§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen, East)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:But humbly regret that your Majesty's Government have given no indication of any specific measures to be taken in this country to deal with the world food shortages, now becoming widespread; and, in particular, of any steps to utilise fully the productive capacity of our fishing fleets and to maintain the quality of our flocks and herds.I make no apology for raising the question of the world food shortages now impending, because I do not think the gravity of the position is appreciated by the public as a whole. There is at this moment a famine in China, in India, and in large parts of Europe; and there are serious food shortages in Russia. At the same time huge agricultural areas have fallen into the hands of our enemies, and I think we are sometimes apt to forget this aspect of the question. Another point that is often forgotten is that in the food-producing countries within the ambit of the United Nations, notably in South America and Africa, there is increased prosperity. This has led to a higher standard of life, and therefore to increased food consumption, in those areas. Therefore we have also to face the fact that many millions of people are consuming a great deal more food in those areas. I think that the facts as we can see them to-day—we do not yet know them all—give cause for very grave anxiety.
Food is the most elementary of human wants; indeed it is the essential basis of our existence. If food goes, all goes. Two problems confront us with increasing urgency. The first is that of immediate post-war relief to starving peoples, particularly those of Europe; and the second is the problem of producing enough protective foods in every part of the world to maintain a decent standard of nutrition for all when the war is over. The solution of either problem demands a very great increase in the food production of the world, and in particular of the United Nations. It also demands that each country should concentrate on the production of the food which it is best fitted by nature to produce. I want to ask the Government and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what the Government are doing about this.
In the supreme emergency of 1940 and 1941 we were obliged to concentrate on 691 crop production, otherwise we should have run a serious risk of starvation. But wheat and sugar are not, and never can be, cornerstones of British agriculture. The foundation of British agriculture is arable stock farming. We can produce all the milk, potatoes and feeding-stuffs, including oats, that we require; and the best herds and crops in the world. What is the present situation? First, and most serious, our soil fertility is deteriorating; secondly, the quality of our flocks and herds is deteriorating; and, thirdly, our livestock population is going down rapidly. Our head of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry is far below what it could and should be. I think the hon. Gentleman's Department is more responsible for this than the Ministry of Agriculture or the Scottish Office. We have in my opinion pushed our crop production policy too hard and for too long; and we have overdone the reduction of livestock, a reduction which has been carried to the point of virtual elimination in certain cases. I think this policy calls for immediate revision, and the most careful thought.
Resolution 15 of the Hot Springs Conference, to which the Government are more or less committed as far as I can make out, says:Farming systems should be so designed as (1) to maintain soil fertility at levels which will sustain yields and ensure adequate return for labour, (2) to protect crops and livestock from major pests and diseases, and (3) to favour steady employment throughout the year.Resolution XV says,These three ends, in general and save in exceptional circumstances, can best be assured by balanced, mixed rotation farming, and by avoidance of single crop production.I want to suggest that the present price structure and system of grading has made it more profitable for farmers to feed rough, coarse, big-boned cross-bred animals than to go in for high quality beef production. That, in the long run, is a bad thing for our British agriculture. I want to ask my hon. Friend what he is going to do about it, because the Aberdeen Angus herd book of our greatest beef animal tells its own tale. We wait with impatience the long-term policy which the Minister of Agriculture has at long last been allowed to consider. I trust that at no distant date we intend to revert to livestock and leys, which have always 692 been the foundation of British agriculture, as against single-crop production. I was reading the other day an interesting article in one of the provincial newspapers by their agricultural correspondent who is a well-known farmer, and I got out of it this sentence, which seems to me very true:On a long-term view, the bullock is the pivot on which a sane grass and grain policy must hinge; on the one hand, preventing grass from 'growing away,' and on the other, providing better than any other animal the dung on which fertility so largely depends.I believe that to be absolutely true. I repeat that we have overdone the crop production policy to the great danger of the whole agricultural position in this country; and that we must now give far greater attention to increasing the head of population and also the quality of our livestock. I hope that we may have something encouraging from the Parliamentary Secretary on this point.
There are two other questions that I would like to put to him. The first is about agricultural research, which is more than ever necessary at the present time. The Rowett Institute in Aberdeen has done magnificent work, and is continuing to do it. But when I was in Oxford the other day I found that the position in regard to the Oxford Institute of Agricultural Research, under Professor Orwin, was far from satisfactory. There did not seem to be any good liaison between it and the Ministry of Agriculture; and they never knew from month to month whether the grant would be continued for the invaluable work they are doing. There never was a moment when research into every question of soil fertility, of production, and of nutrition, was more necessary than at the present time; and I hope that, so far from curtailing activities in that direction, the Government will expand them.
The second question I would like to ask is whether the Government are satisfied with the agricultural machinery position. Is anything being done about that? Had we enough machinery? What about the tractors? Are they the right size and of the right power? I was told the other day that we had over 800 different types of plough in this country. I cannot feel that that is an economical or good method of conducting our agricultural industry. I ask these questions because I believe that maximum food production is one of the most vital necessities 693 of the moment, and that there is no time to lose. So much for the agricultural side, with which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) will deal in greater detail.
I want now to say a word about the other item mentioned specifically in the Amendment, the fishing industry. I want to deal particularly with the herring fishing industry, because it is the industry that I know best and of which my constituency is a centre. I do not think there is any need for me to tell the House that herrings are a very valuable and nutritious article of food. But what does give them a quite exceptional value at the present time is that they are one of the few articles of food that we are able to export; and we shall be requiring to export food to the Continent of Europe, and even to give food to the Continent, before the next two or three years are out. The House is probably familiar with the fact that there are two big fishings annually in this industry—the summer fishing off the North-East coast of Scotland and the autumn fishing off Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Neither lasts more than a few weeks. The autumn fishing has been abandoned during the war. The summer fishing is, therefore, the only big fishing that takes place in the year. It lasts for not more than five or six weeks. The House should know what happened this summer. The Ministry of Food were warned by many people, including myself, that there was likely to be a good fishing; but they took no steps whatever to deal with the situation. They contented themselves with imposing a number of extremely silly restrictive regulations on the industry, of which I will give one example quoted from the Press:Rather than dump his catch back into the sea, the skipper of a Fraserburgh fishing vessel disposed of boxes of herring direct to inhabitants and traders at Corpach, Inverness-shire. His action was contrary to Ministry of Food regulations, and the man, John Watt, aged 49, was admonished at Fort William Sheriff Court yesterday. An agent explained that if Watt had waited to return to Oban, according to regulations, the fish would have been unfit for use as there was no ice on board. The agent declared the Ministry of Food had very little to do in bringing the charge against Watt, who had taken a commonsense view in distributing to the people.In other words, because Watt had the sense to dispose of the fish to the people of Corpach instead of waiting to return to Oban, he was prosecuted for breaking 694 the regulations. The regulations would have made him take the fish to Oban, where it would have been landed in a stinking condition.
Before the summer fishing the Ministry of Food promised to consult the fishermen about prices. A day or two before the actual fishing began they sent for representatives of the fishermen to go to Glasgow, but when they got there they told them peremptorily that the maximum price was to be reduced from 100s. to 91s. per cran, and there was to be no argument about it. I do not know why the Ministry even bothered to send for them, because there was no question of consultation. The fishermen are the only primary producers in this country who receive neither a guaranteed wage nor a guaranteed price for their produce. Why should fishermen be singled out for treatment of this kind? What have they done? Having then fixed allocation lists of buyers, and a price schedule for curers which made it quite certain that no curer could possibly make a profit, the Ministry washed its hands of the whole affair.
