§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. HOWARD GRITTEN
On Wednesday of last week a Motion on the Fishing Industry which stood on the Paper in my name, was called when the hands of the clock were almost on the stroke of eleven. Consequently I had only 45 seconds in which to jerk out three hasty sentences. That reduced time, and that exiguous effort were due to the peculiar taste of so many hon. Members who preceded me that evening in preferring dogs to fish. They were also owing to the fact that by the caprice and mischance of the ballot, a Debate on the rival claims of bookmakers and mechanised betting obtained precedence over a discussion on the urgent needs of an industry on which hundreds of thousands of our workers depend directly and indirectly. I may be permitted to remind the House of the terms of the Resolution which I had pro- 1968 posed to move on that occasion, as it forms the subject of the discussion which I am inaugurating this evening. They were:That this House views with grave concern the deplorable condition of the fishing industry and urges the Government to render speedy assistance to this important and essential industry.It will be noticed that that Motion called attention to the deplorable and grave condition of the fishing industry of this country, and I should add of Scotland as well—all round the coast. That deplorable condition is not of comparatively recent origin. Unfortunately, it has existed for some time—far longer than the several Governments, including the present Government until they have proved the contrary, should have allowed it to remain. Those Governments seem to have been supinely indifferent to the interests of the industry on which we rely both in war and peace. Shortly, the harsh reality is that it is threatened with ruin, if not with extinction. The trawling part of it, at any rate, is as much under the wheels and under the pressure of those juggernauts, the bigger banks, as is agriculture itself. The herring industry is very much weighed down, and trawling fishing is almost fatally injured from the catcher to the frier. I have been assured by trawler owners whom I have met that at the present downward rate in less than five years most of the trawlers will have foundered in bankruptcy, and already many of them are on the financial rocks. Many trawlers are owned by companies with other and more profitable lines. If they were all owned by the skippers and crews, as most of the drifters are, the plight of those trawlers would be still more obvious and conspicuous.
It is a significant fact that before the war 150 new trawlers used to be built annually at a cost of £16,000 each. Now for nearly two years there has not been a single order. I should like the House to mark that as one symptom of the depression. Scores and scores of qualified skippers are actually competing with unskilled labour for casual jobs on the dock-sides and elsewhere. The in-shore fishermen, those men who fish from cobbles and small motor boats and by whom, incidentally, the lifeboats are mostly manned, average scarcely £1 a week because of the wretchedness of the 1969 prices which can be obtained, and one scarcely knows how they can exist. When I was recently in my constituency I found that the in-shore men had refused to go out because they said that the prices were so low and so bad that they would not compensate them for the cost of their bait and for their expenses. I take it that a serious aspect nationally of this depression is that it is stopping new blood flowing into the industry and preventing recruits filling up the depleted ranks of this vital calling. If time permits, I will refer later to that larger view which we should take of the whole question.
It is almost unnecessary to mention to the Members of this well-informed House the economic and financial importance of the fishing industry, but still I would remind them that we have some 1,700 trawlers round the coast, in normal times each doing an average of 45 to 50 voyages a year, and in them is involved a capital of no less than £15,000,000, while more than £1,250,000 a year is expended on their upkeep. They consume 3,500,000 tons of British coal annually, whereby 12,500 miners are kept in regular employment. British railways are assisted with freight to the tune of some £3,000,000 a year. Shipyards and engineering works benefit from building and repairing, let alone certain heavy industries the products of which are necessarily basic to building, ice-making, refrigerating equipment, boxes, packing cases, chains, ropes, nets, tackle, in fact all the articles stocked by a ship chandler; and let it be marked well that all this money is spent in this country. I have already remarked that hundreds of thousands of our workers are dependent on this industry. Surely the evil of unemployment is great enough already without cur blindly allowing it to go on in an industry where there are palpable means of relieving it. The Prime Minister, in his speech last Thursday, invited suggestions of a practical nature for diminishing this misfortune. Here is a practical suggestion, which could be put into operation, metaphorically, by a stroke of the pen.
What are the main causes of this disastrous condition of affairs? The answer, I submit, is as brief as it is exact—unfair foreign competition and dumping. With wages, working costs, and taxation all much lower, the foreign 1970 fisherman has more than a 20 per cent. start of our own. Also in several instances it is well known that his Government subsidises him. For example, the Danes aided their nationals by advancing 90 per cent, of the cost of their boats, and they furnished Esbjerg with ice factories, warehouses, and all necessary plant and accessories. It is a fact, astonishing perhaps, that it actually costs less to send fish from that port in Denmark to London than it does from Hull. The Norwegian Government, again, have voted 4,000,000 kronens for the erection of refrigerating stations and for building ships with refrigerated equipment. The French, Belgian, and Spanish authorities also have helped their fishermen by improving their trawlers to such an extent that in many cases, if not in most cases, they can now catch better than our own British trawlers. And even the efforts of Portugal are not to be despised.
With regard to dumping, the imports of foreign-caught fish have increased fourfold since 1913; and £3,000,000 worth of white, or demersal, fish, as it is called, are sold here annually, the volume constantly increasing. Our chief rivals are the Scandinavian nations and Holland. Lately they have diverted their activities more and more to our markets, since the decreased consumption in Latin countries of salted fish. But other fish is coming from new sources. In addition to those I have mentioned, Russian-caught fish is coming in now, and I am informed that 10 days ago frozen halibut even from Japan was being sold in Aberdeen. The fact is, of course, that our people are consistently undercut. Thus, if Grimsby, or Hull, or Hartlepool quote 3s. 6d. a stone, the foreign fisherman is instructed to offer at 6d. less.
Most of the foreign fish goes to Billingsgate, where it is sold on commission. However low the price, the Billingsgate merchants get their commission, and so it can be seen that it pays them much better to handle foreign caught fish than English-caught fish, and we can also understand, therefore, why the Billingsgate merchants are opposed to Protection in any form whatsoever. So long as they can get their profits and commissions, they care little or nothing for the misfortunes of British fishermen. 1971 For them to say that the British fisher man cannot supply the weight or the grade is sheer nonsense, because, given the opportunity, the British fisherman could supply both the size and the quality that are required.
Owing to the influx of foreign-caught fish into our markets, prices are too low to allow of our men making an adequate living. There has been a fall since 1929 of 28.5 per cent, in the price. The average quayside price of fresh-caught fish is 1.94d. For the industry to survive, it is absolutely necessary that our men should have an assured market and a reasonable price. The average price which they suggest is 2½d. a lb., and surely that is a moderate demand. That, of course, is the average, from the worst fish to the best, but supposing we multiplied it by three, would not our wives be very pleased to buy a lb. of fish at 7½d. in the retail shops? They would save still more on housekeeping money!
What remedies do we propose? We propose an increased tariff and a quota. As far as the 10 per cent, tariff is concerned, it has been ridiculously ineffective. The foreigner has treated such a trumpery duty with the contempt which it deserves, and the fact remains that he has actually sold more and more of his fish here ever since that duty was put on. It would seem as if that tariff, instead of being an obstacle and a retarding factor, has acted as an incentive and a stimulus to our rivals. I maintain that 20 per cent, ought to have been the datum line. A duty of 33⅓ per cent, would have been a still better figure with which to start, look what 33⅓ has done for the motor trade! And some people go so far as to say that a prohibitive tariff could safely be imposed. It is indeed an indisputable fact that our fisherman can supply as much as this nation requires and more. This fact cannot be over emphasised nor stressed too much, and in itself it provides a full and complete answer to the cry that the consumer will pay more. Moreover prices have often been dear before and without a tariff, since they depend on various factors outside and beyond such influences, factors also which must be recurrent, such as bad weather, poor catches and so forth. I characterise that cry as so much Free Trade spent ammunition. A quota could also be 1972 instituted on the principle of regulating the imports of foreign meat, vegetables and fruit, and falling into line with the Abnormal Importations Act.
It has taken the Import Duty Advisory Committee more than six months to consider an urgent request to raise the 10 per cent. duty. In spite of repeated protests the committee is apparently contemplating a further indefinite delay. If the labour of that mountain is still further protracted, the mouse will be grey headed. The reply it has given meanwhile to the British Trawlers' Federation is that the depression is due to the decrease in purchasing power. That is a fatuous rebutter, to which the surrebutter is that the 1932 consumption of fish has only once been exceeded, although the retail prices were hardly lowered at all. Seemingly, it has not occurred to that committee that what has produced and intensified the depression in this industry is the dumping and our handicapped competition. Another objection which I have heard raised by those who refuse to consider any such remedies as we propose is that the North Sea is being overfished and is getting seriously depleted. There is nothing novel in that alarmist rumour. It has recurred from time to time, and so long ago as 1880 a commission sat to investigate a rumour of that kind. They found that there was no evidence to support it. I venture to say that if a similar commission were appointed now, they would return the same verdict, for the simple reason that as much fish was landed in 1931 as ever before.
Let me advert for a moment to the trade negotiations with the Scandinavian nations. Those negotiations, I understand, have been resumed. Those who are of the same opinion as myself contend that this fisheries question should be made a salient and material item in those negotiations. It is rumoured that one of the chief concerns of our delegates at the Conference is coal. I suppose the negotiations will run something on these lines—that if the Scandinavian countries will take more of our coal, we shall be prepared to lower the tariff on this or that commodity which they propose to send to this country. One might remind them that the consumption already of British trawlers, amounting to 3,500,000 tons of British coal, represents 80 per cent, of the export of coal to the 1973 Scandinavian countries. Is it worth while sacrificing a huge industry such as that which we are discussing to-night for that extra 20 per cent.? If the fishing industry is put on its legs, they will soon consume that 20 per cent, themselves. That attitude of the Board of Trade to our fisheries is to me mysterious and incomprehensible. It commiserates and hesitates. It expresses sympathy, and hangs back. There have been interviews, but nothing very definite is gained from the Pooh-Bahs and mandarins in that Department. Their attitude might be summed up in that well-known couplet from. Pope:Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,And without sneering teach the rest to sneer.If they wish to procure credence in their professions they should translate a lukewarm sympathy into warm and helpful action.
I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture on the Front bench, and I trust that the attitude that he and his Department will take will be more friendly and helpful. I noticed this evening that some right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen indulged in family history and biography. I trust that the Minister of Agriculture will accede to our appeal for the major reasons which I have ventured to bring forth. A minor reason, which I should not have mentioned had I not heard those biographical reminiscences, is that he would not be enjoying the office he fills with such competency had not a forbear of mine some two or three generations ago devoted practically the whole of his Parliamentary career to getting a Minister of Agriculture instituted. I must apologise for trespassing so long on the time of hon. Members, but my excuses are two. Firstly, I but very rarely inflict myself on the patience of the House. Secondly, I feel this subject deeply—very deeply—connected as I have been for some 24 years with the good fishermen of the north-east coast. There are other hon. Members who are going to speak after me who are more qualified in point of knowledge and experience than I am, and are more able to charm the ear of the House, so I must not, in the words of Pindar, "sow with the whole sack."
I said earlier in my remarks that I would refer to the larger aspect of this 1974 question. The plight of the fishing industry is not merely a matter of trade and employment. It is a matter of national importance as well. It is so because of the Naval Reserves and of certain essentials of prevention and defence in time of war. It is so because of the food supply both in war and peace. And it is so because of the manning of the lifeboats. As everyone will remember when War broke out, the flower of our fishing fleet flocked to man the auxiliary ships of the Navy. The trawlers acted as patrols and engaged in that terribly hazardous enterprise of mine sweeping. In this connection it is significant that Germany, recognising the valuable services which our trawlers rendered to the Navy and Mercantile Marine during the War, has increased her trawlers to a number far beyond the requirements of her fish consumption.
We also remember the splendid work done by the force of drifters under the command of Admiral Mark Ker, when that force was assigned the duty of watching the nets which were thrown across the mouth of the lower Adriatic, in order to prevent the submarines emerging into the Mediterranean to sink our transports and merchant ships. When the Austrian Fleet swept down the Adriatic to attack the barrage, those gallant little drifters did not shrink from opening fire on the enemy cruisers. They fought on till their upper works were blown away by shell fire, they fought on until in many instances they sank, thus upholding our great sea tradition of never hesitating to engage a superior force, however great it may be. Just as they displayed heroism in the War so our fishermen display heroism in peace. Theirs is a hazardous calling. There is incessant danger both to life and limb. And apart from the perils incident to the pursuance of their calling, whenever a cry of distress comes across the waters, without any regard for their own safety, or for risk to their lives they go to the help of fellow seamen, whatever their nationality. These men, our men, are now sending an appeal to this House —a cry of distress; and I urge the Government with, all the earnestness at my command to listen to that appeal, to come to their rescue, and to come quickly.
§ 6.68 p.m.
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
I must disown any claim to rival in knowledge or eloquence the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Gritten), but I consider it a privilege to speak in this House on behalf of an industry such as the fishing industry. I have many reasons for desiring to do so. Not only do I represent one of the most important ports of the north-east coast, which is used by fishermen and is also an important bunkering port, but I represent a large mining constituency which supplies a big proportion of the coal which has been referred to in the previous speech. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools and other hon. Members who will subsequently speak are able to deal more effectively than I can with the economic depression into which this key industry is plunged, the fall in the number of men employed, the fall in the gross takings, and in the average price per pound, which in the last 11 years represents £3,500,000 in takings. I should like, however, to quote a case that was brought to me only the other day. A fish, merchant in Hull wrote to me and said that it so distressed him to see thousands of tons of fish being sold to rot as guano, that he was prepared to send carriage paid into my constituency any amount of fish for the use of unemployed miners, and he hoped that he would just cover expenses or, at any rate, not make a very great loss. That is evidence not only of the vast amount of wastage that is going on in this industry, but of the very small degree of protection that would be required to set it on its legs again.
We are not only to-night discussing the fate of a key industry—a historical key industry. There is something more than that. This industry, and the mining industry, are the only two primary producing industries in this country, if we except farming. It is the policy of His Majesty's Government to save the primary industries, and to raise primary prices in terms of sterling. I cannot but think that the Government are fully aware not only of the strong feeling in this House, but in the country, as to the essential importance of saving primary industries in this country from destruction. I do not believe it is the case that it will cost the consumer more. The very small rise in prices will hardly be passed 1976 to the consumer at all. Even if it were the case that the rise would be passed on, I maintain that no class in this country can profit by the extinction of a primary producing industry in this country or on our shores. If the Government mean to put into actual practice their determination to raise the prices of primary produce, here is a first-class case with which to start.
I am sorry to speak with such heat, but I have come across such tragic accounts and personal examples of distress in the fishing industry that I hope I may be forgiven. We have heard a lot of statistics, and we shall hear more to-night, as to the size of the fishing industry. It is certainly a small industry, employing only 60,000 men. I am not going to harrow the House with attempting to show the distress there is in the industry, and in the ancillary industries which give employment to 200,000 men and women behind the line; nor with the fact that there is only one trawler, I believe, building in British shipyards to-day—that contributes to the depression in the iron and steel industry—nor am I going to stress the fact that hundreds of thousands of miners are out of employment, and are progressively becoming more numerous, owing to the fall in the sale of coal for bunkering British trawlers.
