§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will recollect that an Act was passed in 1935 for the reorganisation, development and regulation of the herring industry, following upon a report by the Sea Fish Commission which was presided over by Sir Andrew Duncan. At that time it was hoped that the measure of financial assistance provided by the Act would, combined with the machinery which was set up, place the industry upon a satisfactory footing. Unfortunately that hope has not been realised. There has been some improvement, but the situation cannot be regarded as satisfactory. There has been an improvement in the total catch from 4,790,000 cwts. in 1934 to 5,515,000 cwts. in 1937. The equipment of the herring boats has been considerably improved in respect of nets and gear provided out of loans from the Herring Industry Board with financial aid from the Government under the Act. None the less we cannot say that the general situation is satisfactory.
The Government have therefore reviewed the position and have decided that further steps, including a large measure of financial assistance, are necessary. We propose a considerable measure of financial assistance, and it is right to justify such a proposal before asking the taxpayers to meet the cost. I will therefore examine the provisions of the Bill in order to show that there is a case for further financial assistance to the herring industry. I hope that the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I give a few figures in justification of the Bill.
In 1913, the total catch was 11,763,000 cwts. After the disorganisation of foreign markets by the War—the House will remember that the disorganisation was complete^—-there was a gradual recovery, and in 1929 the figure rose to 8,264,000 cwts. The economic disturbance—the crisis— brought a fresh dislocation and, in 1934, the catch was 4,790,000 cwts. In 1937 the figure was 5,515,000 cwts., as I have already stated. Those figures show a 610 wide variation in the catch to-day as compared with the time when the industry was upon a more prosperous footing. With the decline in markets there has been a decline in the number of steam drifters, which form the larger part of the herring fleet. The number in 1913 was 1,470. This figure fell by 1929 to 1,162. In 1934 it was 994 and in 1937 it was 749. The decline has taken place mainly in Scotland. In the period 1934–37 the Scottish steam drifter fleet was reduced from 690 vessels to 459, a decrease by one-third in three years. There has been no new construction, apart from a very small number of motor boats, in Scotland.
The main cause of the depression is the shrinkage in our export trade in cured herring. Continental countries which used to buy an immense quantity of our cured herring have taken steps to provide for themselves and to fulfil their own requirements from their own catches. For example, Germany's production of cured herring increased from 250,000 barrels in 1929 to over 1,000,000 barrels in 1937, and her imports from all countries fell from 1,100,000 to 540,000 barrels, that is to say by about half. Those are significant figures. Russia has also effected a great increase in her own production of cured herring and her imports, which before the War amounted to 800,000 barrels, have fallen to an average of 50,000 barrels in recent years. Those figures show the difficulty that exists in our export market.
No one can appreciate more than I do the importance of making every effort to maintain and increase our export trade in this respect. During the four years when I was in the Department of Overseas Trade and when we were concerned with the negotiation of trade agreements, we sought in all those agreements, wherever possible, to insert provisions to help the herring export trade. As a consequence the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, and Russia, buy a large number of herring. That policy of trying to assist our export trade will be continued. Many of those provisions will remain in operation and are of value. Without them we should be in a worse position. The situation regarding tariff rates, licences and quotas, although it might be improved upon, will remain, as the industry and the country would be very sorry to see them lost.
611 Having said that, it is impossible, none the less, for us to escape the conclusion that the total market available for countries who are exporters of cured herring, ourselves and other countries, has fallen to a permanent level which is much lower than that which prevailed before the War, and the balance of policy must be adjusted to meet that fact. It is no use going on saying: "Provide us with the pre-war market." It is not possible to do so. We must recognise that position and adjust our policy accordingly. What should be our objective? It should be to secure for our industry the largest possible share in the total export trade; secondly—not necessarily second in importance—to do what we can to develop home consumption to the utmost possible extent.
The Government will continue to do everything in their power to support the efforts made by the Herring Industry Board to find increased outlets in the foreign as well as in the home market. It seems plain that the first requisite for successful competition in foreign markets is an efficient and economic industry. Let us remember that the element of competition enters very highly into our export trade.
The Government recognise that the wastage in the existing fleet of steam drifters will continue and that, in the present circumstances, many fishermen are unable to build new vessels, even with the aid of loans from the Herring Industry Board under the Act of 1933. It has already been stated that the making of grants for this purpose was strongly urged by a representative deputation from the industry which was received by the Minister of Agriculture, and my predecessor in office. The Government now propose that grants should be made available to herring fishermen in order to assist in the provisions of new motor boats which would not be provided without such assistance. This will be an emergency scheme, limited to a five-year period, commencing upon an appointed day which will probably be in December of this year, and ending on 31st March, 1944- The scheme applies to motor boats and not to steam drifters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) is going to put 612 the point of view of the English side of the industry, I believe, and we shall, of course, listen to it with interest, but I want to deal first with the issue of motor boats. In the past the herring fishing fleet has consisted chiefly of steam drifters. A steam drifter is an excellent vessel for catching herrings, but to enable it to pay its way and provide a living for its crew, employment during the major part of the year is essential. Unfortunately, conditions are such that full employment at herring fishing is not now available even for the existing fleet. A certain number can obtain sufficient employment, and, if the fishing is to continue, a part of the fleet must always have the same power and capacity as existing steam vessels. But a review of the prospects of the industry shows that for a substantial number of the fishermen herring fishing can only be a part-time occupation and that a less costly instrument than a steam drifter, and one offering more opportunity of alternative employment, must be considered.
At the present time the building of a steam drifter involves an outlay of about £10,000, whereas a suitable motor boat can be constructed for about a third of that sum. Equally important is the question of running expenses. The running expenses of a motor boat are substantially lower than those of a steam drifter, and in addition to the larger proportion of the gross earnings thus made available for the fishermen, those lower costs should facilitate enterprise whether in herring fishing or in other directions. It is true to say that until recent years fishermen on the whole have been reluctant to consider a motor boat at all as a substitute for a steam drifter, but I believe that now there is a growing feeling that in the conditions that have arisen the building of new steam drifters is not at present justified except in special cases. Therefore, we are in this Measure contemplating assistance for the building of motor vessels.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander:
Does that proposal come from the fishermen, or is it a Government proposal? Further, what is the answer to the statement in the report of the Herring Industry Board, issued in 1937, that the steam drifter is the most efficient machine for catching herring at all seasons and in all regions, if used to full capacity?
§ Mr. Loftus:
What is the type of motor boat for which this grant will be available? What will be the cost, and what will be the size?
§ Mr. Colville
Answering first the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), I recognise the excerpt which he has read out, and I agree that the steam drifter is a most valuable instrument for catching herring, if there is a market for them. But I do not believe that in the present circumstances it can be said that there is a sufficient market to provide a full livelihood all the year round for the existing fleet of steam drifters. Whose responsibility is it to decide on the use of motor boats or otherwise? It must be the Government's responsibility. We have, of course, received advice from various quarters, but we must shoulder the responsibility of recommending motor boats. We do so for the reasons which I have tried to express to the House, that in present circumstances the heavy overhead costs of running steam drifters make it doubtful whether you can employ, all the year round, a steam drifter fleet. Therefore, there must be encouraged the production of some motor boats. As for the point put by the hon. Member for Lowestoft, I do not know whether I am able to give him all the details that he would want, but possibly about a third of the cost of a steam drifter, which would come to between £3,000 and £4,000, would be in the nature of the cost required for building a motor vessel.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
My right hon. Friend does not mean, I hope, that only that very large type of boat will be assisted. I am more interested in a 60 to 65 foot boat.
§ Mr. Colville:
There is much to be done before points of that nature are settled, but there is no intention to lay down exactly in the Bill the size of motor boat which will receive a grant. I have given an indication that whereas steam drifters might cost £10,000, somewhere in the neighbourhood of a third of that sum might cover a motor vessel.
§ Mr. Harbord
Has my right hon. Friend consulted the owners and fishermen as to the suitability of Diesel engines for the type of boat that he proposes—whether they will be safe and sound for the purpose?
§ Mr. Colville
Those responsible have had consultations with all sections of the industry, and, weighing up the advice which they have had from all sources, they have decided that the present policy is the wisest one to pursue when affording assistance. My right hon. Friend who was my predecessor at the Scottish Office and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries have had the advantage of the views of all sections of the industry on the whole matter, including the point mentioned by my hon. Friend.
The maximum grant in any case will be one-third of the cost of the boat. In addition to the grant, loans will be available under the provisions of the Act of 1935. The grants will be regulated by arrangements made by the Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, and the details of the scheme will require to be framed in consultation with the members of the new board. Full particulars cannot be given at present, but it should be mentioned that the general intention is not expansion, but replacement. I have explained why, in the present condition of the market, it is not thought possible to secure employment for an extended fleet, but we think that a fleet replaced to some extent by the type of boat of which I am speaking can find a definite economic future. As steam drifters fall out of commission, assistance will be given, although not necessarily to the same fisherman who owns the steam drifter. An endeavour will be made to select those most likely to make suitable use of the grant, and applicants will be required to provide not less than 10 per cent, of the cost of the new vessel.
The proposal to make grants for the construction of motor boats is the most important feature of the finance of the Bill, but substantial assistance is also proposed in Clause 3, which provides for contributions towards the administrative expenses of the Herring Industry Board and towards the expenditure incurred by them on schemes for promoting sales, research, experiment, and other purposes. The House may remember that when the Act of 1935 was passed it was contemplated that after March, 1938, the industry would bear the whole of such cost, but the Government have decided that in the present circumstances it is necessary to continue to make a contribution, and it 615 is proposed that in the period from the appointed day up to 31st March, 1944, a further sum not exceeding £125,000 should be provided by Parliament for this purpose.
Simultaneously with these measures it is proposed that the Herring Industry Board should be reconstituted. The board at present comprises three independent members and six members drawn from branches of the industry, but in practice this constitution has not functioned very well. It is accordingly proposed to make changes, which are set out in the Bill. It is suggested that the trade members should not be part of the new board and that they should be replaced by a separate Advisory Council. The responsibility for action, of course, is bound to rest on the new board with its three independent members, but they will have the advice and the assistance of an Advisory Council in their work. I may add that this alteration in the constitution of the board is in accordance with the views which have been expressed by important sections of the industry. Here again my predecessor and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries have received much advice on the subject and have sifted it carefully, and the shape which the proposal for reorganisation has taken gives expression to opinions expressed on this subject by very large and important sections of the industry.
The opportunity presented by the Bill has been taken to make certain additions to the powers of the Herring Industry Board, and these are contained in Clauses 6 and 7 of the Bill and in the Second Schedule. The power to make loans to co-operative organisations will, it is hoped, lead to useful combinations and economies. These organisations to assist fishermen in the economic provision of gear and for other purposes can be assisted in future by the method of loans, which is a desirable step and one which we recommend to the House. Also there will be power to prescribe designations of quality and standards for export. I think that the experience which we have had in the past shows that such powers are essential. The five-year scheme proposed in the Bill is designed to secure the replacement of a large proportion of the existing herring fleet by vessels of a more economic type. The assistance offered to 616 that end we believe to be generous and the best way of assisting fishing, as it will result, we hope, in a great improvement of the situation.
We look to the board to effect further improvements in the organisation of the industry and to continue to study the marketing problem, and if it has any propositions to make on that problem, the House may be assured that such proposals coming from the new board will have the sympathetic attention of the Government. When all that is said and done, no board can work miracles, nor can it achieve much without the sympathy, support, and co-operation of those who are in the industry. May I express the hope that the future will show more goodwill and understanding between the board and the industry than has been manifested in the past? However much the Government or the Herring Industry Board may guide and assist the industry, its success or failure must rest with those engaged in it, on the skill, energy, and loyalty of the trade itself I hope that both sides, the board and the industry, and the other party, the Government, will be able to co-operate more closely in the future. The provisions of the Bill show that the Government are sympathetic to the reasonable and legitimate requirements of the industry, and I trust they will be considered by the House in that same spirit.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
The Secretary of State for Scotland, on the occasion of the first presentation of a Bill since his elevation, has dealt with a very important, a very urgent, and a very interesting subject. The plight of the herring fishing industry has for some years past been a matter of common knowledge and common concern. We suffer to-day from not having available to the House—I make no complaint, because the time is not propitious —an up-to-date report of the Herring Industry Board, the report up to the end of the financial year, 31st March, 1938. I do not want to complain about it, because it is probably simply due to the measure of reconstruction that is taking place that we have not the report before us to-day, but we are at some disadvantage when we are discussing the matter in not having had an opportunity of studying the latest report. I say that because the report which was issued for 617 the year ending 31st March, 1937, gives a great deal of food for thought in considering what is necessary to be done, or, in some circumstances, not to be done, for the revival of the industry.
Before I say a word about the Bill itself, I should like to say one or two things about certain conclusions to which I am led by the last report of the Herring Industry Board which is available to the House. I recognise, of course, that the Secretary of State in his speech to-day has brought some of the points a little more up to date. The points that struck me most in the report which I have before me, for the year ending 31st March, 1937, are easily set out. In the first place, I have no doubt that the sectional attitude adopted by the industry has given rise to some of the feeling which is leading to the reconstruction of the Herring Industry Board itself. On page 4 of the report, where the board make reference to it, they say:This sectional attitude is persisted in notwithstanding the fact that the industry deliberately accepted the basic principle Of the Herring Industry Act that responsibility for financing the various branches of the trade should be borne by the industry as a whole.I was concerned in the detailed discussions for months before the drafting of the Bill in 1935, and I support entirely the view expressed by the Herring Industry Board in that paragraph of their report. I think it is a great pity that the efforts which were to be made under the Act of 1935 cannot be said to have had equal and co-operative support from every section of the industry. If we are to have State action and State planning for an industry of this kind, it is important that all sections of the industry should pull together. It may be that the proposals now before the House in this new Bill, giving more complete authority to the independent members of the previous board by making them now a separate board, may lead to such authority being exercised as will get over some of this sectional attitude; but the representatives of the taxpayers in this House can hardly be expected to go on voting money time after time for this kind of reorganisation and assistance if the sections of the industry itself are not willing to pull together.
I should like to say a word or two, also, about the references, on page 5 of the report, to the catch. I, of course, 618 like all other Members of the House, am very concerned from the point of view of the fishermen because of the serious decline in the catch since the pre-war days referred to by the Secretary of State. After all, however, I think the figures which are given for the year 1936–37, and which have been enlarged upon by the figures given by the Secretary of State, are at least encouraging, and when one sees the average figures for the Scottish and English herring fishings, given at the bottom of page 5, while it is true that the board point out that the catches in respect of the Scottish fishing are still not sufficiently satisfactory to be economic, it does seem clear that English boats are so efficient that at any rate they have now reached a catch which begins to make it possible for them to pay their way; and, so far as the Herring Industry Board have assisted in reaching that measure, however small it may be, of recovery, I think the Herring Industry Board are to be congratulated. We have had so much criticism of outside bodies which attempt to do the work which Parliament asks them to do, that, when one sees a piece of good work being done, I think one ought to say that it is being done.
In the report to which I am referring there is a point which is mentioned in the Bill, and to which I will come again presently, in which, I gather, the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) are interested. I do not know whether the latter hon. Member has conferred with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to what his possible future liabilities in this matter may be, but evidently both hon. Members have some feeling of disappointment. The report says:With regard to new construction, the view is strongly held in some quarters in Scotland that the steam drifter should not be replaced by vessels of the same type, but that motor boats of 60-70 feet in length propelled by Diesel engines should be built in substitution for them.It goes on to say what I quoted just now about certain percentages. [Interruption.] This is the Second Annual Report of the Herring Industry Board, for the year ended 31st March, 1937. May I say that I think that this type of paper, when it contains the report of a statutory board subject to Parliament, ought to be a Command Paper, and more freely 619 available to Members of the House? I hope the Secretary of State will take note of that, because he knows a little of the strange ways, almost past understanding, of the Stationery Office, and perhaps he will pass the word on to the proper quarter. Some of us have had to search to find out how we could get hold of this paper in order to make ourselves familiar with the position.
With regard to motor boats, it is not a sufficient answer for the Secretary of State to say to us that it is no use having boats working when there is not a sufficient market. As a matter of fact, his own figures which he gave to the House show that the herring fleet is actually already carrying out a sort of voluntary rationalisation by dropping out some of the more inefficient of the drifters that are in existence, and, if the consensus of opinion is that the most economical kind of boat for herring fishing is the steam drifter, then it is a question of rationalising the drifter to meet the requirements, and not necessarily of going in for an entirely new type of fishing unit. That is a point to which somewhat more attention should be given.
§ Mr. Boothby
May I point out that the motor boat is not an enirely new type? Many of these boats have been prosecuting herring fishing for a good many years past, with great success.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have already taken note of that. I have taken the view of the experts of the Herring Board,—
§ Mr. Alexander
Then how are we to tell? I do not know whether the hon. Member himself is an expert. The board state, in paragraph 54 of their report:There can be no real doubt that the steam drifter is the most efficient machine for catching herring at all seasons and in all regions, if used to its full capacity.That is the point. I feel that you cannot very well quarrel to any great extent with results. The results of the English herring fishing, which depend to a great extent upon the efficiency of the steam drifter, speak for themselves, and I think that that fact should be borne in mind 620 when we are dealing with the question of craft.
I should like to say a word on the views of the Herring Industry Board with regard to a subject mentioned in the speech of the Secretary of State, namely, the serious decline in the export market, and what steps can be taken to deal with that decline, holding as far as possible for Britain the largest possible share in the existing export trade that is available. I see, on page 16 of the board's report, a table of exports, from which it would appear that there has been a tendency to recovery since the first year referred to in the table, namely, 1931. The total export declined from 912,700 barrels in 1931 to 773,233 barrels in 1934, after which it recovered to over 1,000,000 in 1935, and it stood at 956,719 in 1936. I cannot understand, when I go on to read the subsequent paragraphs of the report with regard to marketing, what can have been the policy of the board, having regard to the need for exports, in dealing with the market in Russia, to which reference is made on page 15 of the report. It appears that in the year 1935 a very substantial export to Russia was arranged, amounting, I think to about 100,000 barrels, but the report states:The board were unable to reduce the price, and no sale was made, though it had been hoped to make a contract greater than that of the previous year, when a total of over 100,000 barrels was sold.Apparently, because there was a somewhat higher price ruling in the home market, on a smaller catch, in the previous year, 1936, the board held out for the price, and in consequence no sale was made; and, although there were two small sales subsequently, apparently the total export to Russia in that year was not more than 20,000 barrels. Of course, if you are going to forgo a sale of 80,000 barrels or more to an important market like Russia, it is bound to have a considerable influence on the general position of the industry as a whole.