The shoals of herring this summer were very dense off the North-East coast, and were close inshore. It was potentially the best summer herring season we had had in this country for about 20 years. The catches, considering the size of the fleet which had been greatly reduced for war reasons, were enormous. I said at the time, and I repeat now, that the Ministry of Food regarded it as a kind of blitz, to be endured with silent fortitude in a dugout. They charged a levy of 21s. a cran of herring landed, but what they did with it Heaven only knows. They certainly did not earn it. No special arrangements were made to deal with the distribution either of fresh herrings or of kippers. It is common knowledge that if you get a big season and have many herrings to handle at the height of the season, large quantities must be treated either by brine freezing or by curing. You cannot otherwise deal with tremendous gluts of catches. The Ministry of Food were warned that there was likely to be a big herring fishing, but what did they do? They made no arrangements whatever to deal with the heavy catches by means of either curing or brine freezing. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Jewson) will deal with the brine freezing aspect. With regard to curing, there was no sufficient supply of 695 barrels or of salt; and, as I have pointed out, the schedule of prices arranged for the curers was absolutely fantastic, because it made certain that they could not make a profit and, therefore, could not buy the herrings.
Finally, there was no attempt of any kind at control or direction at the port of landing. I was there myself and watched what happened. It was not a question of telling the fishermen to "go to it." It was a question of simply leaving them to it; and the result was chaos. I have never seen—and I do not like saying this about my old Department—a comparable display of ineptitude on the part of any Government Department. I have never seen a clear responsibility so deliberately shirked. What happened? For 18 nights, at the height of this wonderful season, when there were herrings of magnificent quality in dense shoals just off our coast, the herring fishing fleet remained tied up in harbour. The Ministry of Food, who were bombarded with telephone calls, telegrams, appeals and screeches of every kind, remained in their dug-out. They did nothing about it until at the very end of the season they revised the curers' prices, when it was too late to do any good. By that they simply admitted that they had been wrong all the way through. Throughout they remained in a kind of trance. I got one letter from Lord Woolton, in the middle of the business, in which he said:The limiting factor has been the absence of demand.I ask hon. Members whether they really believe that? How many herrings, fresh or kippered, find their way into the shops? Occasionally you can get them in the large centres; but in the smaller towns and country districts they are practically unobtainable. I want to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary why that is the case, and why the Ministry have never lifted a finger to deal with the situation, or to improve the distribution of herrings. I think I know the truth. It is that the Ministry of Food, from the beginning, has made a mess of the fishing industry—at the very start it led to the downfall of one Minister—and I think that they now have got an inferiority complex about it. If they have not, they ought to have. And if we make the same kind of mess next year, when we shall undoubtedly be confronted by a starving Europe, and 696 populations all along the Mediterranean coasts to whom a supply of cured herrings might make all the difference between life and death, we shall never be forgiven.
I want to make one or two suggestions for short-term remedies, something that the Ministry can do between now and the next fishing. The first is that there must be a minimum price to fishermen for all herring not cured into barrels as well as a maximum price. Both are necessary, for the one is complementary to the other. The maximum price prevents herring going too dear. The minimum would prevent them flooding the market too cheaply, and thereby knocking out the controlled price herring the following day. Why should not the herring fishermen get a minimum price? Why should they be the only primary producers singled out not to get a suitable price?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabane)
My hon. Friend really means a minimum price and not a guaranteed price?
§ Mr. Boothby
I mean exactly what I say. I mean a minimum price, below which herring shall not be allowed to be sold except into barrels. My second proposal is that all herrings surplus to home market requirements should go to the curers at a fixed price, say, of 60s. I am not including the curers in my minimum price. My third proposal is that steps should be taken by the Ministry now to improve methods of distribution of herrings throughout this country, to ensure that adequate transport facilities are available, and to see that there is an adequate supply of barrels, of boxes, and of salt, so that none of this valuable food should be wasted again in the way it has been wasted in the past. My fourth suggestion is that the allocation lists of buyers should be revised; and particularly that those who do not buy when herrings are off control should be taken off the lists.
My fifth and final suggestion is that temporary retail licences might be issued to hawkers and cadgers during the height of the herring fishing season, instead of their being prosecuted as they are now. If these people were allowed to take herrings and sell them up and down the streets, you would get much better distribution than now. I am only talking of the height of the season, when there are tens of thousands of herrings to sell. If licences were given to these hawkers, distribution 697 would surely be facilitated. When it comes to curing and freezing, you get to a larger question, which I leave my hon. Friend to deal with. It is a question for which the Government must take a direct responsibility. The Government should see to it that the curing industry has sufficient boxes and barrels and sufficient salt and sufficient labour to cure in adequate quantities for the demand which is certain to come next year. And the same goes for the kippering industry. Freezing is also a matter in which the Government alone can take the necessary action.
I have not been dealing with long-term remedies. The great tragedy in my view of the herring fishing industry was the failure of the Government of the day to implement fully the Duncan Report, one of the ablest State documents I have ever read. For that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) must bear his share of responsibility but he has now a great opportunity to redeem himself, and bring in a report which will surpass in ability and constructive power even the Report of the Duncan Committee.
The fishing industry—because what I have said about the herring fishing applies also in large part to the white fish industry—has always been the Cinderella of British industries. I do not know why. It is one of the most important; and it is a very large industry, much larger than hon. Members who have not come into contact with it may think; and it employs a great number of people. No section of the community, not even the miners, was worse treated between the two world wars. When war comes we want the fishermen, and we want their craft; but between the two wars they were left to struggle on as best they could at a rate of pay lower than, perhaps, any other class of the community. The miracle to me is that they somehow managed to survive. They were living practically on a starvation level for years. Yet they inspired Rudyard Kipling's best poem of the last war:Dawn off the Foreland—the young flood making,Jumbled and short and steep—Black in the hollows and bright where it's breaking—Awkward water to sweep.'Mines reported in the fairway,Warn all traffic and detain.''Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian,Stormcock, and Golden Gain.'698 Then came the evening:Dusk off the Foreland—the last light goingAnd the traffic crowding through,And five damned trawlers with their syrens blowingHeading the whole review!'Sweep completed in the fairway'No more mines remain.'Sent back Unity, Claribel, Assyrian,Stormcock and Golden Gain.'They are still doing it to-day, and we should do better for these men than leave them on the brink of starvation during times of peace. I want to say very seriously to the Government that if the fishermen are not given a square deal in war, they will not expect a square deal in peace; and the younger men will not return to the fishing. That would be a tragedy and a disaster for this country and for the world.
I come, in conclusion, to the world food position. The International Food Conference at Hot Springs did not deal specifically with the immediate problem of relief caused by the spreading world shortages of food, but for the long-term period they laid stress on the necessity for a great expansion of food production, particularly of the protective foods, of which milk, meat, and fish are the most important. Are the Government alive to the gravity of the situation, and, if so, what steps are they taking to deal with it? A tremendous responsibility devolves upon this country, upon the British Empire as a whole, and upon the United States of America, because we have first of all to save the world from famine and starvation. We have then to lead the world back to prosperity through an economic policy of expansion, and of such a policy food must inevitably be the basis.
§ Mr. Jewson (Great Yarmouth)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I cannot emulate the eloquence which my hon. Friend has shown, nor have I his knowledge, for one very good reason, that the industry in my present constituency has, for the time being, ceased to exist. This Amendment should not be regarded with anything but a friendly eye by those on the Government benches, for it has to do with two of the things described in the Gracious Speech as of primary importance, namely, food and employment. When we think of the quality of flocks and herds it must be obvious to all of us that, in the recent period when meat has been distributed by 699 the Ministry of Food, and butchers have had to take what they were given and be thankful for it, just as one star differs from another star in glory so one piece of beef or mutton differs enormously both in palatability and nutritional value. It is of the most importance that our flocks and herds should be of the very best and nothing but the best.