I am not going to stress the matter of the numbers of men unemployed, because there are deeper reasons behind this attempt to move the Government to take some action. They are not just ordinary men who are unemployed. I bracket fishermen and miners together as the finest type of men in this country. Above all workers in this country, they are face to face with nature in her grimmest and starkest moods. I defy anybody to produce finer characters, or finer types of men. There was a time when it was upon the fishermen of this country that we depended for our greatness. Without going back to the Middle Ages, I ask the House to remember what this industry has contributed to the country. They found practically all the men, and many of the officers, who fought and won the Napoleonic Wars. We have heard what they did in the last War.
It would be a most serious moral loss to this country if we allowed this industry to go bankrupt. It is impos- 1977 sible to reckon the loss in pounds, shillings and pence. I ask the Government to consider what would be the loss in the moral sense to this country if we betrayed these men. I shall not attempt to delay the House by dealing with the sources of competition, but I would remind the House of the kind of consideration the workers of this country get from France, Germany, Spain, and other countries, when it comes to importations of coal. I do not believe we should hesitate in protecting a British industry because of fears of reprisals— we ought to have got beyond that long ago. I beseech the Government, much more on the moral grounds, however, not to destroy a great historical industry. The Minister of Agriculture has given constant proof to the House, and the country at large, of a determination to proceed on new lines to protect industries under his care. We look to him to save not only the pig and milk industries, but the corn growers of this country. We look to him to do miracles. He seems to be paying attention to the loaves, and I beg him not to forget the fishes.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
I am afraid that those representing what are called fishing constituencies, most of whom are brought into constant touch with the desperate conditions prevailing to-day in the fishing industry, must feel very grateful to my hon. Friend for having put down his Motion, and also for the opportunity which has been afforded to us, somewhat unexpectedly, to Debate this important matter. We must also welcome this as being, I believe, the first occasion we have had of putting the case of the fishing industry before my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and hearing a statement from him on that branch of activities connected with his Department. The needs of agriculture are so pressing and so widespread to-day, that I often think there is the gravest fear that the no less urgent needs of the fishing industry may be overlooked.
Like agriculture, the fishing industry is not really a single industry, in the true sense of the word. It is a group of industries and, unfortunately, within that group there are sections whose interests are diametrically opposed, or they have persuaded themselves that they are. That 1978 constitutes one of the difficulties of the situation from a political point of view. I think it is probable that the position of each section of the fishing industry will have to be considered on its merits, and may require, in some respects, separate and individual treatment. There is, I feel, no need to emphasise in this House the importance of the fishing industry. It has been done before, and it will doubtless be done again. We have already had reference this evening to the fishing industry having been the basis of our sea power in the past; to its being the great recruiting ground for the Royal Navy, and an inexhaustible source of healthful food supplies. I disagree, in passing, with my hon. Friend who has just spoken when he describes the fishing industry as a small industry. It is not a small industry. If you review the fishing industry as a whole, and bear in mind that there are probably something like 1,500,000 people in this country directly depending upon that industry, it would be doing it some injustice to describe it as a small industry.
It not only affects the 60,000 fishermen, but the coal miners, railwaymen, net makers, and innumerable subsidiary industries. Even in these days of depression, I believe it is a fact that the fishing industry consumes annually 3,500,000 tons of British coal, and that it provides an annual revenue for the railways of over £3,000,000. We cannot, from every point of view, allow an industry of that kind to go under, and that is really the danger which exists to-day. I quite agree that you cannot, unfortunately, by Act of Parliament make any industry prosperous. Nevertheless, political action may be of considerable importance, and it certainly is of vital importance to-day so far as the fishing industry is concerned. It affects the position of both sections of the industry. Actually the trawlers, who catch the white fish, have to look probably 80 per cent, or more to the home market for the disposal of their catch. Then there are the drifters, who go after the herrings, and who are equally obliged to look 75 or 80 per cent, to foreign countries for their market.
In a nutshell, by bearing in mind these two facts you have really one of the great difficulties of dealing with this matter from the political standpoint. You have adequately to protect the home market and, at the same time, not run the risk 1979 of doing any danger to the foreign market upon which one section of the industry is so dependent. That is the case for these two great sections of the industry. In what position do they find themselves? First, with regard to the trawlers, I venture to make this claim— I know it is disputed, and it may be disputed in the course of this discussion —that British fishermen are able to supply all the fish that this country can consume, and more besides. We, as a country, are entirely self-supporting, and that is a factor which must be constantly borne in mind, because there are very few industries in this country for which that can be said to be the case. Yet, although we are self-supporting, we allow millions of pounds' worth of foreign caught fish to be landed in our ports every year, with the result that you have created an over-supply, and fish is being sold now literally below cost of production. The average price of fish during 1932 was, I believe, 12½ per cent, above the average price in 1913, and yet, with the exercise of the utmost economy, the running costs of the fishing fleet to-day are certainly 60 per cent, higher than they were in 1913. It is quite obvious that, where the economic conditions are such as I have described, unless something is done, and done immediately, the industry cannot hope to prosper or survive. In these circumstances I think it may be well worth while to quote the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech he made on 12th December. He said:Tariffs must not be treated as a patent medicine capable of curing every industrial ill. There were diseases for which tariffs were no remedy, but when there was a surplus of production, and only one market in which to sell it, those tariffs could keep the surplus out.… In the case of certain commodities some adaptation of production to the capacity of the market to receive it, becomes a necessity in these days.That is exactly the position of the trawling section of the fishing industry to-day. There is a surplus of production. There is only one market in which they can dispose of their produce and it is in these circumstances, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, that tariffs can be of vital assistance. I feel that it is unnecessary to labour that point, for the reason that the principle of Protection has already been conceded by the imposition of a 10 per cent. duty. 1980 Even though that duty has not been in force for very long, we have had enough experience to show that it is insufficient for its purpose, and that a substantial increase is necessary. It has not succeeded in keeping out foreign fish; on the contrary, there has been a tendency towards an increase in the supplies of foreign fish. Surely if the principle of Protection is admitted common sense demands that the Protection granted should be reasonably adequate for its purpose. Probably every Free Trader would admit that if we are to try the experiment of Protection we should try it in a reasonable way, and not tinker with it, in order that we may know whether it will fulfil its object or not. There has been no increase in price to the producers, though an increase in price to them is essential. It is suggested that if there were an increase of ½d. per lb. it would make all the difference between a declining fishing industry and a prosperous one.
Objections are raised. We are told that the trawling industry itself is to a large extent responsible for the position in which it is. We are told that it is inefficient. I hope that if any hon. Members make that accusation in the course of this discussion they will produce some evidence in support of it, and tell us definitely and specifically in what respects it is inefficient. That is, broadly speaking, the case as I see it for the trawling side of the industry. They have already made application for a substantial increase of duty. That application has been postponed by the Imports Advisory Committee, with a promise that further consideration will be given to it shortly. There is a widespread fear in the trawling industry that the reason their application has been held over is not unconnected with the negotiations which we understand are at present going on with foreign countries. In other words, the fishing industry, which stands in an almost unique position in being entirely self-supporting, in to be made in some ways a pawn in the negotiations. I feel that we have a right to ask the Minister to give us some assurance that the interests of the fishing industry will not be made merely a bargaining counter in those negotiations. If that were to be so, it would mean that when the Advisory Committee come to consider the case further their hands will 1981 be tied, and they will not really be able to decide it upon its merits. I venture to stress that point because it is one which the trawling industry feel to be of vital importance, it is causing very great anxiety at the present time, and there is no matter in regard to which some assurance from the Minister would be more welcome.
With regard to the herring industry the situation is in many respects quite different. The herring industry is also passing through its time of difficulty. It suffers to-day by reason of the loss of notable pre-War markets, of increased competition by foreign countries of a kind which did not exist in bygone years, and the high tariffs which have been put on by foreign countries. Of these tariffs we can make no complaint. Those countries take the steps which they think best to protect their own people. All we ask is that our own country should do the same thing. Further, we know that many of the foreign fishing fleets are in one way or another subsidised by their own Governments. Finally, there are definite signs of a decline in the home consumption of herrings. This section of the industry are, I know, opposed to the increased duties. Why is that? Simply because of their fear that there may be retaliation on the part of some of the other countries on their products. It is very difficult to see any evidence or signs of that happening.
Personally, I do not believe that the fear is justified in any way. Other countries, as I say, impose these duties where they think it is desirable to protect their own people. They impose them where they are able to obtain the goods for themselves. Nobody takes our herrings or any of our commodities, I assume, out of philanthropy, but because they want them, and I believe the fear of retaliation is simply a bogey which some of those connected with the herring industry have created, and it would be disastrous if a fear of that kind, which is without substance, were to be used in order to defeat the legitimate and urgent claims of the other great section of the industry. We ought not to be deterred from taking any steps which seem to us desirable in our own interests.
There are many other points upon which I could touch, but I am anxious not to trespass longer on the time of the 1982 House, because I know there are many other hon. Members who have valuable contributions to make to this discussion. Therefore, I will conclude by stressing what I feel to be the most urgent matter at the present time, which is that we should have some assurance from the Minister that the interests of the fishing industry will not be prejudiced or overlooked in the negotiations which are proceeding at the present time, and that the hands of the Advisory Committee will not be in any way tied when they come to deal further with the matter. We cannot allow a vital industry like this to be destroyed. Whilst I agree that the Government cannot easily create markets abroad, they can take steps to secure that the one market to which our men have a paramount right, namely, the market at home, should be reserved for them as far as possible; and in that way they can give vital assistance to a class of men who, as has been already stated, are among the most deserving and courageous of our race.
§ 7.24 p.m.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for very long this evening, but I have to put one or two points to the Minister regarding this important trade, which vitally affects a large number of people in my constituency. I do not think there is any disagreement in the House over the condition of the fishing industry, and as to the need for preserving it, not only because it is a vital industry in itself but because of the important part it plays in national defence. But while there may be no disagreement as to its condition, I am afraid that so far as I am concerned there may be a good deal of disagreement as to the causes and as to the remedies suggested by some of my hon. Friends. Still, I do not propose this evening to enter into any long arguments about that, though I admit the temptation exists. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) make a remark that some people in the fishing industry were very much afraid that the industry might be used as a sort of pawn in the negotiations going on between us and Scandinavia. That is a new definition of a tariff as a bargaining counter. I thought it was an accepted thing, even among hon. and right hon. Members on the 1983 benches opposite, that the real object of a tariff is to reduce tariffs throughout the world.
It has been admitted by leaders of the party opposite, and some of them have gone so far as to say that the only hope for the world lies in the success of the Economic Conference in lowering tariff barriers. But when it comes to dealing with one particular industry, what every one of us feared is happening. Everybody wants to use tariffs for bargaining purposes, but adds, "For goodness sake don't use the particular industry in which I am interested." The result of that would be that we should get no lowering of tariff barriers at all. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that this would be a good opportunity to start bargaining and using what tariffs we have —not on the fishing industry, but on other industries—to get better terms for our fish exports in other countries. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) laughs. If that is not so, what on earth is the object of having tariffs for bargaining purposes?
§ Sir BASIL PETO
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that I laughed. He seems interested in the fishing industry, and therefore he is willing to sacrifice any other industry in which he is not interested if he can get a little benefit in a bargain over the one for which he is speaking.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
If I had my way there would be no "other interests" to be sacrificed by tariffs. If I had my way there would be no tariffs to bargain with at all. I am not sure that it would not be a better way. I am interested in the fishing industry, and am anxious to see that everything that can be done for it is done, but I do not see how the Government, having taken up the attitude they have on tariffs, are going to reinforce their case at the World Economic Conference by starting now on higher tariffs. Would it not be possible at this juncture, as negotiations are going on, to get better terms for the fish exports of this country by giving a quid pro quo to other countries?
I would like to mention one or two things which vitally affect the fishing industry in my part of the country. Take the quota system in vogue on the 1984 Continent at the present time. It acts very hardly indeed against fish exports from this country, not only because it diminishes our exports but—which is a much more serious thing—because it happens that suddenly and without warning it is announced that a country's quota has expired. Fish from my own constituency has been in transit between this country and a foreign country when the message has come from the latter that the quota had expired, with the result that the whole of that consignment has become worthless. It does not pay to bring it back, because if it were brought back it would be quite useless. Would it not be possible to get that system relaxed in return for something which we could give them from this country? The same consideration applies to Western European ports which at one time used to be very important markets for fish from my particular corner of Britain. Could we not offer something in return for better treatment for our fish export trade?
The hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion stated that it was possible to send fish from a foreign port to London at a cheaper rate than you could send fish from our own ports to London. I have no reason to doubt that statement. Surely the Government can do something about that. I believe that the same thing applies to agricultural products; the situation seems to me to offer a very favourable field not only for investigation but for action by the Government, in seeing that foreign goods do not get better treatment than British goods on British railways. There is another point with regard to freights. I am informed that before the War it was the habit at the fishing ports of this country that freights were post-paid. During the War, the railway companies came to the fishing ports and said that, if they would agree to pre-pay freights, the railway companies would be able to release a large number of people for the Forces. Very patriotically that was agreed to, so far as England and Wales were concerned. Perhaps the House will not be surprised to hear that the suggestion did not succeed in Scotland. Scotland to-day gets that advantage against us poor people in the South. We agreed, but on the understanding that the system would be retored to the pre- 1985 war practice as soon as hostilities ceased. The practice to-day is still that of prepaying, and I am informed by those who are engaged in the industry that it is of vital importance to them. I believe that the Government could do something in that matter. It is not a little matter, but one which has a very big effect on the fishing trade.
If fish is sent to-day by express, other than by parcel post, you must pay at the rate that you would pay for a cwt. of fish, even if the weight does not come up to that amount. I suggest to the Minister that that is another fruitful field for investigation, in order to ensure that our people get a fair deal. I do not want to discuss the tariff question, although I could give replies to some arguments that have been used by hon. Gentlemen. I do not wish to do so. I simply want to put one or two questions which I think ought to be dealt with. I trust that the Minister will be able to help us, because all are agreed that the fishing industry is a vital one, and it is going through a very serious time. The industry is entitled to serious consideration, and I shall be very much obliged if the Minister will look into the matters that I have raised.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. HARBORD
I rise to address this House, not as a new Member, but as an old Member who has seldom spoken or intervened in the Debates. My reason for doing so on this occasion is to obtain the support of my fellow Members and to ask the Government to assist those who are engaged in the great fishing industry of the United Kingdom. For a long time past they have been suffering most severely, and they are in a terrible plight owing to the loss of foreign markets for their products. Those engaged in the industry feel that the next few months will decide whether our herring fleet is to go out of existence or not. They are convinced that the remedy lies entirely in the hands of the Government. The figures of the loss of markets experienced by those who in past years have exported British cured herrings to foreign countries will enable the House to see how great that loss has been.
