pockets equivalent to £4,000,000 a year. That is £16,000,000 for agriculture, and nothing comparable for fishing in this seafaring nation. Surely the Scottish Secretary, who spent his first, and it may be he thinks his best years at sea, who understands the character of a seafaring people, will not turn a deaf ear to my plea.
But let the House recognise that these relief measures can only be palliatives at best. The real problem remains, and, unless steps are taken at once to reorganise thoroughly the catching, curing, distribution and sale of herring, the self-same trouble will arise next year, and the year after.
What is the problem of the herring industry? It is again largely a case of marketing. But whereas, in the case of white fish, the market is at home, and therefore to an extent controllable, the market for herring is abroad, in countries where the best you can do is to make favourable trading agreements. Before the War Great Britain exported 2,500,000 barrels of cured herring. This year it is estimated that the total export will not exceed 750,000 barrels, that is to say about a third of the pre-War amount. The chief importers of herring in pre-War 1664 days were Germany and Russia. Germany is now building up its own fleet and developing its own curing industry. This year, I understand, there have been cured in Germany 300,000 barrels more than there were in 1920, and that is in addition to Germany's catch by trawl of herring amounting to 500,000 crans. That market, I am afraid, in the scope in which we understood it before the War, has largely gone. But what of Russia? Before the War Russia took 75 per cent, of the total exports of British cured herring. This year she takes none. The reasons that apply in the case of Germany do not apply here. Russia is not attempting in the same degree to develop her catching and curing trade. If she needs herring she buys cheaper herring from Norway. That is the explanation of the present position. The opportunity, therefore, exists for the Government to make efforts to recover what is lost.
I cannot exaggerate the vital importance of securing the re-opening of the Russian market. Negotiations are now proceeding. I hope the Government and its representatives will press, as an essential part of the agreement, that Russia should take a specified amount of cured herring each year. Nothing else can save the industry in its present proportions. A reliable Russian market is an essential basis for the future business organisation of the industry. I would ask for a million barrels to be taken. That may be said to be an impossible demand, but before the War she took 2,000,000 barrels. I have been at great pains to get the figures, and they show that directly, and indirectly through Germany, Russia took something like 2,000,000 barrels of herring. It seems to me that the opening of the Russian market to the extent of 1,000,000 barrels is the only method by which we can maintain the fleet on anything like its present scale and provide employment for its people. If the herring market to that extent is not secured, we must face up to one of two things, either the rapid and ultimately complete deterioration of the herring fishing fleet, its gear and its crews or some drastic cut to save something from the wreck. I received a letter this morning from a leading skipper of the herring drifters in Anstruther. He says:A large number of men will not be able to prosecute their calling next season due to financial straits. They will not be able to purchase nets and other requisites and they 1665 will find great difficulty in securing credit. Many of the boats are practically obsolete and unfit for service. Some of them also have suffered heavy losses in nets and ropes. A succession of bad years has caused the fishermen to use up any small resources that they have in the shape of savings.The real trouble is an excess of the catching power of the industry. During the last few years it has become more and more apparent that the catching power is far in excess of any possible outlet for their produce. May I offer the House one or two figures, which apply in each case to the whole year. In 1913 1,600 boats of the herring fleet, English and Scottish, caught and sold same 2,700,000 crans of herring. In 1933, 1,000 boats—that is only 26 per cent, less—caught and sold 930,000 crans. That is 75 per cent, less catch than in 1913. It is obvious at once that at least a third of the fleet is superfluous. In 1913 the average catch per boat amounted to about 1,700 crans. This year it amounted to 930 crans. How can you expect herring fishermen to make a living in these circumstances? If at Yarmouth, by a reasonable allocation of catching power, there had been 600 vessels working for six weeks instead of 1,000 working for four weeks, you would have secured a fair living for at least 60 per cent, of the fishing community. Now, because there is no organisation, there is privation for all the men engaged at Yarmouth. The truth is the industry is over-staffed.
How will you deal with that problem? It applies to curers, salesmen, wholesalers, exporters, fishermen and all branches of the industry. I think a cut must be made somewhere. Unless you are content to do nothing and let the industry sink and drift into complete destruction, some measure of rationalisation in the catching power is imperative and, I think, inevitable. The first necessity is some reduction of the innumerable individual units in competition in the catching and curing sections. How is that to be carried through? I am afraid spontaneous amalgamation among the fishermen is almost impossible. I am afraid voluntary agreement in the form of a marketing scheme such as we have had for agriculture is scarcely likely to be successful, because it might involve fishermen in Fife, Banff, Caithness and Aberdeen voting for their own elimination. Therefore, I do not think that is likely to be a successful measure.
1666 The only solution that I can see is to apply to the herring fishing industry some form of control company or public utility company which shall if necessary be superimposed from the top. I see my hon. Friends from the fishing districts getting a little concerned, but I ask them to face the alterative. The only alternative to some measure of organisation like that is ruin in the course of the next 10 years. I beg my hon. Friends to face up to that. If the proposal I put forward is unsound, what is the alternative 1 Such a company would, if possible, be formed out of the industry itself, or, at any rate, with the co-operation of the fishing industry. It would bring all ranks under one control, make firm contracts with overseas markets for the whole cure, determine precisely how many boats are needed, how many crews and girls, prices, and carry out a really vigorous, modern, up-to-date advertising and selling campaign to popularise the herring. That is a revolutionary step if you like, but, as I say, there seems to be no alternative. It is the only method I can imagine to ensure a reasonable livelihood for at least two-thirds of the present fleet. The Sea Fish Commission will, I suppose, examine problems of that kind, and I have great faith in the appointment of Sir Andrew Duncan as head of that Commission. In Scotland he is looked upon as a man not only with a great career behind him and a reputation, but a man of broad outlook, prepared to apply to the industry the needs of the present times. I hope it will be possible for the Sea Fish Commission to examine that proposal.
But let me face the further position, that if such a step is taken, either voluntarily, or by the rationalisation of boats by one means or another, perhaps one-third of the fishermen are going to be left with nothing to do. They cannot, of course, be left to starve. It seems to me that here is an opportunity for the Government—here, at any rate, I shall have the support of my hon. Friends opposite—to link up fishing re-organisation with a real, imaginative policy of land settlement. In the North of Scotland it works now, and, I believe with some care, it might be applied in some other districts. I am inclined to agree with the Minister of Agriculture that it is no use making more smallholdings until farming is made to pay. But that is not 1667 altogether true, because smallholdings, I know, will pay when big farms will not pay, and, at any rate, it takes a year or two, perhaps, to set the machinery in motion, obtain the land, equip the holdings and so on in readiness for the men to work them. As I see it, the immediate task of the National Government is the reconstruction of the herring industry to save it from collapse, linked up with a bold policy of land settlement. That would be worthy of the name of the National Government. It would be worthy and even win the support of the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). If the Government adopted such a policy, he might write another book, this time about the National Government. He might even cross the Floor, and stand by the side of the Scottish Secretary and pat him on the back as he advanced this Measure.
I apologise to the House for having detained it so long, but the subject is one of great complexity. It is really three subjects in one. I was anxious on this occasion to present as far as I was able the whole picture to the House, so that a comprehensive measure of reform might be tackled by the Government. These little niggling approaches—I am not saying it disrespectfully—but these little individual approaches to this and that part of the problem certainly help, but do not deal with the real difficulties. The task of the National Government is to face up to the re-organisation of the whole industry. I hope they will not fail.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. HARBORD
I beg to second the Motion.
It is a great pleasure to me to have the privilege of seconding the Motion which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) in such eloquent terms. My hon. Friend spoke of the services of fishermen in the Great War. We know how they faced death time after time. On many occasions I witnessed their return, badly wounded, and I thought what great sacrifices those men made for their country in its hour of need. That was emphasised last week when the question of the Air Service of this country was under discussion. When we were facing 1668 the starvation of our people these men faced all the dangers attendant upon their labours as fishermen. I am certain that, without distinction of party, each and every Member of this House who takes a special interest in this question will be as insistent as I am that the Government should exhaust every possible channel to alleviate the lot and come to the active assistance of the fishermen. I am not going to cover all the subjects which have been so well covered by the hon. Member for East Fife, but there was one point in which I thought there was a similarity when he alluded to the police control boat operating from Fifeshire to Aberdeen not being seen when required. I was put in mind of the monster of Loch Ness.
I am confident that the House will rise to the occasion and support this Motion, which so richly merits their support. Regarding the herring fishing operating from Yarmouth and Lowestoft each autumn by English and Scottish fishing boats, my notes touch on the gradual decline of the industry occasioned by the aftermath of the Great War. We have been told this afternoon of the tremendous outlet for the cured herring before the War. In 1913 there were 1,606 herring boats fishing from the two ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, this number including Scottish and English vessels. In 1933, there were only 1,062, a loss of 544 boats. These facts also apply very closely to a similar reduction of catching power during the same period in Scottish waters at the summer fishing when the East Anglian vessels "are fishing in Scottish waters. I ought to say that in 1913, when a large number of fishing boats were busy at Yarmouth, the port authorities were contemplating large additions in the way of a new dock or basin to accommodate a greater number of fishing vessels, but, of course, with the advent of war, and the gradual decline of the fishing industry, there was no occasion for that to be done.
The point here arises why there is this great shrinkage of vessels and consequent reduction in their crews of 5,000 trained fishermen, together with the unemployment on shore occasioned by this reduction in catching power. The chief cause of the depression in the herring industry is because of the general poverty of other countries which were large buyers of 1669 pickled herring before the War. Countries such as Germany and Poland have also put high duties on the imports of our herring, and, at the same time, they are developing the catching of herring themselves. Then there is Russia, once the country which imported many hundreds of thousands of barrels of British-cured herring. This year, as has been pointed out, they have not bought one, and to-day in Yarmouth, or it was so last Friday, 40 per cent, of the catches of these fishing boats remain unsold. Some of the curers have not sold a barrel of herring from the commencement of the season up to the present time. It is a lamentable condition of things. The hon. Member for East Fife has told the House how it has averaged out, and the sorry plight of these fishermen having to face the long winter with such a pittance. It was put to me by a leading fish salesman of Great Yarmouth that, spread over three years, these fishermen have not averaged £1 a week, with all their discomfort and risk of life, steadfastly pursuing voyage after voyage round the coast of this country and Scotland. It does seem a terrible result for their hard labours in catching fish.
I am pressing upon the Government that this afternoon they should give us some message which will afford hope for the future of these men who have been so terribly hard hit. I am not complaining, and I am sure no one in the fishing trade is complaining, that the old trade agreement with Russia has been terminated. It was so terribly one-sideded and so much to our disadvantage, that it was high time-in fact, belated-that the trade agreement was terminated. We know that negotiations of this delicate nature between two countries which, unfortunately, are not on too cordial terms, are very naturally restricted, but it surely should not be beyond the power of man to establish a new trade agreement on terms satisfactory to both countries. We import much from Russia. We are a good customer to them. We pay them many millions a year more than they pay us—the proportion is five to one—and with long credit in many cases as well to the Russians. Up to now they have preferred to deal with Norway and buy their herring extensively there, because they are cheaper, though of a very inferior quality to our own.
1670 I hope, seeing that these powers have been given and are so far advanced, we shall be told this afternoon that we can take to our homes and to our districts, and to the men whom we are serving, a message of hope and encouragement that proceedings are likely to terminate in the direction of a market being created. Although there is the greatest friendship and good feeling between the hon. Member for East Fife and myself I think that he put his figure of a million barrels a year too high. I believe that if we had a market for 300,000 barrels a year the trade would be in a position to provide a fair and living price for the fishermen and that the trade would be able to carry on and eventually to return to its former times of prosperity. It has been suggested to me that, if in the new trade agreement there were to be a promise by the Russians that they would purchase in the English market 300,000 barrels of herring at a price of 30s. per barrel, it would pay the fishing community and give a fair return to owners and men alike. They have been getting 25s. a barrel, which is not sufficient to provide a fair return for those engaged in the undertaking. Unless something is done they cannot go on. They are going to the wall and facing bankruptcy and despair. Cannot we be told whether there is a chance of something being done or not?
