HC Deb 22 February 1935 vol 298 cc710-37

12.6 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 16, line 8, at the end, to insert: 7. If the office of a member of the board becomes vacant under paragraphs 3, 4, 5 or 6 of this Schedule, or by reason of the death of a member, the Ministers shall proceed to the appointment of a new member of the hoard to fill the vacant office. I put down an amendment similar to this amendment during the Committee stage, but it was not called. My object in moving it is twofold. In all the articles of association of limited companies which I have read, I have always found provision for the retirement of members of the board, for their removal, if they misbehaved themselves, or for their reappointment. There is a provision in Clause 1 for the appointment of the original members of the board, and in the First Schedule there are provisions for their term of office and for their removal from office, but so far as I can see there is no provision for their reappointment. That is my first reason. The second is that it is important to ensure that the relative representation of 5 and 3 on the board shall be maintained. I should not like to feel that Ministers were leaving a vacancy unfilled for a very long time.

I thought of various ways of wording the later part of this amendment, and finally concluded that "the Ministers shall proceed to the appointment" was best. I did not want to say "as soon as may be" or "as convenient" or "as soon as possible." The words are intended to mean that the Ministers, pretty soon after the Member's retirement, shall proceed to appoint a new Member.


I beg to second the Amendment.

12.9 p.m.


I congratulate my hon. Friend on having had called on Report stage an amendment which was not called during the Committee stage. I am glad to have an opportunity of assuring him that he need not fear that Ministers will neglect their duty of filling a vacancy, and that I think the words proposed are not necessary. I suggest again that we may over-define. It is part of the ordinary administrative tasks of Ministers to ensure that vacancies are filled without undue delay, and, if we insert words in the Bill, we might start precedents which would means that such words would be inserted in every Bill. I accepted with a certain amount of reluctance an amendment moved by the hon. Member setting out the detailed qualifications of certain persons who shall be entitled to act as auditors, and my reluctance was due to the feeling that if we define too strictly in a Statute all the things which it is the ordinary administrative duty of Ministers to perform, statutes may become unmanageable, and we may find ourselves fettering the discretion of Ministers in some unforeseen way. It is our intention to see that these vacancies are properly filled. After this assurance I hope that my hon. Friend will not think it necessary to press the amendment and that he will leave the matter to that discretion, of Ministers upon which we shall really have to rely.


Are powers given to Ministers by the Bill to reappoint, or is that simply left in the air?


I am assured by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate that power to appoint is in effect power to reappoint and that it is not necessary to be too specific. I am assured by my right hon. and learned Friend, who has very great legal experience, that the point is indeed covered by the words of the statute.


On the assurance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, who is an eminent legal authority, that there is no necessity for these words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw, my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

12.13 p.m.


I do not want to part with this Bill without giving a word of grave warning as to its operation and to the likelihood of its success. I am a supporter of the Bill, because I hope—although I have not very much expectation—that it will help a splendid body of men. The essence of the Bill lies in the degree of advantage which may be brought to the industry by the Board. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) described the Board as a trading board. I agree with him. The true object of the Bill is to sell herring and to give more work to those splendid men whose services are essential to us. There are to be two on the board who are not in any way connected with the industry.

Clause 3 contains the pivot of the Bill; it lies in paragraph (a). Anyone of average business ability can deal with paragraphs (b) to (o), which operate breaking down operations, whereas paragraph (a) is the building up paragraph. When I read paragraph (f), I thought what a pity it was that instead of putting more of these excellent fishermen to sea we were being driven to the necessity of limiting their opportunities of getting a living. What are the prospects of paragraph (a) becoming beneficially operative, so far as the Board are conecrned? I am not Member for a fishing port, but I think hon. Members know that I was born and lived in the East of Norfolk near Great Yarmouth, the greatest of our herring ports, and I know and admire the fishing folk who live there. When I was at the Department of Overseas Trade a few years ago, in 1925 and 1926, I had considerable opportunity of making myself acquainted with the problems of the exports of our North Sea fisheries. That is my excuse for interfering in this Debate. I personally investigated the possibility of getting our fish to North Italy when I was at Milan officially in 1925 or 1926. In Switzerland also, I made inquiries as to how to get the Swiss to buy our fish. I do not want to go into details, but that is my reason for intervening in this Debate at all. The following year I went with various Members of this House to Buckie, Lossiemouth, Frazerburgh, Aberdeen and other places to see what we could do to help the herring fishermen.

What we have to consider in this Bill is, how you are going to promote the sales and where you are going to find, fresh demands. Of one thing I am certain, and that is that we shall never in our lifetime get back in any volume the Russian trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] I said "in any volume"—in any respectable volume to help us to get back to the position of the trade in salt herring of years ago. Within the last few months I have been at Danzig, where I made inquiries of people quite unknown to me as to the prospects of the restoration of our sales of salt herring to Russia. I also went to Tallin, or Reval, and to Hamburg. I had a conversation with the head of one of the leading herring export firms. I do not propose to say anything about the German position, because the situation has altered considerably in the last few months, and I am not up-to-date. I used to hear the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) always scolding the Government because we had not an Anglo-Russian agreement. If I may say so without offence, he used to whine about an Anglo-Russian trade agreement as the remedy with which to restore the herring export trade. He wasted time and opportunity. We have now got it, and what is it worth? Very little The Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement has not been the remedy. I do not know whether the hon. Member has been to Danzig, as I have. If he has inquired there on the spot he will have found out that it is not a question of an Anglo-Russian agreement to enable us to sell more herring to Russia, nor a question of money. The Russians will eat the herring and can pay for them, but they cannot get them to the people who need them. When I was at Danzig and Tallin I was told that the Russian trunk lines were probably well equipped for taking people and goods on the main routes, but that the great body of consumers of salt herring from Britain and Germany were not the urban populations of Russia at all, but the peasants in the depths of Russia. They could distribute the herring along the main trunk lines, but over the smaller lines branching into the interior, where the peasants were in greater numbers, the railway system was disorganised, and they could not get the fish to the interior districts.