I would like to give that information. In the case of Finland, 31,232 barrels of cured herrings were imported from Great Britain in 1930. In 1931, 2,671 barrels 1986 were imported. Last year there were none. Estonia, in 1930, imported 21,355 barrels of cured herrings from Great Britain. In 1931, that country imported 8,872, and none last year. Latvia, in 1930, imported 193,157 barrels of cured herrings from Great Britain. In 1931 the import was 109,255 barrels and in 1932 it was 33,686, all but a sixth of those imported in 1930. For Poland the figures last year were roughly one-third of what they were in the previous year, and in the case of Germany they were about one-half. In the case of Soviet Russia, there were conditions which made for some difference in the supply. I have mentioned enough to show the need for something to be done by the Government to help this great industry in its hour of need.
Tremendous alarm is felt by all who are interested in the present condition of the herring industry, because of the failure of foreign countries, and particularly Russia, to secure from this country the supplies which they usually obtained, and upon which the success of the industry entirely depend. The deplorable condition of the trade can be appreciated from the fact that the value of the whole autumn catch from Great Yarmouth and the sister town of Lowestoft, on the 7th of November, 1931, was £788,000 short of that of the year before, notwithstanding that fact that the 1930 autumn season was only one of moderate dimensions. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. The depression is not due to the lack of herrings, but to the entire collapse of the foreign markets and the shrinkage of all others. In this connection, it must be borne in mind that at least 90 per cent, of the herrings landed in the two sister ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are normally shipped abroad.
This emphasises the difference between white fishing and herring fishing. One is for home consumption, less a little which is exported to foreign countries, while in the case of the British caught herring, 90 per cent of the product goes abroad. The British Trawlers' Federation have bad assistance from the Government. I represent the premier herring port of the United Kingdom. The Federation acquiesced in the demand put up for protection in the time of dire necessity. I want to emphasise that, and 1987 also this very important fact, that that protection has been given at the expense of those engaged in the herring fishing industry. When I supported this Government I did it with the full knowledge of all that that meant. I believed in a change of policy. I did not come back to this House except by open profession of my change in point of view. I announced myself as one in favour of Tariffs, and I certainly did it with the clear belief that I was helping my country to restore the adverse balance of trade and that it would make for more employment at home.
In that respect I make no apology, nor am I ashamed of having done it, because I think that the results have fully justified the course that I had the courage to adopt. The places where I formerly received most support I left under no false impression of my change of view, but we have had no consideration from the Government, so far as is evident at the moment. I have had the belief, up to now, that the Government were going to endeavour, by means of the powers that were so freely extended to them by this House, of barter, bargaining, reciprocal arrangements or discriminatory tariffs, to effect a change which would be more favourable to those engaged in the great fishing industry. We have had the evidence of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul), whom I am glad to have heard, as to the effect on the people engaged in the great trawling industry. I must put in an equally strong plea for those engaged in the herring industry.
I am proud of the fact that so many vessels left Yarmouth during the Autumn season. The boats carry seven men a-piece. They have had disastrous results. I should think that 90 per cent, of them have not paid their way. They are mostly heavily in debt. The boats are. mortgaged up to the very limit and the men cannot get any further help or assistance. I have talked over the matter with the men, and I have lived all my life among them. A braver and more courageous race, suffering as they are from long-continued adverse conditions, could not possibly be. I feel that tonight I must not go back to my constituency without some assurance from the Government that they fully appreciate the sad lot of those engaged in the fish- 1988 ing business, and can give us some message of hope and encouragement to take back to those owners and those brave fishermen who, as has been said in the House this evening, placed their country under such a deep obligation to them for their splendid services in so many seas and so many fields helping their country in its hour of need. They swept the seas, they manned the food ships that supplied our country in its great necessity, and they were a wonderful source of recruits for the Navy. Living, as I do, in a fishing town, I knew what they suffeffred and what loss of life they incurred in their hazardous calling of mine-sweeping and mine-laying. I hope I shall be able to take to my constituèncy from the House to-night a message of encouragement.
When the Government were arguing in favour of the introduction of tariffs, we were told that there were many countries that had never thought of our entering their markets, but now, with the introduction of tariffs, they were seeking a chance of doing good business with us. We were told that the Government had a bargaining power such as they never had before. Take the great country of Soviet Russia, with which none of us, I think, has any serious quarrel. Their Government is their own concern, as our Government is ours. I have no quarrel with the Russians, but I can quite understand that, apart from the question of trade, they dislike us. They were with us early in the War, but there is no doubt that our support of the White Armies, which simply meant setting up one tyranny against another, was a mistaken policy, and cost us much in life and treasure. I hope, however, that in any future debt settlement the one will be set off against the other, and that the result will be a better understanding between these two great countries which will pave the way for a better trade relationship.
Russia is a market which we simply must secure if the trade is not to perish for want of markets, and there should be great opportunities for trade there. The task of the Government in that respect should not be very hard, because the balance of trade is so favourable to Russia. We pay them four times as much as they pay to us, which, surely, leaves something with which to bargain for a better market for the products of our fishing industry. I urge the Government 1989 most seriously to give us this message, for which there is such keen anxiety among all those who represent the fishing ports of the United Kingdom. The matter is indeed a serious one. Men go about concerned, unhappy, miserable, for they have come to the end of their resources, and, unless the Government immediately and speedily come to their rescue, the trade is doomed.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH McKENZIE WOOD
I am glad that at last we have an opportunity of a Debate on the fishing industry, though I am afraid that, now that we have it, we shall be inclined to think that the subject is much too vast to be dealt with adequately in the half-evening at our disposal. However, we must do the best that we can. I am not going to say very much about the plight of the fishing industry, because I am sure everyone here will admit that that industry is in a very parlous condition indeed. Not only the trawling section, but every section of the industry, is in the same difficult and depressed condition. It is my view, of course, that that depressed condition is simply the depressed condition of the country and the world generally, and that it can only be put right by steps which will restore the economic condition of this country and of the world. Therefore, if I do not dwell upon the difficulties of the different sections of the industry, I hope it will be understood that that is not because I do not fully realise them. Probably I realise them more than anyone, because I have lived in closer contact with one section of the industry than most Members who have taken part in this Debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) said that he represented the premier herring port in this country, and that is quite true, but he omitted to mention that the herrings which are caught at Yarmouth in such large numbers are caught very largely by my constituents and the constituents of my hon. Friends who represent divisions in the North of Scotland. Something like four-fifths of the boats that fish at Yarmouth are Scottish herring boats, which come down there and make my hon. Friend's constituency such an important place.
§ Mr. HARBORD
I entirely agree with that statement. We welcome them; they are always welcome among us.
§ Sir M. WOOD
I quite understand. I was not imagining that my hon. Friend and I were in conflict, but was just recalling the fact that that is the position. I agree with most of what my hon. Friend said, but not with all of it. He took credit to himself for advocating tariffs at the last election, and seemed to think that they had been a great success; but the harrowing tale that he told us about his constituency did not seem entirely to square with what he said in that regard. However, I pass from that point. I should have liked to deal with a good many points that have been referred to by previous speakers, but it would take me too long to do so, and so I must pass them by, with this warning, that everything that they said is not admitted.
I was very much interested, however, by the appeal made by one or two hon. Members to the Minister to do something in the way of getting higher tariffs. I have always understood that it was one of the good points of the new fiscal policy that the duty of fixing these tariffs had been put into the hands of an impartial committee living away in some far-off Olympus, detached from all the influences that affect those of us who have to fight in the political arena. If that be so, there does not seem to me to be much object in 'appealing to the Minister to exercise his influence in favour of higher tariffs, because the two policies seem to be in conflict. I was interested, however, to hear these appeals to the Minister to step in and interfere—for that is what it comes to—with the free discretion of the Import Duties Advisory Committee in determining whether there should be higher duties or not.
To some of my hon. Friends opposite the question is a very simple one. They would say: The fishing industry is de pressed; put on tariffs, artificially increase your prices, and there you have it. One hon. Member said that what we require is an increase in the prices of primary commodities, including fish. That is quite true; that is what is wanted; but an artificial increase in the prices of primary commodities merely in one country by means of tariffs will do no good. What is required is an increase in world primary prices, and that is a different thing altogether. I make bold to say that in this industry, 'and many more, we shall never have real prosperity until we get an increase of that kind, but 1991 it must be an increase in world prices. One or two points were made about the price of fish, but no one seemed to think it was worth while to mention that the retail price of fish to-day is more than double what it was at the beginning of the War. Consumers to-day are paying more than double what they paid for their fish at the beginning of the War, and yet the white fishing industry is not prosperous. I am inclined to think that there must be something wrong with the white fishing industry—
§ Sir M. WOOD
I am speaking about retail prices; I agree that there has not been such a large increase in the wholesale prices on the quay, but I am right in saying that the retail price of fish to-day is more than double what it was at the beginning of the War. The unfortunate thing about this question is that there is, as was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul), something of a conflict between different sections of the industry, and it is necessary in this regard that the Government, or anyone who is going to deal fairly with the question, should take a large and national view. It would be of no use to the country to help one section of the industry by means which would go the length of killing or ruining another section.
It must be remembered that there is great diversity of opinion as to the advisability of the particular remedy which has been put forward to-night— the only remedy so far, as I have been able to gather, that is put forward, or, at any rate, the only one that has yet been put forward—namely, an increase of tariffs. The industry is certainly not unanimous in regard to that remedy. Not only is the herring fishing section of the industry against it, but a very influential section of the white fishing industry is also against it, and that the retailers and consumers are against it probably goes without saying. We have been told that something like £3,000,000 worth of white fish is imported into this country every year, and that is quite true, but it must be remembered also that there are very large exports of white fish.
1992 The exports of white fish from this country amount to about two-thirds of the imports, and one must not think of the one without at the same time remembering the other. In the case of herrings, the exports of cured herrings three years ago used to be about £5,000,000 in a year, and I think that, before the War, that, or more, was about the normal quantity. That, therefore, must be taken into account in considering the question of exports and imports. An important section of the white fishing industry is against these tariffs, because the whole industry is based upon getting fish, largely from foreign trawlers, working them up, and sending them abroad, and this industry is based chiefly on Aberdeen. Over half the white fish imported into this country is landed at Aberdeen and something like three-fourths of it is exported. Those engaged in the industry in Aberdeen have done all that they could to get home vessels to go there and fish, but they have failed, and a year or two ago we had the remarkable spectacle of a deputation going from Aberdeen to Germany to ask the Germans to come in increasing numbers to Aberdeen with this fish which some hon. Members want to keep out of the country. The fish that these Aberdeen curers deal with is of a special kind. It is salt fish which mostly comes from Iceland. If you are going to put on any sort of duty with the object of excluding foreign fish, you will kill that very valuable industry.
I should like to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in view of his rather ambiguous speech, if he is advocating the cause of the fishermen or of the wholesalers in Aberdeen.
§ Sir M. WOOD
I am trying to point out that this proposal will be good neither for the one nor for the other, and it will be better for the Government, or anyone else who is interested, not to give it any encouragement. This fish that is cured at Aberdeen is sent very largely to North Africa and the Mediterranean, and there is a large and expanding market for it. If we were to keep out this fish that the Germans land at Aberdeen and elsewhere from Iceland, is it to be thought for a moment that the Germans, Norsemen and so on will stop fishing. Of course they will not. They have been used to doing nothing 1993 else, and they will go on fishing. The result will be that, instead of the fish coming to this country to be cured and made presentable by British labour and then sent abroad, it will be sent straight from these other countries, and we shall lose the trade altogether. [Interruption.] They can be cured anywhere. They are cured at Hamburg and in Holland more than they were before. There will be no difficulty about that.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Why should the hon. Gentleman assume that our people are incapable of catching these fish?
§ Sir M. WOOD
I am saying that our people have failed to do it, and the Aberdeen Fish Trade Association have sent out a memorandum to say that in their opinion an increase in this duty would be disastrous to the fishing industry. The plight of the white fishing industry is not nearly so bad as the plight of the herring fishermen. If you want to estimate how bad things are, it is not sufficient to take this year or last year; it is desirable to take the last of five years, and then you will find that the state of matters is very different indeed. A table was presented to the committee on the fishing industry that reported last year showing the earnings of the men engaged in the trawling industry and it is very instructive indeed. A trawl skipper's weekly average earnings in 1929 varied from £32 in Hull to £7 in Aberdeen, and the deck hand's wages varied from £4 17s. 10d. in the Grimsby vessels to £3 0s. 1d. at Lowestoft. I take only these two types because they are representative. But I have later figures than that. The Unemployment Insurance Commission which reported the other day says in paragraph 382:Having carefully considered all the evidence on this subject before us, we find as facts that practically all the share-fishermen in the trawling section of the fishing industry receive a remuneration of more than £250 per annum.An industry about which that can be said is in a very good way compared with others. It would be most alarming if any action taken by the Government or by the Imports Advisory Committee were to throw the weight of supporting the white fishing section on the herring fishing section, which is in a very much worse plight.
1994 Turning to the herring industry, it is obvious that, when you begin bargaining in this way or go in for a war of retaliation, the industry presents a most admirable target, because something like three-fourths of all the herrings caught off these islands are exported, whereas with regard to the white fishing it is more or less the opposite way. The hon. Member for Lowestoft said there was no question of retaliation. It was rather remarkable to hear him say that, because immediately after we adopted this duty of 10 per cent. Germany said they were going to have a fishing industry of their own so as to make them independent of us, and they trebled the duty on cured herrings and announced that they were going to set aside a large sum to build a fishing fleet for themselves. That was one of the earliest results of this new fiscal policy, and it hit the herring fishing industry very hard indeed, Germany is now practically the only substantial market left for the herring industry. Russia, which used to be one of the great markets before the War, has largely gone. It is true that in the last year or two things have looked better, and the industry was making steady progress by means of direct negotiation. At the beginning of last year Russia placed a large contract with the herring fishing industry for £100,000, and there was hope that there would be another contract of the same kind at the end of the year, but, when the Ottawa Agreements came, the negotiations were entirely suspended.
I understand that the Government are conducting negotiations with the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Poland with a view to getting a better market for herrings, and I hope they will be able to achieve something. We hear a great deal about bargaining. The trouble, of course, is that everyone wants to get, but not to give. The white fishing industry does not mind if by means of this bargaining there is retaliation on the herring industry. Poland was a very important market for herring fishing until quite recently. We have a most-favourednation clause which prevents Poland from giving special terms to other countries, but they enacted some sort of regulation by which they reduced the duty on herrings of a certain size. That acted by way of preference to Norway, because Norwegian herrings are large and 1995 coarse. In my view, that is getting behind the provisions of the treaty, and I hope the Government will take the matter up very seriously indeed and see whether they cannot do something. [Interruption.] I am very glad to think the right hon. Gentleman still believes he will be able to do it. [Interruption.] It is impossible for me to enter into that question; it is not the question we are discussing to-day. I should be prepared to deal with it in the proper place. I am speaking specially for the herring industry at the present time, and I point out that in the last three years the exports of herrings have gone down by half. That is the result of a policy which, for whatever other industries it may be good, is undoubtedly bad for the herring fishing industry, and is fast knocking it out of existence altogether.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
Surely, the hon. and gallant Member was complaining that Poland had inserted, under a modern Free Trade system, the most-favourednation clause and that I should do something about it. What does he want me to do about it?