When one comes to consider the general situation, one must have a little more business common sense in dealing with a point like that. If you do not get your pickled herring exported in an efficient and adequate way, if you do not take what opportunities are afforded you of disposing of them, you probably, if you have not a sufficient market for fresh herring, have a larger number to put in cure. But 621 one finds from other pages of the report that markets abroad, especially in Germany, for cured herring, are very much restricted, and, therefore, you have all the other curers' difficulties which are also faithfully reported to the House by the Herring Industry Board. I hope, therefore, that in speaking about the export market there will be a little more reasonableness in dealing with the negotiating parties. Business men in this House know that very often you may stand out for a slightly increased price that you want, and lose the whole of the order and so damage the general turnover for the season. There is no business man in this House who does not know that, and I should hope, after the experience that is recorded in this report of the Herring Industry Board, that that kind of mistake will not be repeated.
Now I come to the proposals in the Bill itself. I want to say at once that no one in any part of the House would fail to recognise that whatever Government had to deal with the fishing industry in its present condition would have a difficult task. Compared to the standard of catch and distribution of the pre-war days we can only describe the industry of the post-war days as dying, and you must try to save as much as possible on a basis which will make it remunerative to that section of the workers who can still find a living in it. From that point of view I do not propose to further opposition to the Bill to the extent of asking the House to divide against it. I recognise the difficulty of the position. I welcome the proposal to make the Herring Board an independent body, for I think that is a good idea, particularly having regard to the experience of the board in dealing with the sectional interests, which have not been co-operative either in spirit or in practice. It is interesting to notice what my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said on the Second Reading of a previous Bill about the general trend of the Government's marketing board legislation in the direction of setting up independent commissions rather than bodies either wholly or partly controlled by those who have a direct personal interest in the bounties of the Government which are being handed out to them. Therefore I welcome the proposal.
When, however, I come to deal with the question of the financing of the 622 scheme I am not so clear. I think the Secretary of State might help us if in his reply he gave us more information. In the 1935 Act the sum of, I think, £600,000 was allocated, out of which loans were to be made and certain administrative expenses to be met. Now we are to have from whatever is the appointed day to 31st March, 1944, the sum of £375'000' £250,000 of which is to be allocated for motor boats and £125,000 to go towards administrative expenses. The first question I ask is whether that sum of £375,000 is entirely new? Is it in addition to the £600,000 that was allocated in the Act of 1935? If it is entirely new, might we have some information as to what is the balance at present in the Herring Fund of the amount allocated in that Act? Then we might get a better picture of the total financial help afforded by the Government to the industry.
In the second place, I would like to say a word about this motor boat proposal. Whilst no doubt there will be hon. Members who will compete with one another as to which type of vessel ought to be used, I suggest there is something to be said for the old point of view, and if there is I hope the Government will admit it. Will the Minister answer the question as to where this proposal for motor boats emanated from? The Secretary of State said that the Government would take responsibility. If it is intended that the use of the fishing fleet in time of war for Defence purposes is being helped by this grant, then I think the Government should say so and tell us what they have in mind.
§ Sir Edmund Findlay
Would the right hon. Member say not fishing fleet but fishing personnel? If he would say that I would agree with him.
§ Mr. Alexander
It goes deeper than that. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir Roger Keyes) has referred to the value and importance of personnel, but he has never had out of his mind the actual value, in time of distress, of the trawling fleet. As a matter of fact, if you are going to have a really efficient steam drifter available it could be made good use of in time of war. I want to be quite clear as to what is the view of the Government.
§ Mr. Boothby
I think drifters could be made use of, and the right hon. Gentleman himself, an ex-First Lord of the Admiralty, knows they could be made use of. But the fact remains that the Admiralty have repeatedly said that they have no use for drifters in time of war. That is one of the difficulties.
§ Mr. Alexander
Statements made in that direction would not affect me very much were I at the Admiralty in time of war. If I wanted to use them I would. If there is anything behind the idea of giving Government money to the motor boat because it will be useful in time of war, I would rather the Government said so. If that is the situation I am afraid I do not think a great deal of it. It is the giving of one-third of the capital cost to some individual owner of a motor boat of this type, and I hope that if the Government are placing any value on the replacement of drifters by motor boats they will give more attention to this particular point. But when all is said and done about the state of the industry and about the export position and the efficiency of the fleet, and about the proper provisions for curing, the outstanding question that still remains to be answered concerning a substantial part of the industry is that of the home market. I am afraid we have not made any substantial progress in the last three years in that direction. It does seem from the figures available up to 31st March, 1937, that there would be a slight improvement, about 20,000 cwts., but if we are to be able to give a message of hope and sustenance to the personnel of the fleet as a whole we have got to see that we encourage a wider and larger demand for fresh herring in the home market.
I hope the Herring Board will continue to do its best and not content itself with advertising. I have some use for advertising but in the present situation of the food trades the difficulty is that you have a whole series of competitive national campaigns in advertising. You have one body that sets itself up to advertise breakfast foods. Another advertises bread, whilst a third tells us not to eat bread. Recently I have met with the need of spending tens of thousands of pounds to advertise meat, and I know that all these campaigns cancel themselves out. All this advertising is of no use to anyone 624 except to the advertising contractors, who all do exceedingly well out of the business. I see the hon. Member is amused at that.
§ Mr. Alexander
I thought he would not agree with me because he knows of the advantage of continuous cheques coming in. Nevertheless, while there is some value in advertising it is surely a mistake to give public money to industries which use the money to advertise themselves against some other industry that is also receiving public money. That is not the basis on which you can widen the market for milk, herring, meat or anything else. We must see that every possible obstruction by unnecessary handling between the producer and the consumer is removed. I hope the Herring Board will not hesitate to do everything possible to use the powers given to it by Parliament to remove these obstructions. So far as I and my hon. Friends are concerned, if they will put before the industry, or, if necessary, before this House, proposals for eliminating unnecessary charges between the toiler in the field and the consumer, they will get our support.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
I would like to join with the last speaker in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading on his first appearance in his new office in this House. Everyone in Scotland must have regretted the loss of the right hon. Gentleman the new Minister for Health, but we all know that his place has been admirably filled. I do not propose to stand between the House and the many representatives of the herring constituencies for more than a moment, and I want to state briefly the attitude my hon. Friends and I take towards this Bill. To us it is very interesting to observe the change that is made in the constitution of the Herring Board. It was originally composed of persons alleged to have special knowledge of the industry. When we embarked a few years ago on a whole course of marketing legislation it was the custom to set up producers' boards representing only one section of the industry. That was plainly unsatisfactory because the powers exercised by these boards affected a great many people. That was not true of the Herring Board, but even in that 625 case where you had representatives of different interests that did not prove, in practice, a satisfactory arrangement. That must be so, because here we have a very large body in which, if it is to be enabled effectively to do its work, it seems impossible to have every interest adequately represented. The Government have adopted the same kind of constitution as they have already set up for the white fish industry, namely, a number of independent members with an advisory council. We regard that constitution as a considerable improvement in marketing legislation.
As to the terms of the Bill, there are only one or two points I would like to raise. In Clause 2 it is provided that the Advisory Council shall consist of an independent chairman and such other members as shall be appointed by the Ministry to represent the different sections of the industry. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman said anything about these particular words when he was introducing the Bill. Perhaps we may have a word of explanation as to what are the other interests which the authors of the Bill have particularly in mind.
We are obviously going to hear a great deal this afternoon with regard to Clause 4, which relates to the system of grants. We in this part of the House have always looked with very great suspicion on any form of subsidy of private enterprise, but in this case we think we are justified in drawing a certain distinction between perpetual subsidies, which go on being paid out to industries year after year, and a non-recurring subsidy of this kind, which is provided simply for the purpose of capital re-equipment. Like other hon. Members I am puzzled somewhat that a distinction should be drawn in Clause 4 between new motor boats and steam drifters. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the opinion of the Herring Board, as expressed in its report for 1937. I would remind the House of what was said by the Duncan Committee on the herring industry:For the fishing in open waters and rough weather nearly all fishermen witnesses—and some, of them had had experience of the Diesel boat—maintained that the steam drifter as an instrument of catching remained unchallenged. She can ride heavy seas, has a long life and is simple to work and maintain, although her running costs as well as her initial cost are high. So few steam drifters have been built since the War that it is not possible to say to what extent626technical improvements can still be developed in them with favourable results to the running costs, or to what extent the capital cost can be reduced by continuity of orders.There appears to me to be a certain contradiction in the policy of the Government, because as I understand it, when the Bill has become law there will be two forms of assistance open to drifters, first, assistance by way of grant and, secondly, assistance by way of loan. Apparently, both forms of assistance will be open to the oil-burning vessels, while the steam vessels will be eligible for the loan but not for the grant. There is a scheme which is announced in the last paragraph but one of the Herring Board's report:In the last week of the year a scheme for assistance in the building of new drifters, steam or motor, of not less than 60 feet in length, by means of loans of up to two-thirds of their cost was announced.If the Government are anxious to concentrate upon one form of boat and to discourage the construction of the other, it is illogical, I think, to maintain loans for drifters up to two-thirds of the cost, as apparently is contemplated if this particular scheme continues in operation. I do not know what view the Admiralty take about drifters in time of war. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) seems to think the Admiralty have no use for them. Perhaps we may be told whether that is so. If that is not so, it seems a remarkable thing that the Government should discourage the use of coal, which is a fuel which will be much more easily available to us in time of war.
I should like a little more information about the way in which the system of grants will be administered. There is a limitation to £250,000. I am not complaining of that because, obviously, there must be some limitation in the Bill, but if the applications exceed that amount what system will be employed in order to distinguish between one applicant and another? There is one further question which I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman quite cleared up when he was making his speech. If you have a grant of one-third of the cost for a new drifter, will the same applicant be eligible for loan under the existing powers?
§ Mr. Colvilleindicated assent
§ Mr. Foot
That is all that I have to say about the provisions of the Bill, but I would add this: It is a platitude to say that the problem of this industry is almost entirely the problem of markets. As the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, it has always been a problem of overseas markets. I think that we are entitled in this part of the House to make one comment on the fact that when in 1932 the fiscal policy of this country was reversed, we were told of the great advantages that would be derived from the change/, because, so it was said, we should be provided with bargaining weapons which would enable us to batter our way into foreign markets. Here is an industry which depends perhaps more than any other on foreign markets, and at the present time when we look at the unemployment in the herring ports we find that at Wick the percentage is 33.1, Buckie 46.5, Peterhead 38.3, Lerwick 36.6 and at Stornoway it reaches the astounding figure of 66.1. These figures are an interesting commentary on the policy which was brought before us in 1932.
The other problem of this industry, as the right hon. Member for Hillsborough said, is to expand the home market. The herring board report refers to the moderate success of their advertising campaign. Nobody suggests that that is enough. I wish a little more attention could have been paid to the suggestion which was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in the Debate last July. He suggested that experiments should be made in selling herring at special cheap prices to the unemployed and the very poor. The suggestion was treated without very much respect by the Government at that time. I still think that it is a pity that there are no powers in this 628 Bill, and apparently the Government do not contemplate any, for experiments of that kind. In one industry after another the Government have adopted the policy of subsidy, and if that is to be done we suggest that, at any rate, some part of the money should occasionally be spent in bringing essential foodstuffs more easily within the reach of those who need them. If experiments of that kind are not included in this Bill, I can only say that we in this part of the House shall not oppose the Measure. We shall give all the assistance we can in improving its provisions, although we do not regard it as anything like a complete solution of the problem of this industry.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you intend to call the Amendment standing in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord).
§ Mr. Loftus
I bow to your Ruling, and I can only say that had I been fortunate enough to have secured approval of that Amendment and also fortunate enough to have secured support in the Lobby, my hon. Friend and I would have gone to a Division. In considering the Bill, I should like to begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on his first appearance here in his new and responsible position; but combined with those congratulations I must mix condolence. I remember that four years ago, just before my by-election, when I first had the pleasure of meeting my right hon. Friend, I worried him about herring and the Russian Agreement. Only a short time ago, after congratulating him on his appointment, I at once started once more worrying him about herring, and he good-humouredly complained that when I first spoke to him when he was in charge of the Overseas Trade Department it was about herring, and the first time that I spoke to him as Secretary of State for Scotland herring was again the topic. I must condole with my right hon. Friend for another reason, and that is that he is responsible for this Bill although he is not the parent of it. He appears before us in charge of this in- 629 fant. Perhaps it appears attractive on first sight, but on further examination I think it will not be so attractive. I think he will find that it is of such a character that in order to ensure the life of the infant it will require in a year or two most drastic operation by way of amendment.
Like the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) I regret that the annual report of the Herring Industry Board was not expedited, as it could have been. I think we could have had that report during the next week or two, and it would have helped the House in general to realise the condition of the industry to-day and its prospects in the immediate future. I very much regret that we have not that report before us. I represent the Borough of Lowestoft, the largest town in my constituency. Lowestoft, as regards the number of registered herring boats, is the largest herring port in Great Britain. There are more herring boats registered and more fishermen domiciled in Lowestoft and the neighbourhood, than in any port in Great Britain, including Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) and I represent 98 per cent, of the English herring industry. In Yarmouth and Lowestoft are to be found nearly all the herring boats. The English herring fleet numbers 300 drifters, while the Scottish herring fleet numbers 500 to 550 vessels. Although the number of the English boats is about 40 per cent, of the whole fleet, it is strange that of the actual catch the English fleet catches nearly half. It catches in some years more than the 500 odd Scottish boats; it numbers about 40 per cent, but generally catches 50 per cent, or more of the total catch, due to various causes. I dealt with that subject the last time I spoke on herring and therefore, I will not trespass upon the time of the House to-day. But it is a fact that, approximately, the English fleet catches half the herring that are caught.
I speak to-day for the English Herring Catchers' Association, who are opposed to the Bill, who feel, as I think, rightly, that the English catchers are not getting fair treatment; because there is a grant of £250,000 for new boats, and, as I can prove, I think, to the satisfaction of the House, not one penny piece of that will 630 be available to the English fleet to reconstruct any English boat. My right hon. Friend shakes his head. I will attempt to prove that presently. I feel so strongly on this matter that were this Bill to go to a Division, I would undoubtedly vote against it; and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth would do so. While putting forward the case for the English catchers, I want to say to my hon. Friends who represent Scottish ports that I recognise that, in the condition of the whole herring trade to-day, we do not want division, we want unity, and I would be the last person to attempt to sow dissension between the Scottish and English members of the trade.
I said that I would endeavour to prove to the right hon. Gentleman that there was no possibility of a penny piece of the grant coming to the English fleet. In order to make the point clear, I must deal with the structure of the English herring fleet. It consists of about 300 boats. Out of those 300, 133 are owned by companies. Nearly all the companies —I think with one, or possibly two exceptions—are private companies. The average number of boats in a company works out at a fraction under five. There are five companies which consist of two boats each, and one company consists of one boat only. Most of these companies are formed by fishermen, skippers who have saved money for a boat, have done well, and have bought a second boat. Then, for family reasons, they may, or may not, form a company. So, when we talk of companies, we are not talking of big business. I can mention the firm of Capps, Limited, of Lowestoft. The chairman or managing director—call him what you will—was originally a skipper, who saved money and was able to acquire boats. Up to last year he owned seven boats, not as a company: then, but for purely family reasons, he has now formed a private company. In four of the seven boats the skippers are his sons, yet none of them is eligible for the grant, because this is the grant to fishermen, not to companies.
Of, roughly, 167 boats, which are not in companies, roughly 24 are owned by the skippers, who fish the boats. In theory, they are eligible for grant, but in actual practice not. The other 143 owned privately are, in the majority of cases, owned in part in lots of two, three 631 or four by families of fishermen, or by fishermen themselves who have retired. But being owned in such a way, they are, as my right hon. Friend will admit, not eligible for grant. Therefore, out of 300 boats, only the 24 owned by the skippers are eligible for grant.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I am sure that Scottish members of the herring trade are sympathetic; but this, surely, is not a grant to boats, but to people. Whatever may be the condition of these various boats, I cannot follow what that has to do with the possibility of a person receiving a grant.
§ Mr. Loftus
May I put it to the hon. Member this way? If the whole of the Scottish herring industry, after getting the best possible advice, had come to the conclusion that the Bill before Parliament, to give grants to the herring industry, would give none of that money to Scotland and all to the English fleet, I am sure he would endeavour to put the case before this House. That is what I am endeavouring to do. You have part of the boats owned by private companies. They are ineligible for grants. You have 140 (nearly half) owned by shore firms, many consisting of retired skippers or their families. They are shore firms, not fishermen.
§ Mr. Loftus
I have explained that half are private companies, and half are shore owned firms, not limited liabilities. Then there are the two dozen skipper-owned boats. In theory, they are eligible for the grant, but we are informed that this grant is only for small sizes of motor-driven boats, costing £3,000 to £4,000 each. Such boats, while suited to the Scottish summer fishing, are certainly not suited to the rough East Anglian fishing. I can quote evidence of that. These motor boats are to cost £3,000 to £4,000. They are to be about 60 feet in length. Does any hon. Member suggest that those boats will be suitable in an ordinary year for the East Anglian fishing? Last year some of the small boats went out at Yarmouth and Lowestoft and did quite well; but last year was the calmest autumn on record. In the ordinary rough weather you get off the East Anglian 632 coast in October, November and December, those small motor boats will not be able to fish efficiently. The evidence has already been quoted by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). The Duncan Report says:For fishing in open waters and rough weather nearly all' the fishermen witnesses— and some of them have had experience of the Diesel boat—maintained that the steam drifter as an instrument of catching remained unchallenged.The report also says:Some of the owners, too, admitted that there had not been enough experience yet to enable any general conclusion to be drawn as to the ultimate economy which would be achieved in the cost of maintenance of the Diesel boat, and certainly not enough experience as to the suitability of a Diesel drifter "—I ask the House to note this—of the larger size that would be necessary for the more arduous work of herring fishing in open waters and rough weather, the capital cost of which would be at least as great as that of a steam drifter.If we are to believe the Duncan Report, and if we are to believe the Herring Board —the Duncan Report has been praised by the whole industry—the small Diesel boat is not a suitable boat for the East Anglian fishing in ordinary rough weather, and the type of Diesel boat suitable for that fishing will certainly cost at least double the figure which my right hon. Friend mentioned that he had in mind.