I respectfully disagree with my hon. Friend when he says that the fishing fleet should be cut down. God forbid that there should be another war, but in such an eventuality these men would be very valuable on the seas. To lessen their number would be to lessen the opportunity of the services which they might render in such an important crisis in this country. The fishermen are worthy of every attempt to foster, encourage and help them in their hour of need. They have sent out an S.O.S. to the country and to the Government. These are the men who man our lifeboats. They answer the call of the S.O.S. When there are tempestuous seas and fearful weather, rain, sleet or snow, they never hesitate or turn back. They answer the call. What human sacrifice could be greater than theirs or what greater risks in this mission of mercy and help which they give so readily all the year round? I ask the Government to tell us what they have done. Have they had anything in 1671 the nature of success? Is there a prospect of our being able to go back to our respective constituencies and give the fishermen encouragement and help in this their time of need?
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I feel sure that the House will be grateful for the opportunity of approaching this very difficult problem of the herring fishery, and especially grateful for the use made of opportunity in Debate by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord), who conveyed to the House in such vivid language and in such a warm spirit our appreciation of those who follow this hazardous occupation, both in their first capacity as fishermen and in their auxiliary capacity as lifeboatmen along the shores of this island. I convey my personal thanks to the hon. Member for the inspiration which he gave to this Debate in his closing words. He also displayed his sympathy, understanding and knowledge of the problem which, perhaps, is very near to him because he represents one of the largest fishing ports of this country. It is proper that we should in this House from time to time give, by word and sentiment, expression to the needs of our constituencies and the people whom we are elected to represent. I belong to a great mining constituency, and one cannot keep away from his early associations. On the slightest pretext, when the question of coal is brought to one's notice, one does his best to recall the experiences of the earliest years of his life. The two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have displayed that warmth and sympathy indicative of this House, which is a feature which should be encouraged and acknowledged by Members.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) said truly that the herring fishermen are in a state of great distress. That fact was confirmed by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth who represents the English section of this industry. Unfortunately, we are too well aware that fishing and agriculture, and the prime producers of our own country, in common with the primary producers in all parts of the world, have experienced a period of very great depression in recent years. There are special features of the herring fishery which the hon. Gentleman brought to our notice, and which, I hope, will be given still closer attention by the right 1672 hon. Gentleman representing the Government to-day. We agree within everything which has been said about the parlous state of the industry and with the analysis of the causes of distress, but we are not satisfied with the attitude taken up by the two hon. Gentlemen in their proposal for remedying the present condition. I think that they suffer from lack of courage and warmth which is so characteristic of the people whom they desire to represent. If they had half the courage of their lifeboatmen and fishermen they would be propounding much more drastic remedies this afternoon than they have given to the House. Perhaps they are not quite sure yet whether they are going to stay on that side of the House or not, but when they eventually cross the Floor they may take a much more aggressive attitude towards the Government. For this moment both hon. Gentlemen have been soft pedalling in their criticisms and have not ventured as far as they should have done in the direction of making proposals for the drastic reorganisation which the industry requires. A very comprehensive plan of reorganisation must take place in the industry if it is again to become the prosperous industry we all desire.
The hon. Member for East Fife said that the industry was suffering from two things. He stressed the point of overproduction. He said that the industry was producing too much; that there is more production and a large margin of productive capacity. He went into some details on that matter, but earlier in his remarks he referred to the decrease in the consumption of herring. If the figures of production and consumption pre-War and in the last year are examined, he will find that it is largely a question of under consumption of this most valuable and estimable item of diet. The consumption at home has not increased. I find in the report that the consumption of herring per head has come down very considerably at home. In 1913 the weight in lbs. per head of population was 12.8, and in 1932 it had dropped to 8.3 lbs. per head, a decrease of roughly 33 ⅓ per cent. There is no need for that to have occurred on the dietetic merits of the herring. There is no reason why this very large measure of decrease in consumption at home should have taken place. The hon. Gentleman moved his 1673 Motion perhaps in the expectation of getting some sympathetic promise and response to it, but the hon. Gentleman expressed approval of the means by which the white fish industry had been assisted in the last year or so. Really, the hon. Gentleman too easily agrees. There is no cause for general congratulation on that point.
§ Mr. H. STEWART
The hon. Gentleman will recall that I expressed the view that it was yet too early to estimate precisely the effects of what has been done. The reports which I have had tend to show that the Measure is being accepted as valuable.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
But the hon. Member did give faint praise in respect of what had been done for the white fish industry. When he came to the question of marketing, he said that it was very difficult to secure co-operation among Scottish fishermen. Really, their lies a very large part of the difficulty of this problem, and of all our problems. They are the individual producers in this case. We have, I understand, at present just over 700 boats. There were at Yarmouth in the season nearly 1,000 boats altogether, a large number of which were owned separately or by the people who work them through the medium of taking shares. The practice of sharing is perhaps more equivalent in this industry than in any other industry in the country. Such a basis of ownership develops a sense of individualism which is very difficult to eradicate. It must be tackled, because no Government can set the herring fishing industry on right lines towards future prosperity unless the people themselves are prepared to accept the general directions which a Government can give.
One of the essential needs for regaining prosperity is greater co-operation among the fishermen. The hon. Member opposite referred in some detail to the difficulties which exist and which will certainly require the utmost measure of co-operation if they are to be overcome: not formal co-operation or co-operation in words but a very large measure of co-operation which will require sacrifice, for a common effort and the pooling of resources, Therefore, we are agreed that the discussion of co-operation is a vital matter in the solution of this great problem. The hon. Member referred to matters of a local and technical character 1674 which I shall leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) who, being a Scotsman, knows a good deal about every subject that comes before the House of Commons. He represents one of the Clydeside Divisions and knows a good deal about fishing, especially on the west coast. He will deal with illegal trawling, the need for better policing and for heavier penalties, all of which are domestic matters. The Secretary of State for Scotland, without further powers, ought to be able to deal with some of the difficulties referred to by the hon. Member.
The hon. Member carried the House with him in his description of the plight of the fishermen. He described one fishing centre where of the boats that went to the fishing this year only four had met their expenses. That is a very serious position. The explanation is known, and a large part of the fault must be directed against the fishermen themselves. During the fishing season at Yarmouth I read a statement that the fishermen, owing to their failure to co-operate and owing to their jealousies, went out every day in the week, Sundays included. With regard to fishing on the Sabbath it was said that the English boats went and the Scottish boats followed. Even with the knowledge that there was more than an abundant catch they indulged in Sunday fishing and obtained the maximum catch. That was a very great mistake. It is a sad commentary upon the condition of the industry that because more fish were caught than usual, because the catches were phenomenally good, the industry has suffered so much that, as stated by the hon. Member, in connection with one fishing fleet only four boats made their expenses, and even those who did meet their expenses had not a decent wage when it was spread over the weeks of the season.
We have had presented to us a fair picture of the condition of the industry and we know that the situation is really serious. The point we have to examine is whether the industry can be helped. We are told that the industry employed 20,000 people before the War and that the number of those employed has been reduced to 16,000, a loss of 4,000 compared with 1913. An industry of this kind cannot continue falling in personnel with- 1675 out very great danger to the national life and the safety and defence of this country in times of peril. We may differ very much as to the means to be applied to keep these men in production. It is a fact that owing to the badness of the seasons the boats are not in as good condition as they might be and that the nets are not maintained in as good condition as they might be. I understand that nearly half the herring fleet in this country is 20 years old or more. If no assistance is given from some direction, if there is no internal organisation to bring about the desired results, the boats will become older and neither the men nor the boats will be ready to take to sea, even if there is prospect of favourable remuneration.
The hon. Member referred to the direct subsidies given to agriculture, but he made no proposal for a direct subsidy to the herring fishing industry. I do not know whether he believes that the sort of subsidy given to sugar beet and wheat growers would be acceptable to the fishermen, or whether a basis could be found for a subsidy, even if the House were agreed that a subsidy of that kind should be given. Both hon. Members referred to the enormous loss of our foreign markets. The hon. Member for Yarmouth was right when he said that we could immediately provide a market for the herring catch in this country if we came to an agreement with Russia to accept even half a million barrels of herring for the season. The acceptance by Russia, by agreement, of anything like the pre-War quantity of herring that she used to take would solve the immediate problem of this industry and give the people engaged in it confidence to go on year by year, renewing their boats, improving their equipment and providing financial resources which might be used in a co-operative way to build up a new fishing fleet and a new system not only for developing the catch of herring but marketing that very valuable commodity.
We have been told that this year we have exported only one-third of our pre-War exports, that we have lost two-thirds of our foreign market. That is for the moment the primary difficulty that has overtaken this industry. I would urge the Secretary of State for Scotland, in his capacity as representative of the Government to realise that the situation does 1676 not admit of much further delay. It is very unfortunate that the herring industry should be devastated and crippled in this way. I am not a technical expert or associated with the industry but it seems to me that anyone who looks over the figures can see that this industry is disappearing, dying, and will pass out in a very short space of time unless we do what can be done to restore those foreign markets by which alone the consumption of fish can be maintained at a standard necessary to maintain the personnel and fishing equipment in existence.
We have suffered a very good deal because of political prejudice in this House. The House is full of political prejudice. There are people who regard Russia as an untouchable community, and yet we find hon. Members, who have a knowledge of the needs of their own constituencies, declaring that the only hope of salvation comes from Russia. Why should the Government apologise to any of the Diehards in this House, in face of the economic demands from various parts of the country for the restoration of communication and the exchange of services of all kinds with that great country; a country which must loom large in the future life of the world. Without making political capital, we must urge that this condition of affairs must be brought to an end and that agreement should be brought about. Unfortunately, not in the interests of the House but in the interests of a small section of individuals the Government have been urged to withhold an agreement and to refrain from making an agreement which is so important not only for the fishing industry but for the general economic prospects of the country. The Government have not made terms with Russia and there is no prospect for the time being of any addition to our present small marketing capacity as regards herring, unless that can be done.
The hon. Member opened up a very large question when he said that there is too much productive capacity, and that there are so many boats and so many people. He suggested that either voluntarily or by force or arbitration there should be some relinquishment by fishermen of their productive capacity, or some agreement for the scaling down of the number of men and boats. When I heard his remarks I felt that he was making a very important recommendation but not 1677 going all the way. I should like the House to view with us the need for a bold examination of the question whether we are prepared, to-day or to-morrow, to go all the way in the logical pursuit of the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member, on the lines that something must be done, that there should be reorganisation and that these people, who witness the poverty of themselves and their neighbours, must be brought to an apprehension of the need for a radical reorganisation of the industry. Hon. Members should speak out more boldly in the House and outside and say: "Here is an industry which is an example of individualism which has failed." We see examples of the failure of individualism not only in the herring industry but in the coal trade. It has brought the coal trade almost to ruin, from which it is very slowly emerging.
Examples of individualism have brought a large community like the United States of America almost to bankruptcy and chaos, and the same example of individualism has hampered trade and industry in a hundred different ways in this country. We see that example in agriculture. The hon. Members for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), who is always very keen on the question of reorganisation in our great productive industries, knows that in fishing as in agriculture those who think boldly may have something to contribute to the reconstruction of these industries, while people who talk in a comfortable, sloppy way of the problem and wish to avoid difficulties and unpleasant factors in the problem cannot help very much. The hon. Member opposite pictured to us what he described as the growing obsolescence of the fishing fleets, and said that there are too many boats, that some must be taken out and that some of the men must depart from fishing and be transferred voluntarily to small holdings and settlements on the land. That would require a very large organisation, and as an essential step it requires a good deal of propaganda. You have to convince these people that there is no other way. The hon. Member for Yarmouth was optimistic. He said that we can get prosperity for this industry, for the moment, by trading with Russia. Even he is a strong advocate of trading with Russia.
§ Mr. HARBORD
Those in the trade who are competent to form an opinion say that if we can get a Russian market, with a guarantee to take at least 300,000 barrels a year, the trade will want no subsidy. When the trade is on a businesslike footing it only wants a businesslike market and the trade will look after itself.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I do not disagree with the hon. Member. The Mover of the Motion outlined the present position and suggested possible lines upon which a remedy could be applied. It was very interesting to me, and I hope that the House will pursue the suggestion made by the hon. Member on some future occasion. But there is the task. You must reorganise the industry. The tools of the industry, the nets, are getting worse and the personnel despondent and discouraged. You must rebuild the industry to a higher standard of efficiency. There should also be a greater proportion of fish in the national diet of this country, the more the better. It is a food which can be produced cheaply, it is wholesome, and has qualities not yet discovered even by those who talk so learnedly about the mysterious qualities of the food we eat. We welcome the Motion and we should like to join with-Members in all parts of the House in pursuing further its implications. We urge upon the Secretary of State for Scotland the need for bringing immediate relief. This can only be found in a restoration of trade with Russia, in encouraging cooperation between the producers themselves, and by taking measures to prevent the wide gap there is now between the price paid to fishermen for fish and the price paid by consumers in London and other parts of the country.