§ Sir M. WOOD
I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to represent to Poland that this is a breach of the Treaty which Poland entered into with this country. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not need me me to tell him what he ought to do to a country which breaks a Treaty.
§ Sir M. WOOD
I say that it is a breach of the Treaty. It may not be a nominal breach, but it is a breach in actual practice. That is the case which has been put by the herring fishing industry, and they have pressed it upon the Government for a long time. It is not a question which has existed for the last month or two, but one which has been in existence a year or two, and nothing has been done. I believe that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman with the weight of the British Government behind him, can get something done along these lines if he will really set his mind to it.
There is the question of Finland. There is a somewhat similar situation 1996 there. We had a big trade with Finland a year or two ago and now it has entirely gone. Last year there were no exports from this country to Finland at all, because Finland, like so many other countries, said that they were going to have their own fishing industry and were not going to have our herrings. They got together a fleet which they sent to Iceland to catch herrings for their own use. They are entitled to do that sort of thing, but there is good reason to believe that all the herrings which they take to Finland are not caught by themselves but are really bought perhaps from Iceland. If that is so, they are not entitled under the existing Clause to import that fish into Finland without a duty. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will also keep that question in view and see what can be done to remedy it, if it is possible to find a remedy.
I should like to say a word or two about the question of reorganisation. The Import Duties Advisory Committee, in the letter which they sent to the trawler owners a month or two ago, suggested that there might be an improvement in the existing organisation and methods of distribution of the industry. I do not want to develop this, because it is, perhaps, a delicate question, but I suggest that the whole of the financial organisation of the trawler industry requires looking into to say the least of it. It will be found that the trawler owner who complains at the present, time that things are very bad is not merely a trawler owner, but is a coal merchant supplying his own trawlers with coal at a price which he fixes as a rule. When the trawlers come ashore the fish is sold by fish salesmen who are the trawler owners themselves. To say the least of it this is a most unfortunate system. The Committee on the Fishing Industry which reported last year recommended that there should be legislation. They say thatThe sale by auction of trawled"—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I must remind the hon. Member that we cannot go into the question of legislation on the Adjournment.
§ Sir M. WOOD
I do not know that it is necessary to have legislation—I do not want to go beyond the limits allowed in this Debate—but it may be possible to do it in another way. In any case, I 1997 think that I am probably right in pointing out that this committee said that:The sale by auction of trawled fish which affects the settling sheets between owners, shippers and crews should only be conducted by salesmen independent of the owners of the fishing vessels.I think that that is a very fair proposal to make, and the mere fact that the committee which inquired very carefully into the industry thought it necessary to make the recommendation shows that the financial organisation of the industry requires looking into. There is another aspect of organisation which does not apply so much to trawlers as to inshore fishermen. Inshore fishing in the North of Scotland has gone down very seriously in the last few years, and in many small places, where a short time ago it was a very lively industry, it is now no longer in evidence. That is largely due to the bad organisation for the sale of the fish. The big trawler organisations are strong enough to market their own fish, but the position among the small boats in the North of Scotland is very different. These boats have been accustomed to sell their fish on the quay to small fish curers who have sent the fish to the large fish markets of the country—Billingsgate and other places. The fish curer has simply consigned the fish to those markets for sale at the best price the fish would fetch. What has happened? Time after time those fish curers have found, when they have sent their fish, that they have received a price which is derisory, with the result that they have had to send money afterwards to pay for the carriage. The fish curers who send up fish like that are in the present circumstances at the mercy of the fish salesmen, because in a great number of cases these fish salesmen are not merely fish salesmen but also buyers.
It is obviously a most improper arrangement that one man should be a seller and a buyer at the same time. His duties in the two cases are bound to come into conflict with one another. On this matter also the committee gave a recommendation which could be carried out without legislation, and if the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries would bring his influence to bear in the proper quarter something might be done. A few years ago a similar position existed in Paris and a regulation was made making it possible to prohibit any salesman from 1998 selling and buying at the same time. The recommendation of the committee is that the same method that was adopted in Paris should be adopted here. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence to get that done. If he could do so it would make a great difference to the fish curers who send consignments to Billingsgate and other markets.
A few words about a question which affects me very seriously. I have on many occasions dealt with the special case of the Moray Firth and I am not going to repeat it, because the right hon. Gentleman knows the case well and hon. Members also know it. It seems to me absolutely preposterous that foreign trawlers can come and fish with impunity in the Moray Firth, whereas if home trawlers attempt to do so the skipper or the man in charge is immediately fined or put into prison. I want the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he can tell us what the Government propose to do about it. The fishermen —[HON. MEMBERS: "Time!"] I have more fishing constituents than probably any other Member of this House, and I am entitled to put their case. I have not taken nearly the amount of time that I might have taken if I had been determined to put the whole case as I should have liked it to have been put. This question of the Moray Firth is an important one and Government after Government have refused to pay proper attention to the subject. I am always told that it is a difficult subject. I know that it is a difficult subject. If the Government say that they have considered it and can do nothing we shall know where we are. I am not satisfied that the Government can do nothing. A short time ago we had a definite invitation sent by the Netherlands Government to this country to a convention which would consider the whole question of the North Sea fisheries, but we have neither accepted nor declined that invitation. If we are ever going to get a question like the Moray Firth settled on satisfactory lines, or indeed the whole question of the fisheries in the North Sea, it must be by international agreement. I hope that we shall have a statement by the Minister of Agriculture to-night that we are going to accept that invitation and that we shall make a real attempt by international agreement to deal with the undoubted difficulties of the Moray Firth and fishing in the North Sea generally.
1999 I apologise to the House for taking such a long time, but I think I can claim that at no point have I been irrelevant. One half of my constituents are depending upon the success of the fishing industry. Their interests are, unfortunately, to some extent in conflict with the interests of the trawling and white fish section. That section is very powerful and it is necessary that we who represent the herring fishing industry should take what opportunities come our way to put the case for the herring fishermen before the Government and the powers that be. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will always remember that this question is much more important, relatively, to Scotland than to England. Fishing is more important to Scotland than to England. Keeping that in view, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that the interests of Scotland are not forgotten, in trying to conciliate the trawlers.
§ 8.31 p.m.
I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) has left the House, because I should like to make a few remarks on his speech. He said that he was very much tempted to criticise some of the speakers who had preceded him, but that he was not going to succumb to the temptation. I wish he had succumbed, because I have not yet heard, in spite of the speech to which we have just listened, any really serious and valid criticism of the case which has been put forward to-night. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke seemed to show that he was labouring under certain misapprehensions as to the position of a great many Members of the House in regard to one matter. He seemed to think that because of the Debate to-night there was evidence that the hon. Members who have spoken have rejected the idea of tariffs for bargaining purposes. I am sure that if that was his idea it was an incorrect one. Speaking for myself, I am in favour of tariffs for use as a bargaining weapon, and I think they can be used in that way successfully. I would go further and say that if the bargain was a good one for the people of this country I would be prepared to sacrifice the immediate interests of my constituents for the benefit of the industry and the country as a whole.
2000 The point which we have been trying to make to-night is simply this, that on the evidence which is available to the House the bargain would not be a good one and that at the best you would be transferring unemployment from one trade to another, and that no real benefit could come from such a bargain. If that is our view of the case, we are entitled to say we are right. If our view is wrong, we must trust to the Minister to correct it, but whether it is right or wrong I think we are entitled to put it forward. Apart from that the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke did not succumb to the temptation offered him by the Debate, but the hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) did; and I confess that after listening to his speech I felt that it was rather unworthy of him to succumb to the temptation. He has not convinced the House, I feel sure, in spite of all the wealth of his argument, that the remedies which have been advanced during the course of the Debate are not the only possible remedies. Let me examine some of the arguments he has put forward. In the first place, he said that bad as is the condition of the herring fishery it is a world condition, not a national condition, and from that he went on to argue that because it is a world condition it is no good doing anything about it.
I apologise if I have misunderstood the hon. Member. At the same time, he did not seem to have any constructive proposals to offer in order to improve the condition of the industry. He went on to explain the condition of the fishing industry in Scotland and in particular in Aberdeen, and pointed out how much worse it would be if there was any increase in duties, because the fish merchants of Aberdeen had to import cheap fish for re-export.
§ Sir M. WOOD
It is not a question of cheap fish. It is a question of getting this special fish for a particular purpose.
The hon. Member says that the people of Aberdeen cannot catch this fish and have to buy it. The only argument he advanced in favour of this contention was that some years ago they tried to do so but found it impossible, and they had to go without the fish. If that is the case, if it is impossible for the 2001 people in Aberdeen to catch this fish, I cannot understand one circumstance which came to my notice in my own constituency. Several Aberdeen ships went out from a port in my own constituency and brought in this fish. If they can do that at Hull, I cannot see why they cannot go out and bring in this fish at Aberdeen.
§ Sir M. WOOD
If the hon. Member will read the Memorandum he will see that they say that these proposals would be disastrous.
I have had a number of representations from the persons to whom the hon. Member refers, and from a great many other quarters; and that brings me to another point. This question of a restriction on fish is very important to producers, and also important in another way to middlemen of all kinds. I do not wish to imply that the middleman, the merchant, does not occupy an important place in the organisation of industry, but it is important that this House, when it receives communications from these people, should not consider that they are the only people to whose views attention should be paid. As I say, I have had a great many of these communications, and in some of them the objections raised, the antagonism shown, to the trawling industry have not been weighty and in many cases have been absolutely futile. I had one letter from a fishmongers' association saying that the trawling industry had no right to any sort of help because trawlers, which went hundreds of miles out to sea, did not pay rates and taxes. I did not answer that letter, but if I had I should have said that fishmongers' shops do not happen to be situate in the Arctic Sea. The hon. Member for Banff went on to discuss the herring industry and to explain why we should not help the trawling industry because the herring industry was in a worse position. That is most extraordinary logic—
§ Sir M. WOOD
The hon. Member must not attribute to me the saying that the Government must not help the trawling industry. I never said anything of the kind. I should be delighted that the trawling industry should be helped in any feasible way, but I suggested that it is no good helping it at the expense of another section of the industry. That is a different thing altogether.
I accept the hon. Member's correction, and I am sorry if I misrepresented him. I did not mean to do so. He says that the Government must not help the trawling industry at the expense of the herring industry. I think we should be sure, first of all, in our own minds that that would be the case. I do not think it would, and the only point the hon. Member adduced to prove his contention that already the trawling industry is hindering the herring industry is the fact that, some time after the tariff was put on white fish in this country, the German tariff was increased three times. That may be so, but there is no reason to suppose that it was the result of the tariff put on here. Does he suppose that there was no tariff on British fish before a duty was put on in this country?
§ Sir M. WOOD
It is a remarkable coincidence that immediately we put on a tariff this particular tariff should be trebled.
I will give my hon. Friend another remarkable coincidence. Some years ago the Government of this country were trying to arrange a tariff truce, and at the moment they were attempting to do so the French Government increased their tariff on fish from this country to an almost equal extent. It was certainly doubled. It is just as reasonable to attribute this to the tariff truce as it is to attribute the increase in the German tariff against herrings to the Import Duties Act. If hon. Members will consider what has been happening in Germany since the War they will agree that there is extremely little foundation for the suggestion that the tariff was increased as the result of our imposition of a tariff. Ever since the War Germany has been doing all she can to advance the interests and encourage and develop her fishing industry. It has been done deliberately, and largely because Germany under the Treaty of Versailles is restricted in naval development. Very wisely she recognises the immense naval value of a fishing fleet, and for that reason Germany has made every effort since the War to develop her fishing fleet. The Germans determined to make themselves self-supporting so far as fishing is concerned. I have no doubt that they will go on with that policy. Whether or not we increase our tariffs or reduce 2003 our tariffs or abolish them, I have no doubt that the Germans will go on making it more difficult for us to send fish into their country.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff will not think that I have been criticising him unfairly or too vigorously. It certainly was not my intention to do so. At the end of his speech he said that there was a necessity for the reorganisation of the fishing industry. I am not sure that I agree with every example that he gave of the necessity, but I feel fairly sure that the fishing industry, like the agricultural industry, is susceptible of reorganisation and that a certain amount of reorganisation would be very beneficial to it. It has been said that the Import Duties Advisory Committee recommended the industry to set its own house in order, and in particular the distributing side of it. That recommendation of the Advisory Committee is not really as sensible as it sounds. The distributors are the chief opponents of restriction of imports. The industry has not any sort of control of its own market, and until it has some control I think it will be impossible for the industry to reorganise itself.
One of the kinds of reorganisation that will have to be undertaken is the reorganisation of supplies of fish, once the supplies of foreign fish are restricted. Let me give one small instance of the kind of thing I mean. In my own constituency last year there was a known supply of a certain kind of fish, and as a result the trawler owners agreed unanimously to stop fishing on the ground and to send their fleet somewhere else. The price of that fish went up. As soon as that happened telegrams were sent to Germany and other countries and from those countries wireless messages were sent to the foreign trawlers at sea, and forthwith they proceeded to the fishing ground. I know that the Government and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture are aware of the grave situation in the industry, and I would like to add my plea that they will lose no time in improving it.
§ 8.49 p.m.
For 15 years in this House I have heard Members from different fishing constituencies make passionate, eloquent and long-winded pleas 2004 to different Governments on the subject of the fishing industry, but up to now I have never seen a Government that has done anything about it. This seems a hopeful moment, from the point of view of all of us who are interested in the industry. We have come into the House as a new party in a National Government which has the largest majority that the country has ever seen, and, what is far more to the point, we have a young, ardent and keen Minister of Agriculture. The best thing about the Minister is that he really enjoys his job. From what I have seen of many politicians, if they do not enjoy their job they had better get out of it and leave it to others. The present Minister of Agriculture has a scientific brain and has begun to reorganise everything. Now he has the chance of his lifetime to reorganise the fishing industry. I shall not go into the question of tariffs. I agree with parts of nearly every speech that has been made. I have sat and listened and have seen nearly every point that I wished to raise disappear. That is a common experience, and it means that one has to bore a weary House. As to the tariff the Government were bound to take the advice of the Import Duties Advisory Committee. But I want them to take the whole of it. We know that the British Trawlers' Federation pleaded for the raising of the tariff on fish, and the Committee stated:They fully recognise the national necessity that the British fishing industry should be maintained on as large a scale and at as high a level of efficiency as possible.They said further that the industry was at present suffering from severe depression which appeared to be due not so much to the volume of fish imported from foreign trawlers or imported as cargo, as to the general decline of purchasing power and the recent heavy fall in the price of other foodstuffs, and the consequent fall in the demand for fish. I do not think that simply imposing a higher tariff on imported fish is going to effect the cure that we want. The Committee also said:They are of opinion that the industry might with advantage give renewed consideration to the question of the improvement of the existing organisation and methods of distribution.That is where the Minister of Agriculture comes in. We all know that he is already reorganising the pig and milk industries. The Government have given a subsidy to 2005 wheat and have continued the subsidy for sugar-beet. Now let them reorganise the fishing industry. Many of us are prepared to see the subsidy taken from sugar-beet and given to the fishing industry. Something has been said what Germany has done. What did Belgium do after the War? She had no fishing industry then, but partly by subsidy and partly by voluntary organisation, with the aid of an ex-naval officer, the Belgian Government got the fishing industry going, and the Belgians are outdoing us now. Why should not our Government take the same course? Let them take the subsidy from beet sugar and give it to the fishing industry.