The hon. Member for Banff has never told us anything about that transport position, even if he knew it. He has been, if I may say so, doing no service to his own people in his division; but, instead, a dis-service by directing their attention to a trade which we can never get back to its old volume with the railway system of Russia as it is. It would have been far wiser for him to have directed the attention of the fisher folk in his part of the world to other possible markets and fresh outlets. If the Herring Board does not obtain, as a result of Ail investigations and efforts, increased sales and markets this Bill is mere waste paper. We have spent some days, very sympathetically, in trying to get the Bill through quickly and are willing to vote £600,000 or £700,000 of the taxpayers' money. All of this will be of no use unless we can sell more herring. The two selling experts who are going on this board are not to be connected with the herring industry. I think that is quite right, but where are you to get men such as those by which the great businesses have been built up in England—individualist men of great ability and pluck, with initiative and great imagination? The type of men you need and must get to create new markets for these fish are men who can earn £10,000 a year in their own trades. Where are you to get them? They must not sit down at Whitehall, or Edinburgh, or Aberdeen, or Inverness, or some such place; they must get up on their own legs and go personally into the markets at home and overseas as I and others have had to do to earn our living.

If I am right in believing that the Marketing Board is the pivot of this Bill, the type of man you want is a man who, knowing what he has got to sell, will himself go into the markets abroad, see what the people there would like and then create, as it were, a spear-head of demand. You start that man behind a spear-head of advertising to introduce the goods and the man pushes the sales by personal contact with the people in his new market. There is a good market perhaps awaiting us. What I say is only from memory, but I think I remember that in Argentina, a country very friendly towards us, there is a market to be developed not only for salt herring, but the type of herring we call in Yarmouth the Yarmouth Red, and in Scotland they call "a Glasgow magistrate." It is a smoked herring very much like smoked salmon. You will not sell salt herring very much in Argentina. You want men of initiative and knowledge who will go out to over-sea countries and create markets for their goods as we do for textiles and other manufactured goods. I do not know what the Minister has in mind about the men he is going to put on the board to find markets and create sales and distribute the produce, but, as I say, the type of men who can do good in this business and make a success of the Bill, will be the type who can make large sums in their own industries, factories and trades. The creation of an export trade cannot be done by a board or by officials or by people sitting in a room with a typewriter and telephone. I warn the Minister that unless the board has highly competent sales managers to make a success of what is laid down in Clause 3 (a) the promotion of sales and market development and the promotion and carrying out of schemes of research and experiment this Bill is merely throwing dust in the eyes of the poor fishermen.

Clause 4, I think, is a very poor clause. I am sorry to say I have been 16 years in this House, and remember earlier Profiteering Bills. There is constant objection to retailers charging 1d., 2d, or 4d. whether it be a herring or a cabbage or a flower. Highly perishable goods involve the retailer in great losses. If one examined the wastage from putrefaction in a fishmonger's shop, one would be surprised to see the immense loss there is on the stock values; how much the fresh fish have to pay for the stale fish. What the fishmongers lose on the roundabouts they have to make up on the swings. It is impossible to sell herring at very much less than the present price. After all, you can get a good herring for 3d. I had two last night for my dinner, more than one required. Weight for weight these fish are more nutritious than anything else for the price. Weight for weight a fat herring contains as much nourishment for a strong man as a rump-steak, and is much cheaper. There is no cheaper form of food. Probably, if people had to pay half-a-crown for a herring, they would be more likely to buy it, and would think much more of it while the fishermen would get a better price. Clause 4, which seems to me to imply a good deal of unreflecting condemnation of the retailer, is not only rather mean-spirited, but is never likely to realize the desired effect. Unless in the setting up of the board we succeed in getting men who will be leaders for the industry, with the enterprise, initiative, knowledge, energy, will and desire to go abroad themselves to seek out and make more markets, the Bill will only provide public money to restrict operations in the herring industry—an industry which means employment for one of the best sections of our population, whose courage and seamanship are essential for public service in the Navy in time of war and for manning the lifeboats in time of peace.

12.27 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman will agree that those Members whom I represent on this side of the House have at all stages of the Bill sought to be helpful in their criticism. I want to raise one point in order to get it on the record of the Third Reading—a point which I regard as of great importance. It is in connection with an assurance which the Minister gave to me during the Committee stage upstairs, affecting the provisions of paragraph (i) of Clause 3. Owing to the very diverse forms in which fishing takes place, along some parts of our English coast at any rate, and it may be in Scotland also, there is a number of quite small people who might be overlooked in a scheme of this kind. I raised the question of their cases being properly considered, either with respect to arbitration or otherwise, and the Minister gave us an undertaking that, although owing to the form of the Bill the details could not be set out in the Bill, the matters affecting compensation, arbitration and proceedings relative thereto which might affect the livelihood of quite small people whom a big board might be apt to overlook, would be set out in detail in the scheme. I only want to call the attention of the House to that assurance, which I am sure the Minister will make good.