§ Mr. Colville
My hon. Friend has referred to the figure I mentioned of £3,000 to £4,000. I want to make it plain, in case there should be any misapprehension, that no size is prescribed at all in Clause 4. But it might be necessary to consider both a lower and an upper limit in size before the arrangements are made. These are points which, of course, would be considered very closely by the board. In the Bill, no size is laid down, and I gave an indication only of the price of a motor boat as compared with a drifter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
I must remind hon. Members that they are not in Committee. They will have their opportunity later.
§ Mr. Loftus
These boats will cost at least £7,500. If, behind this proposal to subsidise this type and finance it, is the idea, as I think my right hon. Friend 633 hinted, that these boats should be used at certain periods of the year, in Scottish home waters and off the Orkneys and the Shetlands, for herring fishing and in the rest of the year for net or line fishing in home waters, then, from the point of view of the Scottish fishermen, there is a good deal to be said for it. I gather that that is the idea of having a small, light boat, but do not let us delude ourselves that this type of boat will be suitable for all-the-year-round herring fishing.
I would like to mention some features of the Bill, excluding this very contentious Clause 4. As regards Clause 1, I think the new constitution of the board, with three independent members, is excellent. It is in line with the legislation of all other marketing schemes now passing through the House. I have one or two remarks to make on it. First if the new full-time board of three members is appointed, do not let us expect too much of it. The herring trade is facing immense difficulties, and even if these men combine the organising ability of Napoleon, General Goering and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Air, even then we must not expect that in a short time they will put the industry on a sound basis, and, above all, that they will be able to restore it to anything like its pre-war prosperity, as regards size and market. I would like also, in passing, to give one word of tribute to the present Herring Board. They have been harshly criticised, and on occasion, I think, unjustly criticised. They have laboured hard for the industry. They have made mistakes. As they are about to leave the scene we all, however much we have criticised certain actions of theirs in the past, ought to pay a tribute to them for the work they have done in recent years.
Clause 2 provides for the appointment of an advisory council, and I suggest that the chairman of that council ought to be either the chairman of the board or one of the three permanent members. If the chairman of the advisory council was also the chairman of the Herring Industry Board there would be a liaison between the two. If the chairman of the board was unable to act, then one of the two remaining members should be chairman of the advisory council in order to keep close contact between the advisory council and the board. I need hardly 634 suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that, in appointing members of the advisory council, he will bear in mind the need for giving adequate representation to the English interests. We do not want overwhelming, but only fair representation, and on the last board we had one out of seven of the trade appointments.
I thoroughly approve of Clause 5, which provides for an extension of the period for advances, but I am not too optimistic about it. The previous Herring Bill passed by this House, setting up the present Herring Board, provided for a vast sum of money to be used for loans to the herring industry. I believe the sum was £600,000. How much has been loaned to the herring industry? I would be obliged if whoever is to reply to this Debate could tell us how much of this £600,000 allocated to the present Herring Board for loans to the industry has been lent? I doubt whether 5 per cent, of that amount has been lent. Why has it not been lent? I believe that it is because the Treasury made such arduous conditions and that the industry found the conditions imposed by the banks were not more difficult than Treasury conditions, and that it was much easier to get money from the banks, even though the rate of interest was a shade higher. The Treasury are very generous in providing for material for armaments but a little niggardly when it comes to preserving the men. The provision in Clause 7 enabling the scheme to provide for the regulation of the quality of herring, especially for export, is an admirable feature. I hope that these powers will prove strong powers and will be used to the fullest extent by the new board.
There is one feature, which, I regret to say, is not in the Bill. There has been a decrease in drifters, in herring fishermen and in the herring caught, and yet, year after year, more licences are issued to British boats to trawl for herring. More and more herring are caught by trawlers. Is it not a tragedy that, when we are trying to find employment for our drifters and herring fishermen, and we are talking about cutting down the fleet and reducing the number of fishermen, we should at the same time be encouraging ordinary trawlers to trawl for herring in competition with the herring fishermen? I hope that whoever is to reply to the Debate will deal with the point as to 635 whether power will be given to the new board to limit trawling for herring in home waters by British ships.
My right hon. Friend painted a picture of lost markets, decreased output, a diminished number of ships and a blank prospect. It is nearly four years ago, in October 1934, when for 10 days I walked about the markets and streets of Yarmouth where there were from 7,000 to 8,000 fishermen standing around idle, while the whole of the fleet was confined to port, and the sea was alive with fish. I shall never forget those days. As I walked among those men I found that their patience was admirable. I remember on one day meeting a group of young men, one of whom stopped me and said, "For Heavens sake, Sir, do something. We do not know what will happen." Some 7,000 men were idle for nearly a fortnight. Is that sort of thing to happen again this October? It is a possibility, and I want to warn my right hon. Friend that that may happen. The outlook for the autumn fishing is exceedingly black. The outlook for the summer fishing is fair. I think that there will be low prices in the summer, which will not give proper remuneration to the fishermen unless they can catch up to the limit. But it is the autumn fishing about which I am concerned. I beg of my right hon. Friend and of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to think and to plan now. I want arrangements to be made now to deal with the situation in case the market should collapse in October before the Germans come in to. buy fresh herring. I do not want to have to face these men day after day and to feel that they are left without help.
Foreign markets, of course, are difficult. Last year the total catch amounted to 1,400,000 crans, and out of that number some 500,000 crans were consumed in this country, 693,000 crans were exported as pickled, there were 100,000 various sundry exports, and 212,000 crans exported as fresh herring. Germany took roughly 400,000 barrels of pickled, and roughly 300,000 barrels of fresh herring. Germany has increased her fishing fleet to an immense extent and has now issued instructions to cut down her own catching power by 25 per cent, during the coming fishing. Not only is Germany cutting down her catch but she has notified—and we ought 636 to thank Germany for notifying us so well in advance—the herring trade of this country that she must cut down imports of British herring this year by 80,000 barrels. That is the position.
§ Mr. Petherick
Can my hon. Friend say why the Germans are reducing their catching power by 25 per cent, this year?
§ Mr. Loftus
That is a very important point. I believe they are reducing their catching power for this reason. Last year November was an exceedingly calm month. Most of their herring are trawler caught and generally they have to stop on account of the weather about November, but they went on trawling right through November last year and caught more herring than they had ever caught before. The result was that Germany cured more herring and to-day has a surplus, I believe, of 200,000 barrels unsold. I think that that is the reason why she is restricting both imports and herring of her own catching. I agree that Germany increased production from 251,000 barrels in 1929 to 1,000,000 barrels last year. The right hon. Gentleman said that Russia before the War took some 800,000 barrels, but I believe that she took 1,250,000 barrels. Russia has been a bitter disappointment. I remember that during the Debate on the Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement in March, 1934, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) made a speech in which he made an eloquent plea for Russian support for the British herring industry. He said:Let this message go out from the House of Commons to the representatives of the Russian Government in this country: that it would indeed be a poor start for this agreement if the Soviet Government failed to prove itself a good customer to the herring fishing industry.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1934; co1. 1350 Vo1. 286.]The whole herring industry of Great Britain relied on Russian purchases. What has happened? The purchases made by Russia since the Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement was signed have been far less than those that were made before the agreement was signed. In 1932, before the agreement, Russia bought 163,000 barrels, and in 1936, after the agreement, 52,000 barrels, and last season, 21,000 barrels. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough talked about securing the Russian market. We have 637 tried in every possible way. His Majesty's Government have used every possible influence to get the Russian market but have failed. Russia sends to us every year fish to the value of £1,250,000, and last year bought fish from us of the value of under £30,000. Surely here is a bargaining weapon. It can do no harm to say that there must be a quota in respect of Russian fish. That ought to be tried, and I beg of my right non. Friend to consider the matter.
§ Major Neven-Spence
I think that my hon. Friend is ignoring the really vital feature of this question. The amount of herring cured in Russia last year was 1,000,000 barrels, and that is why there is no market there. We cannot get over that fact.
§ Mr. Loftus
I think that the actual figure was about 650,000 barrels. The solution of any such situation as the herring trade finds itself in to-day is to catch herring as cheaply and as efficiently as possible. Last season Holland sold to Russia 100,000 barrels of herring in competition with the Scotch trade because their herring were cheaper. The only way in which we can reduce the cost of production in Scotland or in England is by reducing overhead charges, and the only way to do that is by using our fishing boats to 100 per cent, capacity. One hundred boats fishing at 100 per cent, capacity can pay and give the fisherman a decent living, whereas 150 boats fishing at 66 per cent, capacity cannot do so. We must contrive that our boats shall fish to the maximum capacity. We have the advantage of the high quality of our Scotch herring, which are the best in the world, and in East Anglia we have the advantage that the herring come close inshore and are cheaper to catch than the Dutch and German herring. Also they can be cured much sooner.
Last October the whole of the herring trade was alarmed and they met every section of it, and they passed a unanimous resolution requesting immediate financial assistance in the form of a subsidy either direct or a subsidy on coal. That request was put forward by an influential deputation. It was not accepted. I challenge hon. Members who represent Scottish ports that this Bill cannot be of any material assistance to the herring industry either Scotch or English during the next three or four 638 years. And the next three or four years is the critical time when the industry and the men in it are going to suffer bitterly unless something is done. It is said that the Bill is part of a reorganisation scheme. Well and good. More reorganisation is required, but while developing your reorganisation, while waiting for the fruits of reorganisation, are you going to allow the industry to sink deeper into despair? Cannot something be done now during the next two or three years in the way of a subsidy on coal for the industry?
I know the answer. The answer is that a subsidy on coal or on working costs will cost money. I know it will, but today we are spending a vast sumofmoney, £2,000,000,000, on national Defence, and hon. Members in all quarters of the House are demanding hundreds of millions more in addition for underground defences against air raids. Material defence is necessary, but the essential thing is to have the human spirit behind it of the right type of man, and I suggest that it would be a good expenditure of a tiny portion of Government money to maintain this type of men, the British fishermen, this healthy and valiant type, trained to the sea and used to the sea for generations. I feel that if war should come we shall require every trained fisherman, every trained seaman, we have, and if, as we all hope, we shall be spared the evils of war, still it is in the highest interests of the State, when the population is tending more and more to get over-urbanised and concentrated in big cities, that even at the cost of a subsidy for two or three years we should maintain in existence this virile healthy stock in our land.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am sure the House has listened with great appreciation to the speech of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), especially to his very moving peroration, with which I think we shall all associate ourselves. For my part, I do not quite take the gloomy view of the hon. Member about the future of the industry and the benefits which this Bill may confer upon it. It is not very often that I am in a position to welcome the advent to power of a friend of mine in the Government and the production of a new piece of legislation simultaneously, but I find myself in that happy position this afternoon. I welcome, as I think all 639 Scottish Members do, most warmly the appointment of my right hon. Friend as Secretary of State for Scotland, an appointment to which we have looked forward for a long time, and I also welcome this particular piece of legislation. It does not do all that some of us desired, but it does a good deal, and I certainly cannot take the same melancholy view of it as the hon. Member for Lowestoft. I do not think he is right with regard to his own people, and I think the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, will be able to reassure him on that point. I think the hon. Member will find that the boats in his own constituency not actually owned and run by limited companies will qualify for the grant, if application is made by one of the fishermen. I think his fears in that respect are groundless.
§ Mr. Boothby
The hon. Member says, "No." I say, "Yes." I think he will find that in some of the cases to which he has referred I am right.
§ Mr. Loftus
Suppose the partners are not fishermen: the widow of a fisherman and one or two outsiders, the fishermen do not actually own the boat.
§ Mr. Boothby
You can have a nephew. If the widow was a constituent of mine, she certainly would, and in that case he could make an application with every prospect of success. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) came out with the old, worn-out bogy of tariffs, and said that it was the protection policy of the Government that was the cause of all our distress in this great industry. That may apply to some exporting industries, but it certainly does not apply to the herring industry. Our main markets in Europe are Germany, Poland, and Russia, three totalitarian States exercising an iron control over their imports and exports, and all three subject to certain kinds of pressure. With all the three it is only possible to trade on a basis which amounts to direct barter, and no amount of tariffs up or down can in the slightest degree affect the total value of trade we do with any of them. The only chance of doing trade with these countries is to make the best bargain we can on something like a barter basis. That is what 640 I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to do, with all his experience behind him. You have to deal with these importing and exporting organisations direct. The Herring Board will have to deal direct with the great importing and exporting organisations of Russia and Germany. The only chance they have of success is if they have the weight of the Government behind them. When you have an iron control in great countries like Russia and Germany the only way to deal with them is to put the whole force of your own Government behind the organisations which conduct the negotiations. I do not know why the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) should beckon me over to their side. I appreciate the compliment, but I cannot see what this has to do with Capitalism or Socialism.
With regard to the present board, the hon. Member for Lowestoft has said that some of us have criticised it. I am afraid I must plead guilty to the charge, and I suppose that we shall now have to say that we are sorry for having spoken so roughly about some of its activities during the last two or three years. For my part, I think that perhaps some of the criticism was too fierce; at least, I think it can be said that the work the board did was very much better than the reports they wrote. In that respect they were their own worst enemies. They did quite a lot of quiet constructive work, but when they produced their annual reports they gave everybody a bad impression of the industry, and did not produce any constructive proposals to improve the situation. I think that was the gravamen of our complaint. The new board is to consist of three independent members, and I think it will be found to work more successfully. The fact that you have representatives of the different sections, very often competing sections, of the trade as members of the board does not in practice prove to work. You have a lot of suspicion, a lot of work at cross-purposes, a lot of conflicting interests tugging against each other; and the result is that you get very little effective executive action.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Hillsborough that if you appoint a board of this kind to conduct an industry under statutory powers from those who have a 641 direct interest in the industry, it does not in fact work. The only way in which such a board can work satisfactorily is to get two or three men with business experience, who are absolutely independent, and whose interests are not affected in the slightest degree. I think the herring industry will find such a board far more efficient and far more effective. I hope this is a precedent for future cases of this kind. The House knows that this was the main cause of the breakdown of the last Herring Board, and the reason why the board has not been as succesful as it might have been. There were conflicting interests tugging against each other, there were suspicions aroused not only in circles close to the board but throughout the industry, which naturally engendered a lack of confidence in the board and made it impossible for them to do effective work for the improvement of the industry.
There is one point that I should like to put to the Under-Secretary of State, and it concerns the independent chairman of the advisory council who is to be appointed. Is not this a little unnecessary? You are setting up a board of three independent members to run the industry, and in addition you are to have an advisory council representing the different sections of the industry. To make another independent chairman of the advisory council is surely to add to the complications. I think it is unnecessary. And I propose to move an Amendment on the Committee stage to simplify the position, because it seems to me that you may otherwise have a clash between the chairman of the board and the independent chairman of the advisory council. You are creating two similar but separate posts of almost equal importance. I would not have a chairman of the advisory council at all. I think the advisory council should be a body of experts for the purpose of advising the independent board.
§ Mr. Alexander
What is to prevent the Minister from appointing the chairman of the board as the chairman of the advisory council?
§ Mr. Boothby
That would at once solve the problem, and I hope the Under-Secretary will consider it. I think we must have an advisory council of experts, but I am not yet convinced that it is altogether a good thing for that advisory council to be appointed by the Ministers. 642 I think that another improvement which might be made on the Committee stage would be to provide that the board itself, after having surveyed the situation, and in the light of its experience, should be given the power to choose its own advisory council from the industry, and make whatever subsequent changes it considers necessary, rather than that the Ministers should be saddled with that responsibility. After all, Ministers are very busy men, and they have a very wide field to cover; and it seems to me that it would be placing an unnecessary additional personal burden on their shoulders to compel them to search through the industry for individual members, representing different sections of the trade, to serve on the advisory council, when there is being set up an independent board which might be far better qualified to select people to serve on the advisory council. Some of us may move an Amendment in the Committee stage to secure that the members of the advisory council are appointed by the board, which, after all, will itself be appointed by the Ministers, and will be responsible to them.
As to the powers of the board, I intend to move an Amendment in Committee to secure that in certain eventualities the board shall have the power to buy and sell herring. It is not desirable that that should happen as a usual practice, but sometimes emergencies arise, very often towards the end of the fishing season, when there is a temporary glut of herring, and in those circumstances it might become necessary either for the board to take the surplus off the market for the time being, and to market it at reasonable prices later, or to close down the whole of the autumn fishing, thus preventing many of the fishermen from earning a little extra money. I do not want to go into unnecessary details, and I will content myself with saying that unusual conditions may arise, when it may be desirable for the board to have the power to purchase and sell herring, as its own agent; and in the Committee stage I intend to move an Amendment, to which I hope the Minister will give favourable consideration.
§ Mr. Boothby
Not in a clear enough form. There was an argument about it. 643 Perhaps my hon. Friend will remember that a crisis of the sort that I have described occurred at the end of the fishing season last year, and the question arose as to whether or not the board had power to buy herring. After endless argument, in which the Law Officers were consulted, it was decided that the board had not the power to do it, although it would have appeared to any person of ordinary intelligence reading the Act that it had. I think it is desirable that this point should be cleared up, and although it should not be laid down as a general practice, it should be made clear that in circumstances of the sort which T have mentioned, the board should have power to buy or sell herring.