The fishermen in time of war suffered heavily even compared with the miners. During the War the miners had a comparatively good time, but the fishermen have never had a rich time. They have always had a difficult time. Now that the farmers have got their wheat quota and their beet sugar subsidy let us turn our attention to the fishermen. I believe that something could be done for them without imposing greater tariffs. I think that the Lord President of the Council was right in saying that if the Ottawa Agreements did not bring down the tariffs of the world, they would be a failure. I think we all realise that, and I am not in favour of blindly imposing tariffs. A tariff ought to be scientifically applied, and, if we want the fishing industry to improve, the matter must be gone into scientifically and from a national point of view and with the knowledge in our minds that we cannot afford to let our fishermen disappear.
They are not organised politically or industrially. They do not complain. They have not representatives in this House; they do not belong to trade unions and that appears to be their only crime. As regards Governments giving any attention to them, if they had a great trade union, something would have been done for them long ago. Knowing the way in which trade unions act in these days, I hope to heaven they will never be forced into a trade union. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will give his mind to this problem and get to work upon it. I do not wish to go against expert opinion on this matter. I think that the Government are right if they have an Advisory Committee in taking into account its recommendations and I know 2006 that we must not look at this matter solely from the point of view of our own particular constituencies. I represent a fishing constituency and I have had to meet the fishermen themselves and deal with these matters but I can claim that I have pleaded with successive Governments to do something for them. This is the first time that one can make such an appeal with any real hope and I would ask the Minister particularly to look into the question of what the Belgians have done in regard to their fishing industry. They are beating us in the West Country in this respect and it is very difficult to compete against them.
The fishermen in the West Country suffered a good deal during the War and now when they go out to the fishing ground, they find their nets damaged and they cannot get any compensation. We all know about the five-mile limit and we know too, how foreign fishing boats come right in, almost up to our doors, so to speak. I suggested to the Admiralty that it would be a good thing if the Navy did a little of their exercises in the protection of our fishermen from foreign fishing vessels but that did not seem to be regarded as a practical suggestion. I hope, however, that the Government will consider it and will consider the case generally of this unorganised and unrepresented body of men. They are people of few words; they are the kind of people whom the Lord President of the Council admires; they do not talk much hut they go about their work quietly and they are of the very best stuff of which Englishmen are made. I hope that we shall have a real answer on this question from our new ardent and scientific Minister of Agriculture. Great things are expected from him. I am sure he will not disappoint us.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I agree with every word of the admirable speech of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) and I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House will be ready to assure her that whatever else she may be afraid of she need never be afraid of being a bore. I wish I could say that I agreed as whole-heartedly with the speech of the hon. Gentleman who represents the next constituency to mine. The hon. Member for South West Hull (Mr. Law) expressed the hope that his criticism of the speech of the hon. Mem- 2007 ber for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) had not been too vigorous. I can hardly hope that my criticism of that speech will be vigorous enough. One of the remarks of the hon. Member for Banffshire to which I took the greatest exception was when be said—having addressed the House for over half an hour—that unfortunately he had not time to present the whole of the case for the fishermen whom he represented. If the case which he made is the case of the fishermen, whom both he and I represent, then God help the fishermen. I think the hon. Member would have done better to have said that he had not time to present the whole of his own case.
For my part, I, as representing the same sort of fishermen, would never for one moment admit that the hon. Member was presenting their case at all. In so far as his remarks applied to the white fishing industry they were equally inexplicable to me. He accepted what was, I agree, put forward in the memorandum by the fish trade of Aberdeen, that it was impossible for our people to catch the particular kind of fish which are found off the Icelandic coasts and are required by the curers in Aberdeen for curing and re-export. I do not believe in that theory, but the hon. Member accepted it. He said, in effect, that we had tried it two years ago and that we had failed, and his conclusion was that we should let it go and hold on to these foreign fish. His argument amounted to this—that the foreigner only could supply us with these fish. If his speech meant anything it meant that, but I do not admit that such a view is correct. As a matter of fact, I have reason to believe that the firm which does a great deal of this curing for re-export to the Continent, actually owns trawlers, but it is found more lucrative to supply ports further south, particularly Hull and Grimsby, with these fish, rather than Aberdeen. I do not admit that our own fishermen and our own trawlers cannot catch all the fish that we require though I am far from advocating the complete exclusion or prohibition of foreign white fish from this country.
The hon. Member for Banffshire, however, made me angry when he came to deal with herring fishing and asked the Minister what he was going to do to deal with the Polish situation. I agree that it is iniquitous that a preference should 2008 be given by the Poles to Norwegian herring over British, but when the Minister asked the hon. Member "what am I to do about it," all the hon. Member could reply was, "I say it is a breach of the treaty." Is the Minister, then, to make representations to the effect that the hon. Member for Banffshire says that this is a breach of the Anglo-Polish Treaty and therefore it must be stopped immediately? Is it suggested that such representations would have a decisive effect on the Polish Government? There is only one method of dealing with the Polish Government in this matter and that is by saying to them: "We must either have a reciprocal trading agreement under which you will give us what we require in regard to certain articles which we send to you—herring being one of the principal of these—or, if you do not give us a fair trading arrangement, if you continue to put unfair preferential duties against our herrings and in favour of Norway, we shall take retaliatory action in respect of goods which you wish to send to us." There is no other way of dealing with the situation, and it is exactly the same in the case of Finland. The hon. Member for Banffshire said: "Can we not do something about Finland? They have stopped taking our herrings. They have actually had the audacity to build a herring fleet of their own. They are catching their own herrings. Stop it. Go and tell them not to do so." But how are you going to do it except by negotiating a trade agreement?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) has already addressed the House at some length, and there are many hon. Members who wish to speak yet. We can get on better without interruptions.
§ Sir M. WOOD
On a point of Order. I rose to correct a statement made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who gave way. Am I not right and within the Rules of the House in taking advantage of his allowing me to rise and interrupt him?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Banffshire rather invited the hon. Member to give way, and he is not 2009 strictly entitled to address the House, having already made one speech. Mr. Boothby.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I do not wish to misrepresent the hon. Member for Banffshire. I would only say that I, for my part, can see no way of bringing any possible pressure upon Finland to abstain from the policy of economic nationalism, which is not confined to Finland, but which is the practice of every country in Europe, or to persuade them to purchase our herrings, unless we can bring economic pressure to bear on them. We are absolutely powerless to sell our herrings in Europe or to deal with these foreign countries unless we ourselves possess a weapon, and it is no good pleading with the Minister of Agriculture to make representations to European Powers to take down their tariffs merely for love of us. We have made such representations, at Geneva and elsewhere, for the past 15 years, and they have not had any effect at all, and none of these representations will have any effect unless it is backed by power on our part to take similar action against the goods of foreign countries coming into this country.
There is a superficial difference, at first sight, between the interests of the white fishing and those of the herring fishing, but I do not believe there is a fundamental difference, and I think the interests of the fishing industry ought to be considered as a whole. I think they very largely can be met by the Government of the day if they work in with each other. I sympathise whole-heartedly with the protest of the trawling section of the industry against the indiscriminate foreign dumping of white fish in our ports, and I think they ought to be protected against it. At the same time, I ask, from those who represent the trawling section of the industry, for sympathy for the herring fishermen who are unable to-day to find markets for their catches in Europe, and I make a plea that the two sections of the industry should sink their differences and agree to work together with the Government, in order to get a greater degree of prosperity for both, which I believe can be done. The case of the herring fishermen is really harder than the case of the white fishermen, because the former have known no prosperity ever 2010 since the War, none whatsoever. They have been up against it to an even greater extent, whereas two or three years ago the white fishing industry did get a certain measure of prosperity.
I submit that there is no good dragging the tariff argument into this discussion. I agree with my Noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth on that question. Tariffs are an accepted fact in the modern world, and import controls as well. They are accepted instruments of national economic policy on the part of every nation, and you are not going to get rid of them for a very long period to come. We must accept them as a fait accompli and as an instrument of national economic policy which is being and will be used by every nation. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh that we tried out his policy for 10 or 12 years after the War, that we trailed off to Geneva and tried to get reductions of tariffs, and failed.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
No. I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I meant the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason). Tariffs can be varied and modified, but in an era of glut such as we are now living in it is inconceivable, to me at least, that they should disappear. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff never mentioned one aspect of this tariff question which does affect the herring fishing industry. What about the Norwegian herrings that are dumped into this country at a very critical time every year, and which for the last three years have broken the market for our own people? When they are considering duties on foreign white fish, I think the Government ought to give due consideration to the question of putting a duty upon Norwegian herrings which come in here at a very critical period.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Then the Government should consider increasing the duty. I would just say this to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I am certain that the first essential, both in the white fishing and in ' the herring fishing, is to obtain control of production. I believe that that is essential, not only in the fishing industry, 2011 but in other industries as well, or in other kinds of industry; and in this respect I think we, in the herring fishing industry, can take a good deal of pride in having done that in the teeth of considerable opposition during the last two or three years. I agree with the hon. Member for Banff that the herring fishing industry is not as well organised or rationalised at the present time as it might be, but in one respect it has done well, and that is that there is a definite control of production in the herring fishing industry to-day, and that, in my submission, ought to be extended to the white fishing industry as well.
Unless and until you get control of production, there can be no hope at the present time, in my opinion, of any primary producer making a profit, because the market prices are bound to fall below the cost of production. Ultimately in the case of white fishing, and probably in the case of the herring fishing as well, and in respect of many other primary products, including agriculture, the control may have to become international, until the glut period has passed. You must take control over your production of primary commodities, otherwise I do not see how the primary producer is ever going to get a price that will cover his costs of production. Having done that—and the Government ought to do everything possible to encourage the fishing industry to enforce that control and to make it complete— the next thing is to expand your markets as fast as you can. It will be easy enough to expand your production in order to meet the requirements of your gradually expanding markets. I dealt with that point earlier in my speech.
Undoubtedly, so far as the herring fishing is concerned, in which I am most interested, the best and the quickest way of increasing your market for herrings is by reciprocal trading agreements, and above all by trading agreements with Germany, Russia, and Poland; and it is to that policy that I would beg the Government to direct their most earnest and immediate attention in the weeks that lie ahead. I do not see why we should not come to trading agreements, using the weapon which at last we have got in the tariff, which will benefit both this country and the countries to which I have referred, and which will benefit the people 2012 who produce the goods in both countries, whether primary or secondary goods, by raising the world price, if you put it in that way, of those particular products. That is the essence of a satisfactory reciprocal trading agreement, that both countries should benefit by it and that both countries should do everything in their power to raise the wholesale price of the particular commodities which they wish to export to each other.
I would again emphasise the importance of the fishing industry in this connection, and beg the Government, in negotiating these trade agreements with European countries, never to allow the interests of both sections of the fishing industry, the white fishing on the one hand and the herring fishing on the other, to go out of mind altogether. I am sure that hon. Members representing the trawling section of the industry would not maintain that at the present time, and under present conditions, we ought to exclude completely all white fish from coming into our home ports, any more than, I submit, all European countries ought to exclude altogether the importation of Norwegian herrings. But I think the interests of both sections of the industry can be balanced in these trade agreements, and I ask the Government, in negotiating them, to keep those interests constantly in mind.
With regard to the home market, I never believe that the herring is sufficiently appreciated in this country. It is the best, the cheapest, the most nutritious and most delicious article of food anybody could possibly eat, and we know nothing about it. I had to come down in an aeroplane at Hanover and spend the day walking about the streets, and I never saw in my life so many herrings of so many sorts and kinds in the shops in the course of one single day. They were all Scotch and mostly produced by Fraserburgh and Peterhead. I wish this country would have the sense of the citizens of Hanover. Here we have an immense unemployed population, many of them living nearly on the subsistence level. They ought to eat the cheapest, the best, and the most nutritious article of food which is caught in thousands at their very doors by their own people. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland might bring some of these facts to the notice of the Empire Marketing Board. It is the sort of thing which that 2013 body exists to propagand. If any hon. Gentlemen doubt the value of what I say, I would only urge them to start eating herrings and to eat them split. They will be a revelation to any hon. Member.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
If it stimulated the consumption of beer, I would not object to it at all, and the English would be brought it on the deal. I have heard rumours that a scheme is being considered for putting some of the younger unemployed into training camps during the summer. I hope that something of that kind may happen. If it does, I urge the Government to feed them on herrings. A course of herrings for the younger unemployed this summer would raise the population of this country from C.3 to A.1 in six weeks.
There is another matter which I would ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to bring to the notice of his friends in the military department. Why should not the Fleet, the Air Force and the Army have one herring day a week and have herrings put on the official rations? It would do them a lot of good. It does us all good to live on fish one day in the week, whatever our religion may be, and the Government should really consider putting fish on to the permanent rations of the Army, at any rate for one day of the week. For nine years in my constituency I have watched these men facing adversity and the most fearful privations. They have no proper insurance scheme, and I do not know how they live. I have watched them facing their conditions with the most dauntless courage. I have been continuously amazed year after year at their heroism; for them the tide has never turned, and the depression has never lifted for a moment. We depended upon these men for our existence during the War, and we cannot let them go out of existence.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. BURNETT
I have listened with some sympathy to the remarks which fell from the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), as I sat watching all the points which I was anxious to make in connection with the fishing industry taken by hon. Members one 2014 after the other. As I heard my own constituency described and then redescribed, and finally when I heard the fish ration for the Army, Navy and Air Force mentioned, I felt that all hope was gone. Possibly, however, there are one or two things left for me to say. I should like to endorse all that has been said as to the deplorable and grave condition in which the fishing industry stands. Aberdeen is the third largest fishing port in the United Kingdom for white fishing, and in Scotland we supply something like three-quarters of the British caught white fish which is trawled. We have other sections of the trade—the supplying, the marketing and the distribution— and all these sections are equally convinced of the importance of doing what we can for the improvement of the industry and for the welfare of the fishermen who are engaged in it.