I should also like to call attention to some of the observations of the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel). I agree that the success or failure of the scheme will depend upon whether sales can be increased, but I do not take the hon. baronet's view as to the outlook in Russia. It seemed to me, even in 1930–31, when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture, that there were great possibilities in the Russian market. As far as I know, there was on the part of the Russians a complete readiness to pay, and I should gather, from what I have learned, that the opening up of internal transport in Russia is proceeding very rapidly. If the thing is properly encouraged, I do not see any reason why a large measure of that market, particularly in the Southern half of Russia, which used to take such large quantities of herring, should not be reopened and, perhaps, extended.

There is another section of the market to which the hon. Baronet did not do as full justice as one might expect, namely, the ordinary Englishman's breakfast table. I think we ought to be able to get herring on to people's breakfast tables at less than 3d. each. They are caught in uncountable numbers, and very large numbers of them are often sold for very small sums, so that the price received per herring must be exceedingly small. I should hope that the experts of the Ministry and the board will have before them the idea of getting herring on to English breakfast tables for 1d. each. I am afraid that this immense undeveloped market for fresh herring at our own ordinary breakfast tables has never been properly tackled. In the part of the country where I live, there has been great difficulty in getting fresh herring, and I hope that that element in the situation will be prominently before the minds of the board.

I do not share the hon. Baronet's misgivings with regard to the type of person whom it will be possible to get to serve on the board. My experience is that these experts—and there are several of them—who are first-rate men in promoting sales, are very willing to give their help, without prodigious fees, in matters of this kind, and I feel sure that the Minister will be able to enlist their assistance on the hoard. Finally, I want, in accordance with a request made to me by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard), to thank the Minister for the consideration which he has given, during the Committee stage and now, to the representations which have been made to him, and to assure him that, so far as we are concerned, we shall do our best to make the scheme a success.

12.33 p.m.


The hon. Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel) raised a rather controversial issue with regard to the question of Russia as a market for British herring. I do not propose to pursue the line that he chose for himself, except to say that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) with regard to the possibilities of Russia as a market for British herring. I can assure the hon. Baronet that, in the view that he takes of the Russian market, he has not the support of the industry. The industry does believe that there is a great opportunity for it in the development of the Russian market, and certainly my constituents, and all the herring fishermen along the North East of Scotland, have great hopes of what may be done in developing the herring fishing industry in the future with the assistance of Russia.

I have had a great deal to say about this Bill during the course of its passage through the House, and there is very little left for me either to say or to do except to speed it on its way. As I have said before, I had hoped that the scheme would have been in operation earlier than now appears likely. I have been disappointed in that hope. The industry also has been disappointed, and regrets it very much. All that we can say now is that If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars, and I. hope the fears which we have entertained may also be disappointed. I sincerely hope that that may be so, and that those fears will prove eventually to have been groundless.

In spite of the hapless state of the herring industry at the present time, I am bound to say that I, at any rate, am not a defeatist I agree that a great deal can be done, and, indeed, it is the only thing that can be done, to help the industry by bringing about an increase both in the home market and in the foreign market; but the success of the industry in the future must depend largely upon the development of the foreign market. As far as the home market is concerned, it seems to me that the future depends upon a very simple matter. It is simply this, not merely whether the fish will be provided cheaply but whether in all circumstances the herring provided for the breakfast table of the British public is good and wholesome and palatable. A great deal of harm is done to the industry by the fact that herring is kippered, or bloatered, or sent into the market which ought not to be there at all, or, if it is sent there, if in good condition it is kept so long that by the time it is eaten it is insipid, and anyone who eats herring in that condition is apt to say, "I will not have anything more to do with it." The secret, it seems to me, of the promotion of the sale of herring at home is to ensure that at all hazards bad fish will never be put on to the market.


That is a great discovery that you have made.


I do not see why the hon. Baronet should always jeer at these things. Although it may not be a great discovery, it is none the less a fact that a great deal of bad food is put on the market. It is not the responsibility of the industry, because they produce their fish and cure it well, but they have no guarantee how long it will remain in the fishmongers' shops before it is sold, and it is there that the deterioration takes place.

With regard to the foreign market, this has always been an export industry, and unless we can get back to a large extent the foreign markets, it will never nearly reach the dimensions that it has had in the past. I believe a great deal can be done, because the British herring industry has an advantage which no other industry in the world has. The fish is admitted to be very much better on account of the fact that they are near the fishing ground and are able to cure it under better conditions, and it is obvious to anyone who looks into it that British herring always find a more ready market than German or Norwegian. If the industry will concentrate not merely on always getting the very best fish but also on getting it as cheaply as possible, I am certain that they will be able to meet their competitors in the markets of the world. It is clear that, if the industry will rationalise itself, it can do a great real to cut down expenses. The scheme which this Bill adumbrates will go a long way to enable a lot of dead wood to be cut down and a lot of unnecessary expense to be got rid of, and, if that is done, by always putting their fish on the market in the very best condition and at the cheapest possible price—and they can do it a great deal cheaper than they have done it in the past—they will be able at no distant time to put the industry in a very much better position. I believe the Bill has possibilities of the greatest advantage to the industry and I can only hope that the most sanguine hopes that we entertain will be realised.

12.40 p.m.