I want, however, to address my remarks particularly to the question of the herring fishing industry, for the reason that I do not think the Government have ever realised the importance of this great industry. It is surprising that that should be so when we remember what has gone before in the history of our island. Only a few weeks ago the House was pleasantly startled when the Prime Minister made reference to a Treaty signed in the year 1373. That gave us a sense of the continuity of our story and an indication of what might grow out of present things, but, of course, the importance of the herring industry goes back to a date long before that. In the case of Great Yarmouth it is said to have originated in 495. There is no documentary evidence of that, but the herring is mentioned in the chronicles of the monastery of Evesham in 709: while in 1108 Yarmouth was made a borough on condition that it supplied 10,000,000 herrings per annum to Henry I.
In the seventeenth century the industry played a large part in the history of this country, while under the Stuarts and the Commonwealth the struggle with Holland for control of the North Sea fisheries was a main factor in the rise of the Mercantile Marine and, through Cromwell's navigation laws, of the British Navy itself. I hope that it will make a new mark on history when the story is written of what was done to feed the starving populations of Europe when the present war is brought to a victorious conclusion. Another reason for the importance of the herring fishing industry is that such huge supplies of this valuable food are available in the sea. That is not surprising when we are told that the family of one ordinary herring will number 30,000. I believe that in the year 1937 over 900,000,000 herrings were landed in England and Scotland, and of course there were many more still in the sea for the taking. In the bright days of the industry 700 in Great Yarmouth and the neighbouring port of Lowestoft when there were some 800 boats, they discharged about 15,000,000 herring every day during the season, which unfortunately is a short one.
It has already been pointed out that the nutritional value of the herring is very high indeed. I do not think that is challenged, but if it should be the challenge could be refuted by reference to many Government reports. I came across a reference to it only last week in the Report to the Ministry of Health for 1932. If the herring is important, so surely are the men who catch the herrings. It has been said of our seafaring men that they are the first to offer their services to their country and the last to seek its aid. If a bold peasantry is a country's pride, as Goldsmith said, surely our fishermen must be the salt of the nation. We must remember that while in peace-time the womenfolk of our fishermen are used to feeling anxiety for their fathers and brothers on the sea, the fishermen themselves in time of war, besides facing still greater risks than in peace, have added anxiety for their wives and families at home because their homes are usually in places that are particularly subject to enemy attack. Our debt to them is therefore all the greater.
I suggest that it is of the greatest importance to these islands that this fine race of men should be maintained and should be encouraged. As a result of war their boats have been requisitioned. I do not know how many will go back to the fishermen, but in any case those that do go back will be largely worn out. Nets and gear after being stored so long will have deteriorated, and arrangements must be made for them to be replaced. The crews, and particularly the skippers, of course, will have to come back from the Navy, and we must see to it, as has already been said, that they are assured of a reasonable remuneration for their very important and very arduous work. That is a matter for the Government to consider on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend. The home market can probably be easily dealt with, but overseas markets must be for some considerable time to come in the hands of the Government. Indeed, the question of Lend-Lease will very largely arise, and therefore we must look to the Government to make the necessary arrangements to deal 701 with the exports of this very valuable food. On the top of this, many fish-smoking and curing places have been blitzed and will have to be rebuilt. The question of priorities will arise there. I suggest that it is of the greatest importance that at the close of the war the biggest possible fleet should get to work at once and be able to fish to capacity in order to help to supply the world demand for food, and I think we are right in asking for a very high priority for these things.
I cannot follow my hon. Friend in the detailed suggestions he has made, because I have not his close personal knowledge of this industry, for the reason I have already mentioned, but, of course, I have very good reason to know how important it is, and I hope the Government, who are well informed through the English Herring Catchers' Association and the Herring Industry Board will give the matter full attention. In any case I hope I have said enough to convince any doubters, if such there be, that herrings, however red, are not a worthy subject of jokes, nor a device exclusively used by political opponents in debate, but are an immensely valuable potential harvest, the gathering of which brings out the finest qualities of our race and is worthy of every possible encouragement.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I hope the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Jewson) will forgive me if, in supporting this Amendment, I do not take up the question of herring and fishing, as I have no fishing industry in my constituency. I should like to refer to the question of world food shortages which is covered by the Amendment. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) stressed the need for maximum food production; he criticised the Government for their past policy in regard to what one might call the divorcement from milk in terms of beef; and he stressed the need for further research. In all these things I find myself in agreement with him. It may seem almost sacrilegious to suggest that anything good could spring out of the most bloody war in history, but I cannot help feeling that a lot of good has come to us. We have had to make sacrifices in this war, and I think we are the better for it. Among other things, we have been driven back to the fundamentals of life, for what the war has shown us is that a nation which commits the folly of 702 neglecting its land and allowing it to decay will itself decay and finally perish. I cannot help feeling that in any post-war system which we may devise, in all the planning with which we are now engaged, everything will fail if we do not deal with the land first, even before the people, because food is the basis of human life and the people who work on the land are the root stock of our own country. Unfortunately, in the past both of them have been treated as of little account. I think we are wiser now, at least I hope we are, and it is a duty devolving upon hon. Members to see that neither is let down in the future.
Reverting to what the hon. Member for East Aberdeen said about Hot Springs, the policies of the past have all been policies of frustration, because they were based upon restriction, and the hope for the future, the hope of every British farmer, is that all this will be reversed and that a policy of expansion of production based upon producing everything our land can reasonably and best produce and of encouragement for the producer will take its place. Whether we like it or not, when the war is over we shall face a situation of acute food shortage, even famine, possibly, unparalleled in the world's history, particularly in those countries on whom the hand of war has fallen most heavily. Even here we shall have a job to feed ourselves, and we shall be confronted with the responsibility of helping other countries less fortunate than we are. It will certainly be our duty to help those people.
I want to address myself to two aspects of that problem, one at home and one abroad. In the first place, what about our own island? Here we have a tremendous lot to be proud of and a great deal to be thankful for. Under the spur of war's urgencies, and I am willing to admit under two capable Ministries, and above all because of the 100 per cent. response of a patriotic agricultural industry, our production has been raised by 70 per cent. due to a 52 per cent. expansion of the tillage area of Great Britain, and here we should remember that, according to report, more land has been taken over for military purposes than the total of land reclaimed and brought under cultivation. That is a tremendous achievement. We have 4 per cent. more cattle, which reflects the Government's policy in milk production at the expense of other types of cattle. One out of every six pre-war sheep has disappeared. We are 17 per cent. 703 down in our sheep population, reflecting the encroachment of the plough on our lowland pastures. There are 51 per cent. fewer pigs and 24 per cent. fewer poultry, reflecting the drastic cut in the imports of feeding stuffs.
I am not afraid of a shortage of carbohydrates but what about protein foods—animal products? The Minister of Agriculture is reported as having said recently that we were short of cattle by 1000,000 head. He did not indicate in which types we were short, but little imagination is required to arrive at the conclusion that he was thinking in terms of meat. Otherwise, Lord Woolton would not have said the other day in Scotland that we shall be lucky if a year hence we can maintain the meat ration at 1s. 2d.