With regard to the general reorganisation of the industry which is proposed in the Bill, hop. Members will realise that it is proposed to reorganise it upon an individual rather than upon a collective basis, or, I may say, for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough, rather than upon a cooperative basis. I was one of the people who advocated for some time that steps should be taken to reorganise the Scottish section of the industry much more upon the lines on which the English section is at present organised. I wanted to foster the development of co-operative companies among the fishermen, which would be in a position to raise more capital, to get more credit, and to effect, as I thought, considerable economies in the purchase of the necessary materials, boats, nets, supplies, and fuel. I still think that some economies in the running of the fleet could be obtained by the development of the industry along cooperative lines; but I am bound to confess that the hostility which these proposals aroused among fishermen right along the coast of Scotland made it impossible to proceed with any schemes of that sort. All that we can do is to bow to the decision of those who are engaged in the industry. I would add that there are no more passionate and uncompromising individualists in the world than the Scottish fishermen, and indeed, all those engaged in the fishing industry.
§ Mr. Alexander
Is the hon. Member aware that one of the most successful examples of a fishermen's co-operative society is to be found in Scotland? If 644 he has difficulty on this question with his fishermen, why does he not take them along to see the work of the successful society at Arbroath?
§ Mr. Boothby
I think that represents a very small section of the Scottish fishing industry. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accompany me to my constituency at any time, I shall be ready to join in efforts to organise the fishermen on co-operative lines; but I think the right hon. Gentleman would find that very difficult. They are uncompromisingly individualist. That, I suppose, is why so many of them vote Socialist at elections; and I find it impossible adequately to explain to them the discrepancy between their action at the polling booth and their action in their own trade. Nevertheless, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there are limits in the modern world to the extent to which you can paddle your own canoe. Unless this industry makes some attempt to pull together, unless the various sections make some real attempt to sink their differences and work for the common good of the industry as a whole, nothing that the House can do, and nothing that the board can do, will be of any use. While we must accept the fact that the fishermen are determined to paddle their own canoes and run on their own lines— and this Bill is designed to give effect to that wish—yet, at the same time, it is essential that the different sections of the industry should make a greater effort in the future than in the past to sink their differences and work together for the good of the industry as a whole.
I come now to the very vexed question of motor boats versus steam drifters. It is true, as stated in the extract which the right hon. Gentleman read from the report of the Herring Board, that a steam drifter, working at full capacity, is the most economical and the safest form of catching herring. The trouble is that in present conditions the steam drifters are not working at full capacity, and if a fleet of anything like the present size is maintained, it is very difficult to see how they can work at full capacity for some years to come, until, in fact, the process of sheer attrition forces a sufficient reduction in the drifter fleet. The other disadvantage of drifters at the present time is that they cost so much to build. There is a great difference between £3,000 and £10,000, 645 which is the difference between the cost of the two classes of boat. Last, but not least, there is the question of fuel. Coal costing 37s. a ton is practically an uneconomic proposition from the point of view of drifters, whereas in the case of the motor boat, thanks to the wise provision of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Petrol Duty and the Oil Duty is wholly remitted, as far as fishermen are concerned. At the present time the cost of oil fuel is comparatively low, and there is no doubt that motor boats can be operated at a very much lower cost than drifters.
Another point which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough and my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft is the value of drifters to the Fleet in time of war. The Admiralty's view is that these drifters will not be of any value to the Fleet as such in time of war. It is very unfortunate that the Admiralty should take that view. Those of us who represent fishing constituencies have endeavoured to get the Admiralty to alter their opinion for several years, but they still stick to it. They maintain that drifters would be of no use to them, although reinforced trawlers might be of some use. I think they are making a great mistake because even if the drifters themselves were of no use, some of us believe that the personnel of the fishing fleet would be of vital importance to the country in time of war. It has always proved the case in the past, and I believe it will in future, that if we are menaced in war either by submarines or other small craft, as in the last War— and as we may well be in the future—then every craft afloat is worth something to us and can be used.
I think that the policy of the Admiralty in regard to drifters is very shortsighted. In all the fights which we have had on behalf of the herring industry, either with National Governments, Conservative Governments or Labour Governments, when they were in power, we have never had the slightest assistance from the Admiralty; they have never raised a finger to help the fishing industry of this country; and I do not think it does them any credit, considering what the fishing fleet did for the Navy in the last War, as was acknowledged fully by Admiral Jellicoe and Admiral Beatty, and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 646 North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). It is not too much to say that in the last War the drifters were practically responsible for the safety of the Grand Fleet when it was in harbour.
Another point in regard to Diesel-engine motor boats is that they are not only more economical to run, but they can be diverted to other uses. I think that consideration must have weighed with my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for Scotland when he was framing this Bill. Taking it by and large, from the Scottish point of view, I am bound to say that, in existing conditions, I think the decision of the Government to make these grants in respect of motor boats, which can be greatly developed, and which have been greatly developed during the last few years, and not in respect of drifters, is a wise one; and for my part I do not criticise it.
In regard to the grants, there is one question which I wish to put to my right hon. Friend. He said that the date from which the grant would begin would be December. What is to happen in the interim? Is all construction to be held up between now and December. Moreover, could this grant not be made retrospective, even for the last 12 months? A certain number of fishermen have had the enterprise and courage to build motor boats of exactly the type envisaged in this Bill during the last 12 months. They were able to raise the money themselves from their banks and on their own credit because they were known to be good fishermen. Are they to get no benefit? It may be very difficult to devise a restrospective Clause in a case of this nature, where a grant is involved; but it would be hard on these men, who were enterprising and who happened to be good fishermen, if they were deprived of the benefit. It would cost only a few thousand pounds if the Government could devise some means of making the grant restrospective, at least for a short period. In Clause 4 of the Bill, there is a phrase which reads:which could not be provided without such assistance.How is this to be worked? At first sight, it looks rather like a sort of means test for the herring fishing industry. It is absolutely essential to make sure that the good fishermen are not penalised for the benefit of the bad fishermen; that is to 647 say, that the man who, because he is a good fisherman, can raise the credit by himself and thus provide himself with the necessary finance, should get no grant, and that the bad fisherman, who has no credit, merely by reason of the fact that he cannot provide himself with a boat without financial assistance, should get a grant from the State. I am sure that my right hon. Friend must have thought of this point, but I believe that hon. Members in all parts of the House will be unanimous in wishing to secure that the good fisherman shall not be penalised in any way for the sake of the bad fisherman when it comes to "dishing out" the money.
With regard to fuel, I have mentioned that the oil duty was remitted in respect of the fishermen by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. I have also mentioned that with coal at 37s. a ton it is almost impossible for drifters to compete against the Dutch or Germans. The coal industry has done well in one way and another in recent months and recent legislation will enable this industry to maintain prices at a pretty good level from their point of view. It is no part of our business to try to get the price of coal down, or to do any damage to the miners. We only wish to say that at 37s. a ton it is too expensive for the purposes of the drifter fleet. I honestly think that, apart from this Bill, my right hon. Friend, sooner or later, will have to consider doing something to reduce the price of coal to the fishermen.
§ Mr. Paling
May I remind the hon. Member that a price of 37s. a ton, and in some cases more, is not reflected in the wages of the miners?
§ Mr. Boothby
That is a large question which I should like to discuss sometime with the hon. Member, but it would be out of order to do so on this occasion. I only know that the coal supplied to the fishermen costs them 37s. a ton, and that this is too high a price, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether the Government cannot do something to reduce the price of coal to the fisherman. If that were done, it would, of course, have to apply not merely to the herring fleet but to trawlers and everybody else; but I do not think it would cost a great deal, and it would do much good to the 648 industry as a whole. The fact remains that the industry depends primarily on keeping a low cost of production. It is up against fierce competition. It is fighting for export markets against the most efficient people, and the only way in which it can retain any share of those markets is by sheer efficiency and low costs of production. Whatever the Government can do to keep down the cost of production will be of more value to the industry than anything else they can devise.
I come to my last and most important point, which is marketing. Here is the crux of the problem. The home market has already been mentioned and it is a well-worn theme. I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough about advertising—certainly when the advertising is as badly done—is it has been in the case of herring. A picture of a monstrous and unappetising fish, accompanied by a hunk of bread and a large knife, will only force people to make a mental decision not to order the herring they had contemplated from the fishmonger. There are certain steps which might be taken to popularise herring, but they will have to be more subtle than those which have hitherto occurred to the board. I think it one of the tragedies of modern life that the people of this country have never been persuaded to appreciate the nutritive value and flavour of raw salt herring. It may sound horrible, but it is one of the most delicious foods in the world, especially when accompanied by potatoes, and washed down with beer. It is one of the finest and cheapest meals in the world. It is obtainable in Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Luxemburg —in fact, the one place where you cannot get it is in the country which produces the fattest and most luscious type of herring. In Germany they call it "matjes" herring, and in France "filet" of herring. It has not even to be cooked, and as I understand that the ambition of all housewives in this country is not to have to cook, it seems to fulfil all requirements.
§ Mr. Loftus
When I was in Edinburgh recently I asked for herring and was given tinned herring, which had been tinned in France. It was all that they had.
§ Mr. Boothby
That is a constructive suggestion and one which I warmly support. There would be a great deal to be said for a herring bar; and, if you added beer, I think it would achieve in a very short space of time a great deal of popularity. No one who has had any connection with this trade would ever pretend, however, that whatever the British public can be made to do in the course of time will suffice to maintain an adequate herring fishing industry. The industry depends fundamentally upon foreign markets and has been built up on foreign markets. Before the War it supplied £1,000,000 worth of herring to Russia alone, and we had also an enormous German market amounting to 500,000 barrels a year. It is in Europe, and particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, that the main prosperity of the industry has lain in the past and must lie in the future. It is interesting to note that the taste for this fish is largely confined to certain geographical areas. It is not without significance that the only successful efforts to find new markets in the last 20 or 30 years have been in countries like the United States and Palestine to which there has been a large emigration from Central and Eastern Europe.
In Northern Germany and Poland and, to some extent Rumania, in the Baltic States, Finland, and Russia lie the great market for British herring, and in the development of that great market lies the ultimate hope of the industry. Much will depend upon whether the new board succeeds in obtaining adequate participation for this country in an Anglo-Dutch-German cartel which in the long run offers the greatest hope to the industry. Still more will depend on the energy with which the Government tackle the problem of trade in Central and Eastern Europe, and in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As regards these markets, the board can do little without the active co-operation and support of the Government, and particularly the Board of Trade. By itself, private enterprise cannot compete against the methods of the totalitarian countries and, from our point of view, there is no difference in this respect between Germany and Russia. In order to force our way back into those markets the industry must be 650 represented by the board, and the board must be backed by the Government. Unless you have the combined power and drive of a strong Herring Board, backed by the Board of Trade, there is little hope of forcing British herring in adequate quantities into these markets again.
I know it would be out of order now to go into details, but we cannot forget that the present Secretary of State for Scotland made his reputation as one of the most successful secretaries we have ever had at the Overseas Trade Department. He negotiated many of the trade agreements in Central and Eastern Europe which are of such vital importance to this industry, and he knows as much as any man about export credits, and about their present and future value to the herring industry. I beg him in considering this problem and in considering the appointments which he will have to make to the Herring Board, to bear in mind the business aspect of- the situation. I ask him not to appoint men merely to concentrate on the organisation side but to appoint a board whose prime object will be to restore with the backing of the Government the markets which made this industry great in the past and may make it great again in the future.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Adamson
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) into his dissertation on various aspects of the industry, although I was rather amazed by his reference to the individualism of the Scottish fishermen. The analogy I suggest could be taken further, and I suggest that it is hardly consistent with his claim for collective action in the case of the herring industry, that he himself should be sitting on that side of the House. Irrespective of that argument, the general trend of the speeches to-day has been in favour of continued State assistance for the herring industry. I speak not as representing a fishing constituency but rather in the interests of the organised fishermen, and from their point of view I wish to develop some arguments as to the effect which the Bill will have upon them. It is all the more essential that their interests should be considered in view of the fact that they represent the one section of the industry which depends entirely upon a share of the catch. They are the 651 actual share fishermen and it is because of their precarious position that we on this side are anxious to extend and develop the industry in such a way that their interests shall be protected. Further, their occupation is very largely seasonal. They are limited to a fishing season of five or six months in the year.
I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) in regretting that the report of the Herring Board for last year has not been issued. Incidentally that raises the issue of whether there is a Herring Board in existence to-day. I believe that the Act of 1935 terminated on 31st March. Who is to be responsible for the report when it is issued? Is it to be the Department or is it to be the board which existed up to the end of March? That raises another question as to whether the financial obligations of the board continue and also whether in the interim since the termination of the 1935 Act, any administration under the late board has been carried on and if so, who is responsible for it? I have complete faith in the Minister for Agriculture and in the Scottish Department if we can be assured that the civil servants are going to carry out the administrative work as they have done in the past. Something is bound to happen in the interim period for the continuation of the essential services for this part of the fishing industry.
We can gather from the reports of the board the catches of the various seasons and there is one factor which the board emphasises in the Second Report, It is that in the two years 1935–36 there was a lower catch in 1936 and that higher prices accrued from it. If it is the intention of the Government and the board to restrict supplies so that values will be enhanced, it is a question whether the consumer will be satisfied. If it is to be a policy of continuous restriction to maintain higher prices, there will be a point ' at which the consumers will rebel. I am gratified that the Government propose to set up the advisory council because the best conduct of the industry is to be secured, not from some quasi permanent board, but from the advisory side which can supply a more intimate knowledge of what the industry needs. From that point of view we welcome the setting up of this advisory council and we are 652 pleased to note that the Secretary of State, taking a leaf out of the Minister of Agriculture's book, has adopted the condition that the council shall have on it representatives of persons employed in the industry. That will be a vital factor in perfecting the administration under the Herring Board as it is now to be reconstituted.
The Debate to-day has elucidated one or two factors that will have to be developed, either by the Minister or in the later stages of the Measure, in regard to how the financial assistance will operate in certain respects. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) giving his interpretation of how this financial assistance would be given in the case of motor boats. I should like some definition as to the meaning of the term "fishermen" and to know whether it can be developed in a wider sense than that indicated by the hon. Member. I can appreciate that there is no desire on the part of the Government merely to hand over this financial assistance to the larger corporate concerns which are formed into limited liability companies so that they can provide more efficient vessels. In the fishing industry there is a sort of co-partnership that survives in probably no other industry. I trust that the way in which the grant will be allocated to motor boats will not be in the way interpreted by the hon. Member for Lowestoft in the strict sense of the individual fisherman who happens to be the owner of a vessel, but that it will be allocated in the wider sense.
I note from the report of the Herring Board that there has been a diffidence on the part of owners to seek loans for the reconstruction of their vessels. I understood there were early difficulties with regard to a temporary period for the docking of vessels for inspection prior to grants being permitted. I understood that later that had been overcome by making some allowance to the fishermen. It would be fatal to follow the two lines of providing financial assistance to new motor boats and extending assistance for the reconditioning of existing vessels unless there is some certified survey that these vessels can by that assistance be made effective and efficient fishing vessels. I rather hope that the newer type of grant for the motor boats will obviate the necessity for loans to make old and obsolete boats into drifters of the fishing fleet.
653 Dealing with another aspect of the financial position, I would like to get some information as to the voluntary levy that was established under the supervision of the Herring Board in the various ports. I ask particularly, because in the early part of last season the levy, which was voluntarily contributed by those engaged in the industry, was increased from id. to 2d. in the pound sterling of the turnover. I believe that the board had some claim in the financial arrangements to participate in that levy. I hope that some details can be given, not so much as to why the levy was doubled, but as to how it is operating and whether it is to continue to operate in the interests of the industry as a whole.
I am not concerned so much whether the motor boat or the steam-drifting vessel is the most effective for the herring industry. It would take a considerable amount of argument before a fisherman could be convinced that there was anything better than the steam drifter. In that connection there is one aspect which the owners must have in mind because of the increased costs they have had to meet in the last 18 months. Not only the price of coal, but the price of all supplies necessary for the equipment of the vessels, has increased considerably. From that point of view they might welcome the possibility of being able to obviate these increased charges with the newer equipped motor vessels. Nevertheless, so far as it is an experiment, we can look upon it with some interest, and if it is going to make more effective fleets it will be in the interests of the herring industry in the long run.
My last observation concerns what is undoubtedly the most important factor in the herring industry to those who are employed in it. I refer to the marketing of their products. It is probably true that we cannot look with any hope on any great extension of the export trade, but we can at least extend and develop the home consumption. In that regard many people consider that the late board hardly fulfilled its purpose. Advertising was an expensive item, amounting to about £26,000, but it is doubtful whether they got value for that money in increased consumption. There ought to be ways and means of distributing the herring into the more secluded parts of the country. I know many of the smaller 654 urban and larger rural districts where herring is an unknown quantity. It may be that all the advertising that can be done will never reach in an effective way that source of consumption. If the Herring Board can specialise in the distribution, not of hundreds of crates of herring, but of individual crates into those widely scattered districts, I am certain there would be a demand for this essential food.
In conclusion, I trust that the newer outlook which the newly constituted board may take in regard to the herring industry may revivify the industry to the advantage of all those who are engaged in it. At the same time I would pay my tribute to the late board for many of the things which they at least tried to accomplish and as to which they were in some degree disappointed that they did not succeed.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Harbord
I should like to add a word or two to the chorus of praise and welcome which has been extended to the new Secretary of State for Scotland on his acceptance of that most important post. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that he should be faced immediately with the difficult problems confronting the great herring industry, and in the circumstances we must, perhaps, reserve some of the criticism to which we otherwise might have given expression, but I must say on behalf of my constituents that they do feel that a certain amount of injustice has been dealt out to them in the fact that they have been given so little chance of expressing their views upon the proposals contained in the Bill. It was published only last week and came very late into our hands, and they have had no chance to express their approval or disapproval or to ventilate their views on any points which they consider ought to be brought forward on the Floor of this House. Still, I have known the right hon. Gentleman for a great many years, and I know that anything which I may say will receive every consideration from him.