If the Secretary of State were to go to the next Cabinet meeting and say, "I shall not allow the fishermen of the North-East Coast of Scotland, or the fishing industry of this country, to pass into decay, as it seems to be doing, or allow the sufferings of these poor people to be poured into my ears day after day. I insist that as there is an easy and quick way of giving relief the Government should conclude the Treaty with Russia without delay." If he takes that stand in the interests of those engaged in the industry, who are suffering great distress, he will have the sympathy of all 1679 Members of this House, especially if he persuades the Government to make up their minds to trading with Russia as a remedy for the present position, as we believe it is, and which is the opinion of all those engaged in the herring industry. If the Secretary of State for Scotland as the direct representative of the northern half of Britain in this House will insist on this policy the Cabinet will not long be able to resist his demand, and then perhaps we may this winter see large purchases of herring going to Russia, to the help and assistance of this great industry.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The House is familiar with the main outlines of the problem which confronts the herring industry today and, therefore, I shall not detain hon. Members for any long time. The first point I want to raise with the Secretary of State for Scotland is the direct question of relief during the present emergency. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the summer fishing has been a failure owing to the absence of herring, and the autumn fishing was a failure owing to the absence of markets. The result is that the fishermen on the North-East Coast are in dire distress, and I am satisfied that in the special circumstances of the case some form of relief ought to be afforded them during the winter. May I remind hon. Members that for the most part these fishermen do not come under unemployment insurance, and, as you cannot relieve them by rating—that is what it comes to—if the local authorities are to do the job, they are left in an exceptional position at the moment. I make a most earnest appeal to the Government to do something for them in the nature of direct financial assistance. The amount would not be large, and I am sure that in the circumstances of the case, particularly as they are not covered by insurance, this House would not grudge a small sum to the distressed towns of the North-East Coast during the present emergency. It would be only a temporary solution of the problem—no one expects it to be continued or repeated, indeed, we hope that it will not have to be repeated—but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make some statement to the House on this point.
1680 I now come to the important question of principle raised by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) in the very able statement he made-the question of State control of the industry. He seemed to advocate the inauguration of a company which would undertake something in the nature of State control. In such a case the State would inevitably have to bear some financial responsibility. I have never heard a suggestion of the kind before, even from the Socialist benches, with regard to an export industry of the character of the herring—fishing industry. For my part, I cannot agree to any suggestion that there should be State control over an export industry of this character.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
If capitalism is to survive and function it can only be through the flow of investments into industry under the stimulus of profits and confidence, and the basis of individual action and individual liberty, and in my opinion the only way, under existing conditions, under our present system, to revive prosperity in an exporting industry like the herring-fishing or in any other exporting industry is to restore markets. There is no other way. We hear a lot nowadays about the State planning industry. If the State is going to plan industry, and interfere with costs, production, and wages under a capitalist system, nothing but chaos will ensue in the long run. I have seen examples of the kind of thing going on in the United States, where the State tries to control production of goods, costs and wages, and, believe me, it is not working out successfully there, and it would not work out successfully here. The control of certain basic commodities nationally may be necessary, but restrictions on a free market, as far as agricultural produce and manufactured goods are concerned, are one of the prime causes of the depression at the present time. My views will, I think, be shared by hon. Members of the Liberal party, because although we may have differed in the method of the application of Protection I have always regarded Protection primarily as a weapon to be used in order to restore markets, and free markets, without which, in the long run, the capitalist system cannot survive. The only alternative is Communism.
1681 A reorganisation of this industry is undoubtedly necessary, and I think that a substantial reduction in the catching power of the fleet is necessary. That must be done by the industry itself; it cannot be done by the Government. The drifters are obsolete, expensive, and very dangerous. At least 75 per cent, of the drifters to-day ought not to go to sea next year. They will have to be replaced, but not all of them, because the catching power of the fleet is at present too great. The surgeon's knife will have to be used by the fishing industry itself to reduce their catching power. If the Secretary of State will keep in touch with the industry—it has reorganised itself so that it can now speak as a unit, to the Government—and if in return for a reduction of the catching power of the fleet he could guarantee them facilities for replacing these obsolete and expensive drifters by modern Diesel engine craft, which can be worked at half the cost, he would be doing a real service to the herring—fishing industry. I beg him to take this matter into serious consideration. Almost every other Government affords direct financial assistance, in one form or another, to their fishing industry. Our own fishing industry cannot stand up against the subsidised industries of other countries, particularly Germany and Norway, and I ask him to discuss with representatives of the industry the possibility of giving some financial assistance, by way of loan, for the replacement of the present obsolete and expensive drifters by more modern Diesel engine craft.
I come to my last point, and that is the question of the home market. I agree with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) that the consumption of herring in this country, which after all is the greatest consuming market in the world, is not nearly high enough, and I ask the Government to see what they can do to help the industry by advertising-herring in our own markets. I am sorry that the Empire Marketing Board, the only advertising agency the Government possessed, has been abolished. It was doing useful work, and the cost was negligible. But it has gone, and nothing has taken its place, except the British Broadcasting Corporation. I believe that a great deal could be done through broadcasting to popularise herring and the methods of cooking herring. It may be 1682 stupid, but there is a great deal of truth in the assertion that in the consumption of herring the snobbish element comes in to a great extent. The people of this country do not like cheap food, even if it is the best food. If herring cost four times as much, I am sure that the consumption would be doubled. It is one of the misfortunes of the herring that they are caught in such enormous quantities and are marketed so cheaply, because they are one of the best and most nutritious of foods. It is a tragedy that we should have to try throughout the world to find people to eat herring when we ought to be eating ten times the quantity that we do. Indeed, the resolute refusal of the people of this country to eat our own home-grown produce, whether we catch it at sea or grow it on the land, has had a deleterious effect on the health of the population. We consume less fresh milk than any other country in the world, and I am sure that we consume more tinned and canned fruits of all kinds than any other country in the world. I think that the Government in the interests of health should try to rectify this position as far as they can. I ask the Government to reconsider the possibility of extending the home market for herring.
I have said that the catching power of the fleet will have to be reduced, and there is the question, therefore, as to what must be done with the fishermen who, during the next three or four years, will be unable to go to sea with the reduced fleet. I believe there is still a great opening for white line fishermen along our coasts. There are two things that the Secretary of State could do to help the line fisherman. The first is to afford him adequate protection against the depredations of the trawlers. That protection he has not got now. The second thing is to accord him proper harbour facilities for the prosecution of his craft. The right hon. Gentleman probably knows that I have in mind one particular harbour to which I had the pleasure of taking him myself, the harbour of Cairnbulg, in my constituency, the work on which was stopped in the economy campaign. It is now quite useless for any practical purposes. That simply means that the fishing population of three villages on that coast are unable to get a living at all. The expenditure of a modest sum in putting some of these small harbours into proper condition, so 1683 that the fishermen in the villages on the coast can make an honest living by catching fresh white fish with the line, would be a wise objective for the right hon. Gentleman and I hope that he will be able to give us some encouragement on that score.
Lastly I come to the very vexed question of foreign markets, and that immediately leads me to speak of Russia. It has been repeatedly pointed out that before the War Russia took about 75 per cent, of the total produce of the herring fishing industry. It is time that the Government made its attitude towards the Russian question quite clear. We are not at all clear now as to what that attitude is. At one moment we have relations with Russia broken, and the next moment we have them restored. At one moment we are all anxious for the utmost development of trade with Russia, and the next moment the implication is that it is a great pity we have anything to do with the Russian Government at all. Even the Lord President of the Council, who is usually so courteous in his references to foreign countries, said the other day, with regard to the American recognition of Russia, "If it comes to that we have enjoyed diplomatic relations with Russia," and then he added the words, "If 'enjoyed' be the word." There was an implied disparagement there. The Lord President would never have made that remark about the German Government.
I want to know what the ultimate intentions of the Government are with regard to the whole question of the relationship, diplomatic and commercial, between this country and Russia. Are the Government out to cultivate the maximum of friendly and trading relations or are they not? Are they sorry that we have relations with Russia and are they anxious to break them off altogether? If so, the sooner that is done the better. For my part, I believe that Russia has now to be accepted as a part of the scheme of things in the world to-day. You cannot get away from Russia by ignoring her existence. I have some right hon. Friends, and close friends, in this House, who would be very glad if they were told tomorrow morning that Russia had been submerged by the sea and had disappeared altogether. We cannot do that. To some extent I think it is a test point 1684 between what I call the pre-War mind and the post-War mind. The pre-War mind is still reluctant to accept the fact of the existence of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. The post-War mind, although it may not approve of the idea, does recognise Russia's existence as an integral part of the world economic machine to-day. We can only expect to attain the prosperity that we ought to attain by taking Russia into very serious consideration.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I think the hon. Member is now somewhat anticipating a Motion on the Paper for to-night.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I can only say that this question of the Russian market is acknowledged by hon. Members in all parts of the House to be the most vital question in connection with the fishing industry.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
On a point of Order. This issue has arisen already during the Debate. In the official figures submitted to the House it has been shown that Russia has been a large commercial factor in this particular industry, and as the resumption of trade with Russia would give a great stimulus to the industry I think that any reference that is made to Russia should be held to be perfectly in order.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The position is this: We have on the Paper for discussion to-night another Motion dealing with general trading relations with Russia, and it would obviously be out of order to anticipate the discussion which might arise on that Motion. At the same time I agree with the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) that before the War Russia was a considerable market for herring, and so long as the discussion is limited to the regaining of the market for herring in Russia it would be in order.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
But surely that must also include anything which may stand in the way of getting these trading relations renewed to-day?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
If hon. Members confine themselves to a suggestion to the Government that it would be very desirable to get trading relations with Russia in order to regain the market for herring in Russia, that would be in order, but hon. Members should not go into the details of trading relations with Russia.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I shall confine myself strictly to the question of the herring market with Russia. I would like the Secretary of State to throw some light on the present state of the negotiations for a trade agreement with Russia. The negotiations have been going on for a very long time and one wonders what is the cause of the interminable delay. There must be some reason. The Members of the Russian delegation have been in this country for weeks conducting negotiations, and I cannot understand the cause of the delay. Either they have come to an agreement or they have not. If they have not, there is no more to be said on the matter at the moment. But I think the Secretary of State might suggest to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that he hurry up a bit with the negotiations and bring them to a conclusion as soon as possible, one way or the other.
In that connection, I want to say this: If it is difficult to get herring included in the trade agreement I am sure that everyone in the herring-fishing industry would be with me when I say that we would much rather see a trade agreement concluded with Russia without herring being included than have no trade agreement concluded at all. I believe we should be able to get a special trade agreement dealing with herring at a subsequent stage, if we could get a general agreement now. The difficulty the Russians are in at the moment is, I imagine, that they bought 100,0000 barrels on the urgent representations made to them by hon. Members in this House and by our Government last year, and, largely owing to reasons over which the Government have little control, a very short time after we cancelled the trade agreement. It is therefore difficult for the Russian representatives over here to say to their Government "You buy another 100,000 barrels and we shall get concessions." The only concession that they got last year was a breach of the trade agreement.