§ Mr. Snadden
He said it the other day, too. I was not a bit surprised at Lord Woolton throwing out this warning, because it has been obvious that, because of the Government's policy, of no encouragement since this war began to meat production, we should promote a downward tendency not only in numbers of cattle but in quality. The red light is appearing now. Some of us, including the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, ventured to point to that red light a couple of years ago in this House. It would seem, then, that one of the world shortages we shall face, and the sooner we realise it the better, is a world shortage of meat. If that is so, if my diagnosis is correct, everything possible should be done in this country to encourage and expand our production here. Nothing will upset the workers in the heavy industries more than a further cut in the meat ration. In spite of all the preachings of the scientific pundits of to-day and yesterday, the heavy worker and the miner craves for meat more than for any other food, and I am certain that the Minister of Fuel would have fewer sleepless nights if next week we could hand to the miners a double ration of meat in order to allow them to get on with their heavy work at the coal face. We cannot do it.
The problem cannot be cured over night. Nobody can cure it unless we do something about it now. The crux is the supply of the raw material. Therefore 704 we in this country must do everything possible now to increase the supply of this raw material from our hills and from our glens. There are 10,000,000 acres of hill lands in Scotland alone. That is where we have to go to form this reservoir, For it is only by raising the head of breeding cows in our hills and glens that we can lay the foundation for the future expansion in numbers which the Minister desires.
I see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on the Front Bench, and I am aware of two excellent schemes already in existence giving assistance to this particular branch of the industry. I think it can be said that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, and very probably for England too, are aware of this danger, but in my opinion the assistance now given is insufficient. Mere passive acceptance of the two schemes now in operation will not cure our ills. We must on the one hand, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen said, get down to this question of research. We have got to attack disease. We can do it in two ways. A lot of people talk about disease in animals only from the point of view of curing. We must get back to the soil, to improving our hill gratings, in order to prevent those diseases occurring. For that reason I would press the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to do everything possible to extend the existing subsidies to veterinary research.
I will throw out a revolutionary proposal. In the vast hill areas of Scotland there are great ranges of hills on which there are cross Highland cattle and sheep. Some of them are far too remote. There is no supervision, and consequently our veterinary services do not know why these sheep are dying. We have to bring control closer. There may be regions in Scotland where it might be better to abandon the land to afforestation, because by so doing you will achieve closer supervision of disease and increase production. I do not know whether some of my hon. Friends will agree with my suggestion: abandon some of our remote areas to afforestation, concentrate your disease control nearer home, where the "vet" can go and spot what has happened, and you will increase production.
There is another thing we have to do, and it concerns my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of 705 Food. Only by tackling this problem of a world shortage of meat at the business end, which is the killing centre, will you promote confidence on the part of the producer. That is what we have to do—get down to a real economic basis for killing, give producers enough incentive to make them plan ahead. Producers will not do it on subsidies alone. We must have something divorced from subsidies, because they are here today and gone to-morrow. That is why I was disappointed the other day when the Government announced their new prices. I take no exception to the increase in milk prices, because I know how very important milk is for the national health, but, having stepped up the price of milk by 1d. per gallon, the Government might have given more thought to the matter. They have not even given parity to Scotland. We are still the highest quality producers in this country but at the lowest price. What an absurdity. Having stepped up the price of milk, why should they step up the price of cows as well by 5s. a cwt.? Why could they not have stepped up the other side of the industry, the meat producing side? By so doing that would have been helping the most neglected section of agriculture and the one which will give us most trouble in the future.
For it is a world shortage of meat that is going to worry the Ministries of Agriculture and Food when the war is over, In the town of Stirling last week, if report is correct, not one fat beast was offered for grading. That is significant and it points to an extremely serious position after the war. There is another question which is of great importance to which I would refer. When sheer starvation has been alleviated in Europe the demands of nutrition will pass from hunger to maintenance, not from hunger to plenty as is often supposed. I am thinking in terms of gross deficiencies of proteins and vitamins which can be made good only from animal products. What is Europe's livestock position to-day? Owing to Germany's demands and from other causes, Europe's estimated losses are: 11,000,000 cattle, 3,000,000 horses, 12,000,000 pigs, and 11,000,000 sheep. Those fantastic figures are very likely to mount before hostilities cease. Anyone who is in touch with the livestock industry in this country recognises at once that 706 those losses cannot be met through the importation of live animals from this country or any other country. To restore Europe's livestock will take many years, possibly 10 years and will depend upon the natural rate of regeneration within those countries helped by such things as artificial insemination—provided always that the female stock is there to be inseminated and that there is enough food for the animals to eat in those countries.
It has been calculated that, in the emergency period, Allied countries and neutrals will have to supply about 10 per cent. of the loss sustained, which means 1,000,000 cattle, 300,000 horses, more than 1,000,000 pigs, and more than 1,000,000 sheep. So far as we here are concerned, we shall have another problem and I hope the Government are thinking about it. We are going to have a strong demand from our own Dominions for replacement of stock. I know a man who has an order in his pocket for £30,000 of British pedigree stock for only a few clients in one of our Dominions. It is a fact that animals in Australia cannot be offered to-day because they cannot be replaced or sold. On top of the European requirements there will be a strong demand from our own Dominions who will want to build up their stocks, because for shipping and other reasons Australia and Australasia generally cannot be reached.
Looking ahead to the position that is bound to arise after the war, I come to the conclusion that very heavy demands will be made upon our home breeders here and abroad. They will be expected to play their part and I ask the Government what steps are being taken to bring this about. What is the Government's attitude on the general question of the export of British livestock to the devastated countries of Europe and to the British Empire and elsewhere? Some people think that the Government are not sympathetic at the moment. I want to know whether they are sympathetic or not. Are they going to inform us whether there will be any control of exports from this country after the war? Are they thinking in terms of tank landing craft, and other ships which have been built for invasion purposes, being used to mitigate the shipping difficulties in the way of replacing stock in Europe? It is no use telling us that there are no ships because there are plenty of tank landing craft that 707 could be converted for cattle purposes. I would ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what provision he is making for finance. Is anything being done to meet the position of countries that are not able to pay for their imports?
It is very necessary that our stock should be worthy of our country. You cannot expect home breeders with competing demands from the Dominions to take unreasonably low prices for their stock. Yet the home breeder is keen to play his part in this business of European relief and it is vital that these flocks and herds should be replaced at the earliest possible moment. It is equally vital that our own people should be told what is expected of them. There is some anxiety in the minds of home producers lest our Government are unsympathetic to the general question of the export of livestock from Great Britain after the war. I believe the opinion is held that such a trade would run counter to the best interests of our livestock industry. I know a little about this matter. I hope the Minister will give an assurance that this is not so, and that every effort will be made to build up our foreign trade in every way to find new markets for us in Europe, and, when we have got them to help us to make them permanent. The production of livestock is a long-term business. It is also on record that British stock prosper in every quarter of the world, including Soviet Russia, where conditions are extremely severe. The Minister cannot put up the argument that European countries would find British stock unsuitable.