First, I would say that we regard this as an entirely Scottish Bill, one which leaves the English section of the fishing community entirely out in the cold. That may be largely due to the extent of the Parliamentary representation afforded by the existence of numerous fishing ports 655 in Scotland and the pressure which they can exert upon those responsible in this matter. If there is any preference I think they get it. Personally I do not regard the Bill in itself as being altogether a bad Bill. I like the new constitution of the Herring Industry Board, and I agree with the views which have been expressed by representatives of the three parties in the House who have spoken, that the chairman should be one who, if not chairman of the advisory council should at least have been a member of the advisory council, knowing their point of view and able to express it to his colleagues when important subjects are under consideration.
Clause 3 provides for the payment of certain expenses of the board out of moneys provided by Parliament. I think the Bill suggests that 50 per cent, of that expenditure will be met in that way, but the remainder will have to be met by the industry, and with a restricted number of vessels operating and fewer personnel that means that those engaged in the industry will have to bear a heavier burden. I suggest to the Government that this charge upon the industry might well be abolished altogether.
In regard to the question of providing new motor boats, I feel that we must have much longer experience of motor boats before it can be said that they are the most suitable craft for all our various fishing ports. A strong feeling is entertained by our local fishermen that steam drifters are ever so much better and safer, and more fitted to face the rough seas encountered during the Autumn fishing season, than are motor boats. In this connection we have also to consider the interests of the mining community, and the position in which we should find ourselves in a time of war. The Government must realise that however successful they were with any policy they adopted there would be a diminishing stock of petrol during the war, and great difficulty in securing supplies, and the fact that many of those engaged in the fishing industry are prepared to pay a high price for coal points to a rooted belief that the steam drifter is the safer and better type of boat for their purposes.
To my mind the owners of the boats and the men who man them are not dealt with satisfactorily under this Bill. 656 I believe that a subsidy ought to be paid to all Scottish or English boats. It might be a subsidy granted for a short term of years, at the rate, perhaps, of £100 per voyage for two voyages a year—in the autumn fishing season for the East Anglian boats, and in the succeeding fishing season for the Scottish boats. The total expenditure would not be more than something in the neighbourhood of £160,000, and that is not too high a price to pay to enable these boats to carry on more successfully. It would enable those in the industry to tide over their difficulties and we should keep the personnel of our fishing fleet. Even now I hope that it is not too late for me to press this suggestion upon the Government, for, as I have said, we have had little time in which to consider the Bill.
We do not want any lesser number of boats. While I do not favour any increase in the number of boats, and am not too much enamoured of the idea of having new boats this year, at any rate it must be pointed out that if there is a reduction in the number of boats operating that may result in increased prices being realised for the herring which are caught. After all, this is a risky business in which to engage. No matter how determined the men or how efficiently the boats are operated they are very much at the mercy of hazard and chance. At one time we find the markets glutted with herring and no more fishing for a few days, and then, possibly, a period of rough weather sets in, and although, herring are badly wanted and the fishermen have had a bad time they cannot set out again to catch them on account of the weather. One has to live among the men to know the difficulties with which they have to contend, however anxious they may be to go to sea, risking their lives in bringing this food to our shores.
I ask the Government to give the new board some power to consider the question of granting financial assistance towards the working expenses of the boats, if only for a limited period, to help the industry to turn the corner, because it would assist in providing cheap food, would give employment and would maintain an auxiliary force which would be so valuable in time of war. It would also be regarded by that deserving class of men as some assurance that we do feel a real interest in their welfare.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I intervene in this Debate only in order to call attention to the immense importance of the fishing fleet in the scheme of our national defence, and to pay a tribute to the splendid men who, I hope, will benefit to some extent by this Bill. Wherever one went in the Great War, in the North Sea, the Channel, the Irish Sea, the Mediterranean, around Gallipoli or in the Adriatic, one saw trawlers and drifters manned by British seamen doing splendid work. Their hardihood, endurance and devotion to duty were the admiration of all nations. I personally owe a tremendous debt to our fishermen. I had about 200 fishing craft under my orders in the last year of the War, and I have no hesitation in saying that it was mainly due to them and their splendid endurance that we were able to stop the steady flow of enemy submarines through the Straits of Dover. They kept a patrol on a narrow strip of water, over a dense minefield, day and night, summer and winter, and they suffered heavy losses. The fact that 13 German submarines lie under that narrow strip of water testifies to the splendid work of the fishermen.
There have been a good many criticisms of the steam trawlers, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) attributed to the Admiralty a very strong condemnation of their value in war. It is 13 years since I was a member of the Board of Admiralty, but personally I am convinced that great use will be made of those splendid, stout little seagoing vessels if we are at war again. More important still, the men who man them will be needed by the Navy if we are ever at war again. I am mainly concerned to do everything in my power to help those splendid men and to support the Government in anything they can do to help the fishing industry. It has been described as a dying or declining industry. It would be a deplorable thing if the fishing industry did decline, because of its immense value in the scheme of national defence, and I feel the Government would have the general approval of all sides of the House in going very much further in giving help to this industry than they are proposing to do under this Bill. My last point is that steam trawlers burn good English coal and not imported foreign oil.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Sir E. Findlay
I should like to thank the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) for the tribute which he has paid to our fishermen. He speaks, as it is impossible for me to do, from first-hand knowledge. It is difficult in these days to ask for assistance for an industry, even one which we may want to use in Defence, and I believe this industry to be of great importance from that point of view. Before I go into the details of the Bill I should like to congratulate the new Secretary of State for Scotland upon the position which he now occupies. While congratulating him, I should like to sound a note of regret that his predecessor has not been able to carry this Bill through its full deliberation. I do so not because I believe that the new Secretary of State will not do it well, but because of my confidence that the knowledge possessed by the late Secretary of State in regard to the fishing industry was second to none. I have only one fault to find with him, and it is that he was rather too loyal to the old board which controlled the herring industry.
I do not really know whether my tributes ought to be paid to the old Secretary of State or to the new, but the Bill is a vast improvement, and I sincerely hope that the new board will go the whole hog. Although it is unkind and unreasonable to say it of any individual when it is impossible for him to make his apologia in this House, I believe that the individuals of the old board lost the inspiration of the industry. The industry no longer had faith in them, and, most important of all, the board lost faith in the fishing industry. We are to have a new board consisting of three men. I would impress upon the Minister the importance of the three men to whom he will give the future conduct of the industry. They must be even greater and more important men than those who went before them. They must be great salesmen.
Other hon. Members have discussed points of detail in the Bill. The main duty of the new members of the board must be to sell herring. To do that they must pull together with the industry. It will not be easy to retain our old markets in the face of economic nationalism. The mere fact that other countries are proposing to build herring fleets proves 659 what the right hon. Gentleman has said, how important it is in the economic life of the country to keep our fishermen. It would not be easy to recruit a naval force in excess of what you need unless you kept the fishermen. That point has been put much better than I could possibly put it.
I suggest that the new board must concentrate upon opening new markets. New markets are possible. Our old markets might first be increased. But there are markets in India. I was disappointed that suggestions made to the old Herring Board in regard to the Indian market were not taken up. It might be possible to sell herring to Argentina and in Africa. Those are possibilities which any good salesman could get over; but, what is much more difficult, is to wage an incessant war against the Board of Trade. I say that, realising—or at least thinking I realise—what I mean. The trade agreements which have been set up have always been against the representations made by the Minister of Agriculture. As agriculturists or fishermen we have never yet had our fair share in the markets or in the trade agreements. I hope that the new trade agreements will take into account the importance of the herring fishing industry of this country. It should not be difficult. I admit that it is essential that we should get timber from Russia. Cheap housing is perhaps more important than herring. On the other hand, the Russians sell us about £1,250,000 worth of crabs and salmon. Surely if we get crabs and salmon to that price they could take 1,500,000 barrels of herring. When the Minister appoints the new board I ask him to remember that they must be fighters.
Before I finish this part of the argument I would ask the Minister to remember that before the herring industry of this country can return to the prosperity which it experienced before the War, we must sell something like 500,000 barrels more than we sell to-day. If I, as a private individual, were trying to sell £500,000 worth of goods outside this country I should be prepared to allow to a foreign agency 10 per cent, commission on those sales. That commission would amount to £50,000. I point that out to indicate the value which the board could have to the herring industry, and 660 to ask the Minister to realise, when he appoints the new board, that in ordinary trading conditions the board would be entitled to a commission of approximately that amount. Not only will they have to be a selling organisation but they will have to consider their duty in regard to winter fishing.
When the Minister replies, I hope he will give us further particulars in regard to winter fishing. Does it apply to herring fishing or to white fishing? If it applies to white fishing does it mean that the herring-fishing skippers will get licences from the White Fishing Board under special terms? How will they be placed? If it applies to herring, are we to look after the winter fishing by means of a subsidy for the winter boats, or are we to do what would be much better, limit the importation of Norwegian herring which, as everyone knows, are of a much inferior quality? The people who are having licences for white fishing trawl for herring and, to some extent, compete in the herring industry market.
I admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) knows a great deal more about advertising than I do. I think he will agree that unless you advertise abroad you will never sell herring. I suggest that deputations should be allowed by the Minister to go to Czechoslovakia and to other parts of Europe, so that we could first advertise in those countries and then sell herring. I suggest that the Minister should deny the statement which was made that the new board may have no proposition to make. What is the good of having the board if the Minister believes it may not have a proposition to make? I ask him much more strongly to put the board out of office within six months unless it has a great number of propositions to make. If it has no proposition to make it is a travesty of what we expect a Herring Board to be.
As a Scotsman, I thank the Minister for the proposals which he has put forward. I hope they may act like a blood transfusion, and bring new life into the industry, but, frankly, I believe it will be like transfusing blood into a dead animal. I have made inquiries as to new boats, and it appears that it will be a number of years before any economy takes place in the fishing fleet. In the interval, the fishermen must use these 661 more expensive steam trawlers. When the late Secretary of State introduced the grants I presume he did so because he appreciated that he could not sell herring in the world market unless they were produced more cheaply. In five years' time perhaps 300 boats can be built, but there will still be over double the number of steam drifters still fishing. One of two things will happen; either the new boats will catch herring and make an exorbitant profit, or the steam drifters will go out of use.
It might be said, in answer to that, that the steam drifters have fished for herring for a large number of years and are still fishing, but I would point out that the price of coal is going up sharply. It was stated recently in answer to a question that 150,000 tons of coal are# being used by the drifters during the fishing season. The price has gone up this season nearly 10s., which means an increase of £75,000 per annum. I cannot believe, after having listened to the various Debates on the Coal Bill, that we have reached the peak price. I believe, therefore, that next year the increase will be greater. Something must therefore be done before these new motor boats are built to help the steam drifters. It will also help the miners and it will help the Herring Board to put its house in order and to sell cheaper herring. In my view the only thing that is possible to increase consumption is to provide herring of British quality at cheaper prices. In 1913 the world cure was just over 3,500,000 barrels. To-day it is just 3,000,000, and there are improved methods in every branch of the trade.
There is no reason why we should not sell herring in other parts of the world. We can at least get a certain proportion of the increase and, if we have an efficient Herring Board, surely we can get our fair share. But we can do that only if during the interim period, before these new and efficient boats are built, we get some assistance from the Minister to keep the coal-burning boats on the sea. There is no possible benefit in providing an efficient herring industry three years hence when by that time there are only 300 boats in the market. We must do something in the interval to keep the efficient men in the trade and to help them to carry on the industry until we go further than the Bill does and provide efficient drifters.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I think the House as a whole has given the Bill a favourable reception. I shall perhaps be a little more critical than most other speakers, but, in adopting that attitude, I want Ministers to be clear that one recognises that a considerable step forward has been taken and that one is grateful on behalf of one's fishermen constituents for any such step. Like a great many others, I have been critical of the present board on several occasions. I felt that it had largely failed, that it had seldom led, and that when it attempted to lead its efforts were very often half-measures and mistaken, that much of the machinery organisation that it set Up, like its area committees, was productive more of grievance than of gratitude, and that it was plain, and is now, that it had lost the confidence of the trade. That was due to a number of things—the personnel and the constitution of the board and its lack of power. This Bill is going to deal radically with its constitution. We are now to have done with trade representatives on that body, and that is a very good thing, because we now know from experience that the various branches of the industry for some reason can never co-operate. If I may adopt the well known lines:Curers are curers and catchers are catchers. And never the twain shall meet.It is far better in the circumstances to recognise that incompatibility and to create a new body unburdened by warring elements.
I should like to ask what sort of men the Minister has in mind as his three board members. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate it. The Duncan Commission had in mind persons of "wide business and administrative experience." Is that the kind of person the Government are looking for? I hope they are going to search for really big men who will take a grip of the industry and will bring to it the organising, restless drive that one sees in other great industrial and commercial enterprises. We need above all else super salesmen, adopting the modern technique of selling, and nothing else will be of the slightest benefit. The Bill will be utterly futile unless first-class men are appointed to the board.
In subsequent Clauses—5, 6, 7 and 8— proposals are made for granting further 663 powers. The board is to be enabled to make grants as well as loans, to encourage co-operative societies among fishermen and to designate the quality of herring and to prescribe standards for export. As far as these ideas represent progress in the minds of those responsible, they are welcome, but, as I see it, they fail lamentably to meet the present needs of that distracted trade. Remember, this is a trade which staggers from crisis to crisis and seems to have still more crises ahead of it, a trade whose man power and catching power have steadily and rapidly declined and are still declining, whose markets have been reduced and seem to be destined for still greater reduction; a trade upon whose knowledge and experience and courage we must certainly depend in any national emergency in years to come. Remember too, we have had three years' experience of this herring industry scheme, in which its weaknesses and shortcomings have thrust themselves before our eyes in such a way that they cannot possible be ignored now. This is our opportunity to remedy these shortcomings and I hope we are going to do so.
But the Bill disappoints me. I do not see a recognition of the facts brought to our notice in the last few years. There are to be grants to individuals for the building of new motor boats. I have been asking for that ever since I came into the House and it would be very ungrateful if I did not recognise that that is a step forward. I think it is proper that grants should be provided, as well as loans, because we have seen what happened in the last three years. Loans were available but they have not been taken up. Loans apparently are useless for producing new boats. Something else was needed. It is right, too, that grants should be provided for motor vessels. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and I had a slight alteration on the subject when he was talking. He said that medium-sized motor vessels could not operate in the East Anglian fishing season and, that being so, why advance money for this kind of boat? He is quite wrong. No fewer than three boats from East Fife —60 to 65 foot motor vessels—have been operating throughout the whole of the East Anglian season for each of the last four years. It is true that they have not been able to go out on the very worst 664 nights, but they have been glad of a chance to rest on these occasions and to get their vessels in order. They have, in fact, done well in those seasons and have come back to Anstruther on nearly every occasion having a greater net profit to divide among the crews than any of the steam drifters. That, it seems to me, is sufficient proof of the desirability of extending the number of that type of boat. The Government can feel fully justified in making this proposal.
But let the House observe, only something like 50 new motor vessels are to be built per annum during the next five years, that is to say 50 boat owners only are to be assisted. If you include the crews, you are faced with the possibility of assisting between 300 and 400 men. That is all. What of the other 6,000 men in the trade? What are they going to get out of the Bill? They will get nothing. Certainly they will get the indirect advantages of an improved fleet, a better herring board, and maybe an improved marketing system—in due time; but this year, next year, what advantage is to come to them? It may be said—I am surprised that it has not been said: "The herring industry is getting a subsidy, and what more do you want? "But it is a very paltry subsidy compared with those given to other great trades in the country. There was issued yesterday from the Vote Office a report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, in which were listed the various subsidies paid to farmers, I think that, including the relief in rating, they amount to something between £3,000,000 and £"4,000,000 a year—not all together for five years, but every year. The herring industry, under this Bill, is getting one-fortieth of that amount of State assistance.
The white fishing industry gets nothing. When you have embarked upon a policy of State subventions to support great national industries, you have no right to deny the same measure of help to an industry that is suffering as this one is, and occupies, as the fishing industry does, so important a place in the nation's defence and economy. The Government will remember that last November a deputation met them, representing, for once unanimously. 665 the whole of the herring trade. Their most urgent plea was for some immediate financial assistance to be spread over the whole fleet. In this Bill, limited financial assistance is being offered to a very limited class of men. That deputation asked for some much wider measure of aid. I am told, and would like the Minister to confirm this, that the Government's own advisers in Scotland supported the plea that the assistance should take the form of 25 per cent, of a boat's expenses. I am not competent to say that that plan was a practical measure; personally I should very much prefer some kind of scheme that offered, say, a bounty to individual skippers, or to individual members of the crews, perhaps in the form of an annual payment in return far a promise of the man's service or the services of his boat, in time of emergency. But, whatever might be the form of bounty, I feel we are entitled to complain to-night that there is nothing in this Measure that is in the least likely to assist these fishermen not covered by the new building scheme.
My arithmetic may be wrong, but, as I work it out, a considerable sum might be available for that more general purpose if the Government were to reconsider this proposed grant for boats. One-third of the cost of these new vessels is to be given, or about £1,000 each. Does it not strike the House that that is a very generous offer? I feel inclined to ask the Government from what source they got that demand for a 33⅓ per cent, grant. I am not aware that the trade have asked for 33⅓ per cent. I know that last year, when the deputation representing the whole trade met the Minister, they did not ask for one-third, but only for a 20 per cent, grant. Now the Minister comes out with something a great deal bigger. I do not think it is necessary. Every man that is likely to build a new motor boat will be quite as ready to build it with a 20 per cent, grant as with one of 33⅓, per cent., and I feel that, if the Government would reconsider that percentage, and use the saving, which I estimate would be about £100,000, for some more general aid to the industry, they would be doing something useful. That general aid may not be a great deal. I admit that £20,000 a year is not very much when it is spread over 800 boats and 6,000 men; but it might make the first contribution to a service fund that could 666 be used to maintain these men and their boats in a fair state of life.