I feel bound to refer to certain marketing considerations which will occupy the attention of the board that is to be set up under the Bill. I do so in view of certain statements made in the Second Reading debate which have been held to reflect both on the Corporation of the City of London, of which I am a member, and on the traders of Billingsgate fish market. Before considering the conditions at Billingsgate it might be thought that we should await the second report of the Sea Fisheries Commission, set up under the Sea Fisheries Act, which will deal with the catching and marketing of fish. Meanwhile, as a Market Authority the City Corporation require no defence. Their meat market at Smithfield and their fruit and vegetable market at Smith fields are taken as the standard of excellence all over the world.

Unfortunately in the Second Reading debate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) made statements which did less than justice to the corporation and which may inflict grievous injury on the traders of Billingsgate market. He described Billingsgate as the most congested and one of the worst markets in the world, but he made no mention of the tremendous efforts that have been made by the corportion to deal with admittedly unsatisfactory conditions. Those familiar with other markets are not prepared to admit that Billingsgate is anything like the worst market in Europe, or indeed in England. The congestion there is mainly due to the constricted area on which the market is built, the tortuous and ancient streets leading to it and the single road frontage where wagons must be loaded. Everything conceivably possible has been done by the City Corporation for years past to alleviate those conditions, and it is common knowledge that they have been in negotiation with the Office of Works to acquire the Customs House and quay which adjoin the market. If they could develop it in that direction, all the problems would be easily solved. Unfortunately, in 1931 the Government suspended negotiations with the City Corporation owing to the financial crisis, and since then the corporation have been told that the First Commissioner is unable to vary the terms which had previously been offered, and which are said to be prohibitive.

My hon. and gallant Friend made a further and more damaging statement as affecting the traders at Billingsgate. He alleged that the market charges added 25 per cent. to all fish that went through Billingsgate, and he described the market as a menace to the trade. It can be shown that the prices for fish of all kinds compare favourably with other markets. In fact, very often the prices at Billingsgate are better. I admit that my hon. and gallant Friend's criticisms were made in a friendly spirit, because I believe the intention was to assist the corporation in coming to terms with the Government in reference to the Customs House site. Here again he was mistaken in suggesting that the sum involved is not large. I have no official information, because only the committee and the Office of Works know what price has been mentioned, but I am told that it would represent a capital charge which no fish market could ever bear, even with the handsome assistance which the City Corporation is accustomed to give to its market undertakings.

This Bill has shown the desire of the whole House to assist the fishing industry as far as possible and to secure for the public abundant supplies of this wholesome fish food. I hope that the Ministers in charge of the Bill will go a little further and try and persuade their colleague the First Commissioner of Works to do something to help the corporation to alleviate conditions at Billingsgate which have been condemned in this House without due consideration to the impossible position in which the corporation stands at present.

12.46 p.m.


On the point about Billingsgate, I agree with what has been said, not only against the premises, but the method of the market, and object to the way that the salesmen get the better of the deal on the consignment of fish. They sell them to one another as principals and 'they deal with the fish on their own account. What we want is to get more sales, as, has been said by the Minister and occupants of the Front Opposition benches. Why is it that we have so limited a home market? I do not agree with the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel) that 3d. is too small a price for a herring. It is an awful lot. It is far too much, even more than the price of an egg. Most people prefer an egg because it is much simpler to cook than the herring. If herring were cooked in "quick-frys" there would be no smell left in the pan. Housewives would be more ready to make use of herring if they had "quick-frys", only they are expensive and require a lot of dripping. What is wrong is that we do not get the herring into the market in the condition that we ought to get them, because many of those who deal in herring have been allowed to commit fraud on the appetites of the public by selling fish that look what in fact they are not. What ruined the kipper market was that people dyed fish and kippers and pretended that they were bonâ fide smoked fish and kippers. They are smoked, not with oak chips, but any kind of wood for a third of the period of the necessary time, and then dipped into rich brown dye, when they look like perfectly smoked kippers. They do not deteriorate in taste if eaten soon after, but afterwards, if they wait, they have a nasty musty flavour. People start to eat them in trains and restaurants, push them aside, and say that they do not know whatever is wrong with the kippers, and will not have them again. The best kippers come all the way from Scotland, and it is because the kipper people cure them properly that they can be sent considerable distances without in any way getting stale. The best kippers are to be found in Africa, in Johannes burgh, brought from Scotland. I hope that the board will have power to prohibit all this fraud and dyeing.

I made a complaint to the Minister of Health who said that he could not interfere, because this was not a menace to health. The Minister of Health ought to see that they put upon the market an article which is genuine as well as non-injurious. If you had kippers such as are obtainable in Johannesburg, they could be sold cheaply and be on everybody's table. Many people can eat kippers who cannot eat so-called fresh herring. They keep for a much longer period. The small kipperer is the man to do it. I know a man in Carradale who was so particular that he would not send them to market unless the herring were perfect. The man who prepares the perfect kipper is the man who takes his job seriously and who is an artist. You do not get the best kippers by the mass production of kippers carried on in some English ports, because production has to be kept going whether the herring are satisfactory or not. The thing is to encourage the small kipperer who will make a much better job of it than the mass producer. The next thing is to get the herring direct to the consumer, and to encourage the hawker who goes to the boat with his motor cycle and side car and takes off two boxes and sells the herring from door to door. Those are really fresh herring. Tinder the present system they are sent to the market at Billingsgate and other places by train and are sold when the "bloom" has gone off. I believe that this hawker business was suppressed by some Act of Parliament. I do not really know, but it was stated, I believe, by the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). If that be so the hawking industry should be resurrected. There is a good living for people in getting fresh fish to the door of the consumer, and if the Marketing Board will stimulate that, I feel sure there will be a very much larger quantity of fish used for the benefit of the whole population.