My suggestion is that a trade agreement covering the general question of reciprocal trading should be signed as quickly as possible, and that subsequent to that, in the course of this coming year and in time for next year's catch, we should negotiate a separate agreement with Russia in relation to herring specifically—a kind of five years plan, if I may 1686 so put it. It is the kind of thing that appeals to the Russian Government. The herring industry, if it got a guaranteed order of even 500,000 barrels per annum—I should like to see it 1,000,000—from the Russian Government for a period of years, could plan accordingly and give the Russian Government its herring at a very reasonable price indeed. I believe the benefit would be mutual if that arrangement could be made. For the life of me I cannot see why in return for that we should not give the Russians an undertaking to take a certain amount of their goods to cover that. I believe it would be possible, with a certain amount of give and take on both sides, to negotiate such an agreement. Surely it is worth while. Unless we get a market back for these herring there is no question about it that this industry is practically going to die. What the Government have to ask themselves is are they prepared to let the herring fishing industry die on the north-east coast of Scotland? The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Grand Fleet depended very largely for its existence in the War on the herring fishermen. You have the testimony of Lord Jellicoe and Lord Beatty on that point. The herring fishermen were vital to us in the War. If ever we come into difficult times again, whether it be war or not, the herring fishermen will be vital to us on the sea. It is in the interests of the nation that these men should be kept going and encouraged, and I beg my right hon. Friend to do everything in his power and quickly to secure that end.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH McKENZIE WOOD
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) on the luck of the ballot which has enabled him to bring forward this Motion, and I congratulate him also on the full use that he has made of his opportunity. This question or similar questions have been debated on several occasions recently in this House, but perhaps the present time is better than any other because the Scottish boats have returned home to Scotland, and it is now possible to take a more complete survey of the position than was possible on previous occasions. I do not want to go over the same ground as has been traversed by previous speakers. This is a very wide subject and it would be a mistake for anyone to try to repeat what has already been said.
1687 I say, therefore, that I agree with a great deal of what has been said by my hon. Friends who Moved and Seconded this Motion, and by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. If I do not touch upon many of the things that they dealt with it is because I want to make the most of my opportunity to speak.
The first thing I would say it that there are two aspects of this question and that we must distinguish them very clearly. The first aspect is the immediate state of these fishermen, and the second aspect is the future of the industry. Reference has been made to the distress in the north-east of Scotland particularly. But the distress is not confined to the north-east of Scotland or to Scotland as a whole; it is also to be found in England. The Noble Lord the Member for Eastern Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) has many constituents who are as hard hit as any in the north of Scotland.
This is not as local a question as it seems at first sight. The fishermen are in dire distress. I put a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland last week asking him if he had any official information as to the exact position. He said that he was making inquiries. I wonder whether he has completed his inquiries and whether he will to-day be able to give us some definite information on this point. There is no doubt that the position is worse now than it has been for a generation. We have had a series of bad years and this year is probably the worst of all. The two principal fishings of the year have been utter failures, and the failure has fallen not merely on the fishermen but on the fish curers, who have had quite as bad a time. I was interested to notice that in one village in the north-east of Scotland the fishermen held a meeting and decided to make a direct appeal to the county council for assistance. A year or two ago it would have been much easier to have given that assistance, for the Unemployment Grants Committee was then in existence. The Committee has gone, and now it is difficult to see what can be done.
I wish to stress the fact that two out of three fishermen, that is to say the share fishermen, are outside the scope of the unemployment insurance scheme and 1688 they are the most hardly-hit section of the fishing community. Those who are in receipt of wages are within the scheme. They get something out of the fishing, yet when they go to their homes for the winter they are selected for assistance under that scheme. I submit that there is a case for a direct contribution by the Government to help the share fishermen. It need not be paid over to the men—I am not suggesting that—but it should be paid to harbour authorities and other local authorities who would then be able to do what was done by the Unemployment Grants Committee a year or two ago. In that way, while helping these men directly, we should also be helping them indirectly by providing them with better harbour accommodation.
I am informed, for instance, that harbour dues fall heavily upon them. Would it be beyond the power of the Government to do something in the direction of meeting the debts on these harbours in view of the position to which the fishermen are reduced at the present time? That is a definite proposal which I hope will be considered carefully by the Government. I am sorry to request a subsidy for any industry—very sorry indeed—but it is difficult to find an answer to the fishermen when they ask why it should be so difficult to give a subsidy to an industry of this kind when it is so easy to pay millions to wheat growers and sugar beet growers. Again, nearly all these smaller harbours require dredging and I hope that that circumstance will be taken into account in trying to find a solution of this difficult question.
I now pass to the question of what we are to do in the future to put this industry on its legs and to keep it there. The fault, in the present situation, does not lie with the fisherman. He is very efficient. When we were discussing the Sea Fisheries Act we dealt with that question, and I said then, as I say now, that the work of catching and landing the herring is most efficiently performed. Everyone will agree that the fishermen who can land herring on the quay at the price of ¼d. each is doing his work very well. There can be no complaint on that score. It seems to me that the fisherman cannot do much better than he is doing. Then we come to the question: 1689 What is the cause of the present slump in the industry? If I were to make any criticism at all of the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder it would be that they only glanced at that particular question. My hon. Friend the Mover of the Resolution said something about not making party capital out of this question. I do not want to make party capital out of the interest of the fishermen, but it is no use trying to find a remedy for the disease until we find what the disease is and what has been its cause.
There has been no glut. A number of people seem to think that there has been, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) fell into the error of supposing that the difficulties of the industry were due to glut. That is not the case. This year has seen what is probably the smallest catch of herring for many years. This year may indeed be a record in that respect for the last generation. It cannot be said that there is a glut unless it is claimed that a glut exists where two herring are available and only one is required. In that sense there is a glut, but there is no glut in the generally accepted sense because the catch has been less this year than it is in normal years. The fact remains that this is an export industry, and it is suffering, like export industries all over the world, from the new economic theories of economic nationalism that are being propounded everywhere, and the attempts of each country to do its own work for itself without the assistance of others.
It must be understood that although the fishing industry has fallen on evil days since the War, that did not happen immediately after the War. We have been told quite correctly that before the War the export of herring was something like 2,500,000 barrels, but the average for the years 1927, 1928 and 1929 was still 1,700,000. The great slump has occurred since that time, which shows that there has been some factor at work other than the normal post-War factors which have been responsible for the decline of so many industries. We cannot control the actions of other countries. If other countries keep out our goods, probably we cannot do much to prevent them. But we can control our own actions, and my complaint is that we have not followed 1690 the interests of an industry of this kind in our dealings with other countries, especially Russia.
I have discussed this question over and over again with leaders in the herring fishing industry and every one is agreed that there is no hope of this industry recovering its pre-War position unless it recovers fully the great Russian market. The Scottish Fishery Board point out in one of their reports that it is estimated that Russia could absorb all the herring that this country is capable of providing. Last year we were discussing the confirmation of the Ottawa Agreements. I knew that those agreements—realising as I did that they were precursors of the denunciation of the trade agreement with Russia—were bound to be disastrous to this industry. I said so from my place in this House, to the annoyance of some Members on the Front Bench and everything that I said then has come true. I suggest that the position of the industry to-day is largely the result of the economic policy which the Government are pursuing.
I do not suggest that these economic agreements cannot do any good to the industry. I hope that in this case they may do some good, but, so far, that policy has been very unsuccessful in relation to the industry. Such agreements as have been made have been with the smaller Baltic States, which for this purpose are of less importance than other countries. There are three great countries which are of vital importance in this respect. There is Germany, and I cannot agree with the Mover of the Motion that the German market has gone. If that were so, the position would be even worse than I take it to be. We are unfortunately likely to lose a considerable part of that market and, if we do, it will be the direct result of German retaliation for our own measures. We made an agreement of a kind with Germany but it did not touch this industry. We were told that the agreement was provisional and that the question of herring and other things like that, would be considered later. I should like to know when the supplementary or final agreement is to be reached.
Then there is Poland, a very large and important market. What are the possibilities of an agreement with Poland? The fishing industry ought to have some 1691 idea in advance of what the Government are doing in this respect. I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) that some notice must be given and in particular I agree with what he said about Russia, that you cannot remain in friendly commercial relations with a country unless you are going to treat that country decently. Some of the propaganda in this country against Russia is, to say the least of it, not calculated to help our fellow citizens whose livelihood depends upon proper relations with that country. I hope that something will be done very soon to bring to an end the present difficult situation. If the Government kept out of it, that would be much better than the present situation. Two years ago we had a position very similar to this and representatives of the trade went to the Russians to negotiate agreements about sale. They were very successful and they were able to induce Russia to buy 136,000 barrels in the following year. Then the denunciation of the trade agreement altered the whole situation, as I knew it would, and not a barrel has been bought by Russia since. That is a position which cannot be allowed to continue if these fishermen are to have any chance at all. I hope, therefore, that the Government will get a move on to terminate it and that they will at any rate give the fishermen some idea as to whether anything is likely to be done to help them, along those lines.
I am satisfied that something could be done by the Government in the direction of getting new markets. The same suggestion has been made by the Scottish Fisheries Board. Is there any reason why the Government should not instruct all our consular offices in countries likely to be importers of herring, with a view-to discovering the possibility of securing markets in those countries and also drawing the attention of the communities in those countries to the value of herring? In such countries as China and Japan and in the Argentine there is a possibility of markets being found. It is true that salt herring are only likely to get a market in the colder countries, but there are many places where a market might very well be found, and as I have said the Scottish Fisheries Board also take that view.
This Motion has been debated as if it were mainly a herring question, but it 1692 is not, and the fishermen in Scotland who fish for herring mainly, fish also for other things. The fact that they fish mainly for herring has been due to circumstances beyond their control to a very large extent. The competition of trawlers in the past has driven them from being white fish fishermen to concentrate largely on herring, and I think they would be well advised if these herring fishermen tended to go back again to white fishing. Any step that the Government or any other agency can take to improve the white fishing will likely be of very great benefit to them. I know that a speaker who simply criticises and does not put up some sort of constructive proposal is liable to be criticised himself. I should not like to think that I could not suggest anything that could be done to help these fishermen, and I have already made some suggestions, but I should like to draw the attention of the House and the Government to a remarkable statement that was made in a Scottish Fishery Board report since the War, which gives one an idea of what could be done to develop the fishing in Scotland. It says:No serious attempt has been made to develop the valuable inshore fisheries which exist along the coast, particularly on the West coast and in the islands. They are undoubtedly deserving of greater attention than has hitherto been bestowed upon them, not only as a source of livelihood for the people, but also as a potential nursery for the nation.I am certain that all that is true. Later on, the board say:A great deal of valuable information as to the pre-war position of the industry on the west coast was collected by a committee of the Board in 1914, and this is available in the event of its being decided to adopt definite action.That means that the Scottish fishery Board, after being 40 years in existence, felt that it had not been able to do what it wanted to do, and that the fisheries that it was appointed to develop had not been developed. It had its plans there, but the Government—not this Government alone, but several other Governments as well—had failed to give it support in carrying out the policy which it was prepared to put before them and the details of which were all ready. I do not pretend to be a practical expert in the fishing industry, but I know something about the North of Scotland particularly and the fishing there, and I am profoundly convinced that this is true 1693 and that a great deal more could be done there than has been done; and the present Government, I believe, have a very great opportunity to tackle this question.
I noticed the other day that there was a dinner of the trawl-owners in Hull, and there was a very prominent Aberdeen trawl-owner there who was criticising the Secretary of State for Scotland as to the proposals that he is going to make in a new Bill. He said that there were fishing grounds round about the Hebrides in Scotland that were lying waste. I believe that that is true, that they are lying waste, and although I expect to be able to support my right hon. Friend when he brings in his Bill dealing with trawling, I would warn him that a Bill which is merely going to impose greater penalties on trawlers or to prevent them going in for illegal trawling, while it might be very desirable, is not the development of the fishing, and that there is a great deal more to be done than that. Let us not run away with the idea that an anti-trawling Bill is going to have a very great effect upon the fishing industry, and let us not exaggerate its importance.
Why is it that this part of the world is not doing as well as it ought? Why are the fisheries not developed? It is largely because there are not the means, as Sir Andrew Lewis said at the dinner which I have mentioned, of preserving and transporting the fish, and that it was no use having fine fisheries away there if there were not the means of bringing the fish to the market where people were likely to buy them. I would strongly suggest that the Government should consider whether it would not be worth while setting up in certain centres kilns for smoking the fish, and also in the bigger centres—this also has been recommended by the Fishery Board—cold storage places, so that, in cases of emergency, when there is a glut, as there often is, the fishermen would know that in those places they could have somewhere to put the fish without having to dump it back. There are other suggestions of that kind which the Fishery Board themselves have put before the Government, and all that I would ask in this connection is that the Government should carry out the advice of their own advisers.