Does the House realise that it is the exception for the ordinary herring fisherman to earn £2 a week throughout the year? I could give the House case after case of men who do not earn 25s. a week throughout the year. Only last week I had to appeal to the Minister of Labour on behalf of an East Fife fisherman, a married man with a family, who, in the three fishing seasons last year, made only 25s. a week, and nothing in the weeks between the seasons, and who is now obliged to appeal for public assistance. That is the state of this industry, that is the poverty which these men have to suffer, and I say it is unfair, it is not facing one's duty, to present this Bill without taking some measures to meet that general case. I feel very strongly about this matter, but I pass from it in the hope that the Government may feel it possible to reconsider their financial plans along the lines of the various appeals that have been made to them.
I pass to the next new power given to the board. The board are to have power to offer loans to societies of fishermen for the purchase of gear, nets and so on. So far as it goes, that is of course an admirable suggestion, but, like a good many other things in the Bill, it only goes half way, and it seems to me, on the whole, to be rather ill considered. The idea is that a group of fishermen, say, in Buckie or Anstruther, should form them selves into a co-operative society and get a loan from the board. That sounds fine, but I do not believe that anything will happen at all in Scotland under this Clause, because, in nearly every Scottish port, the vessels are managed by one or other of the local salesmen. There are sometimes two or three salesmen in one port, and each has two functions—first, to sell herring by auction when the boats arrive, and, secondly, to manage the boats which catch the herring. By management I mean that the salesmen buy all the gear that is necessary, the oil, fuel, coal, food and everything that is needed —
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
They are not tied houses exactly, but they are very nearly so. These boats are in the grip of the local salesmen. The Duncan Commission paid a tribute to what had been 667 done by the local salesmen up to 1935, and declared that they performed a useful function to the industry. I do not challenge that view, but I say that it is really a farce to put in a Clause of this kind, proposing the setting up of these co-operative societies to buy the very things which the salesmen have a monopoly of supplying at the present time. The Clause will never be anything but a dead letter. If the Government want to make it effective, they will have to give the board power to take over the job of the salesmen, and to appoint their own salesmen. Personally, I should have no objection to that; I would vote for it to-morrow with the greatest pleasure. I am certain that something of that kind must come. But, if the Government have that in mind, why do they not tell us? They seem to me to be making the worst of both worlds. They are offering something that is not going to have any practical result, but is going to encourage the salesmen to obtain a still greater grip on the boats which they now have in their control.
Lastly, I want to say a word about the proposal in the Bill to designate the quality of herring and prescribe standards below which herring may not fall if they are to be exported. That seems to me to be a most excellent provision. The right hon. Gentleman regards it as essential for improving the trade. I agree; we have been needing such a regulation ever since the War, ever since conditions changed in 1918. Before then, British herring sold without any trouble at all; the whole of Europe was begging for British herring. To-day the story is quite different; you have to fight to sell every barrel of cured herring. Why do not the Government "go the whole hog" in this matter of export trade? It is really no use saying that you will lay down a standard if you do not take the further inevitable step and appoint an export department. The Duncan Commission asked for that, and made a case for it which I feel is unanswerable. They said:In the export field organisation is needed to prevent forced selling; to meet powerful buying agencies on an equal footing; to recover lost ground in old markets and to develop new markets. We recommend that the board should themselves assume responsibility for this task, and we feel sure that we are correctly interpreting the general wishes of the industry in this respect.668 I am sure they were, and I am sure they would be to-day. The particular export department that the Duncan Commission had in mind was one that would do the very thing for which the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) pleaded to-day, namely:To buy and sell cured herring and generally assume the duties of a trading concern, but only should necessity arise in the opening up of new markets or in other special circumstances.''That is just the case that was made by my hon. Friend. Why do the Government hesitate about the appointment of this export department? To every one of us who maintains contact with this trade, who visits Yarmouth and other herring ports in the season, it is perfectly obvious that the present system is far from satisfactory. Last year, the Herring Industry Board sent a very much respected man over to the Continent to examine the kind of herring that we had exported there. Mr. James Mair, the Inspector of Sea Fisheries of the Scottish Fishery Board, went to Europe in the autumn of last year, and presented a report to the Herring Industry Board on 22nd December. He went for the purpose of investigating complaints as to the standard of British curing, and this is what he said:Several of the inspections showed some very bad selections and packing. Great care had been given to the laying of the first, and in most cases the second, tier in the bottom of the barrel, but thereafter the work in many cases showed carelessness and a lack of supervision in the packing.That is not very good for British export trade. He went on to say:These inspections at the importing centres, and the appearance of herring in the various retail markets visited, have shown that there is room for a severe tightening up of the supervision of packing.Again, he says:In the early shipments from Scotland, notably Lerwick and Stornoway, and again in the first cargoes which came from East Anglia, there was much evidence of slack filling.Is not that evidence that this whole process of exporting herring needs investigation, which ought to be taken in hand by a really competent branch of the board? We have no one of experience to supervise our curers. The curers are letting down the British herring industry, and, speaking as a representative of a port composed chiefly of fishermen, I protest against their action in damaging the 669 market for the British herring. I would like the House to listen to the conclusion of Mr. Mair as a result of his investigations:It is unfortunate that there were grounds for so many complaints against the British herring exported to the Continent this year, and that the light fishing in Scotland forced prices to a figure so much above that of other herring curing countries. In former years this would not have had such a serious effect as Britain was the principal source from which the Continental consumers derived their supplies, and the defects of one season's cure might have only a temporary effect on the disposal of the following season's cure.This is the passage I invite the House to consider:The position to-day has, however, changed. very materially in that the consumers have at their choice the very large productions of other countries to which they can turn.He goes on to point out that whereas in the old days we had almost a monopoly of the supply of herring, to-day there is a list of other countries which are supplying that market abroad. Foreign buyers are not prepared to accept any herring, but will look with great suspicion upon any supplies that are not up to standard. There has been talk to-night of the difficulty of making a deal with Russia. I ask the House to believe that there are difficulties confronting the trade this year in its dealings with Germany. The herring season in Fife ended a few weeks ago, and I was there to see what happened. Whereas in the old days we had control of the exports to Germany, to-day we have lost completely that control. The Germans have their representatives there at the ports. One man only buys; there is no competition. He then allocates what he has bought to his comrades. They have the duty of transporting by rail and by sea, all of which task used to belong to local men, but is now performed by Germans. They have the monopoly of the winter fishing market. All the Klondyking that will take place this summer will face the same monopolistic conditions, and they are going to suffer on account of it. There is no one to-day specially allocated to deal with that problem of exports, and I beg the Government to reconsider the Duncan Commission's recommendation and give the board power to appoint a definite export department, so that a real grip may be taken on this part of the trade.
670 I apologise for taking so long, but one seldom gets the chance to speak on this matter—a matter of vital importance to my constituents. I will conclude by recognising that this is a step forward. Particularly I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and to wish him every success in his new office. I shall think much more of him if he will take this Bill back and not let us see it in the Committee stage for many weeks. Let him work and dream on it, and then produce something different than what we have before us tonight. This Bill is good, so far as it goes, but it must be amended and improved. I give notice that I shall have many Amendments to move in the Committee, and I shall be obliged to carry them to a Division and vote against the Government if they are not accepted. The weaknesses of this Bill are so palpable that I feel that I must make this protest.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) made a very long speech against the Bill. But I am prepared to prophesy that he will fall into line when the whip cracks, and that he will vote for the Bill in the end. If I had the power to persuade this House to throw out the Bill, I would use it. It is not a good Bill. There are, of course, golden hopes held out, but the same hopes were held out when the Herring Marketing Board was set up. We had all sorts of promises of what it would do, but it was simply a dead weight on the fishermen. I was up in Peterhead one day recently. The day before I arrived the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) had been there and had advised the fishermen to see me. A deputation was waiting for me. I would like the new Minister to take a trip up to Peterhead and Fraserburgh and have a talk with the people there. This deputation told me some appalling stories of the hardships of the fishermen. One old fisherman told me he had applied to the Marketing Board for a loan and that the board instructed him to have a surveyor to make a report. He got a Lloyds surveyor, who brought in a local man. The survey was made, and the surveyor made an estimate that his boat could be put into seaworthy condition for £250. He applied to the board for it. Month after month passed, but he got nothing.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If I had your bank roll I would have had no trouble in helping him, or if I could get the bank rolls of the hon. Members opposite, and some day I will get them, and they will have to do a bit of fishing themselves. After a number of months had passed the fisherman reminded the board of his request, and they replied that they would send their own surveyor. They sent him, and the next word he got was that his ship would cost too much to repair, despite the survey that had been made by the Lloyds surveyor. His ship was condemned, and that elderly man was left destitute in his last years of life.
On second thoughts it might not be safe for the Minister to go up to those parts, because this man told me, in respect of the Herring Board and the Government behind it, what he would like to do. He said, "Mr. Gallacher, I could see them all put up against the wall and shot." Another one said, "Aye, and I'm the man that would do the shooting." That is an indication of the terrible bitterness that exists as a result of the neglect they receive from the Herring Board. After all the talk that we have had about this Herring Board from the previous Minister, it is now admitted that the whole thing has been a ghastly failure. The proposals for another board include three members and an advisory council to be appointed by the Minister. We have had enough of this appointing by the Minister. The last Herring Board had people selected by the Minister. Why cannot the fishermen be given responsibility? Let them select or elect the members of the board. Let them be brought together to discuss who understands their problems and can speak for them.
Here you have a Bill that is concerned, presumably, with the welfare of these fishermen, but it is not. It is typical of what is known to be happening all over the country. It is typical of the development in monopoly of capitalism. It is all right for the hon. Member to think there is something humorous about this, but if he was in the position of the fishermen who know that they are being squeezed out, he would not be smiling. They know that the monopoly called Unilever is an octopus that stretches out to every industry. It is in the fishing industry 672 through Mac Fisheries. How much are they going to get out of it? As to advertising on the Continent, you have the fleet coming into the Forth and throwing the fish overboard, while people in institutions in Scotland are unable to get herring, the most nutritious of food. Why talk of advertising on the Continent? Are you never going to organise the markets here? There is a human market at home, though there may not be a profit market. The human market never comes into consideration. Do you mean to tell me that Scotland could not consume the herring that are dumped overboard? Let the hon. Member for East Fife go and see his fishermen. They do not want to throw fish overboard; they want the fish used.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I do not think the hon. Member means to be unfair to my constituents, but let me make the position clear. The reason there was dumping at East Fife this year was because German buyers on several occasions undertook to take such fish as the men caught at a certain price. On that understanding the men went out at night, but when they returned in the morning the German price had dropped, and, rather than submit to such tactics, the fishermen threw their catch overboard.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I agree that the fishermen of the Forth were entitled to refuse to give the fish to the Germans, under the conditions, but surely we have sufficient intelligence and humanity to provide an organisation in such circumstances and to see that the fish was distributed among the people, rather than being thrown into the sea. The Government ought to provide the necessary money for that purpose. They ought to organise a market at home, irrespective of the cost. The fishermen are carrying out one of the primal occupations. They represent one of the finest bodies of men in this or any country. You are destroying them when you throw the fish into the sea. The fishermen, naturally, did not want to sell the herring to the Germans, when the Germans tried to take advantage of them, but surely there ought to be an organisation to meet such an emergency. Before a penny is spent in advertising in other lands for the consumption of our fish, we ought to spend money in organising the distribution of fish here. I could take 673 hon. Members to institution after institution in Scotland, apart altogether from the streets in every industrial area, where this fish could be consumed if the market was organised.
I should like to say something about the grants for boats. Let us suppose that the boat of a fisherman at Peterhead has been destroyed by the Herring Board, and the man is left destitute. The Herring Board come along and say, "We will make you a grant towards a new motor boat. If you will put down £2,000, we will put down £1,000." What is the use of saying that to a fisherman? What will happen? The monopolists will come in, and we shall have a system of tied boats. The monopolists will get control. This is a Bill not to help fishermen but to help the monopolists. Small men who are in the deepest poverty and are suffering the most unspeakable hardship will not be aided by this Bill. The one thing that is wanted for fishermen is a substantial subsidy that will provide a basic wage for them. Will hon. Members face up to that need? Why should not the fisherman, who takes such risks and who is so necessary for the country when it is in danger, have a basic wage? Last year we discussed the question of a subsidy for tramp shipowners. That was a subsidy to ensure their profits. Are profits more important than wages? Are tramp shipowners, who do not go to sea, more important than fishermen? Let no hon. Member tell us that if war breaks out, they cannot do without the shipowners. Of course they can do without them. The only thing that the shipowners do during the war is to pile up enormous profits at the expense of the people. You cannot do without the fishermen; they are of the greatest value.
I ask hon. Members whether they are prepared to insist upon this Bill being withdrawn and a real, comprehensive Bill brought in. We ought not to play with this question any longer. You are playing with the lives of the fishermen. You were playing with their lives through the last Herring Board. This Bill is a step in that same direction. Bring in a comprehensive Bill now. Give the fishermen the right to elect their representatives. Bring in a Bill that provides for the marketing of fish in this country, which means organisation and the spending of money. Let us have a Bill that is concerned in putting the small 674 man to sea, independent of the power of the monopolists; a Bill that will not put him into the grip of the monopolists, but a Bill that will guarantee a basic wage for the fisherman. That is how to solve the problem that confronts the fishing industry. I commend such a Bill to the new Secretary of State for Scotland. He has started a new job. Let him start in a new way. Let him withdraw this Bill and bring in a Bill such as I have suggested, and he will make a name with the fishermen that will stand while time exists.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I may have an unfortunate complex in this matter, but whenever I come into the Chamber on any day during the whole course of the year it always seems to me that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is either speaking, or is about to speak, or is trying to speak. To-day he has given us one of his accustomed harangues, to which we have become used over a long period of time. He speaks with equal emphasis and equal knowledge on all subjects; a knowledge which may be in direct arithmetical relation to the amount of support which his party gets in the country. There are several subjects to which I should like to refer.
§ Mr. Petherick
Therefore I will not follow the hon. Member's speech any further. In common with other hon. Members I should like to congratulate the new Secretary of State for Scotland on his elevation. I wonder whether his alacrity in accepting the new position was to a certain extent due to this Bill. Having had some part as Financial Secretary to the Treasury in accepting this vast expenditure of public money, perhaps he is happy to go to the country where the money is to be spent. The fact that he has had such a warm welcome from hon. Members sitting for Scottish constituencies may be an indication of the affection which Scotsmen invariably feel for a downright, generous benefactor.
There are a good many matters in this Bill about which I have some misgiving. It is quite clearly a Scottish Bill. The fact that there has been a preponderance of Scottish Members present is probably 675 an indication of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), speaking on behalf of the English fishing industry, has proved to the House that the Bill, as drafted, may be considered largely a Scottish Measure. My right hon. Friend, in his opening remarks, pointed to the fact that the real trouble of the herring fishing industry is that the markets have fallen abroad. About that matter I shall have a little to say later. I do not agree with a good many hon. Members who have spoken, who seem to claim that whenever any industry, deserving though it may be, falls upon evil days it is always the duty of the Government to provide money from other industries with which to come to the rescue. There are very often many measures which an industry might take in its own protection and for its own salvation. As Members of this House, we ought to look with some misgiving on the repeated demands for taxpayers' money to bolster up what is very often an inefficient industry.
I am alarmed, I must confess, by some of the financial aspects of this Bill. I should like to join with the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who said that the report of the Herring Board should have been a Command Paper. This Bill has only been in our hands a few days. Although I took some interest in the previous Bill during its passage, I had not seen the report of the Herring Industry Board. I carefully collect the little bits of pink paper sent to us from the Vote Office, on which one indicates the Papers in which we are interested. I have looked for the report of the Herring Industry Board, and I find that it is classified as a non-Parliamentary Paper, and in consequence I did not see one until I specially asked for it to-day. A Paper of this importance should be laid on the Table according to the Act of 1935, and as a Command Paper it should be brought to the notice of hon. Members who may be interested in the subject.
With regard to the financial provisions of the Bill, I suppose that hon. Members have long enough memories to recollect that this industry has already had in the last three years some £800,000 of taxpayers' money, or, at any rate, it has had the opportunity to draw that money 676 if it wanted it, according to the 1935 Act. If all that money has not been drawn— we cannot tell whether it has, because we have not the latest reports of the Herring Industry Board before us—why ask for more until it has been drawn? We are invited by this Bill to give another £125,000 of taxpayers' money for the administrative expenses of the board and for advertising and various other matters. We are invited also to provide another £250,000 in the form of loans or grants for fishermen. I will deal with that point later, as it affects my constituency. On the top of all that, we are to provide £150,000 for the Herring Fund Advances Account, which has already had £600,000.
§ Mr. Petherick
Why ask for another £150,000 until the £600,000 has been used? This is to go into the Herring Fund Advances Account and may be lost, or it may ultimately, as I said in the previous Debate on the last Act, have to be paid for by the taxpayer. Let me make a few remarks about the Bill itself. There are some things in it that I cordially welcome. The one Clause that is probably the most satisfactory is the first, which takes out of the board any persons who are directly associated with the industry. On many occasions I have advocated that practice as regards boards of a similar nature under the Agricultural Marketing Schemes. We should have, as we have under this Bill, an independent board, advised by an advisory council of people associated with or in the industry. I approve of the size of the board. Formerly, there were eight members of the board, which I think is too big. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said that he thought the board could not buy or sell herring when there was a glut, but I would point out that under the previous Act it was possible for them to do that. So far as Clause 2 is concerned, which deals with the Herring Advisory Council, I agree with my hon. Friend opposite in urging the Ministry to be rather more generous in the appointment of English representatives on the advisory council. He pointed out, quite rightly, that we were not very generously represented on the existing board; and, considering that most of the money is going to come out of the English taxpayers' pockets for the benefit of the Scots, I think we are entitled 677 to more generous representation on the advisory council.