12.49 p.m.


I wish to express my agreement with the criticism of Billingsgate of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). He seemed to infer that we could not do anything to help. I suggest to him that he should give, as I am sure he will, his full support to the Bill which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) introduced to deal, at any rate with one important aspect of these difficulties. I agree very much with the hon. Baronet the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel) in his approach to the Bill, and with the opinion he expressed that the possibility of its success was dependent upon the success of the Herring Board as a trading board.


Two special members.


And particularly on the two special members of the board. I have a great admiration for the knowledge and experience of the hon. baronet, and for the services which he has rendered not only as he reminded us, when he was Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade, but at other times also to the herring fishing industry. But I resent his attack upon my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banff, because there is no man in this House of Commons who has devoted himself with greater wisdom, energy and self-sacrifice to the interests of the fishing industry than my hon. and gallant Friend, and I particularly resent it when he speaks about the hon. and gallant Member whining for a Russian agreement. He has of course the right to ask for an agreement with Russia. If the supermen in whom the hon. baronet places his confidence for the revival of the industry are going to spend their time sneering at other people who are working to try and expand the markets of the fishing industry in every direction, then indeed the Herring Board will not have very much chance of success. There is, I feel convinced, as do the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) and other hon. Members who have spoken, a great market in Russia. The hon. baronet said never would we get back to Russia.


Not in the immediate future. As the right hon. baronet has rebuked me may I say that I did not say that the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) had done anything wrong, but that his energies and efforts were misapplied. He could have made better use of his opportunities in another and more profitable a direction. We have made the Anglo-Russian agreement he pressed for. What have we gained out of it for the herring trade?


I am going to deal with that matter.


We shall have to wait some years before it becomes effective, and in the meantime we have to sell the herring.


The hon. baronet now says that my hon. and gallant Friend has done nothing wrong, but he represented him as wasting his time in his activities on behalf of the industry, and said that he was whining for a Russian agreement. The hon. baronet, if he looks in the OFFICIAL REPORT, will find that he did say, "Never." I have the word clown, and that word is absolutely unjustifiable. He referred to the disorganisation of the transport system in Russia. It must be well known to anybody who is in touch with what is going on in that country, that this disorganisation is being rapidly attended to, and, further than that, that quantities of inferior herring are being brought from other countries at the present time, and we ought to get a share of that market. The hon. baronet has said that the trading agreement has not done us any good, but all I can say is that, under the old trading agreement which was eon-eluded by the Labour Government, and which, I agree, was not by any means a perfect instrument, we in fact managed to sell 100,000 barrels of herring to Russia in 1932.

The reason why we have been able to do very little business with Russia since then has been the attitude adopted by the present Government, as a, result of the Ottawa Agreement and the pressure of the Canadian timber exporters. After a long delay an agreement was arrived which, as stated by the hon. Baronet, was no better from the point of view of the herring fishing industry than the old agreement of the Labour Government. Under that agreement, instead of selling 100,000 barrels of herring, as in 1932, we were only able to sell 70,000 barrels, and there were a number of conditions attached even to that transaction; but I have hope that now that a better spirit is being brought about in the relations between the British and the Russian Governments we shall be able to expand the market for herring in Russia. I hope that the new, Herring Board will give very careful consideration and study to the possibilities of expansion in that great country.

I agree with the hon. Baronet about the importance of the appointment of the two special members of the Board. It will not be easy to get the right men. The right hon. Gentleman for Swindon said that in his experience there was no difficulty in getting men of great experience and capacity to serve the State at very little salaries, but I remember that the Labour Government had to pay £7,000 a year to get a man to take charge of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Board. Therefore, they experienced a difficulty, and it will not be easy to get the men you want in connection with the Herring Board. I hope, however, that the Government will be successful.

We are faced with proposals which are fundamentally dangerous and even poisonous, but we have an industry on the brink of collapse, like a patient almost in extremis, and you have to administer powerful and dangerous poisons in order to give the patient a chance of life. Fortunately the board will come to an end in 1940. Meantime, money will be supplied by the Government which will be the oxygen to revive the patient in its present condition. I therefore welcome the Bill. One hon. Member asked how far it was wise to subordinate sound principles in an emergency. The difficulty is that people are too often apt to think that there are emergencies when there are not but in this case there can be no doubt about the emergency and no doubt about the need for drastic action. Therefore, I welcome the action which the Government has taken. It was necessary to introduce a Bill of this character, and I should even have liked her to see them introduce the scheme suggested in the report of the Duncan Commission. I hope that they will get the scheme quickly into operation, and as far as I and my friends, are concerned we shall give the Government every help in our power to get it swiftly into operation. I hope that the Measure will fulfil all the hopes of the Government. It will certainly not be for lack of co-operation on our part if it fails.

1.0 p.m.