Our overseas trade has gone on for over a century. Before the war it reached formidable dimensions. I know it is a debatable point but I believe that the demand from overseas has provided the incentive for us to reach up to the very high level of excellence which we find in our pedigree herds. That applies to my own country of Scotland. If the export trade was taken away, as some people seem to fear, leaving the pedigree breeder, who is the backbone of the livestock industry, at the mercy of the commercial demand, a great number of our best and finest herds would in my view be driven out of business, because they could not exist on the home demand alone. We would thus promote a downward tendency in quality which is the very thing the Minister wishes to avoid. And so I hope 708 the Government will encourage our home breeders and that some guidance will soon be forthcoming as to what is required of them in regard to this urgent question of the restocking of Europe. We are in duty bound to do everything we can to mitigate their sufferings, and the Government are likewise in duty bound to tell our home producers in good time what will be required of them.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
I hope the Ministers on the Front Bench have enjoyed the able and knowledgeable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Perthshire (Mr. Snadden) as much as I have. I hope they will pay attention to the important points he has raised, because I feel that he is talking for the farming community. I am only sorry I cannot follow him, because I had a slight connection with the farming community during my temporary representation of Peebles and Midlothian. The powerful speech made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) was an indictment of the Ministry of Food when he referred to the tying-up in wartime of vessels day after day. I have had years of association with the fishing industry. We looked with horror on the tying-up of boats in peace-time, but to tie them up in war-time, when people are short of food, very short of essential foods of high nutritive value, is a very wrong state of affairs. During the last war the then Food Controller deemed it essential not only to cure all the British herrings he could get and store them round the coast as a bulwark against hunger, but he bought all the Norwegian catch as well, amounting to hundreds of thousands of barrels.
What was a first essential in 1914 was completely overlooked in this war. What is the difficulty in getting containers and salt for cured herring? Was there any difficulty in getting cold storage space for those which could have been caught at the prolific time? We have been told of the Ministry of Food's great cold storage programme, and of all the new stores they have built. Were they all full to overflowing? Was any imagination brought to bear? Just as swallows come back at certain times, so the herrings shoal off the coast of Frazerburgh and Peterhead and East Anglia and other places on our coasts? Would it have been possible to leave certain stores available so that some 709 fish could have been rushed there, frozen and cold-stored and brought out during the days of scarcity so soon upon us. Whatever credit the Ministry of Food deserves—and I think they deserve a good deal—I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen when he speaks of the pitiable show they have made with regard to the fishing industry.
So far the white fishing side has not been touched on in this Debate. I would like to say a few words in regard to it because in dealing with increasing production we must eliminate the one cancer—over-fishing. Steam trawling is only about 55 years old. It was only in the early nineties that the trade abandoned sailing craft, the fishing smack, which could not over-fish because in times of calm it could not tow its gear and in times of storm it could not keep its trawl boards on the bottom. In that way nature protected the fisheries. The steam trawler came along fishing night and day, Sunday and every other day and very quickly overtook production, and in 1913 a warning was shown. Banks were showing serious signs of over-fishing and while they were rested during the Great War a year or two years' intensive fishing quickly brought them back to the same state, in fact an aggravated state, of short supply.
That condition became so serious that very few North Sea trawlers were built in the intervening years before the present war. Only a handful were built. Enterprising trawler owners built bigger vessels and went to more distant grounds, firstly to Faroe and Iceland, then to Bear Island, and the White Sea in the north and to Morocco in the South. They had gone the limit. They had almost gone beyond the limit. They were nearly frantic to know where to go for a catch. Bear Island saved the industry from 1927 to the outbreak of war, but that veritable E1 Dorado was showing the first signs of over-fishing. Catches of cod averaging 71b, fish had fallen to 4 lbs. It is only a stage from that to all the evil effects of over-fishing.
The cure for over-fishing lies with this House. Not entirely, for of course the Government must get other Governments to co-operate with them. But was there ever a better opportunity than now, when so many of these Governments are in London? Is it not time to begin these 710 conversations in regard to the North Sea and the Atlantic, which are a common heritage? The same problems beset the Norwegians, the Frenchmen, the Belgians and the Danes and I am certain they will meet us more than half way. If it is right to have a close season for salmon, is it not even more right to have a close season for cod and haddock, which are of so much more importance? Is it right to catch these fish when they are full of roe, instead of letting them perform nature's function of reproduction? I earnestly hope that the Minister representing the Ministry of Fisheries will take heed of that very important point, because it is the basis of any increase in the capacity of the fishing fleet.
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
May I ask the hon. Member whether he would say what months of the year he suggests for a close season?
I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. Breeding seasons vary somewhat, and I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about them to give him an exact answer. That presents a difficulty, and it may well be that certain banks are normally inhabited by more than one kind of fish with different spawning seasons. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fisheries will be able to ascertain that. But if a close season is not practicable, it is a very simple matter to put half or all of the Dogger Bank, or other fishing banks, out of action for three months during the time of breeding of most of the fish that normally inhabit it. I am glad of this interruption, because it reminds me to say something which I think will be of interest to the House about a similar experiment which has been arranged with great success. The American and Canadian Governments about ten years ago realised that the great Pacific halibut fishing was rapidly being fished out. They appointed a Pacific Halibut Commission with so many American and so many Canadian members. They divided up the Pacific, from Seattle to Alaska, into four areas. They said, "You will not fish for halibut until 1st March in any area. Once you have taken so many million pounds weight of halibut out of the Pacific, the fishing must stop." There are so many pounds allowed for Area 1, so many pounds for Area 2, and so many pounds for Area 3. That 711 followed on the Fraser River salmon shortages. They saw the same thing likely to happen in regard to halibut, and took steps to prevent it. Not only has the diminution been arrested, but the catch is actually going up. You must give fish a chance of reproduction. I hope that my hon. Friend, who is particularly interested in this matter, will look into it, as a duty.
The other essential in regard to the white fishing industry is to face up to the fact—we have had to do it in war-time—that ice, which was so good as a temporary preservative to keep fish from the Dogger Bank edible, is utterly useless when fishing Bear Island, Iceland, and even Faroe. Before the war the average voyage was about 20 days to these distant grounds. About two-thirds of the time was occupied in going to and returning from the banks.
We have that expensive instrument, the modern trawler, with skilled fishing crews, and we keep them idle on the outward and homeward voyage, and heavily overwork them while fishing, and then we take this fish, which has meant so much labour, and so much sacrifice and endurance in winter-time, and we say, "Ice will do." Ice will not do. Fish will not keep wholesome and good for 14 days, nor yet for eight days or six days, on ice. Deterioration begins within an hour of catching. In 14 days the fish is something fit for a manure works, not for consumption. During the war we have eaten frozen fish, and we have enjoyed it. It has been infinitely better than fresh fish. It is infinitely better than the stale stuff we have had from Iceland which has given the Ministry of Food so much anxiety. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir G. Gunston), who has been out to Newfoundland, is aware that the great saviour of Newfoundland has been the change-over from salt fish to frozen fish. That has played its part in enabling us to maintain supplies here too. I would like this House to outlaw stale fish in ice. Prior to this war vested interests and timidity stopped the industry from facing up to the fact that the ice which was so good for short-distance fishing is useless for this long-distance fishing.
I would like to say a word in support of the noble efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen in regard to the herring industry. I admire his 712 determined efforts and the splendid speeches he has made for these fellows, who are the salt of the earth. In the countryside which he has the honour to represent, they are the backbone of the Navy, and sometimes I think that their children are the backbone of Harley Street—they are to be found in all the professions. These people have been neglected. Their plight, I think, is due primarily to Russia going out of the world market for herrings. They took 70 per cent. of the total catch. When that happened we were faced with this huge surplus. There was no stable price. But we can make the price stable by improving our methods of curing and by freezing. The Herring Board is capable of saving this industry and of bringing a fine catch of very excellent food to the people at a cheap price. We want community effort, through the Herring Board. How that should be done—whether there should be a Yarmouth and Lowestoft Company and a Lerwick Company and a Peterhead and Fraserburgh Company—I do not know. But the State's money must be behind it to pay the capital costs in buildings and plant and to purchase the fish for storage. Sell fresh what you can, and can or freeze what you can't, But there must be somebody ready to buy it. It is the tail which wags the dog on such a question as this. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen pointed out, having the second day's supply going on the market before the first day's supply is sold, results in disaster. The way is to cure or to sharp freeze—I do not care how you do it; but if you take the right steps you will not only save the industry but bring much-needed employment to these neighbourhoods. I say to my friends on the Front Bench, "I envy you the opportunity you have to serve this industry and the country."