Clause 3 gives to the board a sum of money amounting to £125,000 for similar purposes as those for which we have already given £300,000 under the 1935 Act. I think we are going rather far in giving the Herring Industry Board another £125,000 without more careful consideration, until we are entirely satisfield with their previous activities. Clause 4 lays down that grants may be given to herring fishermen for the purpose of assisting in the provision of new motor boats. I am not sure of the definition of "herring fishermen." Here is where the Bill may directly affect my own division. A good many of the fishermen in my division are engaged in the herring fishing industry during the late autumn or early winter months. Earlier in the autumn they may have been catching pilchards and in other parts of the year they may have been fishing in drift boats with a long line, or they may have been fishing for mackerel. I should like to be sure that the large amount of money which is to be placed at the disposal of herring fishermen for the purchase of new boats is not going to be only for those engaged solely in herring fishing. I should not like to feel that my unfortunate constituents were going to be taxed, along with other taxpayers, for a subsidy for Scottish fishermen and were going to get nothing for themselves, although they are, in fact, herring fishermen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft said in his speech, which was very eloquent and moving in parts, that his constituents, with very few exceptions, would get practically no share of these grants. It seems to me that it should be fairly easy to get over that difficulty if, in the Financial Resolution and in the Bill, the Government would make it clear, in the form of an Amendment, what a herring fisherman was. For instance, as an hon. Member has said, a small private company is eligible for a grant. I think that "a person" in law includes "persons." It would be very easy to overcome the difficulty, and if the Government would accept some such Amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft could feel a little happier about the Bill, although I am afraid I should not.
678 Clause 5, again, provides for a large additional amount which is to be put at the disposal of the Herring Fund Advances Account, which has already at its disposal, even if it has not drawn it, £600,000. I should like to draw attention to Clause 7, which begins about one-third of the way down on page 4 and goes on, without a full stop, until about one-third of the way down on page 5. If hon. Members can understand what the paragraph lightly referred to as (gg) means, I should like to congratulate them on their intelligence. I certainly cannot. I have referred at length to the amount of expenditure of the taxpayers' money. Clause 8 provides for a further expenditure. The total amount involved is not very great, but it does empower the Treasury out of moneys provided by Parliament to payto the members, officers and servants of the consumers' committee and of the committee of investigation appointed under Section four of the principal Act such remuneration (whether by way of salaries or by way of fees) as the Ministers, with the approval of the Treasury may determine "…I daresay it may be advisable to put up these committees, to make quite sure that consumers are not too seriously prejudiced, but I suggest that if you are going to pay these consumers' committees, you should have one consumers' committee, watching the operation of these various schemes, not only for the herring industry, but also for the various agricultural marketing schemes. If you have one consumers' committee, you can have a very strong watch. It would not cost so much as having a consumers' committee for each scheme, and the idea would have the merit of making it possible for Ministers to secure a committee which, by its experience of various forms of schemes, would be more competent to judge whether the consumer was being prejudiced or not.
I would call the attention of my right hon. Friend, and also of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, to one or two other matters which seem to me to have some bearing on this. Are they quite sure, from their experience of the Herring Industry Board during the three years of its existence, that it really is an effective body? I am inclined to think that, as the constitution is being changed, there is a grave suspicion in the minds of those members 679 of the Government most interested in the board, that it has not done its work as satisfactorily as might have been desired. What is the origin of this Bill? Is it because the advances under the Herring Fund Advances Account end in two years' time, or is it owing to a demand from the fishermen themselves? If it is the latter, I myself have not seen that demand. I am rather alarmed at the prospect of spending this extra money, which may amount to £375,000—with the £150,000 advances to the Herring Fund Advances Account, that amounts to nearly £600,000. If all this money is to be poured out, I hope that my right hon. Friends are really quite satisfied that the board is going to do its work.
The right hon. Member for Hillsborough quite rightly pointed out that it seemed rather fatuous to give money to the Herring Industry Board to spend on the advertisement of herring, and to do precisely the same thing with its competitor, the board which manages the bacon business. I think that the problem of the herring industry is far more a question of exports than of the herring sold in this country. As far as exports are concerned, the Government could take measures of very great benefit. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) rather twitted hon. Members on this side with the unfortunate effect, as he put it, of protection. I notice that no Member of the Liberal party is on those benches at present. In fact, there has been none there for a great part of the Debate. At one time I had a very naughty urge to leap to my feet on a point of Order—but I discarded it because I did not think it would conduce to the gravity of the House—and suggest that you, Mr. Speaker, should order that Liberals be brought in.
§ Mr. Petherick
I mean the Opposition Liberals. I think they should be here for a Bill which affects the constituents of so many of them. The tariff policy of the Government has done a great deal of good in increasing exports, not of herring indeed, but of many other forms of food. In the last seven years the amount of exports to those countries with which we have agreements, and to the Dominions under the Ottawa Agreement, 680 have increased by £125,000,000. The Government should use its great bargaining power very much more on behalf of the herring industry than it does at present. Take the case of the Trade Agreement with Russia. I have never been able, despite many questions to the Government, to get the real figures with regard to trade with Russia, but it is obvious to me that the Trade Agreement is not being carried out. Would it not be possible to institute, not only with Russia, but with Germany and Denmark, negotiations for trade agreements, and to use the fact that we have an unfavourable balance of trade with those countries to force more herring into those countries? I feel that the Bill is not going to be of any benefit to most parts of England, and I am extremely doubtful about its effect on the herring industry of Scotland, except in so far as that when you give a subsidy, which is what this amounts to, it helps the industry ot stave off evil times temporarily. It is no good for me to protest, I suppose, but I hope that, in spite of all these difficulties, the Bill will do some good. I would not grudge the amount spent if I felt that the Scottish industry would endeavour to put its own house in order, and not rely too much, as it has in the past, on the board and on the Government.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen
I would like to add my congratulations to those already given to my right hon. Friend on the assumption of his highly important office, and also to wish God-speed to his predecessor, with whom, I am proud to say, in a humble capacity, I was associated during several months of his tenure of office. My hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) said that this was essentially a Scottish Bill, and if that be the case, so much the better, because I believe the need of the Scottish fishermen to be infinitely greater than the need in any other part of this Island. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) quoted the case of a fisherman in his division whose earnings amounted to no more than 25s. a Week. In my division, in the fishing port of Eyemouth, there are fishermen who in recent weeks have been earning something like only 3s. per week per head. In fact they have been receiving very much less by going to sea 681 than they would have received had they stayed ashore and remained on Unemployment Assistance. This places the skipper going round looking for men to man his boat in a very invidious position. It places him in a position, if he enables a man to earn, say, 10s. a week—and he cannot guarantee even that amount—of feeling guilty of starving that man's wife and children. Hence it is that to-day in a place like Eyemouth, where, 30 years ago, every youth in the place went as a matter of course into the fishing industry and became a fisherman like his father and grandfather before him, not more than 1 per cent, of the youths of that town become fishermen. And the loss is not merely that of the town or the county but of the country at large.
The fishing season in the south-east of Scotland of which I am speaking is divided into three parts. The first starts about the first week in May, and that as a rule is very poor as far as earnings go. The second month is rather better, and the third month is, as a rule, good. A suggestion has been made that for the first month's voyage there should be an allowance made by the Unemployment Assistance Board to make up the deficiency between the unemployment scale and wages. During the second period it is calculated that the industry can, as it were, wash its own face, and it is suggested that during the third month the earnings should be reimbursed to the board after the needs of the men have been considered.
A great deal has been said this afternoon in various quarters of the House about the use and importance of the personnel of the fishing fleet of this country in time of war as a defensive force. It has been suggested further that fishermen should be enrolled in some sort of reserve under the Admiralty and should receive some retaining pay during the fishing periods, and the ordinary rates of pay during the period when they were undergoing service in His Majesty's ships. But it is the fact that the need of these people is so enormous that it can hardly be exaggerated. While this Bill by no means contributes all that we would like to see, and while there are a great many criticisms to be made and shortcomings to be pointed out, yet, as it is a case of saving a highly important industry from extinction, I believe that 682 it may at least serve the purpose of a lifebelt.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence
I will not follow up the remarks of my lion, and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen), except to endorse every word that he said about the hope that we all feel that the Admiralty will do everything possible to help the fishermen in the very difficult times through which they are going just now. I want to refer to the remark made earlier in the Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who called our attention to the table on page 5 of the report of the Herring Industry Board, which shows an extraordinary difference between the earnings of Scottish fishermen and English fishermen. That has received a lot of publicity and has not been answered, and I think it ought to be. It looks very unfavourable to the Scottish boats, until one realises that the table is entirely misleading, as it is based on the average gross earnings. The system of management is entirely different in Scotland from that in England. Scottish boats are owned by individuals, but in England the great majority are company-owned boats. The whole thing hinges on expenses, and the only comparison is on the average net earnings. The cost of management of the English company boats averages about £350 or £400 a. year more than that of the Scottish boats. The explanation is that there are no management expenses in respect of Scottish boats and no costs for storage of gear or of employing people to look after the gear. Finally—and this is very important—the Scottish boats and nets are owned by men who look after them much more carefully than English fishermen look after the company-owned boats and nets. That is the explanation of the difference in that table.
The most important provisions in this Bill are the proposals for the replacement of boats and the improvement of the marketing of herring. While that is so, I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether the Bill will deal with what is the most urgent problem of the fishermen at the present time. I will read a short letter form a Shetland skipper:I am the skipper and part owner of a motor boat and have been fishing out of683Stromness and Wick. I am doing absolutely nothing. I cannot even pay our grub bill, and all our running expenses are unpaid. Cases like this ought to meet with the greatest consideration. We cannot get any unemployment benefit and do not appear to be able to get Government help of any kind.I have had dozens of these letters, and I picked that letter out at random. I am sure that hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies have experienced that sort of thing. He is a man who is known to me personally, and every hon. Member here would be proud to shake hands with him. He has been a fisherman all his life. He is a good citizen, the father of a large family, who have been well brought up. He owns his own boat and has managed to pay his way all the time, and now he is literally down and out, and there are many more like him. I do not know how this sort of thing can be dealt with, but this side of the question is an urgent one and some attention will have to be paid to it. These people need immediate help. They are all in debt. Their running costs have been mounting steadily, while the situation, as far as they are concerned, has not been improving. Things have been going from bad to worse. since reference has been made to the matter of coal, it is well that the House should realise that 50 per cent, of the running expenses of the steam drifter is the coal bill. This is a very important point, and I hope that it will be looked into.
The truth is that these men are fighting for markets against the competition of other fishing communities which without exception are subsidised and bolstered up by their Governments. That is the primary reason, and all the northern countries of Europe are doing this in order to keep their fishing communities in existence as a source of seamen for their mercantile marine and navy. That is the competition which our men have to meet, and hitherto we have done very little to help them. There has been some reference to the employment of fishing boats in war-time. I hope the Admiralty will look at this question from the purely fishing point of view. If the Admiralty want boats for any special purpose they can easily meet the difficulty and get what they want. The kind of boats which are required are those which will enable fishing operations to be conducted in an economical manner. After all, is 684 not the supply of fish for this country in time of war a matter of great importance? Would it not be better that the Navy, instead of spending the next war in Scapa Flow while the drifter menaredoing all the dirty work in the North Sea and everyhere else, should allow these men to prosecute their fishing to keep up the food supplies of the nation and that the Navy should protect them for a change? There are enormous supplies of herring in the North Sea and it is a form of food which can be cured and stored without deteriorating at all. We must also remember that not only are our fishermen in competition with subsidised industries in other countries, but that many of their raw materials are the subject of revenue duties, and I think that all points such as this should be taken into consideration when this question is being considered.
Then there is the question of the replacement of boats. That is absolutely necessary, and the Bill is sound in that respect. The herring fishing fleet decays very rapidly and we must keep our fleet modernised unless we are to see the whole industry go out. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) referred to the necessity of the herring fleet working to full capacity. That is all very well, but what size is the fleet to be? That is the important point. Last year Germany caught and cured over 1,000,000 barrels of herring with a fleet of 173 boats. We caught and cured fewer than 1,000,000 barrels with a fleet of 800 boats. Quite obviously, unless there is going to be a great expansion of markets, we cannot keep a fleet of that size continuously employed on an economic basis. The real crux of the whole question is markets. The possibilities of the home market have been mentioned and one hon. Member asked what has been the result of spending £26,000 in advertising. The result has been that we have consumed in Great Britain fewer herring than we did the year before advertising was undertaken. It is simply futile to advertise the hard-cured salt herring in this country. Hon. Members who live in the Highlands and Islands have seen with their own eyes the market among the crofters, who have been accustomed to live largely on salt herring, disappear; they want other things. I myself up to five years ago always had a half barrel of salt herring, not for eating raw, but I 685 do not get them now because no one in the family will eat them.
But is there no possibility of finding markets for fresh herring? Some study should be devoted to this problem. I think there is a vast market for fresh herring in our industrial areas if we could solve the problem of getting them there in an eatable condition. People will not eat herring which smell. After all, the Germans come across into our waters in the North Sea and fish, the herring are lightly treated with ice and are processed in various ways. Cannot we find a method of chilling or lightly freezing herring and deliver them inshore in cold storage vans? That, I believe, is one way in which we might hope to increase consumption in the home market. From our point of view I think the real key to the situation is in the continental market. Of recent years the continental market has been expanding. The total quantity of herring cured in Europe in 1935 was 2,400,000 barrels, last year it was over 3,000,000 barrels. That is an expansion of 600,000 barrels. What happened in Great Britain? Our cure went down by 200,000 barrels, and it is the only cure in Europe which is going down. We are losing our continental markets hand over fist, and we have to stop it somehow or other.
§ Mr. Fleming
Is not the real reason for the loss of our continental markets that we cannot compete at the price?
§ Major Neven-Spence
I have already referred to that problem. The fact that other countries are subsidising the industry and managing their exchanges makes it very difficult for us. Germany consumed 1,500,000 barrels of herring last year, and 1,000,000 barrels were cured in Germany. The remaining 500,000 were imported. We supplied about 356,000 barrels. I should like to know whether any arrangements have been made about the German market this year. Are we going to supply an equal figure, or are we going to have our quota cut down still further? We must remember that our fishermen have to compete against an import duty of nine marks, roughly 13s., on a barrel of herring. That is absolutely impossible, and I think most strenuous efforts should be made to get Germany to be more reasonable over the amount of import duty. It is not as if 686 she were not taking herring, because in the period during which our supplies were cut down the Netherlands and Sweden increased their exports to Germany by 100 per cent, and 75 per cent., respectively. Evidently there is still a good market in Germany if we could only get it.
There is one particular market in Germany which is available for us, and move especially for constituencies like the one I have the honour to represent; it is the market for "matjes," which is a matured herring, not sexually mature, and very succulent. Its method of handling is soft cured, and it has to go into cold storage within a week, otherwise it is useless. An arrangement was entered into with the German importers who handle these herring. They wanted the Shetland catch this year to start on 7th June, but the Herring Board have fixed the date of 14th June, and thus have thrown away a week's fishing for that market. It is not as if the "matjes" cure interfered in any way with the hard cure. I do not dispute that there are hard-cured herring still unsold, but the position with regard to them is not in any way influenced by the market for "matje" herring. There is a special market for "matje" herring, and they are eaten at a certain time when certain vegetables come into use. The "matje" cure is handled by importers who deal with nothing else, and who do not handle German-cured herring at all. If they do not have the herring on the date when they want to begin handling them, it will disorganise their business in distributing the herring. There may be some answer on this matter, but I consider that it is deplorable to throw away a market such as that. I do not know what the reason is, for the Germans want the herring, and we are prepared to catch them.
Hon. Members have referred to Russia. Before the War, Russia imported 1,250,000 barrels of herring, and earlier in the Debate I intervened to point out that now Russia is curing on her own account 1,000,000 barrels of herring a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) is inclined to dispute that figure, but I assure him that it is the best estimate that can be obtained and that it is near the mark. Obviously, it is futile to talk of the Russian market. I believe it has gone. In any case, what are we going to get out of the Russians? 687 The last time we sold herring to them, it was an amount of 16,000 barrels and the price was 24s. a barrel or is. below the price paid for Tornbellies last summer and six or eight shillings per barrel below the cost of curing. What other markets are there? There are the Baltic countries, Finland, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Danzig, all of them great herring-consuming countries. I would draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that every one of these countries has a favourable trade balance with us. Why not use the big stick, and secure fair treatment for our fishing industry by insisting on these countries taking a much larger quantity of our herring? They are taking herring from other countries, and they ought to be taking more from us. I consider that trade agreements are absolutely vital.
Are there any other things that could be done? I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) in his remarks about gluts; I could enlighten him a great deal, but I do not want to take up more time. In connection with gluts, however, there is one point with which I wish to deal. In this country we consume very large quantities of fish meal and cod liver oil, both for human beings and stock. Could we not do something in the way of the judicious placing of factories for the manufacture of fish meal and cod liver oil? I can see no reason why part of our herring fleet should not be fishing for the express purpose of getting fish for the manufacture of fish meal, cod liver oil and other by-products. Incidentally, that would provide the only practical means of dealing with gluts of herring. There are enormous quantities of herring in the sea. In March I was in Shetland talking to some trawlermen, and they told me that off the northerly part of Shetland, the shoals of herring were so dense that they were unable to get the trawls to the bottom of the sea, and had to give up trawling in that area. I am very glad that this Bill has been introduced, because I think it makes a useful attempt to bring the means of catching fish up to date and to get markets for us, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into the question of the possibility of tiding the men over the next two or three very anxious years.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Maclean
The Bill now before us provides for the setting up of an advisory committee, but I think that the Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State will agree that, judging from the criticisms of the Bill and the many suggestions that have been made by hon. Members on all sides of the House, they already have a very efficient advisory committee to guide the Herring Board in their deliberations. As has already been stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), we do not intend to divide against the Bill, which has become absolutely necessary. That being the case, it is no mere opposition criticism that is being directed against the Government, as will indeed be recognised from the amount of criticism that has been made by hon. Members on the Government's own side. For instance, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence) placed before the Under-Secretary a number of grievances that will have to be remedied, grievances which the grants and sums of money provided in the Bill cannot in any way cover. It is the same with other grievances which have been mentioned by other hon. Members.