1694 My hon. Friend who preceded me also said something about the home market, and I agree with what he said about the snobbishness of those who do not eat herring. Scientists have told us that pound for pound the herring is the most nutritious of all fish; it is also probably the cheapest and the best. It is also a very perishable fish, and it requires very careful marketing. The marketing is beyond the control of the fishermen, but it is very bad, and I would like to suggest means whereby this part of the business could be improved. I sometimes, for instance, eat a kipper in London, and often I eat a kipper in the North of Scotland. When I eat it in the North of Scotland, it is always good, but when I eat it in London I sometimes start to eat it and then stop and say, "I will not touch it," the reason being, of course, that many of the shops that sell kippers in London keep them far too long. I would suggest for the consideration of fish-curers that they should put on their boxes a mark saying when the fish was caught, and telling people that if they do not eat it before a certain time they will not be responsible for it. If the fish-curers would adopt some such means as that, they would ensure that those who eat kippers would always get them good, and if they could always be sure of getting them good, I am certain that the consumption would go up by leaps and bounds.
Another aspect of marketing is this, and it is a question that I have put to the right hon. Gentleman and his friends before. I am certain that the inshore fishermen particularly do not get a square deal in the selling of their fish. If you go to Hull, or Grimsby, or Aberdeen, you will find that the people who are selling their fish there are very often large combinations, with big capital, who are able to look after themselves. They are able to control the marketing and the sales, and if the market is not very good, they are able to keep the fish back until it is better. But with a small fisherman or fish-curer in the North of Scotland, it is different. The fish is landed in a small port, it is sent off to market, and it has to be sold there and then at whatever price it may bring. Very often also, as I have told my right hon. Friend, the salesman buys from himself. The chief salesmen in many important markets are 1695 buying while they are selling, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should turn his attention to this matter and see whether it is possible to put a stop to the practice of men buying and selling at the same time. If he cannot do that, then the inshore fisherman is bound to be at the mercy of the salesman, and even any good steps that might be taken in another direction might be nullified by failure in this respect.
The Sea Fish Commission has been mentioned. When the Sea-Fishing Industry Bill was going through, I suggested that this Commission was unnecessary, and I am bound to say that I am not more inclined to think differently now, in view of the fact that it is four months since this Act received the Royal Assent, and this Sea Fish Commission, which we are told to expect so much from, has not yet been set up. I hope the Government will get a move on in that way, will get this Commission appointed, and will set it some work to do. There are a number of other matters which I have not the time to develop. There is the North Sea Convention, which requires overhauling. By the Sea-Fishing Industry Act we laid down the size of fish and the size of nets, and they were very good provisions indeed, but they are likely to be largely stultified by the fact that they are only applying to our own country, and I hope the Government will accept very soon the invitation that they have received from the Dutch Government to a conference to overhaul the whole of that Convention. I also hope to see very soon an international conference going into the question of territorial waters, so that we may have a standard interpretation of what is meant by territorial waters.
Lastly, I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen about the necessity of the Government turning their attention to the question of the replacement of boats. Last year, according to the Scottish Fishery Board, the average age of Scottish drifters was 23 years, which shows that the great majority of them are really worn out. In view of the circumstances of the industry, circumstances beyond the control of the industry, I am afraid it will be impossible to expect the industry to re-equip itself without Government assistance, and I hope, therefore, that they will very soon 1696 address themselves to this question and see whether they cannot help them to get new boats. I am sorry I have taken so long, but there are many other points that I should have dealt with had time permitted. I hope that the Government, as I am sure they do, realise the seriousness of the position in which these fishermen are and that they will not only give them sympathy but some tangible assistance.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Viscount ELMLEY
I would like to congratulate my two hon Friends upon the very comprehensive way in which they have brought this important matter forward. Representing the Division adjoining that of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord), I can fully endorse the tribute he paid to the many great qualities of fishermen. Perhaps the two which strike me most are their strong sturdy individualistic outlook, and their very great kindliness. Anxious as we all are that the herring industry may prosper, we must recognise that in assisting it His Majesty's Government have a more difficult task than they had when they passed the Sea-Fishing Act to assist the other section of the industry, if only because three-quarters of the herring caught are sold abroad, only one-quarter are sold in this country; in the white fishing industry these figures are exactly reversed. On top of that, the herring-fishing industry has an even greater element of luck in it than the other section. For instance, two boats may put out their fishing nets in almost the same place, one will do very well and the other will do badly. We had the unfortunate occurrence on several occasions at Yarmouth this year when herring that were expected did not appear, and[...], when they did appear, so many came that nets, which cost a good deal of money, were destroyed.
Hon. Members have emphasised that markets are the kernel of this problem and of supreme importance, and that if new ones are not opened or the present one expanded, most drastic curtailments will have to be made. I would like to put forward two suggestions with regard to the home markets. Hon. Gentlemen will be familiar with those excellent institutions run by the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute. Wherever soldiers, sailors or airmen are stationed, one of 1697 their canteens is found, and I think it would be very good if the appropriate Department or the industry itself could insure that every one of those canteens sold herring. I understand that they do not do so now. As one who has to spend a good deal of time in the Midlands, I find it impossible to get fresh herring. Surely in these days of fast freight trains and motor lorries it ought to be possible to send fresh herring over a far greater area than is done at present. When Germany was buying herring from us a great number of fresh herring were covered in ice and then put on board a German boat, arriving in Germany two days later. If that can be done, it should be easy to have a supply of fresh herring available in the Midlands. It seems to me, as my hon. Friend opposite mentioned, that it should be possible also to do something in the Argentine. Up-to-date refrigerating ships run between this country and the Argentine bringing meat, and it should be possible for them to take back herring as part of their return cargo.
I have here some interesting figures which I should like to give to the House, if it will bear with me, for they speak louder than any words as to what is happening in the industry. Comparing 1913 with the present year, the number of drifters has gone down from 1,600 to 1,000, and the average age of the fleet has gone up from 10 years to 25 years. As things are going on, they will be getting older and older and will cost more money to run. The running expenses have gone up from £24 per week to £34, and the cost of the gear and its maintenance and insurance has gone up from £19 to £35. The number of tons of coal consumed has unfortunately dropped from 525,000 tons to 220,000 tons. That, of course, is largely due to the reduced catches, for every year since the War fewer fish have been caught. In that time the average price of coal has gone up from £1 0s. 6d. to £1 10s. per ton. The actual catch has gone down from 1,447,000 crans in East Anglia to 474,000, which is a very appreciable drop, and the average amount caught by each boat has gone down from 1,700 to 934 crans. That cannot fail to have an effect upon the earnings. These have gone down per boat from £2,385 to £1,490, and for the week the amount has gone down from £79 to £68. The crews have been reduced in East Anglia from 2,000 to 1698 1,000. Similar reductions are shown in the industries dependent on herring fishing, such as the coopers, the numbers of whom have gone down from 1,000 to 500.
These figures show eloquently the way in which the industry is going, and I do not like to think what the logical end of it will be. During this year we have been grateful for the information which has been given about the industry by the British Broadcasting Company. They have given helpful bulletins during the season, and lectures have been given by those competent to do so. We have also had a great deal of useful information in the Press, though my one criticism would be of the tendency in certain sections of the Press to put in photographs only of the very good-looking girls who come down from my hon. Friend's Division in Scotland during October and November to beautify the towns of Yarmouth and Lowestoft and the surrounding country. It should be borne in mind that they are not the only people in the industry, and that half-a-dozen other sections are engaged in it besides them.
With regard to the future, a great deal has already been said about the Russian trade agreement, and it has been emphasised that Russia took three-quarters of our herring before the War. Since then the unusual position has arisen that there are no such people as traders in Russia, and we can only negotiate with the Government, so that if the Government decide not to buy our herring there is unfortunately nobody else in the country who can have any say in the matter. That is a state of things which we do not want in this country or anywhere else. I have been told by those competent to know that they do not particularly mind by what method Russia buys her herring, whether it is a guaranteed number of barrels in a year or the purchase of a guaranteed value of herring, and they hope that it will be possible for Russia to buy from producers in the ordinary way. Various suggestions have been put forward this afternoon as to what would be a suitable quantity and price, but my feeling is that it would be of greater value if we could arrange for 250,000 barrels to be bought at a price of 28s., f.o.b., and I hope that in the meantime the other 1699 markets which we have will improve. The feeling in the trade is that they do not want a subsidy. They would far sooner be independent of that, and they very much hope that some arrangement of the kind I have mentioned can be made.
With regard to the trade agreements which have been made, the only thing that people wish about them is that they went a bit farther. It is true, for instance, that as a result of the Finnish agreement, Finland is taking 8,000 barrels, which is worth about £10,000. We are sending this quantity to Finland at a reduced rate of duty. It is obvious, of course, that that amount is a mere drop in the bucket, and does not get us very much further. I hope that it will be possible to enlarge this and other markets in future. Luckily, we have an open door to Esthonia, and it is expected that in a few years, when the economic conditions there improve, that market will very much expand. I am informed that there is a certain difficulty with regard to Latvia. There is a body known as the Exchange Commission, and people who are sending part of the 60,000 barrels laid down in the agreement with that country are having great difficulty in getting payment as a result of the operations of that commission. I ask the Government to get in touch with His Majesty's representative in Riga and to see if the difficulty can be smoothed out.
The position with regard to Poland has been mentioned. There, of course, the general economic conditions are very bad, with the result that our trade has been very hardly hit. Their Dutch subsidies also hit our trade. At this moment there are Dutch crews fishing in the North Sea with, perhaps, one Polish member among them, very heavily subsidised by the Dutch and Polish Governments, and their catches are landed duty free at the Polish Baltic port of Gdynia. That is equivalent to an advantage of 20s. a barrel. I hope it may be possible for His Majesty's Government to press for similar advantages for our own herring, and even to consider whether we could not in exchange buy such commodities as timber and salt.
Unfortunately, there is a very melancholy story as regards Germany. It 1700 was most unfortunate that herring were left out of the trade agreement which was made. I suppose it was inevitable that the duty on herring should be increased as the result of going off the Gold Standard, but the fact that it has been actually trebled, having gone up from 3 marks to 9 marks a barrel, has led to a good deal of buying from their own fleet on the part of Germany. On the top of that exchange conditions in Germany are forcing importers in the interior who for 100 years or more bought herring from British firms to purchase them now from German firms only. As to one other country, Lithuania, there, I understand, the condition of things is very much better and is, indeed, quite healthy. My point in mentioning the position as regards these countries has been to show that something more is required than has already been done under existing trade agreements.
The question of rationalisation has been mentioned. That is bound to come if markets improve, because with improving prospects old vessels will be scrapped and owners will go in for absolutely up-to-date boats, probably with Diesel engines, though I understand there are certain difficulties at present which prevent the Diesel engine from being generally adopted. I believe it cannot be operated quite so well as the steam engine. I would ask the Minister who is to reply to be good enough to say a word about the research station at Lowestoft, because I have recently met quite a number of people who think that station ought to be abolished and that it costs too much money. I do not believe that at all. I have had the privilege of seeing what is done at that station and I think it does a very valuable work in studying the habits not only of the herring but of all kinds of other fish, and all sorts of problems relating to the industry. It would be of assistance if the Minister would say briefly just what this research station is doing. Another year like the one we have just had will be a serious matter and inflict a great deal of damage on this most important and useful industry. I ask the Government to do their utmost to prevent the harm going any further than it has, and to assist those whogo down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
I would like to reinforce the arguments which were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) on his good luck in the ballot and his wisdom in introducing this subject. The occasion is a convenient and a very suitable one, because we are all assured that the Scottish Office and the Fishery Board are sincerely anxious to do something for the fishing industry. It was a great relief to many of us to find that the Gracious Speech from the Throne contained a special reference to fishing. It is a very long time since there was any such reference to this very hard-hit industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire drew attention to the report of 1918, one of the most valuable reports ever presented to this House, containing a great deal of wisdom and the results of much research, which the Scottish Office would do well to consider at the present time. We are all convinced that something has to be done for this industry. Like other hon. Members I visited my constituency in the Recess, and, as special complaints were being made about illegal trawling, naturally I had a great many deputations and visits from my constituents. I am glad the Government are going to take action with regard to illegal trawling, but at the same time I would reinforce the statement that, although that will be a very good thing in itself, its effect on the fishing industry as a whole will be negligible.