I should like to refer to some of the remarks made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel). I can assure him that everyone connected with the herring ports welcome any suggestions or statements which he, as the nestor and historian of the trade, makes. We hope that to-day may open a new chapter for him and that in a future edition of his remarkable book on the herring he may be able to add an additional chapter. I was greatly struck by his remarks about foreign trade, and I should like every member of the Herring Board to have those remarks constantly before him. I thoroughly agree with him that a policy of restriction is a dreadful policy and one not to be adopted except in the last resort. The first work before the Herring Board will be, as he said, to develop with every possible energy the foreign market. Incidentally, arising out of that question, I would point out that that will mean constant inter-communication between the members of the board and various Government Departments. No announcement has been made as to where the headquarters of the board will be, whether in Edinburgh or London. I think it would be a mistake to fix the headquarters in Edinburgh permanently. For the first year there will have to be constant touch between the Herring Board and Government Departments in London, and it might be as well to have the board here, to begin with.

The hon. baronet referred to the Russian market. I am not a pessimist about that market, but I recognise that 10 years ago only 50 cwt. of herring were caught at Murmansk, whereas last year 500,000 cwt. were caught there. They are building a herring fleet in the White Sea. In spite of those facts, I think the big future for the herring industry will be the Russian market. But I suggest to my right hon. Friend that in the most friendly way it might be pointed out to the Russian Government that for every pounds worth of fish that they buy from us we buy from them £12 worth. It might be suggested in the most friendly way that that discrepancy is too big. Last year we sold £95,000 worth of herring to Russia and, although I have not the figures, I am sure that we bought from Russia over £1,000,000 worth of fish, such as tinned crab and tinned salmon.

Another word on foreign markets. We must develop new markets. I have had a long letter from an Englishman resident in Italy and he gave facts and figures that convinced me that there are great possibilities for us there. I have had another letter from a resident in South Africa where, again, there are prospects of a good market. Another matter that will come before the Board will be the improvement of the home market. I agree with the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) that there is a possibility of increasing home sales to a great extent and that there should be the possibility of selling the fish cheaper at home. In that connection I have only two remarks to make. A very practical experiment was made in Cambridge a year or two ago. Fresh herring were delivered in the town of Cambridge by tricycles. The experiment lasted only one year but the success was very great and the people in Cambridge said that they never knew herring could taste so nice. They got the fish, fresh and cheap, delivered at their doors. There was an enormous increase in the sales. If that can be done by a private individual as an experiment there are great possibilities before the Board.

Again, the board can, and must, insure uniform good quality. On rare occasions kippers have been made from very inferior fish and while only a very few of these inferior fish may have been used, they destroy the trade in that part for the future. The third task before the board must be to deal with the occasional glut, and I would suggest that they should at once consider steps to erect an oil factory in Scotland and another in East Anglia so as to be able to take the surplus of herring when there is a glut. The board will, of course, go into the question of research and the great possibilities in regard to freezing. The board have not power to operate freezing factories, but they can guarantee money. Last year if I had been able to secure a guarantee of £5,000 I could have got a second and much larger freezing ship in Yarmouth. The fourth thing the board must consider is a reduction of costs. There is a great field for a reduction of costs, better ways of getting coal to the ports—and coal is a tremendous item. I do not want in any way to damage or injure merchants and store dealers. Indeed, the store dealers have kept the trade alive, they have financed the small man, and heavy liabilities are still owing to them to-day. But in looking after the interests of the store dealers I think that we can still reduce costs. Now that the Government are coming to the aid of this industry with money, apart from reorganisation, I am sure that the banks, recognising that the Government are making a financial contribution, will themselves be prepared to help by writing off a certain percentage of the mortgage they hold on the boats or reduce the interest for a few years to come.

Finally, I feel that the question of redundancy, restriction, must be the last thing to be considered by the board. An expansion of markets first, the foreign market and then the home market, secondly to deal with a glut, and afterwards a reduction of costs. Only as a last resource must be resort in any way to the dreadful policy of restriction. Such a policy may not be necessary except to a small and limited degree. Speaking on behalf of the English herring trade, as I am entitled to do, I thank the Government for the Bill and for the expedition with which they have passed it, through this House. I thank them for having arranged the conferences with the trade which had taken place last week, and for the arrangement to put the scheme before the House as soon as possible. I thank them not only on behalf of the owners but on behalf of the fishermen who have suffered so terribly in recent years. In the Second Reading debate the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) said that after all the turnover of this trade was no greater than that of the brass button trade of Birmingham. That kind of statement seems to me to be an echo of the last century, of a hundred years ago. Surely we have now reached a stage when we do not judge an industry, a trade or a profession, by the mere financial results and turnover. Surely we have learned to judge a trade by the quality of the men in the industry and by the services it renders to the nation. Judged by the quality of the services it has rendered in the past, are being rendered to-day and which will be rendered in the future, the herring industry, however small its turnover may be, can take a position second to none in Great Britain.

1.10 p.m.


It is always pleasant to listen to an enthusiast like my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and to the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). It always entrances me to listen to a political descendant of 1880 Gladstonian Liberalism defending a measure like this which implies a great deal of rigid control. Obviously, the Bill is intended to benefit in the main the east coast of Scotland and those ports on the east coast of England engaged in the herring fishery. Speaking for a west country division my attitude is one of critical but yet benevolent neutrality.


Not armed neutrality?