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I make no apology for continuing this Debate on the subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) has been discussing. I would like to follow him on one or two interesting points which he made. In supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Jewson), I would point out that we have had a great deal said about the fishing industry on the East coast of England and on the 713 East coast of Scotland, but nothing has been said up to now about that very prolific source of fish, the West coast of Scotland. My hon. Friends from the East coast will not deny that the Loch Fyne herring is the best herring in the world. It may not be so good for kippering as the East coast herring, but that is a matter to which I hope to come in a moment. In regard to this problem of the herring industry—for it is a problem—I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Food will not think, if I put forward a number of facts to show how the difficulties have arisen, that I am attacking his Ministry. Far from it; I realise, like all other Members, that the Ministry of Food have done wonderful work in this war. We have all been extremely well fed—if we had only had as many herrings as we might have had, we should have been even better fed.
§ Mr. Boothby
I want to make it quite clear that I definitely meant to make an attack on the Ministry of Food.
§ Major McCallum
I have written rather strong letters to the Ministry of Food. I have done my attacking that way, more privately. To-day I would like to mention one or two facts. We have had interesting and eloquent speeches from many Members about the fishing industry, and a few facts might serve to ram this question home to my hon. Friend and his Ministry. There has been a scarcity of fish in many wide areas of this country. That is well known. I am told by the Ministry that that is not so. It is not a question of housewives not liking herring nor that people who cook herring in blocks of flats are unpopular because they "smell out" the whole of the rest of the tenants. I would like to bring one or two instances to the notice of my hon. Friend. In the town of Hamilton, just outside Glasgow, there has, for a long time, been a constant complaint that they are unable to obtain supplies of fish in general, and especially herring. One of my constituents, a herring fisherman, happened to be visiting his sister in Hamilton, and she naturally said to him, "You are a fisherman. You say that herring can be produced. Come round the fishmongers' shops with me and help me to buy them." They went together, and no herring was to be found. In my own constituency, which is engaged very 714 largely in the fishing for this product, there are burghs and villages and areas where you cannot buy a single herring. Herring are landed at Oban, carried from the trawler to the railway truck on the pier and sent away to Glasgow or London, but they cannot be bought in Oban. The same thing applies to Campbeltown; whence they are taken either by road or by steamer.
§ Mr. Mabane
The hon. and gallant Member is not suggesting that this is in any way due to control exercised by the Ministry of Food? There is no control of distribution of herring.
§ Major McCallum
I hope to take up the point and that my hon. Friend will explain it later on. Whether it is the control from the Ministry of Food or from the Ministry of War Transport, or whoever controls it, I cannot say, but the fish is not to be had in the fishmongers' shops.
§ Major McCallum
I am sorry that I have not the letters with me from some of my fishmonger constituents, but I will send them to my hon. Friend later on, and he will see that they definitely prove that they are not allowed to buy them. It is this fact which is causing a complete breakdown of the distribution throughout the country. Once or twice one has seen some fish and has asked the fishmonger where it has come from. It has not come from the West Coast fishing fleets at all but from Aberdeen and yet the Ministry of War Transport says that there is a tremendous need for transport and we must save transport. There is a misunderstanding and I hope that my hon. Friend will straighten it out. We cannot understand it ourselves in the north-west of Scotland.
I come to another problem which is rather similar. In the Outer Isles of the Hebrides it has always been the custom during the summer fishing season for the fishermen to salt a large number of herring to carry them through the winter 715 to the next season; but two or three seasons ago they were forbidden to do it by the Ministry. Last season in Stornoway, although they were forbidden to catch herring themselves, they were able to obtain herring from Iceland to salt. Why should that fish be brought from Iceland? I hope my hon. Friend will go into that matter.
The question of dumping has caused great anxiety in my constituency in the past fishing season. Out of 4,800 baskets of fish landed at a certain port in the Clyde area, about 50 per cent. of them were thrown back into the sea, and yet there are many places where fish cannot be bought. It is said that fish is brought from Iceland and yet this local fish is dumped back into the sea. The question of dumping is one which other hon. Members interested in the industry and myself have discussed and protested against time and time again, and still the reply is always the same, namely, that there are seasons of glut and that when gluts arise you cannot expect the Ministry of Food to be able to deal with them. Here is a very valuable and nutritious form of food which is of essential value to the nation and, knowing that gluts are bound to happen—and they happen practically every year—some arrangement should be made to save that food which is otherwise thrown away.
I have here a copy of an Order which was issued in Canada containing new and stringent regulations for herring fishermen in British Columbia in order to safeguard the supply of canned fish. It prohibits herring caught anywhere in British Columbia waters from being thrown overboard, dumped or wasted. Thus in Canada it has been found necessary to make it a crime to dump herring, and I suggest that it would be a very good thing for the Ministry of Food to follow the example of Canada. It is rather an extraordinary thing that at a certain port in my constituency, all through the season, large quantities of herring have been dumped back into the sea and yet in the shops at the some port Canadian canned herring could always be bought. One of the reasons given by my hon. Friend's Department for dumping is that the fish have to be thrown away because there are no buyers.
I come to another point which is causing great anxiety in the West Clyde area. 716 It is the question of buyers' allocations. In the port of Ayr in 1937–38, the year taken as the basic season for the allocation of buyers, there were 64 firms buying herring as they landed. This year only eight or ten of those firms bought any herring, whereas there are a large number of other buyers, simply crying out for herring, who are ruled out because they were not buyers in the essential year of 1937–38. It should be possible to go through this system of allocation and completely reorganise it. A lot of the old wood should be cut out of the plant in order to let in some of the new shoots and give these new firms a chance of showing their worth. I could give the names of one or two firms who at the time when herring were fetching very small prices bought thousands of baskets of herring for canning or curing, and yet, when the price goes to its controlled maximum price, these same buyers, who saved the fishermen during these weeks of poor prices, are not allowed to buy because they are not on this port's allocation list. I beg my hon. Friend's Department to go into this question of allocations, because it is causing a great deal of dissatisfaction. I feel that much of the trouble that goes with dumping might be removed if only this were done.
I would like to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said about refrigeration. A great deal can be done, I am sure. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland only this week whether any inquiries had been made into the small refrigeration and canning plants which, we were told, had been set up so successfully in America and in Canada. I was glad to hear him say that inquiries are afoot. We are hoping shortly to receive the report of a committee on the herring fishing industry in Scotland, presided over by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). Another Scottish Commission is inquiring into the white fish industry, this Commission being presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence). In Scotland we are doing what we can to arrive at a solution of our difficulties, but in none of this is there any push by the Ministry of Food. Lord Woolton once initiated a great potato campaign. Cannot we have a "victory herring," or some sort of 717 herring propaganda? Cannot canteens, barracks, camps, hostels and other public places be induced to put on one meal a week of herring? In many ways, I feel sure that the demand for herring could be stimulated.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen referred to the export of herring. When they are properly cured there is no reason why stocks for exports should not be built up. In spite of all the difficulties of curers in regard to material and labour, I think matters could be improved.