While we are determined to have illegal trawling prevented, we must look at the positive side of this matter, the rehabilitation of the industry and its development, which were the things emphasised in the report of 1918. My hon. Friend who drew attention to the report pointed out some things that might be done. It is now nearly 25 years since I first stood for my constituency, and I can take my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to certain parts of that constituency, on the west coast, where there used to be 25 fishing boats in one little harbour but where to-day he would find only one. Two reasons for that state of affairs are put forward: one is illegal trawling and the other is that no scientific assistance in the matter of development has been forthcoming from 1702 the Government. A very useful thing which the Development Commission could do would be to institute a set of motor fishing boats for the various ports on the west and the east of Scotland and give training to fishermen there in new methods of gaining a livelihood.
The depopulation of the Highlands as we see it going on to-day is a crying shame. We are losing the very best stock in the country—a silent, heroic people. I am sure that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the North in the Recess he must have been deeply impressed, first, by the depopulation and, secondly, by the extraordinarily fine stock he came across in the various villages on the West Coast. I am sure it is the wish of the House of Commons, irrespective of party, that that stock should be maintained. I will not recall now what those men did in the late War, but every one who has written of the War from a naval or a military point of view has been definite about this fact, that the country owes more than can ever be estimated to the stock which for centuries has existed in that part of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife made an appeal that some of the fishing areas in Scotland should be regarded in the same light as distressed areas in the South, and I am also strongly of that opinion. The fishing industry has been very badly hit, and all that is asked at the present is that a temporary loan or grant should be given to these particularly distressed areas. I am sure my right hon. Friend will pay attention to this request, because, as far as I can gather, it has been put forward by every member for a Scottish constituency who has spoken up to the present.
In dealing with the industry as a whole one cannot neglect the marketing problem. I am not going into the very difficult questions arising out of the economic situation, because I do not think this is a time to argue about the economic difficulties. We are certain of one thing—that it is the unanimous wish of the entire fishing industry that we should be open to a free and untrammelled trade with Russia. Russia used to be our very best market and long before there was any question of import duties it was consistently the view of Scottish Members of Parliament and of all those engaged in the industry that any Government would be wise to keep that market as open as 1703 possible. Of course the same considerations apply to Poland and other countries. At a time when we are bargaining—and quite rightly so—whether the bargains are to be bilateral or multilateral, the Secretary of State ought to impress upon his colleagues in the Cabinet who are more directly concerned in that bargaining the desirability, and, indeed, the necessity, of remembering this hard-hit industry of fishing.
There are one or two other small points I wish to raise. I hope that when the negotiations are going on the Government will not forget the Moray Firth problem, a matter which is making the fisher people on the coast of the Moray Firth sick at heart. It is a gross international injustice. We feel strongly that the Moray Firth question ought to be settled. We know it is an international issue. Every other country is defying international law. We are not built in that way, we do not wish to defy any law, but our Government ought to use every effort to give our own people the same rights as are enjoyed by foreigners in this particular area. My right hon. Friend has had a great many deputations about the seine net. That is a newer problem than the question of illegal trawling, but expert fishermen tell me that, in the Cromarty district particularly, the seine net problem is just as bad as the illegal trawling problem. As one of the older Scottish Members who has listened to many Debates on fishing I would remind the Government that, whatever may have happened in the past, on this occasion every Member, whether Liberal or Conservative, or a supporter of the National Government or in Opposition, has emphasised his determination that something must be done for this industry, something not only on the lines of dealing with unemployment but on the larger Imperial lines, because this country is dependent, in the ultimate resort, on the quality of its fisher stock. I beg my right hon. Friend to press upon the Government to remember the necessity of rehabilitating this industry first in the interests of employment and population and, secondly, in the interests of the country and the Empire as a whole, because among no section of the population has so much silent heroism been displayed not only in war but in peace.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Captain McEWEN
I wish only to raise a few small points. Most of the larger ones, and of the smaller ones, too, have been very fully dealt with in the Debate. In the first place, I would join with other hon. Members in thanking and congratulating the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) for having brought this highly important question before the House, and for the very interesting speech which he made in expounding it.
My first point is in regard to illegal trawling. I have the honour to represent a constituency which has a very long coast-line, and one of the questions which is most persistent there, and has been so for many more years than I have been acquainted with the division, has been that of illegal trawling within the three-mile limit. Without raising the question of an extension of that limit, I would ask what appears to be a very simple question, and that is, why not, if cheapness is the object, augment the policing of this coast by seaplane? Seaplanes are not very expensive, and they would be invaluable. They patrol at irregular hours and, as I think is generally agreed by those who live along our coats, they could be of the greatest possible assistance. I notice that, whenever this question of illegal trawling comes; up, hon. Members who sit for divisions which are interested in trawling have an expression on their faces not merely of indifference but perhaps also of derision. I cannot see why they should object if a Bill, as I hope may be the case, is to be brought in on the lines of that which was introduced as a Private Member's Bill by the late Sir James Duncan Millar, whose object was to increase the penalties and to extend protection. The only thing that we would seek to do would be to catch the man who is breaking the existing law; nothing more and nothing less. I do not see why hon. Members, or others who are interested in the trawling industry, which is very great and important, should object to a Measure of that kind.
The next question, which was mentioned by the hon. Member who proposed the Resolution, is that regarding the "Brenda," the ship the duty of which is to patrol a stretch of coast from Berwick to Aberdeen. Anyone who visualises the length and the importance, so far as fishing is concerned, of that coast, will see immediately that it is an undesirably 1705 lengthy feat for any one vessel to undertake. Short of seaplane assistance, I would certainly suggest that a sister ship should be added to complement the efforts of the "Brenda." I hope that some notice may be taken of the suggestion. So much for the "Brenda," of which we in Berwick and East Lothian hear so much and see so extraordinarily little. The question was raised in the course of this Debate of assistance being given to harbours. Many harbours in my division, of which Eyemouth is one, are in dire need of assistance. If any assistance is to be given to harbours in general in Scotland, I trust that the highly-important town of Eyemouth will not be overlooked.
There is only one other small point, and it has been mentioned by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). I think that he struck the nail on the head when he said, speaking of the consumption of herring in this country, that a snobbish element entered into the matter. That is true, but I would go further than that and say that there are two points against the consumption of herring. One is that a great number of people are living in flats, and, unfortunately, the cooking of a herring, which is a most excellent thing, produces a very penetrating and permeating smell, and other people in the building are made aware of the fact that the particular individual is having a "herring to her supper," as we say in Scotland. That fact is, I am sure, a deterrent, odd as that may appear, to the more general use of the herring as a food. If any clever person could devise a patent machine, whereby the smell of the cooking of a herring could be diminished, or otherwise disposed of, he would be helping a great deal towards the popularising of this neglected fish. The other point is that people are put off by a certain complication in the herring's bony structure. Those of us who, as Scotsmen, have been brought up on herring, can very easily assure those who might be put off by this at first sight, that it is a very simple objection to overcome.
I should like to say a word or two with regard to the Russian market. The hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) said, in the course of his speech, that we could not carry on commercial relations with a country unless we treated it 1706 decently; up to a point, I quite agree, but "decently" rather begs the point at issue. Is it right to assume that it is entirely our fault, the whole time, that an agreement has not already been reached? We have heard this afternoon about a "tortuous policy," in regard to this agreement. Is that tortuous policy entirely on one side, and entirely on our side? I do not believe it. It is possible to regard trade with Russia generally—as, indeed, I confess that I regard it—as a necessity, but a regrettable one. Hon. Members have stated that you must, if you trade, also have friendship. I do not necessarily agree. It is perfectly possible to buy a pound of tobacco without embracing the tobacconist.
The two things are entirely distinct. One can have correct diplomatic relations and trade, by all means, but it is not necessary to go into the finer elements of a deep and abiding friendship. I would point out to the hon. Member for Banffshire that yesterday, at Question Time, figures were brought forward by the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, showing that Russia, during the last few months, has been buying articles of every description from this country. That she has not also bought herring is entirely, so far as one can see, her own fault. I leave this highly important question of the fishing industry and its troubles, with confidence and indeed a certain hope, in the hands—I believe the sympathetic hands—of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, and his colleagues.
§ 6.26 p.m.
This has been a most interesting Debate, and we are grateful to the hon. Member who brought the matter forward. Fishing debates are always the same in the House of Commons. For 15 years I have attended these fishing debates, and there is always something hopeful and comforting about them. Hon. Members seem to co-operate with one another, and party prejudice is cast aside while we who represent fishing constituencies make our plea to the Government of the day. I do not suppose that there is any industry in the whole of the British Isles that has been so—we might almost say wilfully— neglected as the fishing industry. I remember, after the War, when the Government got that very able report which has 1707 been referred to to-day, that some of us went to the Government and told them about what Belgium was doing. Belgium had made plans, half by subsidies and half by private enterprise, for the reorganisation of her fishing industry. The Belgian fishing industry was put on its feet. They were keen competitors against us, but the Government of the day would do nothing, and seemed completely blind to what could be done.
This is the only Government that has ever paid the slightest attention to the question of fishing. We are grateful to the Government for what they have done, and hope that they will do a little more. I want to suggest that if the Government were to expend, upon research and reorganisation in the fishing industry, one quarter of what they have spent on sugar beet, for instance, they would get the commendation of the whole country. We can do without sugar-beet growers—they are no doubt very nice and kindly people—because we are not dependent upon them, as we are upon the fishermen. I hope that all hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies will keep on pressing the Government to pay attention to us as well as to the beet sugar industry.
One hon. Member spoke about the research station at Lowestoft and said that he had heard that they were spending too much. It was rather wasteful, he thought, but it was good. I want to bring to the notice of the House—not because my constituency is in Plymouth— the fact that at Plymouth we have a very remarkable man at the head of the biological research station, Professor Allen. Many years ago, when Lord Balfour came to Plymouth, I asked him whom he would like to meet. He replied, "I would like to meet Professor Allen." He is one of the most remarkable men in the world. He is so remarkable that he gets tributes from all over the world. Russia has sent students, and we have had American students. Professor Allen is well known throughout the world. If the Government could spend a little more upon helping the research of Professor Allen, I am certain that the money would be well invested. Very few people outside biological research circles know very much about Professor Allen, but inside they all know about him. Whenever you talk to 1708 him, he gives you a most intelligent and scientific way of dealing with the fishing problem. In listening to fishing Debates here, I feel how much clearer his mind is on the subject than the minds of hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies. If Lowestoft is not doing all that it could, I beg the Government just to look at the Plymouth research station, for they will find that they could do with a great deal more work of that kind, and it would be to the great advantage of the country. I must say that the Sea Fishing Industry Bill has helped us a great deal in the West country. It has stopped the glut of fish from Bear Island, and the increase of ½d. a pound throughout the country has certainly helped the fishing industry. Moreover, our trade agreements and quotas have helped the trade with foreign lands to a certain extent, and without putting up the prices of fish.
I hope that the Government will take note of what has been said by every Member of the House who has spoken in this Debate. They are in a position now to snap their fingers at the type of man who does not want trade with Russia. If they will only look at the by-election results, they will see that, no matter what the people want, they do not want die-hard Tories. I say that with great feeling, because the two people that I have had to fight most, ever since I entered public life, have been the Socialist and the die-hard Tory. They are so alike; there is no difference between them; they are both as blind as bats. I often laugh when I hear people say they object to a trade agreement with Russia because they want to fight the Communists. It is because we do not want Communism that we want freer trade with the whole world, and the more we can trade with Russia the better it will be for us. The Russians, however, are now catching their own herrings, and, moreover, the Russians are not eating as much as they did before the War, so that there are complications on that account. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are slimming!"] It is not voluntary slimming; it is the kind of slimming that we should have here if Socialism went to its logical conclusion. If Socialism went to its logical conclusion, we should all be a little slimmer than we are. However, I do not want to quarrel about that, be- 1709 cause this is almost the only subject that I know of on which people want to cooperate.
An hon. Member talked about there being a great deal of political prejudice in the country, and he is perfectly right. In this House every day we pray to be delivered from pride, prejudice and partial affection; we say our prayer and then we get out. I have no prejudice even against the Russian form of government. If the Russian people want it, let them have it. I do not mind, though I should not like it myself; but I want to trade with them, or with anybody, if it will help the industries of this country. As hon. Members know, I used to be shouted down when I said a word in favour of trading with Russia, but I want to trade with Russia because I am anti-Communistic. If I wanted Communism, I would stop trading with Russia, I would stop trading with all countries, so that we should be left to live on our tails in the way that some die-hards seem to think England can—to eat ourselves in and out. That idea, however, is dying clown; those people have not a leg to stand on; let hon. Members try it in their constituencies.