Not armed neutrality yet. I do not think that fishermen in the west country can hope to gain very much by the Bill; indeed, they may lose to some extent. Everything will depend on the scheme put forward by the board. I am grateful that as a result of the acceptance of an amendment attention has been drawn to the possibility, indeed the probability, that it will be necessary to exempt certain areas from the operation of the Bill. It would be most unfortunate if by conferring possible benefits on. Buckie you were, at the same time to impose hardships on Mevagissey and Newlyn. I think we should be careful in accepting any scheme which the board puts up. With regard to the financial aspects, everything will depend on the scheme. We have only the mere outline in the Bill. It gives certain powers to the board, and then the board have to make up the scheme themselves. I should like to feel that the chairman was a man who had something of the qualities of a Gladstonian Liberal. Someone in the nature of an exiled Aberdonian might be advisable, because there is going to be a considerable rush on the part of those who are expecting to get financial benefits. Under the Bill advances may be made for the purchase of redundant boats and for equipment. It will be necessary to be most careful to see that such advances get, into the right hands and tare used for the purposes for which they are intended. The hon. Member for Lowestoft advocated paying off mortgages.


I must correct my hon. Friend. I did not make my position clear. My point was that everybody is making sacrifices in order to put this industry on its legs. The Government are subscribing money. I hope that the holders of mortgages on boats will also contribute to putting the industry on its legs, either by reducing the mortgages or reducing the rates of interest.


I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. I was under the impression that he was advocating that money advanced by the Treasury should be used to pay off old debts. There should be some kind of standstill arrangement made by the banks and the fish salesmen, to whom the fishermen are indebted, and no fresh money should be used to pay off old debts. I hope that the board will be very rigid in its administration of any scheme in order to see that the money gets into the right hands, and is used for future requirements and not simply to pay off past debts. With regard to the amount of money which is advanced there is a rather direful provision in the Bill as to what happens if the money is not paid off. I think it is quite possible that a considerable amount of money may be outstanding when the scheme, which may be brought forward, is over. therefore think that it will be absolutely necessary to be most careful, in the choice of a chairman, to see that we have a man who has a very rigid desire to maintain the finances, to ensure that the money is spent correctly, and at the same time a man who has tact, energy and industry.

I believe that the Bill is in the main a marketing Bill. I hope that in the first year or two of the board's existence the board will not concentrate on redundant boats, the licensing of fishermen, and all that sort of thing, but will devote almost its entire energy to the promotion of marketing, particularly marketing abroad. Hon. Members have pointed out that there is an opportunity for development in foreign markets. We should send our salesmen out from here in order to push a really good product which we know that this country can provide. Everything will depend on the scheme that the board proposes. sincerely hope that the scheme will be a sound one and one which can be accepted, and I wish the Bill well. I wish well to any scheme that the board brinks out. In the West country we cannot hope to gain very much, but if, without our position there being jeopardised, we can confer benefits on other parts of the country which are in a very grave situation. I for one shall welcome the Bill.

1.18 p.m.


I should not have risen had not certain remarks which fell from my lips on Second Reading been made the subject of discussion by two hon. Members. The hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Captain Elliston) had something to say with regard to Billingsgate, and he really substantially made my case for me. But I would like to take this opportunity of withdrawing the statement that I made, that Billingsgate added something like 25 per cent. to the cost of all fish passing through it. I understand it is not as much as 25 per cent., but how much less it is I do not know. It may be 12 per cent. or 20 per cent. It is certain, however, from the accumulated reports of a dozen different departmental and local committees that Billingsgate is a menace to the prosperity of the retail fish trade of London and the vicinity. Less fish is passing through it than formerly. Whether the Government should give them the Custom House, or whether the Custom House, at present congested, should be given Billingsgate, we cannot discuss on this Bill, and I have not the smallest intention of continuing any observations on Billingsgate except to express the hope that the Government will take the matter up seriously.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) in his peroration had something to say concerning a comparison between the pin and needle and brass button trade of Birmingham and the herring trade. It would be an effective point were it not for the fact that we are eating more fish to-day than at any time in our history, but less herring. We are producing more fish, and consuming more, and we are employing more men in the trade as a whole than we were 10 years ago. It is a change in public taste to a great extent, and a defect in marketing arrangements. Upon that subject I am in entire agreement with the hon. Baronet the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel). Marketing is the main cause. There are not great prospects in the foreign market. I believe there are great changes of taste taking place abroad as well.

As for the local market, the remedy is not, unfortunately, in the hands of the herring industry, but in the hands of local authorities. The hawker, as the hon. Member for Lowestoft said, is the one person who can bring fresh fish to the doors of our people, and unless we can induce the hawker to come back, whether by modification of the Act of 1872 or by inducing local authorities not to be quite so difficult under the Public Health Acts of 1925 and 1930, which are also a deterrent in certain areas, we shall not get fish back into the homes of the people. The fishmonger, against whom I have not a word to say, cannot handle perishable fish in great quantities, and get it to the door of every house in a large town. The hawker used to do that, and we ought to try to get him back. I sit down, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Farnham rose, full of hope without expectation as to the probable result of this Bill, with a genuine desire to see it work, and an earnest hope that it will take the shortest cut to success, namely, by leaving undone many of the things which it is authorised to do by Clause 7.

1.23 p.m.


I want to refer to one point that affects a certain port in Scotland and certain ports on the East Coast of England—ports such as Brightlingsea in my own division. It is with regard to that junior member of the herring family, the sprat. My question is whether the Minister will not include sprats in the Bill. I do not know whether the Ministry of Fisheries are prepared to settle the exact relationship of the sprat and the herring. The difficulties of glut, of marketing and of finance, are the same in each case. If it were possible to include the sprat in the Bill it would be a very great benefit to the ports I have mentioned, and in particular, Brightlingsea.