I am certain that if the Government were really in earnest about the situation which has arisen in the herring industry, they would find that it was not merely a matter of £250,000, or a little more, that is required. A considerably greater sum will be necessary in order to meet the disastrous situation which has arisen throughout the whole of this industry and its subsidiary industries. I take it that the main purpose of the Bill, as provided in Clause 4, is to endeavour to remedy the position by bringing new boats into operation for the purpose of getting a larger supply of herring caught by the fishermen. The Government have evidently come to the conclusion that, in spite of the Herring Fishery Board's statement that drifters are the most efficient vessels that can be used in the fishing industry, the fishing vessel which they wish to place in the water is a motor- driven boat, from 60 to 70 feet in length—I take it keel length —
§ Mr. Maclean
As long as it is not the whisky line, we do not mind. But I hope we shall have a reply on that question, because it may mean a material difference as to the class of boat which we are asked to subsidise, whether the measurement is a keel measurement or an "over all "measurement. The main purpose of the Bill is to supply the herring industry with this subsidy, in order to place motor-driven boats at the service of the fishermen. Although more Scottish than English Members have taken part in this Debate, the Bill is intended to apply to the whole of the fishing industry, and while it may be that English Members do not take the same interest in it as Scottish Members do, it should not be forgotten that it applies also to the English fishing industry. We shall insist upon fair play in this matter as between those who are engaged in the industry in Scotland and those in England. We hope that the Bill, in so far as it is of any service at all, will be of service to the fishing communities in both countries.
Hon. Members who are supporters of the Government and who represent fishing districts in England have criticised the Government and have tried to make out that there is but little benefit for the English fishermen in this Bill. I can assure them that we shall do all we can to see that the English fishermen get their share, just as we expect the Scottish fishermen to get their share of any benefits that may result. Those benefits are not all that we would desire. The mere supply of motor-driven vessels in the manner proposed will not solve the problem of the herring fishing industry. As the Secretary of State for Scotland knows—because he and I have had frequent discussions on the subject—a great deal of damage has been done to the fishing industry in Scotland by illegal trawling. Those who engage in illegal trawling make a rich harvest in a voyage or two, if they escape detection and get away with their haul.
I wish to refer to the report which has been submitted to the Government by the Herring Industry Board and is now issued by the Stationery Office. I join with my 690 right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough in expressing astonishment that this report from a body set up by this House, under an Act of Parliament and financed out of moneys voted by this House, should be a Stationery Office publication instead of a Command Paper, which we could obtain, not by privilege or favour, but as of right from the Vote Office. I hope the new Secretary of State will take that point into consideration and insist that reports supplied to him from any body to be set up under this Bill will—if they are not confidential documents concerned with certain special issues—be definite reports on the deliberations and actions of that body and the expenditure of the money placed in their hands. I hope such reports will be issued as Command Papers like the Scottish Fishery Board reports, so that we shall be able to get them in a proper way and, if necessary, ask for opportunities of discussing them in the House.
This report sets out what were the main objectives of the board. Their intentions were admirable, but there is an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I do not think this House is yet setting up as a paving contractor for that thoroughfare. The intentions were all right, but we want to see them carried into effect, and apparently the board have not been able to do so, with the result that the herring industry all over the country is in an even more parlous condition now than it was when the board was established. Apparently very little progress has been made. There is also a statement in the report as to the means of reaching these objectives. They mention such matters as the provision of new nets, the reconditioning of existing vessels, the building of new vessels, investigations with a view to ascertaining the best type of boat, suggestions as to new methods of fishing and the discarding of old and outworn customs in the industry. It would be interesting if the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary were to tell us what old and outworn customs of the industry have been discarded, whether any have been retained, and what is expected to be the effect on the industry. Have any of these old customs been considered with a view to retaining any good that there may have been in them, and of bringing them up to date and into line with present day conditions?
691 The report also refers to the reorganisation of the industry by means of cooperation, better management, elimination of certain practices, and so on. Here then was a board, set up with these very beneficent intentions, which, if carried into effect, might have revolutionised the herring industry. But they have not been carried into effect. That is shown by the very fact that we are now dealing with a Bill abolishing the original board which submitted this report and setting up a new type of independent board directly responsible to and financed by the Government, with an advisory body under it, whose chairman is to be appointed by the Government. That is a new method of governing the industry. What greater confession of failure could we have from any Government than this Bill, in view of the objectives with which the original Herring Industry Board was started? We are to-day facing the fact that the board's activities have not assisted the industry in the manner intended, and the Government, by these new proposals, are uprooting the board which they originally established and replacing it by an entirely new type of board with new powers and a wider scheme of finance.
That is what the Government have had to do to-day after the failure of the two or three years of the existence of the Fishery Board. Although the Government will get this Bill to-night without a Division, they must take heed of what this board does. It is not sufficient merely to have established the board. It is not sufficient to finance the board and endow it with certain powers. The Government must watch it and see that the proposals made by it are beneficial to the industry. They must see that the proposals are carried out. They must see that it is not merely a case of subsidising new boats to enable fish to be caught, but they must deal with the marketing of the product. As we are losing markets abroad, the Government should see what methods can be adopted for developing markets at home which have been neglected. When this board is set up it must be watched by the Government and, equally jealously, by Members of the House. When its report is made, we must be able to obtain it by right and not by favour, and be allowed to ask for a day to debate it if we are not satisfied with the board's work. 692 If when this experiment is set in operation it is found that the powers given to the board are not enough and that the finance is not sufficient, I am certain that the House, if it knows that the work is being done conscientiously and well enough to satisfy the fishermen, will not be backward in granting more money to assist an industry which has fallen into such a parlous state.
§ 8.58 p.m.
I did not expect to have the duty of replying to this Debate, and I hope that the House will not infer that this Bill is the exclusive design of Scottish Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has been prevented by pressure of other business from being present, but even if he had been able to wind up, Members of the House might have considered that he was distinguished less by his office than by his nationality. It is, indeed, an extraordinary difficulty in this or any kindred subject to find a Minister to speak on behalf of the Government who is not a Scotsman. I am sure the House will agree that it is highly appropriate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whose succession to office has been so universally and so cordially welcomed this afternoon, should begin his work by introducing a Bill that deals with herring.
The herring is a creature that has dogged my right hon. Friend's footsteps throughout the whole of his Ministerial life. When he was at the Department of Overseas Trade he had the duty of carrying through trade agreements with a large number of foreign countries, and in every one of these he made it his business to see, not without success, that a larger quota of herring should be exported from Great Britain to those countries. I can also vouch for the fact that, when he was subsequently at the Treasury he was perpetually assailed from all sides by those who were desirous that the bounty of the Treasury should be extended to this industry. My right hon. Friend is a man who is not always immediately disposed to assent without demur to every financial request that is submitted to him, but I am very glad that he has had the duty to-day of defending in the House those financial benefits which were extracted from him with such arduous labour in his recent office.
0 693 I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) for his very moderate and helpful speech. May I try to reply to the particular questions to which he said he would like an answer? He asked about the respective merits of steam and motor drifters and the present position of the board's finances; and he asked the Government to make a candid avowal of their ideas in regard to the bearing of this Bill on national defence. In regard to the question of steam and motor drifters, he and other Members have referred to the recent report of the Herring Industry Board, in which they say that there can be no real doubt that the steam drifter is the most efficient machine for catching herring, if used to its full capacity. I would emphasise that qualification. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) also reminded us that the Duncan Report had equally recommended the merits of the steam drifter, but it is to be observed that that report added that hardly any steam drifters had been built since the War. This is the answer I would make—that steam drifters are the best and most economical type of boat if they are used to their full capacity all the year round, but that owing to the habits of the herring and the circumstances of the trade it is not possible for the whole fleet to pursue it throughout the year.
We believe that in the case of the small fisherman, whom we are particularly trying to help, it is not only much more economical that he should be helped to build a motor boat, but that he will be more able to utilise a craft of that kind for other purposes. The hon. Member for Banff (Sir E. Findlay) wanted to know whether the owner of a motor herring drifter who used it in those parts of the year when it was not the right season for herring in order to catch white fish would have to apply for a licence under the Sea Fish Bill which was recently before this House. The answer is that the small fisherman of this type, whose interests will not be served by marketing schemes, is excluded from the necessity of obtaining a licence under any such scheme.
With regard to the present financial position, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether the £375,000 was new money. It is. There are £250,000 for the grants, £125,000 for the administrative expenses 694 of the board, and under the second part of Clause 5, £150,000 of new money for the purpose of loans. Then he asked what was the present balance in the hands of the Herring Industry Board. It is the considerable sum of £490,000. The House will, no doubt, wish to know why so much of the money given to the board still remains unexpended, why it has not been used for the purpose of making loans to the fishermen. There are two reasons for that. One is that these loans were mainly intended for the benefit of small fishermen, and it has been found in practice—this will be relevant when we come to the grants under Clause 4—that very large numbers of them had not enough resources even to take advantage of the offer of loans. It is for that reason that we want to supplement the loans by grants. They will now be eligible for a grant not exceeding 33⅓ per cent, and a loan not exceeding 56⅔ per cent. These maxima would leave only 10 per cent, to be provided by the fishermen themselves.
The other reason which I think it is important to mention is that, as hon. Members know, an agitation was begun more than a year ago, in which many of my hon. Friends took part, to get direct grants as well as loans from the Government. We at the Scottish Office, as was only right and proper, never gave any indication that that request would be acceded to, but since so much public interest in the subject was aroused, and so many hopes raised by this agitation, large numbers of fishermen who might otherwise have applied for loans last year refrained from doing so because they hoped that some Measure might be brought in to give them grants as well. They did not want to apply for a loan if by postponing the application, they would get better terms. I think that is one reason why so small a portion of the money at the disposal of the Herring Industry Board has been used for the purpose of loans.
§ Mr. Alexander
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that it is proposed to make £250,000 available for direct grants in aid and that with the addition of £150,000 there will be £640,000 in the Herring Industry Board? Is that right?
§ Sir E. Findlay
Is it not monstrous to suggest that the herring fishermen have 695 waited for grants instead of loans, in view of the fact that they always knew that the grants would be for new boats and not for the reconstruction of old boats?
The offer of loans applied to new boats as well as to the reconstruction of old boats, and a man would not want to reconstruct his old boat if he hoped that he might get a grant for a new one. The next question which the right hon. Gentleman raised was concerned with Defence. He was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who said that for the last five years the Admiralty had held the view that they did not require steam drifters for any use in time of war. That is correct. That is the view of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he would nevertheless do his best to find some use for these drifters. It we can, so much the better, and the same observation applies to motor drifters. But in reply to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, I have to say that the Government are not recommending this Bill to the House for any reason connected with national Defence. It might perhaps be argued that indirectly the Defence aspect does come into it in this way, that by encouraging the preservation of communities in which large numbers of families are accustomed to a seafaring life, we maintain a good recruiting ground for the Fleet, and that one could never say with certainty that the knowledge of navigation which these men acquire will never be needed in time of war; but that is a rather indirect consideration.
Perhaps the most serious criticisms of the Bill have come from those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), have expressed the fear that there are large numbers of people who need grants for the construction of new boats, and who will not in fact receive them. It is on this point that I am most conscious of the delicacy of my own position, and I wish the reply could have been made by the English Minister, but I am sure my hon. Friend will listen to what I have to say without any feelings of national animosity. Let me preface my reply to his question with one brief general observation about Clause 4. It provides that grants may be given to fishermen where new motor 696 boats could not otherwise be provided. The emphasis is on "fishermen." The primary justification for much of our legislation designed to assist one industry or another has been the economic need of the country for a greater output of the commodity produced by that industry, although at the same time we have been equally desirous to better the conditions of those employed in the industry. In this case it is the unfortunate fact, as everybody will agree, that from a purely economic point of view the general interests of the country do not demand more herring boats, and it would be impossible to defend the giving of money to this industry on that particular ground. If it could be defended on that ground, the money would be given to companies as well as to individual fishermen, but here the primary purpose is simply to help a single class of people whom for social reasons we wish to assist. Perhaps this aspect of the Bill is more analogous to Special Areas legislation than any other.
Let me now come to the question of who it is who will get these grants. Certainly they will not be confined to individual fishermen who own their own boats. My hon. Friend raised the case of a number of types—partnerships, skippers who own their own boats (of whom I think he said there were 24 in Lowestoft), and various kinds of companies. The fact that they are in a partnership will not preclude fishermen from applying for grants. If two or more fishermen join in a partnership owning one or more boats, they are just as entitled as single fishermen to receive the grants. But suppose some of those in the partnership are fishermen and others are not fishermen but are occupied on shore. The precise allocation of the grant will then be a matter for the scheme to be prepared by the Ministers with the approval of the Treasury, but the fishermen will be just as much entitled as single fishermen to apply for a grant. That remark applies also to skippers who own their own boats. There is nothing to prevent them from applying for grants. With regard to companies, I should say that if a number of fishermen form themselves into a company for a better organisation of their business, there will be no difficulty about one or two or more of them applying for grants under the Bill, but the scheme would exclude a 697 company whose shares were held by ordinary people all over the country not engaged in the fishing industry.
§ Sir E. Findlay
Suppose the shares were held, as they have often been in a company of that sort, partly by the men and partly by the wives and perhaps the nephews of the men. Would they be excluded?
Is my hon. Friend referring to a company registered under the Companies Acts or to a partnership?
I was not alluding to partnerships but only to companies registered under the Companies Act. That could be done.
§ Mr. Loftus
The explanation of the hon. Gentleman appears to be very involved, and I should like to get his meaning clear. Is his meaning that no existing company is eligible for the grant? As regards partnerships, does he mean that a share-owning partnership can get grants only if one of the partners is acting as a fisherman and that it can get grants only in respect of that fisherman, irrespective of who holds the shares?
The answers to both questions are in the affirmative. A company qua company could not obtain the grant. With regard to partnerships it will be decided by the scheme what fraction of the grant can be paid to the fishermen who will be entitled to apply for it.
The provisions of Clause 4, for the giving of grants constitute the most novel part of the Bill. The remaining parts merely continue, under a reformed administration, the existing enactments in regard to the issue of loans, and measures that can be taken to promote the sale of herring at home and abroad. I was asked to give an assurance that all the interests would be represented fairly on the advisory committee. I have no doubt that English interests will have their full quota of representation. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) asked about the length of boats. It is for the scheme to prescribe the minimum or the maximum length, but the hon. Member must not necessarily take as the criterion what he finds in the recent report of the board. He asked me to see that the reports of the board should be in the Vote 698 Office; I am told that this report is in the Vote Office. Perhaps it has not been put down on the pink paper.
§ Mr. Maclean
We cannot get it in the ordinary way. It is in the Vote Office as privileged from the Stationery Office, and it is not on the pink paper. It is not put forward as a paper to which Members of Parliament are entitled, and it is classified as a non-Parliamentary paper. We wish it to be a Parliamentary paper to which hon. Members are entitled.
All I meant to say was that anybody could get it in the Vote Office by going to the window. My right hon. Friend will, however, take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
In regard to the increased sale of herring at home or abroad, we hope to make further progress in both those directions. It would not be right for anybody to claim that any huge and spectacular advance is likely to be made in regard to foreign markets. A great number of suggestions have been made, all of which will be considered. Perhaps it is well that I should remind the House of the main difficulties with which the board will have to contend. It is not solely a question of the difficulty of dealing with totalitarian States which have their own buying organisation; there is also the further factor that many of those countries, such as Russia and others, which, before the War, used to be content to buy herring from us, have now decided to have their own herring fleets. When he was at the Department of Overseas Trade, my right hon. Friend took a great deal of trouble to examine the possibilities of expanding our markets in all countries about which information had been placed at the disposal of the board. He used our bargaining power to secure larger quotas for our heavy exports in all the countries with whom we made agreements.
Although existing quotas do not compare well with pre-war days when those countries had no fleets of their own, they 699 are larger than they would otherwise be. This consideration is always borne in mind in the making of trade agreements. I would remind hon. Members who have asked the Government to use the big stick with foreign countries that we have also to consider the imports that we get from them. I have been struck by the fact that some of my hon. Friends who have urged us to take a firm line were those who, on the Sea Fish Bill, urged us to prohibit altogether the import of white fish from Germany.
As for the home market, we wish all sections of the community to eat more herring, but it is no use pretending that a thing is true when it is not true or making ourselves believe what we want to believe. It is necessary to state the unfortunate fact that large numbers of people in this country, and in industrial areas particularly, whom we most wish to encourage in the consumption of nutritious food, have the idea, which it will be difficult to get out of their minds, that the herring is an inferior food.
I am afraid the distaste is real, and has nothing to do with the cost. I am afraid that when even the most fresh herring is being cooked people at some considerable distance from the kitchen are not altogether unaware of the fact. That is one of the main reasons for its unpopularity, and can be got over only by propaganda.
No, propaganda to persuade people that it is worth the smell. Everything that we can do in that direction should be done, particularly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough, whose knowledge of advertising is greater than that either of the board or of the Government.
I have been asked to say that the Committee stage of the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House, so that all hon. Members will have a further opportunity of raising particular points. I am aware that hon. Members opposite are anxious to proceed to a less prosaic and more exhilarating subject, so I shall not take up the time of the House by defending the Bill against the charge of inadequacy. 700 I do not remember any piece of legislation designed to assist an industry which has not been almost universally regarded as inadequate by those engaged in it. It is, of course, not possible by legislation to solve entirely the problems of any industry. All that Parliament can do, as we are trying to do here, is to give that kind of assistance which we believe is most urgently required to a class of very deserving and industrious men whose qualifies are of very high value to the country and who have the greatest difficulty in obtaining their livelihood from a hard and unremunerative occupation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
Will my hon. Friend deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) that trawlers should be prevented from catching herring? It is of great importance to the trawling industry of Grimsby that no restriction of this nature should be placed on them.
The board have no power to do that, though they could, of course, make a recommendation on the subject.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The hon. Gentleman told us that the Committee stage is to be taken on the Floor of the House. Will he give an assurance that there will be an adequate period of time allowed to elapse?
We must consult our constituents, and I beg the hon. Gentleman to represent that fact to the Leader of the House.
§ Question, "That the Bill he now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next [Mr. Furness.]