Do not the Government think it is about time that, in their trade reorganisation, they had someone to deal entirely with fisheries—an Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture whose whole job would be to deal with fisheries? I do not believe it is possible in any other way to deal properly with such a very large and complicated subject, which has to be so scientifically handled. The Ministry have already provided an expert committee to deal with the question of marketing, and I should like to remind the Government that the other day there was held in London a large conference called by the Transport and General Workers' Union, at which Plymouth was well represented. That conference considered the need for a marketing scheme, and called for representation of fishermen and shore workers on any board that might be set up. I hope that when a marketing board is set up it will include fishermen of practical experience. The conference also called for a national body to regulate fishermen's wages and conditions, and for the inclusion of fishermen in National Health, Unemployment and Workmen's Compensation legislation. 1710 The sooner we can include fishermen in National Health, Unemployment and Workmen's Compensation insurance, and the more we can do for our fishermen in every way, the better it will be for the country.
One reason why fishermen have been so neglected is that they are not politically minded. They are too big and broad for such things as party and political prejudices. If they had been more politically minded, I think that probably the House of Commons would have paid more attention to them. But it always seems to me to show a lack of noblesse oblige not to pay attention to people who are not politically organised. I should like to feel that the Government would look after those who are least able to look after themselves. Certainly up to the present they have never been able to do it, and I think that that is why so many Members who represent fishing constituencies feel so keenly on the subject, and seize every chance they can get to beg the Government to do more for the fishermen. I know it will be difficult. They do not want to be subsidised in a direct way, but the whole industry needs to be in some way subsidised, so to speak, to be reorganised and scientifically controlled. I know that the Minister of Agriculture means to do his best, but we recognise that it is not possible for him to do it all, and we beg of him and the Government to consider appointing, say, an Under-Secretary for Fisheries under the Minister of Agriculture, for the purpose of dealing solely with the fishing industry.
References have been made to herring. I have always found that, if you give your guests or your family good fresh herrings with mustard sauce, they love it, and I do not know why people are so snobbish about herring. Why be class-conscious about herring? Surely, all of us are proud to have herring on the table, and, even if they do smell, most of us like the smell of herring. It is all very well to talk about flats. I have a large house in London—the house is in St. James's Square and the kitchen is in Piccadilly; but every time I enter the house I smell cooking, so it is not only people who live in small places that have to put up with the smell of cooking.
I think the Government ought to have a real policy of "Eat more herring and 1711 drink more milk." After all, you cannot go round London without seeing enormous signs: "Guinness is good for you"; but what have the Government done? They have given them £14,000,000 to show that Guinness is good for you. They need not turn up their noses at a practical proposition. Surely they could use some of this money for an advertising campaign on these lines: "Herrings are good for you. Milk is good for you. East more fish. Eat more herrings." I do not want to make a joke of this, but there is a great deal more that the Government could do for the fishing industry. Surely, there are no men more courageous, more independent, and more creditable to the country than its fishermen, and there are no people more courageous than their wives. You have only to live among them to realise that they have qualities that are badly needed in this country to-day, and we cannot afford to let them die out. It will, however, become a dying industry unless the Government do more for it. I do not want merely to blame the present Government, because they have done more than any other Government. This is the first Government that has ever attempted to do anything for the fishing industry—
Yes, but it was so badly administered that it was of no use. I was glad to hear, when reference was made to a quota and marketing scheme, a Liberal Member say, "Hear, hear." That is a good sign. If the Government will go forward and help the fishing industry even more, they will have the whole country behind them, and it might have the happy effect of causing our Liberal friends to cross over once more and join the happy band of National Members who are behind the Government through thick and thin; but we would like them to be a little thicker about the fishing industry and a little thinner about beer.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
When the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) talked about what was being demanded by the Conference summoned by the Transport and General Workers' Union, she at least 1712 indicated that she took some interest in the proposals put forward by the workers of the country.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I did not say that the Noble Lady did not; I said she represented one of the Divisions of Plymouth. Therefore, I do not require to be corrected. The Noble Lady represents them very well—
§ Mr. MACLEAN
—and very volubly. The demands put forward by that Conference are demands which I think could very well be made in respect of other industries. The conditions of representation asked for in the fishing industry might be included in a scheme such as was adumbrated by the hon. Member who introduced this Motion to-day, and whom, I think, we ought to congratulate on his selection of a subject when he was successful in the ballot. While this has been mainly a Scottish Debate, it also affects England, as was shown by the last speech and by one or two other speeches during the afternoon. Evidently the purpose of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) was more particularly to call attention to the parlous condition, not of the fishing industry as a whole, but of the herring side of the industry. I agree with all that he said.
In Scotland the industry is in a very distressed condition. There is not a fishing village or town round the coast of Scotland that is other than a distressed area. I spent a considerable part of my life going round the coast towns of Scotland in connection with my own vocation, and in particular I know the fishing villages and towns along the Moray Firth from one end to the other. I have seen those towns prosper. I have seen drifters going out from those towns owned by the men—men who looked upon themselves as thrifty, men who looked upon themselves as individuals, and who could not only look the world in the face, but, when the fleet returned home from the fishing grounds, could meet their debts with the tradesmen who had provided the food and other things which are necessary for a vessel going upon its voyage. To-day no one can say that. The men are dispirited and the women are in despair. There is practically little outlook for the children, who were looked 1713 upon as being capable of following the industry of their parents. It is true, as the Noble Lady has said, that fishermen are not represented by fishermen in this House, but it is not true to say they have not had their circumstances, their conditions and their interests voiced. They have been voiced from time to time by Members whose constituents include fishermen, and they have advocated their rights and interests as sincerely and honestly as those of any other section of their constituents.
The truth is that Parliaments in the past have looked more upon the farming section of the community as the section that ought to be considered when financial or legislative support was to be given, and the farming element to-day is obtaining more from the House of Commons both in favourable legislation and in financial support than any other industry. The hon. Member for East Fife spoke of the subsidies that they are receiving. They came to the House pleading poverty and the approach of bankruptcy and asking for support, and financial support was given them. They will receive from all sources £12,000,000 in the present year. What benefit has accrued to the country from that? The farmers are still pleading poverty and bankruptcy and asking for further subsidies. The Government turn a deaf ear to an industry in which it is not poverty that is the principal element of their social conditions, but in many cases starvation. The Sea Fishing Industry Act passed a few months ago, while it may be helpful in some directions, has brought no relief and no comfort to these people. There may be an outlook years ahead, but there is very little rosy prospect before the people in the herring industry at present. That is why we are grateful to the hon. Member for giving us an opportunity of putting forward our demand for the Government to do something in the matter. The Secretary of State for Scotland, following the habit of Secretaries for Scotland for many years, has visited practically all the fishing towns round the coast. He saw at first hand what the conditions are, and I have no doubt he also saw at first hand the condition of the fleet that we have to police the seas and prevent illegal trawling. I hope he will give us some indication that he will not forget what he has seen, as has happened in the past.
1714 I hope that something will arise from what he has seen and from the stories that he has heard from those with a first-hand knowledge of the industry.
Every speaker has spoken about Russia, and I only wish the Prime Minister and other Members of the Cabinet were present to learn how universal has been the request made for the immediate conclusion of a trade agreement with that country. They would then close their ears to the diehards who, in order to represent the interests of a few hundred investors, are blocking a trade agreement which would bring a satisfactory livelihood to hundreds of thousands of workers who are unemployed and are receiving the dole or public assistance. If those investors in old Russia had not lost their money there, they might have lost it if they had invested it with Hatry or Harman and would have been unable to appeal to the Government for assistance. It is the risk of all investment. You either get dividends, if the company is profitable, or lose your money if the company goes into bankruptcy. These people cannot have their cake and eat it as well. When another government has taken over the country, it cannot be expected to look with equanimity upon the starvation of many of their workers merely because people here are not satisfied with the conclusions which have been arrived at by the Soviet Government. I am not concerned with the methods which have been adopted there. I am concerned with the net result in this country, that we have had a Debate such as we have had to-day arising out of the conditions due to the holding up of this trade treaty with Russia. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some indication that help may be given in time to enable the industry to equip itself for the coming fishing season.
With regard to illegal trawling, I know-that negotiations are going on, and I will not press the Minister just now as to when he expects them to be completed and an international agreement arrived at if that is necessary, as the Government say it is, to the closing of the Moray Firth and the Clyde against foreign trawlers. We are supposed to have a number of vessels that are doing patrol work. I see from the latest report of the Scottish Fishery Board that one did only 1715 40 days sailing during the year, while the others did from 220 to 240. The report says that she was again unsatisfactory. Evidently she had been unsatisfactory in previous years. Why cannot the Fishery Board have ample and satisfactory supervision of the waters in which illegal trawling is being carried on? The report states that one of the vessels is 39 years old. It is 39 years ago since the Board bought her, but she was eight years old then, so she is now 47 years old. She sails at 11 knots an hour. There is not an up-to-date trawler which could not make rings round her and escape. I am referring to the "Vigilant." The Government are advising shipowners to scrap ships 20 years old and order new ones, and they themselves have a fishery cruiser 47 years old. Another vessel is 37 and another 34 years old. With one exception, a motor boat bought a few years ago, not one of them can do more than 12 knots, and the average is 11. It is time the fleet was overhauled and an adequate fleet put upon the waters there, so as not to mislead the fishing people into believing that they are being protected. I hope the Secretary of State will be able to tell us something about the steps they are taking for the reorganisation of the fleet, and also what plans they have for reviving the fishing industry. I hope he will be able to make such a statement as will give the representatives of fishing constituencies some good cheer to take home to their constituents when Christmas comes, that they are taking steps either to give a subsidy during this winter or to pass such legislation as will bring about a return of prosperity.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
I should like to join with Members in all parts of the House who have expressed their indebtedness to my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) for raising this subject. We welcome the appreciation expressed in the Motion of the steps which have already been taken to improve the position of the white fishing industry, the benefit to which from the Sea-fishing Industry Act is widely recognised. I hope that improvement will in time extend to all the fishermen who catch white fish, whether with the trawl, seine nets, lines, or by other methods, and that the inshore fishermen, 1716 whose claims have been pressed will get their full share of those improved conditions. In order to ensure this, inshore fishermen require to be protected from the unfair handicap of illegal trawling. Many Members have addressed questions to me on that point. I need hardly remind the House that the Government, in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, have promised to introduce early legislation. I must not anticipate the Debates on that subject, but I believe that illegal trawling is really due to a relatively small section of the trawling industry, and that the great majority of those engaged in that industry are law-abiding citizens who view with disfavour the illegalities which are practised by a small minority. The hon. Member and other hon. Members have addressed questions to me on the subject of policing. I frankly recognise that the present methods must be brought up-to-date. I think the House will excuse my going into details on that point on this occasion; it may be more appropriate when the Illegal Trawling Bill is submitted to the House.
I have been much impressed by the fact that local fisheries in Scotland are gravely depressed, and shortly after my visit to the West Coast, I sent investigators to gain first-hand knowledge as to the proper steps they would advise me to take. Those reports have not yet reached me, but I can assure hon. Members that it is indeed tragic, as the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) pointed out from his own knowledge, that where 25 or 30 years ago there was a profitable inshore fishing industry, it no longer exists. It is the first duty of the Government to find out the causes which have brought about that unhappy state of affairs.
I pass to the great herring fishing industry which is the main subject of discussion, and the main burden of the many informed and sympathetic speeches this afternoon. I think all sections of the House agree that it was very fitting that this subject should be raised by a Scottish Member, for while herring fishing is of importance to East Anglian and other English ports, it is of greater importance to Scotland. As many hon. Members know, the Scottish boats form about two-thirds of the fleet which follow herring fishing round the coasts of Great 1717 Britain, and most of the curing is done by Scottish curers. Unfortunately, the herring fishing industry has fallen on very difficult times. The last three years have been very lean years, and it is undoubtedly the case that in present conditions the industry does not afford a reasonable living to many of those who are engaged in it. We all profoundly regret that state of affairs, as it concerns the well-being of the fine and courageous men in that industry, and, so far as the Government are concerned, I gladly give the assurance that we will do everything in our power to assist any well-directed efforts of the industry to establish itself on a more satisfactory footing.