We have different interests in Aberdeen, but I do not think that it is the case, as has been suggested, that those interests are unreconcilable. They can be reconciled. We have fish from the North Sea—haddock, cod, whiting and plaice—in good quality. We also have fish of coarser quality which comes from Iceland and which is landed principally by German trawlers; that is in the main cod. This fish is sold on the quays of Aberdeen by fish salesmen, and the North Sea fish is for the most part sent down to various centres in the south such as Grimsby, Hull, Billingsgate and Glasgow where it is sold in competition with the Danish boxed fish which is doing so much to depress prices in the fishing industry. There is a strong case for action in this direction on the line suggested by the trawler owners. This Danish fish brings no labour into the country. It is boxed in Denmark, packed in ice there, and consigned to this country, and there is no labour in unloading the ships. It is glutting the market and prices are coming down in consequence. I do not think that anyone can take reasonable objection to a tariff being placed on this fish.
I know that it is said on behalf of the fish trade that our men are not supplying exactly the fish they want, that there is an increase in the extra small haddocks, whereas the large haddocks are diminishing. In that case, the remedy lies entirely in our own hands. We can make the mesh of the net larger, 2015 and I think that regulations ought to be introduced to that effect so that there will not be the same proportions of small fish. In that way, we would prevent any fear of a depletion of the fishings in future. With regard to the Danish fish, the opinion is fairly unanimous in Aberdeen that an increased tariff should be placed upon it. The fish which we have from Iceland, which is largely cod, is for the export trade. Three-quarters of this fish is sold to the fish curers for export. All this export trade was formerly in the hands of Norway and was sent to South America and the Latin Republics there, and they had complete command of the market. Through improved processes of drying, suited to the climatic conditions we have managed to capture these markets and now we have Brazil, the Argentine, Chile and Peru, and in Europe, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
This fish-curing industry gives employment to something like 5,000 men in Aberdeen and something like £400,000 is paid in wages in a year. We have to consider this from the point of view of employment. There are large buildings there and subsidiary industries are carried on such as fish-meal and box-making, and others. I do not think these two things are irreconcilable. If an increased tariff is put on foreign fish we can have a drawback on the export fish which is to go to South America and elsewhere. This drawback has been applied for, and is still under consideration. There is no reason to stop the question of a tariff on Danish fish on that account. With regard to German trawlers which are coming in, we would naturally prefer British trawlers. Some mention has been made of Hull, and it was said that one of our prominent export fish-curers owned trawlers which were working from Hull. I understand that is the case. The trawlers were built in Aberdeen and are now worked from Hull. We would naturally be anxious that these trawlers should come to Aberdeen, but the objection is made on the part of the skippers that the crews belong to Hull and it would not pay them to come to Aberdeen when there are curing works in Hull.
Then there is the question whether in Aberdeen we could manage to float a company sufficient to undertake the Iceland waters. That would be the most 2016 satisfactory thing, and I hope in time it may be done. In the past that has been tried. This is a very bad time in the present depression. Capital is short and both fish-curers and trawler-owners are in debt to the banks, and the question of getting capital is certainly a difficult problem. It must be remembered that it costs something like £15,000 to build a trawler which could fish the Iceland waters. There was a scheme to build 50 such trawlers at £15,000 each. The question is one which is bound to come up before long. There are other questions which concern the fishing industry which, I think, we ought to take into consideration. The question of reorganising marketing has been mentioned in the report of the Fisheries Committee. The question also of rebuilding our trawlers is bound to be raised in time. There is no doubt that, as far as the trawlers in Aberdeen are concerned, 50 per cent, of them are obsolete. A great many date from before the War. It is impossible to expect us to be able to compete with the trawlers which are being built abroad unless we can manage to build at home. At present there are no trawlers being built.
We know that foreign Governments are building new motor trawlers with Diesel engines, of 300 tons, very fast and economical to work and with brine-freezing apparatus. Brine freezing will be a very important thing in future. It is being studied in Aberdeen and is practised elsewhere, particularly abroad, but it is a costly thing to put into a ship. It means that fish can be preserved for something like three months and remain quite fresh. I have tasted fish which has been kept three months in this way, and I should never have known that it was not freshly caught. Brine-freezing would be a matter of very great importance in connection with Iceland fisheries. It would mean that fish caught within the first five days could be kept fresh. As things stand at present that fish is useless for anything except fish manure, and it is sold for about £1 a ton, whereas if it were kept fresh it might be sold at £20 a ton. The installation of brine-freezing might revolutionise the catching of fish. There is no doubt that foreign trawlers are being installed with it now, and what we want is some help in the matter, when capital is so difficult to get. The Government has been guaranteeing loans for Austria and giving, through the banks, 2017 credit to farmers, and I hope that consideration will be given to the question of credits to fishermen.
We want to do what we can for the primary industries, particularly for fishing, where it is not only a question of the food but of the defence of the country. It is a difficult time just now when many people who were eating fish before are not doing so now. We want to increase the demand. Through the unemployed a certain amount can be done, and that has been suggested already. I hope we can do something on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), something through the Army, Navy and Air Force, by including either fried fish or herrings, or whatever it may be, in their rations. That is a matter which should be considered. Then the public authorities, too, might be encouraged in hospitals and elsewhere to supply more fish than they do. Home-killed meat is dear, but home fish is not, and an increase in the demand in that direction might do a great deal to help our fisheries. I think I have dealt with my main points which have not been touched upon by other speakers and I do hope that something will be done by the Government for the improvement of fisheries—something along the lines recommended by the committee which recently reported. I feel that with an industry such as this, on which so many men are dependent, we ought to do what we can to insure a livelihood for the fishermen on our coasts.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I am sure that the Minister will have an opportunity at the end of the Debate of reviewing the speeches from hon. Members all over the country and out of each will be able to take something which he can apply for the benefit of the fishing industry. We have heard from Scotland, and I think the House might be interested to know something about the situation at Grimsby at present. Grimsby is suffering in common with other fishing ports. Hon. Members may be surprised as to why I am speaking of Grimsby. I represent two of the wards at Grimsby and many of those engaged in the fishing industry live in suburbs which are in my constituency. I have had an opportunity of consulting the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) and others en- 2018 gaged in the industry regarding the present situation. This subject, too, is linked up with agriculture and in dealing with it I feel I am in tune with that aspect of the situation. There has been a most important report made on Grimsby from an entirely impartial source, the Grimsby Unemployment Committee, set up under the Labour Exchange auspices. Let me read an extract from it which puts the case quite clearly:Members of the Committee will be familiar with the arguments for and against an increased tariff on foreign imported fish. Whilst we are not directly concerned with that aspect of the case we are certainly seriously perturbed by the increased unemployment among fishermen, dockworkers and workers in all ancillary trades due to the laying up of fishing vessels. If, as has been authoritatively reported, the sales of a greater quantity of fish last year have realised £329,000 less, it is not surprising that owners are finding it difficult to run their vessels, and we can only hope that there will be a solution satisfactory to all concerned, so that the industry may regain a measure of prosperity and have a further incentive to progress at an early date. The figure of £329,000 represents a reduced earning capacity of approximately £600 per vessel per annum to Grimsby-owned fishing vessels.It goes on to say:I am confident that if this desirable object can be achieved 50 per cent, of the workpeople now unemployed in this area will very quickly be reabsorbed in industry.That is an opinion, well informed, from an impartial source. The problem is that the costs of production are higher than the price realised at the ports—not the price obtained from the consumers but the price obtained at the ports, which is what concerns the trawler owners and the fishermen. In that respect there is an extraordinarily close similarity between fishing and agriculture. When the cost of production is not higher than the price which can be obtained at market, the industry goes ahead, improvements are introduced and new and up to date vessels are built; but except for one or two years since the War those engaged in the fishing industry have never been assured of such a continuity of prosperity as would justify them in planning ahead on a large scale and building the most up-to-date trawlers.
This blight of the cost of production being higher than the market price has been caused by the import of fish from abroad. I do not think the point has been sufficiently emphasised that the 2019 owners of the fish which comes into this country from abroad are in exactly the same case as our own fishermen. Their fish does not pay for the cost of its production, but they must get rid of it somewhere and they send it into our markets —there is the same blight on the agricultural industry—and I ask the Minister of Agriculture to address himself to this problem. Many suggestions have been made for dealing with the problem of the fishing industry. It has been suggested that the tariff on fish should be raised. I do not think we are justified in discussing on the Motion for the Adjournment proposals which need legislation, but we can take note of what other countries have done. Other countries prevent fish from abroad coming into their ports, and therefore all this fish is thrown on to our market, and it is not fair to our fishermen who have given their lives to providing us with food, and gave their lives during the War to protect us, that they should be compelled to suffer under the conditions which have been envisaged. Denmark provides State assistance for its fishing, and Germany has built trawlers. Fish from Denmark and Norway is coming here and affecting our market; but it has not been sufficiently emphasised that Norway and Denmark are not the only countries concerned. Spain is trying to compete with us in this respect.
I wish the hon. Member who spoke about using tariffs for bargaining with other countries were here at the moment. In the fishing industry we have not the weapons to use for bargaining purposes. The Government may perhaps have bargaining powers in connection with other industries which they can use, but I should like to hear from the Minister how we can engage in bargaining with the present weapons we have in the fishing industry—I mean, of course, what measures we can take which do not need legislation. I hope the Minister will tell us what method he proposes for dealing with this problem. Finally, may I say that I am sure this Debate will focus attention in the country on the fishing industry. The Government will be expected to carry out certain measures. I hope, further, that the public will turn to the use of fish for food. That is one of the new lines of hope for the fishing industry. Representing as I do a part of 2020 Grimsby I can say that we have the greatest faith that the Government will do something during their tenure of office. We are not despondent, but we want just that encouragement which will enable us to go ahead and build up a completely new industry.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Many hon. Members have made eloquent and earnest speeches which have clearly shown to the House how insecure and, indeed, dangerous they regard the position of the fishing industry. Its position is almost desperate. In the small fishing villages up and down the coast and in the big fishing ports the fishermen are not only having a very bad time, but in many cases, were it not for the public assistance committees, they would be almost destitute. Many points have already been raised to-night which I should have liked to bring to the notice of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, but I do not want to go over them again. If the Minister had been in his place I should have liked to discuss the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood), because in his very long address he did not make one single constructive contribution, one really sound suggestion as to what the Government should do. It was all negation, all going back to the old Free Trade story which we have heard so many times, and I think it is time that he and some of his colleagues remembered that unilateral Free Trade is as dead as the Bethnal Green dead letter. It is no good going back to the past, we must look to the future. A far better line was taken by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord). He courageously declared that he had changed his views, and I ask other hon. Members whether it is not also time that they began to realise that they are living in 1933 and not 1883.
Many points have been brought up which are of great interest to the fishing industry. The fact that conditions in the industry have been fully debated in this House will be an encouragement to the industry, because they will realise that their case has not been lost sight of at a time when agriculture and other industries have been carefully surveyed, and in many cases dealt with, by the Government. The industry also provides a livelihood for a large number of men in 2021 the ports and villages on the coasts of the United Kingdom, and it is extremely important from the naval point of view. The fact has often been mentioned that the best elements among our naval ratings come from the fishing ports of the United Kingdom. That is undoubtedly true. If we let the fishing ports languish and allow the men to leave and get other jobs, whence are we to draw the personnel for our fleet? That is a point of very great importance, which, when the case of the fishing industry is being considered, ought never to be lost sight of. In the three years since 1929, the drop in wholesale prices has been catastrophic to the fishermen. Since 1929, those prices have dropped by something like 29 per cent. If we look in the shops at the retail prices, we shall find that those prices have dropped very little, and in many cases not at all. There appears to be a gap which is worth inquiring into between the price obtained by the fishermen and the prices at which the fish is sold in the shops.
I should like to join my views to those of the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) in the plea he made to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in regard to the negotiations which are being conducted with foreign countries, including Russia. In the case of Russia, it is obvious that we have to possess ourselves in patience. Procrastination appears to be the chief industry of Russia at the present time. Although we have been very anxious to know what is going on, we have not yet been vouchsafed a reply by the Government. I sincerely hope that the claims of the herring fishers will not be lost sight of, in the negotiations which are now taking place with Russia. As one hon. Member remarked in the course of this Debate, Russia has a very favourable trade balance, and she could very well take many more herrings from this country and from Scotland, and pay for them in cash. The fishing industry is very concerned with the negotiations which are being conducted with other foreign countries, including the Scandinavian countries. I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft put the case too strongly. The fishing industry has an uncomfortable suspicion that the Government, in their very proper anxiety to bring the negotiations with Denmark, Sweden and 2022 Norway to a successful conclusion, may offer too much, and may, in bargaining with those countries, sacrifice part of the security of the fishing industry. We should particularly like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the claims of the industry will be most carefully considered, and that neither he nor his colleagues will give away one jot or tittle in the negotiations. It is not of the slightest use to make favourable bargains with Scandinavian countries for them to take our coal, if, by putting a coal miner into work, we put a fisherman out. That would be absolutely useless. I urge the Minister to consider that point very carefully, and to do his utmost to allay the very natural qualms of the fishing industry in that respect.
This is not the place for me to discuss the question of an increased duty. We know that the fishing industry has made out its case before the Import Duties Advisory Committee. If it were decided to put on a duty, even as high as 30 per cent., in view of the terrific price-gap since 1929, I think that there would be no reason why retail prices of fish should go up to any degree. One or two small points have not been touched upon by hon. Members to-night. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might consider the question of marking imported fish. We debated in this House for some hours the other day the Imported Foodstuffs (Marking) Bill. It is a matter for regret to many Members that the Bill was talked out on Second Reading, because we should have liked an opportunity of expressing our opinions. This is not the moment to discuss that Bill, but it is perhaps worth considering whether it is advisable—I think it is possible and advisable—to mark foreign fish. That does not mean that you are to go round with a label to stick on every sprat that comes in. When fish is exposed for sale, there could be a slab for British fish and a slab for foreign fish. That is worth consideration.
I should like to ask the Minister if he could use his influence with his colleagues to arrange that British fish is put upon the dietary of the armed Forces who are at present in this country. I know that many hon. Members from Scotland were brought up almost entirely on fish and oatmeal. The Minister himself was so brought up. I have not noticed that their vitality in political life, or in 2023 military life, has been notably impaired. I urge the Minister very seriously to consider that point, and to see if he can do something about it. There is the question of the subsidies which foreign countries give to their fishing industry. Those countries with which we have mostfavoured-nation treaties are certainly not breaking the letter, but they are certainly breaking the spirit of those treaties. It is an act against our fishermen in the same way that if they had put a tariff against our goods it would be an act against our manufacturers. That subject offers a very wide field for examination. It has extremely wide ramifications, and the whole question of subsidies given by foreign nations to their mercantile marine ought to be gone into.