The in-shore fishing fleets of this country have had a very raw deal in this war. They have been almost completely forgotten by all the Departments except one, and that the Navy. The minesweepers and patrol crafts that are on constant duty round our coasts are nearly all manned by our fishermen, and I think they might be given a better deal than they have had up to now.
I have several suggestions in my mind for the future, but I do not want to delay the House any further, except to express the hope that the Ministry of Food will give serious consideration to the many sound points which have been put forward by organisations with special knowledge, such as, for instance, the Clyde Fishermen's Association. I hope also that other suggestions from the North-East and other parts of the country which are concerned with this trade will be borne in mind and that the fishermen and the families of the men employed in fishing will be given a better deal.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
It is very refreshing and welcome to hear and take part in, once again, a Debate upon herrings. I am reminded of the vigorous controversies we had in this House ten years ago when my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and others of us day after day assailed the Government, of which at that time my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was a distinguished member. I remember that at that time the Government were asked for almost precisely the same things that are being asked for to-day. It was as a result of our repeated agitation at that time that the Duncan Commission was formed, of which I am happy to see a member (Mr. Beattie) here to-day. I think my hon. Friend the 718 Member for East Aberdeen has done a service to the nation in introducing this Debate. This problem of food is absolutely No. 1 of all the tasks facing us in the future. We have an assurance of national security when the war is over. The Navy, Army and Air Force are present in great strength, and the men and women are ready. We have a tolerable assurance of shelter being provided for our people and a considerable assurance that clothing will be available. But for the assurance of food after the war we have looked in vain. Yet that comes a very long way before Beveridge or housing or almost any other post-war requirement, and, therefore, I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will welcome this Debate.
We are bringing to the notice of the country to-day a problem of the first importance, which has not yet received the attention it needs or deserves. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for W. Perth (Mr. Snadden) made one of the most remarkable speeches I have ever heard on this subject. It was extremely interesting and helpful, and I would like to offer him my congratulations. As I was saying, we have had not only no assurance about food after the war, but the only statement of an official kind has been of precisely the opposite character. Lord Woolton warned us of a world shortage, and our problem is how to meet that shortage, for unless we can we shall undermine the life and the livelihood of our people. Looking around the world, we see that Australia is about to be put upon a meat ration and that America is in precisely the same situation. A meat shortage is to be found everywhere. Yet, when the war is over, these countries and others will be faced with the colossal task of implementing the resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference. Unless that Conference was a farce—and I do not believe it was—all these producing countries must unload their main supplies on the devastated areas of the world. But if they do, they cannot send supplies here in the quantities we need or have been accustomed to receive in days gone by, and so we shall be thrown upon our own resources. Our problem is how to develop our own resources of food production. We have in this country a climate and a soil and a people second to none from the point of view of food production. We can grow an even greater quantity 719 than we are producing now, given the right conditions. I am not one of those who look to the Government for direction and control in every walk of life. I would rather avoid Government direction at all, but there are certain duties which lie upon the Government which it cannot escape and the principal one is to create conditions in which producers can exercise their personal enterprise and initiative. It is those conditions for which our farmers will cry when the war is over. It is more a matter of price than of anything else—price and security. If our producers of food can feel that they have the security necessary to give them the incentive for long-term planning, we shall get the food we want and maintain the people on the land to produce the food. And what applies to farming, applies to fishing and other industries. I have recently become, in a small way, a market gardener, and I am taking a good deal of interest in the business. I am amazed at what has been happening. There is no branch of food production which has shown so phenomenal an increase as market gardening in the last 10 years—the multiplication of producers and the immense increase of all kinds of glasshouse production is truly remarkable.
§ Sir E. Findlay
What about transport? Tomatoes and other things failed before the war because there was no transport.
No doubt there is something in what the hon. Baronet says. If I may pursue the point with which I was dealing I would say that we have in the last 10 years, particularly in the last three years, built up a section of the food production industry of special importance for nutrition. It will be a calamity if, because of the lack of Government policy, we destroy that immense improvement in market garden enterprise. There is only one way to keep that industry flourishing and that is to give producers the security in markets and prices so that their work shall be profitable. So, price and security are the essentials of prosperous agriculture when the war is over.
I have spoken so much about herrings in the days gone by that there is little that I need say now. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) is quite right—we have in the herring a food of immense value. We have an industry employing men of peculiarly high character. 720 In pre-war days the hon. Member for East Aberdeen and I day after day stressed the importance of these men to the national security, and yet we failed lamentably to impress the Government (Interruption). I do not want to use un-Parliamentary language but I agree it seemed that no one cared a damn. This war has shown, as the last did, that these men are vital for the defence of the nation and, if national security is to be the prime concern of the nation after the war, their interest must be safeguarded.
Much has been said about dumping. It is a very difficult problem. The problem of gluts is not so easily solved as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Argyll would have us believe. You do not know where the glut is to be, on any day or at any hour. It may be in the Shetlands to-day and in the Western Isles to-morrow, and it may be in such vast quantities as completely to overwhelm whatever plans you may have and whatever stores you may have in preparation to deal with it. I am looking to my right hon. Friend's report for some answer to it.
I hope, too, that the report will deal with that other immensely important problem in connection with our fishermen—the type of boat. I know, from 10 or 11 years' close association with the industry, that if the men in East Fife had a better type of boat, so that the same boat, properly constructed and economical to run, could be used for herring or white fish, inshore or a little further out, taking the seasons as they come, that would make a very great difference.
This, I hope, is not the last of our food Debates. I hope we shall continue pressing the Government. If we could concentrate a quarter of the energy that has been put into Beveridge, upon food production when the war is over, it would be infinitely better for the nation. I take my stand first and foremost on the side of the food producers. If you could put that class of the community on its feet, the future of the country would be safe.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I am sure it is a good thing that in this hectic week, in which we have discussed some red herrings of a different kind, we have come back to the grim realities of the situation. Those realities have to be faced both by the occupants of the Treasury Bench and by all those who represent interests which have to look to 721 the future in terms particularly of the trinity—food, houses and employment. Food is of paramount importance. I cannot claim to speak for any catchers of fish, but I can speak for a few sellers of fish, and for thousands of consumers. Our complaint is that there is something seriously wrong with the marketing of these commodities when they, have been produced or gathered by those who harvest them, whether from the land or the sea. A friend of mine, a very responsible person, told me that one-tenth of the herring caught in any year during the last 10 years have been thrown back into the sea.
§ Mr. Boothby
The hon. Member must not forget the number of herring deliberately left in the sea and never taken out of it.
§ Mr. Walkden
If we examine the various suggestions that have been made, that statement must be examined, but something else must be examined and that is the stewardship of the Department which claims to deal with the problem. I am not at all satisfied that the Ministry of Food, or the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries if you like, have mobilised the nation's resources sufficiently to handle this very difficult problem. Why is it, for example, that the citizens of London, or Doncaster, or Huddersfield, complain that they cannot buy herring when the newspapers say there is a plentiful supply? Why is it that when herrings appear in the shops people refuse to buy them? It is because they stink, and nobody will look at them, or people hurry past the shops. When they discuss with the fishmonger what has happened he usually provides the explanation. It is the Ministry of Food. They have failed to mobilise the nation's resources to handle a commodity which is in plentiful supply and would be in good demand if they had done their work properly. I am making this a claim because I do shopping regularly. I like herrings, and I am a herring eater. I complain because if I stay at a hotel and ask for kippers or herrings the proprietor looks at me almost with astonishment at the audacity of an ordinary humble sort of fellow like myself asking for such a thing.