While I am confident that a solution of the existing difficulties can be found, this can only be done if all concerned will recognise the seriousness of the problem. A very careful investigation of deep-seated causes and possible remedies is needed, and, in addition, a full measure of co-operation from all sources is vital. What are the real causes of the present depression? We have not here the common case of large imports depressing the price of the commodity. Even in present circumstances our own fishermen land in this country about 5,000,000 cwts. annually compared with imports of 560,000 cwts. The imports, therefore, are only about 11 per cent, of the home production. The main outlet of this industry has been the export of herring to the foreign markets. Exports now have fallen heavily. I will quote three figures showing a considerable decline. In 1913, herring cured in Great Britain amounted to 2,400,000 barrels; in 1928–30 the average was about 1,600,000; in the two years 1931 and 1932 it was about 900,000. This year, alas! it will be even smaller. In other words, owing to the reduced demand in foreign countries, our production of cured herring has fallen to two-thirds of the pre-War figure in the years 1928–30, and one-third in the last three years. Not only that, but the decline of foreign markets has also been accompanied by a reduced home demand. I find that the Addison Scott Committee, which reported in 1932, stated that the home consumption of fresh herring, kippers and all other kinds had fallen by about one-third since 1913. Here the cause appears to be very largely a change in the public taste. Herring have lost favour in comparison with the many 1718 rival foodstuffs which are now pressed on the public with all the resources of modern advertising.
The position, therefore, in a nutshell is that home demand has declined by one-third and foreign demand by two-thirds. So far as foreign markets are concerned, Russia was formerly the main market. Before the War Russia took some 800,000 barrels, and she has averaged only 70,000 since the War. The reduction of our total production is not entirely due to this fall in the Russian market. A further fall of about one-third of the pre-War production which has taken place in the last two years is due to the shrinkage in other foreign markets through the general world depression and restricted buying power. When a measure of prosperity returns to the world, as it must in time, it is reasonable to think that that shrinkage will be in part made good, but it must be remembered that in recent years a number of countries abroad have made strenuous efforts to increase their own catch of herring Our men are facing a very different com petition from what they did before the War. I come, therefore, to the conclusion that the recent reduction of our markets cannot safely be treated as merely transitory, though there is good reason to believe that a well-organised herring industry here could regain a considerable part of the lost ground when general conditions improve abroad, for, so far as I can gather, the British-cured herring are still regarded in those Continental countries as the best the sea can produce.
The difficulties I have mentioned are accentuated by the fact that the organisation of the herring industry is not well suited to present conditions, and it is a very remarkable fact that every Member who has addressed the British House of Commons this afternoon has, I think, directed attention to the vital necessity of a re-organisation of the herring fishing industry. I hope that those engaged in that trade, when they read, as they will, that the House of Commons has addressed itself to this problem, will note that in the opinion of every Member who has spoken prosperity cannot return to the industry until some measure of reorganisation has taken place. We know how difficult it is for a sea-faring race situated in small 1719 numbers and in many communities throughout the country to get agreement with the views expressed this afternoon. It it true, I think, that, as one Member stated, in 1913 about 1,600 vessels took part in the East Anglian fishing and their catch, which in those days was very readily disposed of, amounted to about 1,500,000 crans. In the present year, about 1,000 boats took part in the recent East Anglian fishing, and their catch will probably amount to about 450,000 crans, which is all that the markets of the world will take. In other words, the average catch per vessel which in 1913 was about 900 crans has dropped this year to 450. Similarly, 2,000 crews of women were employed to cure 1,250,000 barrels of herring in 1913, an average of 625 barrels per crew, and in 1930 the average had fallen to a little over 300. These figures reveal that the vessels and curers of the present day are only employed to about 50 per cent, of their capacity. Inability to make a satisfactory living and an addition to overhead costs, which is detrimental in a competitive market are the results.
One or two hon. Members this afternoon have referred to the deputation from East Anglia which waited on the Minister of Agriculture and myself a few weeks ago. That deputation represented the fishers, and they suggested to us that a certain company should arrange for the curing of an additional quantity of nearly 33,000 barrels of herring at a given price. These, they stated, could be kept off the market until 15th March, and in the interval the company were to try to sell them to the Soviet authorities; but, if unsold by 15th March, they were to be disposed of to the ordinary markets for what they would fetch, and the Government were asked to guarantee two-thirds of any resulting loss. The deputation also stated that it was vital that an answer should be given that night. After lengthy consideration with my right hon. Friend, we replied, with real regret, that the proposal could not be regarded as justifiable. Apart from the fact that an immediate answer was called for by the deputation on a proposal involving novel principles which might involve wider repercussions on the Exchequer, we were influenced by the fact that the proposal could only serve to keep the fishing going for our East Anglian Ports for two or three days longer. Any benefit to the fishermen 1720 was, therefore, of very limited extent. I think that hon. Members will also agree with me that to have a parcel of herring hanging over the market and liable to be unloaded at any time after 15th March might well have a demoralising effect on the market. The curers hold large stocks of which they desire to dispose in the next few months. With this parcel of herring hanging over the market every prospective buyer, I believe, would have had an interest to hold back, and the result might well have been a fall in prices and a check to future buying from the fishermen next season. Thus the proposal in the long run might well have injured the best interests of the fishermen. We decided, therefore, with great regret, that the guarantee by the Government was not one which we could justify to Parliament.
Several hon. Members have put questions as to what the Government are doing to increase the sale of herring in foreign markets. The Government are doing everything in their power to help the herring industry to regain Continental markets. I will come to each country in turn. In the trade agreements made this year with Latvia, Estonia, and with Finland, concessions involving the reduction of duties and the removal of certain restrictions en exchange and on imports have been secured. As a result, Scottish exports to Latvia for the season ending 31st October, 1933, were 53,000 barrels as compared with 20,000 in 1932; exports to Estonia, which I admit are very slight, rose from nil to 2,600 barrels. The agreement with Finland was ratified only a few days ago, and I know that the trade are actively engaged in making arrangements to take advantage of its concessions.
I now come to the Russian market for the herring. "What are the Government doing," I am asked from all quarters, "as to opening up the Russian market for this great industry?" I wish to assure the House in the most emphatic way that the Government are using all the force at their command to impress on the Soviet Government the desirability of their making substantial purchases of herring from Great Britain. At several meetings between the representatives of this country and Russia the herring industry has been discussed, but in all these 1721 matters two are required to make a bargain, and we can only await with hope the result of the efforts which are being made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department. I want to assure hon. Members categorically that the Government are making every effort to secure advantages for the industry in the negotiations with Russia and the other herring consuming countries on the Continent of Europe.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any reason for the interminable length of the negotiations with Russia?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
As I am informed by my hon. and gallant Friend, the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, these negotiations have indeed taken time, but we are so anxious to get an agreement that that may be the real justification for the time which is being taken.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Is there anything of a political nature, which has nothing whatever to do with a trading agreement respecting goods going from this country to Russia and goods coming from Russia here, barring the way to an amicable settlement?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am asked a very definite question about a very specific matter, and I must answer in the usual Parliamentary form, that a question of that sort must be addressed to the appropriate Parliamentary head. I am only speaking this afternoon on behalf of His Majesty's Government as far as herring fishing is concerned, and I have assured the House of Commons that they are using all the force at their command, and that at many meetings between the representatives of the British Government and the Soviet Government the question of the herring industry has been discussed. I must ask hon. Members in all parts of the House to leave it there at the moment, realising as I do, and as I know every Member of the House does, that in all these matters, as I have already said, two are required to make a bargain, and we hope that a bargain will be completed with satisfaction to all concerned.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
This is a very important point, and I wish to press it a 1722 little further. I wish to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if, when this question of a trade agreement with Russia is before the Cabinet, he, as Secretary of State for Scotland representing Scotland on the Cabinet, will use his influence, having in mind the serious position which Scotland occupies not only as regards the fishing industry but as regards the wood which we require for house building in Scotland? Does the right hon. Gentleman use his influence in the direction of seeing that the rights of Scotland are safeguarded? What part does the right hon. Gentleman play in the Cabinet?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
That is a point on which I must intervene. Neither the Secretary of State for Scotland nor anybody else obviously can discuss the question of timber on this Motion.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
When I fail to satisfy the British House of Commons that in this, or in any other matter, I have not neglected the interests of Scotland I will bow to the decision of the House of Commons. But I cannot discuss here or anywhere else, in public or in private, what takes place at the Cabinet. I am anxious in the very few minutes left to me to discuss the herring industry. I am convinced chat if the herring industry is able to play its part in reviving old markets or in developing new ones, it is essential that reorganisation should take place, and that fact has been fully recognised in the Debate this afternoon. Among the points which occur to me as worthy of attention by that industry are the following: The number of vessels engaging in herring fishing; the purchase and supply to fishermen of gear, coals and other stores; the disposal and distribution of the catch; the number of curers and the number of workers employed; the marketing of the different herring products both at home and abroad; methods of preparation, and so on. I could give several more. The Sea-fishing Industry Act passed by this House during the summer months set up a Sea Fish Commission. That Commission is shortly to be appointed, and we shall ask the Commission to direct their attention in the first place to the herring industry, and 1723 to submit a report to the House of Commons at the earliest possible moment. I mention that in order to show how anxious and serious we recognise the situation to be. I feel sure that when the Commission get to work they will have the active co-operation of all sections of the industry in carrying out their difficult task of investigation and in making, what is much more difficult, practical suggestions for reorganisation.
A final word about the home market. It is one of the features of present-day life that the public of Great Britain are constantly running after strange foods and neglecting the wholesome products of our own fishermen and farmers. Milk, oats, herring, potatoes—how much healthier and more prosperous the nation would be if we all concentrated our digestive forces upon these articles. Here is a problem which the general public can solve themselves. Let them patronise the herring, and we shall have gone a long way towards the final solution of the problems of the industry. I have studied medical opinion as to the properties of the herring, and I find that the greatest authorities testify to the value of the herring as a foodstuff owing to its high vitamin content. So that it is very much up-to-date in that respect. My hon. Friend who moved the Motion to-day has given a concrete example of the kind of action which is necessary. A few days ago he sent me a neat carton containing one or two samples of a very tempting variety of cooked cured herring. I must not reveal to the House the name of the particular variety, but I assure him that I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast the next day.
New ways of dealing with the herring are necessary, and they are constantly being devised. But what is necessary is to give them more publicity. How to organise a great campaign of "Eat More Herring" is a question primarily for representatives of the trade to settle among themselves. I should like to see them enlisting on their side, in a great campaign of "Eat More Herring," the use of all the varied methods of modern marketing and publicity, such as broadcasting, which was mentioned by an hon. Member, posters, and shop displays, which proved so successful two years ago in the "Buy British" campaign. If the 1724 industry will show the Government not only that they will make, and are prepared to make, real efforts, to popularise the home consumption of herring, but, at the same time, by their action, that they are willing to face the reorganisation of their great industry, which is so vital for this country, I can assure my hon. Friends that we in the Government will do all that we possibly can to further the interests which all sections of the House have in view. I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity which he has given to the House this afternoon of discussing for a few hours this great problem, and, on behalf of the Government, I have much pleasure in stating that we are prepared to accept the Motion.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I wish to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. I want to know what the fisherman is going to do in the interval of the reorganisation which he says is necessary before the industry can return to prosperity? What is he to live on? What are the Government going to do for the fishermen until the fishing industry has been organised and we see a return to prosperity?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I promised the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), in reply to a supplementary question a few days ago in which I stated that I was concerned as to the actual distress in these areas, that when I had that information from the investigation which I had put into being, I would communicate the fact to the hon. Member. From the knowledge that I have at my disposal, however, I have no reason to think that the local authorities have not sufficient powers.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House, while appreciating the steps already taken to improve the position of the white fishing industry, views with concern the depressed state of the herring fishing industry, and, being of opinion that the maintenance of a prosperous fishing population is essential for the national welfare, urges His Majesty's Government to direct its attention to the distress in the herring fishing centres and to do everything in its power to assist the efforts of the industry to establish itself on such a footing as to enable it to afford to those engaged in it a fair living.