HC Deb 02 June 1938 vol 336 cc2359-64

8.51 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, after "person," to insert: shall have had wide business and administrative experience, and. The words of the Amendment are taken directly from the Report of the Duncan Committee, which was presented three or four years ago. On page 38 of that report, in dealing with the question of the independent members of the board the committee states: We are of the opinion, and again find support for it from responsible witnesses, that the board should consist, in part, of members from outside the industry. They should be persons who would bring to bear on the trade problems a wide business and administrative experience. I think the Committee will agree that something like those qualifications should be demanded of the men who are appointed to the new board. I do not insist that these words should be put in the Bill, but I feel that it is worth discussing this matter if we can obtain from the Secretary of State an assurance that those qualifications will, in fact, be expected of the men who are appointed. It is a big industry that we are discussing. It is an industry which employs 15,000 fishermen and another 2,000 or 3,000 people as well—it may be that 20,000 people altogether are concerned. The trade is scattered over many parts of the country, and whole districts or counties, indeed, depend upon the herring industry. The trade has a turnover exceeding £2,000,000 a year. It is a very difficult business. Partly on account of the scattered nature of the trade and partly because of the extreme perishability of the product, it is not easy to produce, distribute or sell herring. I suggest that we shall need men of very marked ability in order to make a success of this business.

Let the Committee consider the market. Two-thirds or three-quarters of the product goes abroad. It is one of the trickiest markets at the present time. In Europe, exchange restrictions, import quotas, popular tastes, and Government control exercise an influence more direct and more embarrassing to the trade than will be found probably in the case of any other commodity in any part of the world. The men who are to be the directors of this industry must know something about that European market. They must have experience, they must know something about the business of transport across the sea and of negotiating with foreign buyers, they must have experience of exploiting a difficult market, and they must have the knowledge and the ability to seize an opportunity when it comes. Even in the last three or four years we have lost opportunities of Russian contracts through sheer mismanagement.

In view of its great importance and the complexity and difficulty of the overseas market, it is essential that one or more of the new directors of the industry should have wide business and administrative experience. The home market, too, is not being developed as it should be. I make no comment on the qualities of the present board, but they have not succeeded in expanding the home market. I doubt whether there is on that board to-day a sufficient representation of modern and progressive marketing experience. It is essential that these new directors should understand the whole business of selling, advertising, finding retail outlets, and associating demand with supply. I, therefore, suggest that it would be useful if my right hon. Friend could give us the assurance that if my Amendment is not acceptable to him the spirit underlying it will be in his mind.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

I do not want to strike a controversial note in what I hope will be a harmonious evening, but I think this Amendment is unnecessary, and I hope my right hon. Friend will not bother too much about accepting it. We can trust the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Agriculture to appoint people of wide experience. I am not convinced that all the members of the board should necessarily have had wide business experience. I would not limit my right hon. Friend beyond the extent to which he is already limited in the Bill, which is that no member of the board should have any direct interest in the herring industry. Perhaps one can go a step further and express the hope that the new board will not contain any members of the old board.

The Deputy-Chairman

That question does not arise on this Amendment.

Mr. Boothby

I was afraid that it might not, but having expressed that view, I would pass on immediately to say that I hope the Secretary of State will have the widest possible discretion in appointing these three independent members; and to set down all sorts of qualifying phrases is unnecessary and not altogether desirable.

8.59 P.m.

Mr. Gallacher

Unlike the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) I do not believe in the ability of the Government to choose the proper men unless we select the men for them, or go as near as possible to doing so by laying down conditions. The last board should be a sufficient warning to us. If the Government want to get the best men with business and administrative experience, they will find them as directors in the Co-operative movement. One at least should be taken from that organisation, and with his ex- perience of that great working-class movement he would approach with sympathy and knowledge the question of marketing the fish and the question of the great market in Russia which the industry used to have He would be of the greatest value to the industry. The Amendment should be accepted on the understanding that the Minister took into consideration the people of great experience in the Cooperative movement. He should not be given a free hand. The Minister had a free hand on the last occasion, and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen himself now asks that we should not have any of those who were selected when the Minister had a free hand.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Loftus

It is right that some representative of the herring industry should utter a word of protest against the attack which is being made upon the Herring Industry Board. I do so the more gladly because one of the Government's nominees on that board was a political opponent in my constituency and was formerly a distinguished member of the Labour party. The board had a very difficult task and they did their best to face the appalling difficulties which they had to surmount.

9.2 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)

My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), in moving the Amendment, said he himself felt that it might not be advisable to put these words in the Bill, but that he would like to have a statement that in selecting the new board the capability of those to be selected would be carefully examined. There is, in fact, a precedent for putting such words in a Bill. The Bacon Industry Bill contains the words: persons who in the opinion of the Minister are by reason of their financial, commercial or administrative experience, fitted to serve on the board. In the case of the Wheat Commission, the Sugar Commission, the Livestock Commission and the White Fish Commission, no such words are inserted. There are, therefore, precedents either way. In this case the better plan is, I think, to leave the Minister unfettered, but I would reassure my hon. Friend that we fully realise the importance of selecting men of high administrative ability for these im- portant posts. I need not stress what has been said before of the great work which is required to be done on the marketing and organisation side, and of the fact that we require men of ability who can handle the task with skill and with tact. I assure my hon. Friend that everything he said will be taken into account, but it would be advisable to leave us a free hand to make the selection. With that assurance, and bearing in mind that the appointments are regarded by us as of great importance, and requiring great ability, perhaps my hon. Friend will be satisfied to leave the matter.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

9.5 P.m.

Mr. Adamson

I have one or two questions, which arise out of the appointment of the new board, to put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. First, I should like to know what is to happen in the interim period—before the appointed day, and while administration is continued under the old Act. So far as I can gather, no provision has been made for continuation of the work which has been undertaken, and under Clause 8 of the 1935 Act the provision of money by Parliament was to terminate on 31st March, 1938. Are the obligations which were imposed under the principal Act to be carried out during the interim period? For example, under that Act there was created a Herring Fund Advances Account, and undoubtedly there will be many outstanding obligations under it. In addition, there are the loans which were sanctioned for nets, for the reconditioning of boats and, in some instances, for the purchase of new vessels. I trust, also, that we shall hear that the annual report of the Herring Board will in future be a Command Paper.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Colville

I gladly deal with the one or two points which the hon. Member has raised. In the first place, he feared there might be a danger of a gap before the new board took office and wished for a reassurance that the operations of the board would be continuous. The position is that the Act of 1935 continues in force, and that the members of the board were reappointed for the period up to 30th November next. The present board will be responsible for the report for the year 1937–38, which is in course of preparation, and will continue to administer the provisions of the Act until the reconstituted board proposed by the Bill take office. The financial powers and all the obligations of the present board will, therefore, remain in force and will pass to the new board, with such amendments as are made by this Bill. There is, therefore, no danger of any obligation being dropped.

During the Debate on Second Reading several Members asked that the annual report should be published in future as a Command Paper, and in that way be made available to Members. I promised to look into that point, and am glad to be able to inform the Committee that it has been decided to publish the report as a Command Paper in future. The present report has just come into my hands and it will very shortly be published as a Command Paper.