I feel that this Debate has been of very great interest and of very considerable importance. I sincerely trust that the Minister, in the speech that I hope he will make at the conclusion of it, will give us some hope. Many of us have endeavoured to indicate in a constructive way the method by which we consider that the fishing industry can be helped. It is absolutely essential that that very important industry—important not only because of the employment it gives but also from the actual strategic point of view—must not be allowed to languish, and certainly should on no account be allowed to disappear entirely.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
We on this side of the House are very glad that the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Gritten) has raised this matter to-night, and that there has been such universal interest in and such a good Debate on this great subject, which is of vital importance to the nation. The hon. Member gave details of the industry, to which I shall not refer except to say that, while he gave us the number of trawlers, the number of voyages made by the average trawler in the course of a year, and a good many other details indispensable to a thorough understanding of the industry, he omitted entirely to describe the condition of the boats, and that omission was not rectified until the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), who referred very pertinently to the fact that a great many of these vessels are in a very bad sea- 2024 going condition, and only in recent years have improvements in the way of motor engines and equipment been introduced. We must refer to that point, because this industry has to put itself into a condition to make use of the help which it certainly deserves on other grounds.
The industry is a peculiar one. It is an industry exploiting raw material. It differs from its great sister food-producing industry of agriculture in that no cultivation is done in the fishing industry. The field is there, the harvest is there, and the industry is one simply of collecting the harvest which Nature provides. I do not think that that is a wrong description of the industry. The industry gives employment to a large number of men in what is at all times a strenuous and dangerous occupation. The personnel of the industry are hardy and brave. They go down to the sea in all seasons, and they fully deserve a generous reward for the time that they spend on board their boats.
The hon. Member for the Hartlepools complained of foreign competition, but we do not think that that complaint is fully justified. I have figures here, and other Members have quoted figures. This industry, so far from being an importing industry whose products are inadequate in quantity for home consumption, provides a surplus every year. It is an exporting industry, and, while there is certainly foreign competition, the balance is still on the other side, and we regard it as an industry which requires a foreign market for its full maintenance. The hon. Member referred to competition from the Scandinavian countries, as though those countries had no right to fish in the North Sea. Those countries, however, are naturally fishing countries. Their population is derived from the same stock as the majority of our own people. They are a sea-loving people, they are brave seamen, and they have as much right to fish in the North Sea as we have to fish in the Atlantic. Competition with them should be fair competition, and, from all that I know, it is conducted on fair lines.
Then the hon. Member succumbed to the temptation to bring Russia into the matter, and I understood him to say that Russian fish are being sold in this country, to his consternation and that of some of those who think with him. He 2025 even mentioned fish that had travelled from far Japan to Aberdeen. We do not know whether they swam part of the way, or whether they were carried all the way; and he mentioned that a Japanese halibut had been sold in Aberdeen. I think that that must be the latest Aberdeen joke. The hon. Member wants protection against Russian and Japanese imports into this country, and his sole prescription for the ills of the fishing industry is higher tariffs and quota restrictions.
He said that a charge had been made against the industry of inefficient exploitation—a charge of over-fishing. We all know that that charge is frequently brought forward, and not without foundation. There is a good deal of justification for the statement that there is reckless fishing, both by inshore fishermen and by deep-sea trawlers. The hon. Member referred to a Commission which, 50 years ago, examined this question and gave a certificate, apparently for all time, to the effect that there was no overfishing then. He would probably say that to-day there are more fish in the sea than have been caught, but this report was published so long ago that the methods and practice since then have entirely changed, and it is well known that there is a grave danger, with present trawling methods and the extension of the fishing period, of damage to small fish and of loss to the output of this country. With regard to the conservation of the fishing industry, I consider that that is very desirable, and I agree with those who say that there is room for improvement in this respect.
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) who represents a mining Division in which there are a few fishermen, to whom he paid a high compliment in return for the compliment they paid him in electing him to this House, says that he wants Protection, and, strangely enough, in view of the experience of 18 months of Protection, he believes that Protection can be applied without raising the price of fish to the retail consumers. We should like to put this question to the test, because we believe that there is something else to be said in regard to it. If it be true that you can impose, as the hon. Member suggested, a higher tariff than the present duty of 10 per cent., if fish can carry an additional duty of 25 or 30 per cent, without adding to 2026 the retail price, will the hon. Member explain to us what is wrong with the present marketing methods? We suspect that there are very great defects in the present marketing methods. Will those who believe that it is possible to impose a higher rate of duty without adding to the retail price please tell us at the next opportunity how it can be done, and how marketing methods can be improved so as to allow this economy to be achieved?
The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) is an expert on Protection. I had great pleasure in meeting him outside this House on one occasion, and it was a very close thing, but I think I had a small majority when a vote was taken. I am not challenging him to-night, and I am sure I should not get a majority if I did, but he, apparently, wants some kind of scientific tariff. I am afraid I failed to understand him exactly, but he said—and this is true of all industries—that there are sections within this industry which believe themselves to be diametrically opposed in their interests to other sections of the industry. That is true. In this industry, as in other industries, we have come up against this dilemma, with one section of the industry on one horn and the other section on the other horn. The hon. and learned Member admitted that our deep-sea fishermen are compelled to look abroad for a market for 50 per cent, of their product, and he said it would not be very easy to put on higher tariffs without prejudicing the opportunity of selling a large percentage of our deep-sea catch in other countries. That dilemma must remain with hon. Members opposite; it is not ours. We have no problem, because we do not agree with these artificial methods of improving an industry. We believe that this industry can be made prosperous, suffering as it is, admittedly, like all other industries, from the fall in world prices and from loss of purchasing power. You cannot go on selling as many fish when wages are reduced and purchasing power in this and other countries is reduced. Some of our best markets have been lost because of the extreme poverty existing in countries which were previously our best customers. Tariffs are not the remedy. They have failed already. One interesting feature of this Debate is that tariffs have been taken out of the party arena. Critics of tariffs 2027 are found in all parts of the House. No one believes in tariffs as a final remedy, even for the condition of the fishing industry.
Figures have been given to show that the average price paid to those who deliver the fish on our coasts is 1.94d. per lb., and it has been said that, if that price were raised to 2½d., all would be well again with the fishing industry. Higher prices are no remedy. The purchasing power of the bulk of the British people is limited, and there is no sign that any addition is to be brought to it. The Government are prescribing economy and cutting down purchasing power. It is no use increasing the market price of fish if no more purchasing power becomes available and, the higher the price, the smaller the number to be sold. You do not help an industry by raising prices in that industry alone unless there is an accompanying rise in the wages of the people who are to buy the fish.
I said I would give some figures to show the imports and exports of deep sea fish in the last three years. In 1930 we imported 1,494,707 cwt. of fresh or frozen fish; in 1931 the quantity was 1,349,726 cwts., and in 1932 it went down to 951,916 cwts. The export in the same period fell from 1,430,000 cwts. in 1930 to 1,223,610 cwts. in 1931 and remained at 1,330,910 cwts. for 1932. There has been no loss in the export of fresh and frozen deep sea fish. There has been a loss in the value of herrings exported. They went down from 5,117,359 cwts. in 1930 to 3,671,042 cwts. in 1931, and there was a further fall to 3,577,625 cwts. in 1932. But the explanation is simple. The herrings in the main went to Continental countries—Russia and Poland. It can easily be shown that this loss of markets, which has meant such a large loss to the earnings of the fishing industry, can be accounted for by the refusal of the Government to give reasonable credits to Russia for the purchase of herrings caught around our shores. No tariffs can help to swell the market for exported herrings. The tendency is all in the other direction. The more restrictions you put upon the importation of goods manufactured in Continental countries, the less you provide an opportunity for the sale of your commodities to those countries in return. With these figures before us we can make a very strong case against the Govern- 2028 ment, and we can show that this falling away in the export of fish, both fresh, which is a very small quantity, and of herrings, cured and salted, is due to the conduct of the Government in regard to fiscal matters and in regard to trade with other countries.
There is a feature of this question which I hope will not be out of order, because I believe it plays a very important part. I am not an expert in this matter. The only fishing in my division is shell fishing —cockles and mussels—and they very considerately wait to be caught. We do no fishing, and we do not tell fishing stories. I want to refer to a great loss to fishing which is passing almost unnoticed. Not a single speaker has referred to the absence of fish over very large areas owing to oil pollution. The destruction of fish can be proved. I have gone into this matter lately, and there are people whom I know who have paid very special attention to it. The offices of the Department of Fisheries are pursuing it very closely, with the most astounding results. They show that, where oil has been discharged and the surface of the sea is coated with a film of oil, great damage is done to fishing. Fish constantly travel from one place to another, and it has been proved that they have very great reluctance to come to areas where oil has been discharged. Inshore fishing has suffered very much from the absence of fish in areas which were formerly good fishing ground, and where there was an abundance of fish of all kinds. I have seen experiments carried out by a professor at Swansea University who is observing this question and has provided conditions where fish live in clean, natural water from the deep sea and others live in tanks where various degrees of pollution obtain. It can be shown in every case where there is pollution by oil, according to the degree of pollution, that the fish become unhealthy. There is outward evidence of ill-health—scabby, unhealthy looking skins. They lose weight, become ill, and die according to the degree of pollution.
There is another danger much more serious, I believe, and it comes from the discharge of heavy oils on to the surface of the water. These oils become derelict and heavier than water and sink to the bottom of the sea and there form a layer of carbonaceous matter. The matter sticks to the bottom and does not pass 2029 away, and destroys all small marine life. This sort of thing is going on apace all along the shores of these islands, and not only does it destroy fish, and keep away fish from visiting familiar haunts, but it destroys the food upon which fish live. Fish, it is said, live on smaller fish, and small fish live on marine organisms, which reminds me of the old saying:Little fish eat smaller fishThey do not need to bite them,Then larger fish eat those same fish'Tis said they learn to like 'em,Thus fish eat fish and still more fishAnd so ad infinitumThe foundation of the food of all fish is a substance called plankton. Where there is no plankton there is no small fish, and where there is no small fish there is no food for large fish. If you destroy the food of the small fish you destroy small fish, and therefore destroy the chances of producing larger fish. If the Government want to help the fishing industry, let them attend to the basic food of the fish. This small organism is the basis of the food of the fish kingdom, and one of the most important things connected with the fishing industry. We are very fortunate to-night to have heard those who know the industry deal with the conditions of the industry. We hope that the experience of to-night will not tend to drive us to induce people to rely upon the outward theory of tariffs and Protection. They have failed us already. They will fail us more and more as we rely upon them. Let us look with bolder imagination and in a scientific manner upon the fishing industry as upon other industries, ad in due course we shall solve our difficulties.
§ 10.18 p.m.
Mr. ALLAN REID
I hesitate to intervene between the Minister and the House, but I want to bring to the notice of the House something which has not been mentioned during the Debate, and which appears to be highly significant and to throw a great deal of illumination upon the economic aspect and parlous condition of the industry. It relates to a letter which I have received from a fish merchant at Hull. Apparently it was sent to me—I do not propose to read it all— to induce my assistance on his behalf in getting into touch with the unemployment organisation in my constituency. I believe he has circularised in all 2030 probability most of the Members of this House. He says in his letter:Instead of thousands of tons of good fish going to the fish meal works this year, I am certain that the whole of this could he distributed throughout the country if each Member of Parliament will place my offer before his local committee who have the welfare of the unemployed in hand. I will pack, rail and pay the charges to any station on cod, haddocks, whiting, rock salmon, dabs, herrings, bream, etc., at 2d. per lb., the same as in 1926, all fish of the best quality.In the heading to the letter this person describes himself as an importer of Norwegian herrings, halibut, etc. Reference was made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) to what he described as the conflict between two branches of the industry. Certainly there has been a conflict. There has been a very strong conflict between the producers of fish and those who merchant it, and one can well understand why the imposition of any reasonable tariff such as would again put the industry on its legs was so strenuously opposed by the fish merchants because, as is indicated by the letter which I have read, here is a fish merchant who, for no other reason than the abnormal quantity of foreign fish which is allowed to be landed in this country, is able to box, despatch and pay the rail charges on that fish to any part of the country at 2d. per lb. We have heard it said tonight that if the producer could get 2½d. per lb. it would be enough. It would be enough to keep the industry alive, but not very much more. In joining my voice with the voices of others who have spoken so eloquently on behalf of the industry, I would say to the Minister that we know perfectly well that this matter is now in the hands of the Tariff Commissioners. No Member of Parliament is allowed to approach them in any way, but perhaps the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries might represent to the Tariff Commissioners that they should make some pronouncement, no matter what it might be, so that at long last—there has been a memorial before the Commissioners for eight or nine months—the fishing industry might know where it stands.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am sure that all of us are grateful to the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Gritten) for seizing this opportunity of bringing a matter in which he is so deeply interested 2031 before the House again. I am also sure that many such opportunities might present themselves, and that those who say that it is impossible to get subjects of vital interest raised in Parliament are often to blame in not seizing opportunities of raising those questions. It might easily have been that the House would have risen to-night at 6 or 7 o'clock and we should have gone home and have left this tremendously important subject un-ventilated, had it not been for the acumen of those hon. Members who are interested in the fishing industry, and the co-operation which the Chief Whip and others were able to extend to them.
The Debate has followed two main channels. There is the channel familiar to all of us in fishing Debates in which points of great interest to the constituencies of hon. Members are raised. We have had the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) and the hon. And gallant Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood) contending between themselves as to which is the premier fishing port and which is the more important area from the point of view of the fishing industry. Then we have had the perennial subject of the Moray Firth. We never have a Debate on the fishing industry without that subject being raised. The hon. Member for Banffshire should inquire from. the late Secretary of State for Scotland, a Member of his own party, who remained inactive on the subject of the Moray Firth during the time he was in office; and left the Government, with the hon. Member as well—
At any rate, the question was not solved by him, and the hon. Member knows that it has been put before successive Governments for many years. The hon. Member also raised the general question of the condition of the fishing industry, a question of wide and general interest. I pay my tribute to him for doing so, but, like the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) I am not going to apologise to him for not being mealy-mouthed in dealing with him. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen lashed him with whips; If I had an opportunity I would 2032 chastise him with scorpions. At this moment we are in a crisis of the fishing industry, not merely because of the economic disaster which overhangs the industry, but because of the negotiations which are proceeding and upon which the hon. Member has commented. For the fishing industry at this moment to come before the House of Commons and speak with a divided voice is a matter which cannot be too deeply regretted. If the trawling industry fails, then the drifter industry will not be far behind. The drifter industry has already helped itself by scooping up a little of the profit from other branches of the industry.
Let not the hon. Member for Banffshire deceive himself by thinking that if there is nothing going on in Great Britain foreign countries will leave aside the possibility of developing their own fishing industry; or that they will not put up duties on our exports. He will delude himself again if he thinks that Germany will think it unnecessary to fish in the North Sea, because we do nothing; or that the development of the German fishing fleet will not proceed. That development has been going on steadily since the War. An increase in their tariffs has taken place since the War up to the present, and the only thing we read in this morning's paper— I commend it to the attention of the hon. Member—is that the German Government have decided to exempt salted herrings from a considerable increase in the duty, so that that danger of a serious blow to our trade is averted. He also referred to the question of Poland, and claimed that even the weapons of Free Trade were blunted and useless in our hands. Not so. We have brought up the question of the alteration in the terms of the treaty, in spirit if not in letter, which was involved in the alteration of the regulations made by the Government of Poland. Does he think that we speak with less authority because we have power in our hands to carry out retaliatory measures? We have tried, done our utmost, under Free Trade, and is it of no use that we are able to bring in other arms to reinforce our case.