1.24 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)

At the very last moment the hon. Baronet the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Pybus) has asked me to introduce sprats. No doubt he has fully considered the great advantage of the Bill to the herring industry, but I fear that at this moment I cannot give him any undertaking in the direction desired. This Debate, like all debates on the Bill, has been characterised by the desire of members in all parts of the House to assist the industry and to assist the Government with the Bill. I am very anxious to pay a public tribute to the valuable assistance we have had from members during the several stages of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) asked me a specific question, whether I could give hon. Members a definite undertaking that questions dealing with compensation and arbitration, especially affecting the interests of the small individuals around the coast, could be considered in detail under the scheme. I very readily give him that undertaking and I feel sure myself that, even if I did not give him that undertaking, the board itself would see that the interests of the small men round our coast were safeguarded.

Several questions have been put to me but with the permission of hon. Members I will concentrate on one or two of the larger issues which have been raised. The hon. Baronet the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel) said that he was full of hope, although he had certain doubts as to the success which this measure might bring to the industry. He struck the right note, however, when he concentrated on the provision in Clause 3, paragraph (a) relating to the promotion of sales and market development as being fundamental in connection with the powers of the board. It was because my right hon. Friend and I considered that it was essential in the ultimate interest of the industry, that there should be increased sales and increased market development that those particular points were put into the foreground of the proposals.


Can my right hon. Friend indicate the type of man he has in mind in connection with the appointment of the two independent members who are to deal with sales and the development of markets? That will have to be a whole time job and their choice represents the most important part of the scheme.


I realise that the House is naturally anxious as to the choice by the responsible Ministers of the independent members who are to be appointed to the board, and I can assure the House that very serious consideration will be given to that matter and to all the points which have been raised in that connection. If I do not, this afternoon, endeavour to sketch out in detail the type of individual who will be appointed in due time to the board, I hope the House will not think that that is out of any lack of respect to them. I will only say that we realise the grave responsibility which the House has entrusted to us in this matter, and we hope that when we submit these names to the House and the public, both the House and the public will find that we have chosen individuals who are deserving of their confidence. The hon. Member for Farnham said that sales and increased sales were what was necessary and many other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have also dwelt upon that matter. While they were speaking in that strain there occurred to me a sentence from a book which is no doubt known to many hon. Members "The Letters of a Self-made Merchant to his Son." The keynote of the merchant's letters to his son was "What we want are orders." There was a constant repetition of that theme in his advice and I suggest that that would be a suitable keynote for the work of the board when it comes into operation.

It must be left to the judgment of the board where markets are to be found. The world is a potential market for all British products as well as the herring which are caught in the North Sea, and how wide that market may be, depends not only on world conditions but on the ability of the individuals chosen by the board to push the sale of herring in various parts of the world. The right hon. baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) made some comment upon Government policy and the difficulties which have existed during the last one or two years. I feel quite sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Oversea Trade, good Scotsman as he is, does and will at all times endeavour by every possible legitimate method to push the sale of herring in the markets of the world. May I remind the right hon. baronet that my hon. and gallant Friend has already given instructions to his representatives in many foreign countries to inquire as to the possibility of increasing the sales of herring to those countries. A trade agreement has just been concluded with Poland although it is not yet signed, and when it has been signed and is submitted to the judgment of the House I am sure it, will be found that the interests of the fishermen have been fully considered.

Let me mention some of the steps which have been taken during recent weeks to ensure that the work of the board will be pushed forward immediately when this measure comes into operation. During the last few weeks information has been collected with regard to drifters and curers and also as to the stocks of nets in the manufacturers' hands and the output and capacity of factories. Steps are also being taken for the organisation of staff for survey purposes and on Monday week an official from the Board of Trade will proceed to the various ports to make a report on that very important matter. The House is aware of the conversations and consultations which have taken place during the last two weeks with representatives of the industry. Their advice and assistance have been of great value to the Ministers concerned. Further, we have had inquiries made as to the accommodation for the board in buildings and as to the staff which they may require. The House will also observe that on Monday next there is to be presented a first supplementary estimate to implement the Government's undertaking in this Bill, and I would draw attention to the fact that in that estimate there is a sum of £1,000 for general administration and £1,000 for the preliminary services in connection with the operation of this scheme.

I only mention those items to show the fixed determination of the Government to allow as short a time as possible to elapse before the Bill is brought into operation. During the Committee stage of the Bill I ventured to sketch out a timetable, and I am glad to be able to say at this final stage of the Bill in the House of Commons that that time-table is still strictly accurate. If the House this afternoon sees fit to grant the Third Reading of the Bill, it may be possible in another place to take the Second Reading at a very early date. I have indicated the steps which the Government and its officials are taking to enable the board, once it is appointed, to get into its stride without delay. The Bill itself is just a piece of machinery which has been devised by the wisdom of Parliament to start this work and supported as it is by an adequate supply of public finance, it ought to achieve that object. When the work goes forward, then the destiny of the industry will be in the hands of the board though it will also depend on something which is far beyond the board's powers namely the state of the world's markets.

I am sure that anything which this country can do by securing peace abroad or by any other methods to obtain a larger share of international trade generally will be done and that much may be hoped for from this board with its ability, and with the assistance which has been so readily and, if I may say so, so generously granted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in placing this large sum at its disposal. That is a very clear and striking indication of the fact that the Government are ready to-day to take every possible step to secure the increased prosperity of this industry and the future prosperity of those men whose claims have always met with a warm response in the House of Commons. With these few remarks, and knowing as I do that this Measure commends itself not only to the minds, but to the hearts of the House of Commons, I ask that it may now be given its Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.