The third argument he used was the least well chosen of the lot. He chose Finland. He said that no export of herrings recently had gone to Finland at all. Does he not remember the Debates in this House when the tariff was 2033 put on? Does he not remember that newsprint, one of the main exports from Finland, was exempted from duty—and now he tells us that the recompense for this is that Finland has made no purchases whatever of one of our staple products. His defeatism, his statement that nothing could be done until the whole world had been raised to such a level of prosperity that, willy-nilly, the fishing industry would float into prosperity—those were the arguments that he used. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is blamed for having mentioned 10 years for his programme, my hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire might well take 110 years. We must address ourselves to the present situation and not repeat outworn shibboleths, as my hon. Friend did, in his contention that until we succeed in bringing the whole world into a state of abounding prosperity there is no chance for any revival, in any industry, in any area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), in a very powerful and interesting speech, was forced by the necessities of his arguments at the end, in a simple aside, to tear up all his own policies and fling them away. He said, in effect: "Have done with this system of quotas." Would he do that with coal? Would he do away with the trade union system and the protection of organised labour? My right hon. and hon. Friends opposite, when they bring forward very powerful arguments for reconsideration of the state of trade and industry, should not find themselves shackled and roped to run behind the rattletrap dogcart of Free Trade.
As to the particular arguments which he brought forward, I do not wish to go into them at great length, although they were all in themselves of great importance. They were arguments in regard to the discharge of heavy oils, the influence of over-fishing in the North Sea and the reconditioning of trawling vessels. All of these are undoubtedly subjects of great importance which in other times might properly have engaged the attention of the House for a whole evening. There were the arguments brought forward by the hon. Member for Banffshire about minor reforms which he wished considered, and they are certainly important too. There were the arguments brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member 2034 for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) about transit charges, about a smaller minimum parcel for dispatch and about the post-payment of freights instead of prepayment. They are all points of importance to which I shall certainly give attention, and I shall hope perhaps to write him about them at a later date, but I am sure that he will not expect me to go into them now.
The main questions before us are these: Is the industry in a state in which it can rightly come before this House and say, "Our great industry requires the immediate attention, and, if possible, the remedial attention, of the House of Commons." The first question is: Is the industry in a grave state? I do not think it can be denied that the industry is in a grave state. I do not think that it would be any service to this House or to the industry to deny that fact. We are well placed for considering it to-night, because we have the report of the chartered accountants who were put on by the Fisheries Department to go through accounts representing 687 vessels, these including vessels of many of the best-managed and most successful companies. That report shows that in the year 1931, 524 vessels out of the 687 were working at a loss; 92 were just holding their own, and 71 were making profits representing a return of over 5 per cent, on capital. But in 1931 the average price of white fish landed in this country was 20s. per cwt. This year it is 18s. per cwt. If, at the price of 20s. per cwt., you had 524 vessels working at a loss— an ascertained loss, brought out by the auditors' examination of the accounts— out of 687 vessels, then what becomes of the argument brought forward by the hon. Member for Banffshire when he talked of deck hands getting £4 a week and other great wages of one kind or another that were being received. If the vessel is working at a loss all these wages are being paid out of capital and will not continue.
§ Sir M. WOOD
Before you can tell whether a vessel is working at a loss or not, you must consider the company which owns the vessel and consider whether that company is also dealing in coal and whether it is selling the fish and making a profit on it.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am most interested and I am obliged to my hon. Friend for bringing those remarkable facts to the notice of myself, of the Fisheries Department, and of the auditors and accountants. I am certain they are facts which would never have occurred to the auditors. Now that those facts have been brought to their notice by my hon. Friend in the House of Commons perhaps it may be necessary for the auditors to reconsider their whole verdict upon the soundness or otherwise of the industry. Now as to reasons and remedies. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth brought forward a somewhat interesting point which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Banffshire, in drawing attention to the necessity of seeking oversea markets. That point was also brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen. It is true that for one great branch of this industry the necessity of foreign markets is very great. I was a little at a loss, however, to discover what more the hon. Member suggested we should do in the case of Russia.
The hon. Member for Banffshire and the hon. Member for Gower brought forward the case of Russia, but the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth was, at least, more of a realist in that matter. He said that not merely did we not need to give further credits to Russia but that we were already buying from Russia four and five times as much as she is buying from us. There is a margin for a very much larger trade to be done between Russia and this country than is being done now. Would the hon. Member for Gower or the hon. Member for Banffshire say that four times is not enough and that we ought to buy six times or seven times as much from Russia as she buys from us? At what point are they willing to draw the line? Surely five times is a reasonable proportion; four times is fairly good and I should say that even 50 per cent, might be regarded as a reasonable proportion, available as a surplus, for an increase in the herring purchases by Russia from this country. Yet the hon. Member for Gower suggested that credits should be extended to Russia for that purpose.
§ Major ELLIOT
Surely a credit for goods such as herring is quite a different sort of credit from those previously considered, which were credits for machine tools and other articles which were subsequently, in use, going to yield a. return from which the money might be paid. Surely that is one thing, but credits for food, which is here to-day and gone tomorrow, are surely unnecessary.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
The whole of the money, the whole of the credits, put aside for this purpose would be spent in paying wages to the trawlermen and the fishermen in this country, and nothing would be lost. An hon. Member behind me said, "Why not give it to the unemployed?" Well, you would be doing that in this case, with the hope of being repaid by Russia in the end.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
The hon. Member has forgotten the after effects of the streptococci in the Russian herrings.
§ Major ELLIOT
I do not wish to enter into a discussion of credits with the hon. Member for Gower. I only say that the balance of trade argument is, in my view, countered to a considerable extent by the extremely favourable balance of trade, from the Russian point of view, which already exists, and there is a margin there from which we could reasonably expect that a greater trade in our staple products might be made by that country, to which already we are extending such great resources. Furthermore, this difficulty of the fishing industry is not to be dealt with in connection with the herring industry alone. There is the trawling industry, and quite apart from the question of areas where fish may or may not be found, quite apart from the important but, relatively speaking, minor problems which have been brought before the House to-night, there is the great problem raised by speaker after speaker, Is the industry in a state of acute distress? Can we remedy that state of acute distress? Is there any danger of remedies that might possibly be applied being filched from the trawling industry by being bartered away for other trade agreements?
The figures show, I think, that the industry is in a state of grave distress, and if we examine the figures we shall find something which at any rate gives us a 2037 line as to how that state of grave distress has been brought about. In the year 1929 there were 12,300,000 cwts. of fish caught and landed by British vessels, and they got for that £15,200,000. In the year 1932 they landed 13,940,000 cwts., but they only received for that £12,750,000. Although a much larger quantity of fish was landed, a much smaller amount of money was received for it. These landings, which were great, were reinforced by great landings which were made by foreign vessels as well. It is true that these landings have been at a higher point than they are to-day, but they are still at 'a very high point. The foreign landings before the War, amounting to 1,000,000 cwt., were very largely, that is, to the extent of two-thirds, for the purpose of re-export as salt fish. Therefore, you had retained landings of something like 300,000 or 400,000 cwts., but of the present landings of foreign fish, which were 1,800,000 cwts in 1932, not more than 500,000 cwts. were cured for export, so that that comparison is not between 1,000,000 cwts. and 1,800,000 cwts, but between 300,000 cwts. and 1,300,000 cwts. The proof of that can best be seen in examining the Billingsgate market returns, where before the War foreign-caught fish scarcely appeared, and where to-day over a fourth of the fish is of foreign catching. Over 1,000,000 cwts. of fish of foreign catching are found in Billingsgate, which is 25 per cent, or more of the total supply landed there.
The situation has greatly changed since before the War. The industry, as I say, is in great distress. That distress seems to me to be in part due to the same factor that has hit so many other markets, the factor of a glut of supplies. I do not think that it is possible to get away from that conclusion in any dispassionate examination of the figures. The hon. Member for Gower said that if it is true that a rise in the price of fish would make such a great difference to the producer, why cannot it be extracted from the process of marketing? This, he said, is a wasteful process and ought to be cheapened and brought down. What is the main item in that process of marketing? It is the wages paid to the people who carry through the various processes, and in order to bring down that cost you have to bring down the wages of the men in the intermediate trades. These things can be brought 2038 down to the level that existed before the War; that would cheapen the distribution of fish, but is that the solution which the hon. Member honestly recommends? I am sure that he does not.
Therefore, we have to see whether there is undue profiteering, whether there is some other sponge out of which the few drops—for they are only a few drops—which are necessary to make the difference between a solvent and an insolvent industry can be squeezed. I can only say that this has been repeatedly examined by many important committees. It was thoroughly examined by the Food Council in 1927 and in the same year it was discussed at great length in the Report of the Imperial Economic Committee. They had no radical alterations to suggest. The Food Council could not find that any persons employed in the various stages of the processes of distribution made undue profits. The difficulties in the fish business arise from the fact that you are dealing with fluctuations of supply which give violent fluctuations of wholesale prices. They arise from perishability, which involves distribution under rush conditions. You have to discharge from the fishing vessels in the early morning, and the men's work is over by breakfast time, but you have to pay them a full day's pay. There is the packing, which has to be done in the early part of the day, and the men have to be paid a day's wage for a short day's job. Then there is the unloading of the fish, and the men have to be paid highly for short periods of work at unusual hours.
It is true that you might deal with the point by making the fish less perishable, as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) said. You can carry out an extensive freezing process and freeze the fish at sea forthwith. He raised the prospect of our getting no fresh fish, but only fish that has been frozen for four or five months, and said that you could not really tell the difference. I tremble for the hon. Member's palate. If hon. Members from Aberdeen can without observing any difference feed on fish which has been frozen for four or five months, there is no wonder that they conquer the less hardy races of the South. The transforming of the fisheries by abolishing the perishability of fish would 2039 undoubtedly eliminate many of the difficulties, but it would not eliminate them in time to save the industry. This report of the Fishing Industry Committee of the Economic Advisory Council, it is quite true, recommended that a general marketing inquiry should be held but they were unable to point to any possible steps which should be taken here and now. So the industry has been inquired into by three committees—the Food Council, the Imperial Economic Committee and the Economic Advisory Council—and each of them has found itself unable to bring forward reforms which would make here and now a difference sufficient to restore the industry to a state of solvency and remove it from the difficult circumstances in which it finds itself.
The point on which the House feels most keenly is the question whether anything irrevocable is being done at this moment, and whether commercial transactions prejudicial to the interests of the fishing industry are being carried through by those who ought to be its natural guardians. Let me say, in the first place, that the Minister, who is perhaps most keenly concerned in all these transactions, the Secretary for Mines, is the son of a fisherman who was for 40 years coxswain of the lifeboat, and I do not think it could be held that he is likely to be entirely careless of the interests of the fishing community of this country. Secondly, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord De La Warr, is not merely greatly interested in this matter, but of all the Members of the Upper House, and, indeed, of both Houses, he has spent the longest time at sea under the most unpleasant conditions. A man who has spent from February, 1917, to February, 1918, not merely fishing in the North Sea but fishing for mines is the sort of man who feels not merely the interests but -the sorrows of the fishing population.
When hon. Members inquire whether we are considering the interests of the fishing population, let us recollect that by a fortunate combination of circumstances we have men in the Government who, themselves, either through their families or in themselves, have shared in an unusual degree the perils of the deep. I can assure hon. Members that I have the personal authority of the President of the Board of Trade and of the Secretary 2040 for Overseas Trade to say that at every stage of these negotiations they are keeping the interests of the fishing industry closely and continuously in mind and, further, in no negotiation in which fish enter as a factor is the discussion carried out without representatives of the Department which has to watch over the fishing industry being actually present at the discussion, and sharing in every line of the transaction. If we were inclined to falter in our duties, remember also there is in the Whips' room—for which reason he remains silent—the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) who has followed all these discussions with a restraint which I had scarcely expected to see manifested in his frail form, ready at any moment to leap in and take part in the discussion, and only restrained by the iron discipline which the Whips' room exerts on all those who enter its doors. If we failed in our duty, I can assure hon. Members we should not much longer enjoy the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, and silent as he may be in the open forum here, he is uncommonly vocal when he gets into the Council Chamber.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any indication of when a decision will be come to? It is of vital importance to the industry to know.
§ Major ELLIOT
There are two points on which decisions have to be come to. There is the decision of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and there are the decisions to be come to in the trade negotiations. Obviously it is impossible for me to' give a date for these decisions, because the Import Duties Advisory Committee has already announced that it is holding its hand on an announcement, even, as regards the question of the drawback on salted fish during the discussions which are now taking place. The Import Duties Advisory Committee obviously has to take into account the negotiations on trade which are being carried out by the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department on behalf not of the Board of Trade but of the Government as a whole. When these negotiations will be completed, I cannot say, but I am sure that it is better that a decision should be deferred rather than that a wrong decision should be hastily reached. I should prefer that to an announcement of some 2041 binding conclusion having been come to prejudicing the industry, it might be for three or five years, which might have far reaching repercussions. The difficulties before the fishing industry are too great for us to take hasty action upon them. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) who does not belong to any of these occupations, and who sits for an urban and industrial constituency, finds that remark extremely funny.
§ Major ELLIOT
It seems to be a coincidence that when the undesirability of arriving at hasty conclusions is mentioned the hon. and learned Gentleman bursts into a torrent of laughter. If he himself had devoted more attention to some of the decisions which he took a year or two ago he might not be sitting where he is now. The difficulties before the fishing industry are not such as are capable of a hasty solution. It is true that as the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) said, though these difficulties had been under discussion for many years, the time is actually upon us when decisions will be come to which will bind us for years to come and will possibly make for either the success or the failure of this great industry. In such circumstances I can only give the House the positive assurance, in the first place, that no decisions have yet been come to which will prejudice the fishing industry, and that no decisions will be come to unless the representatives of fisheries in the Government —the Minister, the Under Ministers, the 2042 Scottish Department, the permanent officials—have been fully consulted and the matter has been weighed up, taking it as a whole, and not using the fishing industry as a pawn in any game.
Secondly, on the wide general question I would say that it is only by a rise in wholesale prices, we believe, that any salvation can be brought to this industry, and we have been and are examining the position of the fishing industry with the desire to see a higher level of prices brought about, not merely for the benefit of the people who fish from our own shores, but even for the benefit of those who are fishing from other shores. We do not believe that the present level of prices is remunerative to anyone who serves our fish markets. We believe that a level of prices so low that it is below the replacement value of the plant and the gear which are being used in securing the fish is a level of prices which in the long run will not bring advantage to the consumers themselves.
That is as far as I can go to-night. When there is anything to report to the House hon. Members may rest assured that I will do my best to give them timely warning of it. In the meantime I have to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool for having raised the discussion, and the other hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate, for the very helpful way in which they have conducted it and the numerous fruitful suggestions which they have brought forward.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One minute before Eleven o'Cloek.