Let us contrast this with what we see in plenty in grocers' shops. I remember a firm called the Tyne Brand Herring 722 Company. I do not know whether they still exist. About 15 or 16 years ago they endeavoured to compete with Canada and other markets in supplying canned herrings, but it fell flat. If you go into a grocer's shop, however, you will find thousands of tins of herrings from Canada and other places which have been brought across the seas, through the docks and warehouses, and handled by labour ten times over to bring them into our shops. If you ask the grocer to supply you with English or Scotch herrings he will say he has never heard of such a thing. We in the distributive trades cannot understand this. The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and other right hon. Gentlemen are presiding over committees discussing these problems, and we as consumers say that if they, sitting on these committees month after month and year after year and hearing allegations such as are made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and other Members, cannot find a solution sufficiently convincing for the Ministry of Food to put into operation, it is time they got out of the way and gave somebody else a chance. I believe that the real blame belongs to the Ministry of Food, where there is a timidity that passes all human understanding. They are halfhearted on certain problems. They are half-hearted about turkeys and half-hearted about herrings. They do not know how to get down to the subject or how to adopt useful suggestions which are made in all sincerity by those who understand.
Looking into a big grocer's shop yesterday, I noticed cans of jam. It may be asked what this has to do with the Amendment, but it has a lot to do with it. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he feels satisfied about the importation of jam. It means the use of thousands of tons of shipping space, and it causes men to risk their lives going to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to bring the jam into our grocers' shops in the fifth year of war. The Ministry of Food are advertising that people can have extra supplies of jam or sugar in lieu of jam. They have risked sailors' lives needlessly over this jam. Why have they done it when they know that jam factories have not been working to 100 per cent. capacity for the last two or three years? Within 20 miles of London workers in a jam factory have been switched over into other industries although there were fruit, sugar 723 and labour available. The Ministry have preferred to use shipping space to bring jam here. There is something seriously wrong in the Ministry when they do this. They have the organisation if they will tackle the job properly, but there must be fundamental changes of policy based on the best possible advice.
Another subject that has been raised is that of marketing and the price margins. It was raised in a Question last week, and there was the usual stock reply by the Parliamentary Secretary. It has to do with the old argument that £650,000,000 worth of food is produced, and, in order that the consumer can buy it, the Ministry pay £1,500,000,000 for it. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Noble Lord usually reply, "You have not taken into account all the different processing that there is in connection with food, and that explains most of the margin." I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is not here, because I would like to ask him what his Minister feels about the existing marketing system in general produce. Everybody knows that it is wasteful and uneconomic and that the whole system was condemned by the Linlithgow Committee years ago. Everybody knows that if there is a social crime in this country, it is to be found in the markets in the centre of London. They are an economic waste and are very unpopular. When we have asked the Minister of Food why he does not do something about it, he usually offers the excuse that it is not his duty to make fundamental changes with the distributive system in war-time and that he has no intention of doing it. When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture was asked a certain question, not in the House but elsewhere, on this subject, he offered an explanation the other way round. He said, "While you congratulate us for what we have done, distribution is not our responsibility."
This Amendment focuses attention on the need for fundamental changes in the marketing system, and it must be examined and remedies must be found. There is advice available to the Ministry and suggested alternatives in the Ministry. I make that challenge with no bitterness, but with a feeling that there is a half-heartedness always running through the Ministry and a hesitancy to do something to meet fundamental needs. I put it to 724 the Minister in the name of my colleagues and others associated with me in the distributive trades that unless he tackles the problem of distribution he will not be able to solve the other kindred problems which have been raised to-day.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I hope my hon. Friend will excuse me if I do not follow him in the line he has taken to-day, but I should like to say how sincerely I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) will receive the consideration from the Ministry of Agriculture which it so highly merits. Personally, I think it a privilege to have listened to so well informed and knowledgeable a speech. We have been warned of a probable shortage of food after this war. May I say that unless there is a change of heart on the part of the Government and on the part of the Minister of Agriculture toward the farming industry a shortage of food is not only probable but is absolutely certain, and it will be unnecessarily great. The hon. Member for West Perth stressed the tremendous importance of protein foods, and I do not think any branch of modern knowledge of food questions will deny that milk, fish, eggs and meat are the most important foods. But there is no one who has the smallest connection with farming who does not know that there is no more exhausting branch of agriculture and no branch of agriculture that calls for so much work and human endeavour as the tending of livestock.
I deplore in conjunction with other hon. Members that we have not had long ago some indication of constructive long-term policy for agriculture. With the hon. Member for West Perth, I very sincerely regret the prices for agricultural products which have been announced lately. There is a very general belief in the country, fostered I think most unfortunately by the Minister of Agriculture, that the farmers of this country are to-day in a fortunate financial position. If figures are produced to show that that is the case, may I say that they are founded on false premises? It is quite true that farmers, on paper, are better off to-day than they were some years ago, but to what is that due? First of all, we have been benefiting from the stored fertility of the soil on which we have made very heavy demands. I am perfectly certain that in the years to come we shall appreciate that we have made perhaps too great demands 725 on the stored fertility of the soil. Secondly, we have had a series of very good harvests, and thirdly, not only many farmers but many of the farmers' wives and families have worked hours out of all proportion to what should be demanded of any class of people in this country.
The farmer has had to work these hours because if he does not fulfil the demands made upon him by the Ministry of Agriculture and the county war executive committee he will be classed as a bad farmer, and his farm may be taken from him. Sometimes I wonder how many of the farmers of this country who have been classed so glibly as bad farmers are only in the position of being called bad farmers because for years they have been deprived of the capital necessary to enable them to keep efficient and up to date. The farmer, moreover, has in very many instances been assisted by what is actually unpaid labour. Hundreds and thousands of farmers could not have carried on unless their wives and sons and very often their daughters had worked literally intolerably long hours with small thought of reward. The hon. Member for West Perth has stressed the importance of increasing the live stock of this country, and Heaven knows that it is necessary. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said the climate of this country was ideal for farming and for stock raising. But that is only so if you have adequate buildings in which to rear and house stock.
It is absolutely essential, if you are going to raise stock as you should raise stock on your farm, that the farm buildings should be in really good repair and kept in an up-to-date condition. Is there a single one of us who does not know that farm buildings were in a scandalous state of repair before the war because of the financial condition of the farmers and that owing to the exigencies of war no money has been spent on them since? But no allowance is made for depreciation of buildings and fences, nor for the deterioration of ditches which the farmer has been unable to look after during the war, when the Income Tax demand is made on the farmer. The Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture have built up great reputations for themselves in this country, but I sometimes wonder if they fully appreciate or give full credit for the fact that their reputations 726 have been built on the sweat and the loyalty and the guts of the farmers of this country. Too small real tribute has been paid to the farmers. It is no good for the Parliamentary Secretary to shake his head. He knows it is true.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. T. Williams)
I think the hon. Lady will agree that both the Minister and myself whenever we have made utterances of any sort or kind have been just as generous as our funds of words would permit in expressing appreciation of the farmers.
§ Mrs. Tate
The Parliamentary Secretary is always gracious, always courteous, always generous to friend and foe alike in the House. In the 12 years that I have been a Member he has expressed a courtesy all his own, and I know his appreciation is sincerely meant. Most certainly I do not say the same of the Minister of Agriculture. Do you think the farmers of the country feel that the Minister of Agriculture is their true friend? If you do, you are sadly mistaken. He has built up a great reputation for himself as Minister of Agriculture by, I repeat, the farmers' loyalty, by their sweat, and by their guts. Certainly he is an able Minister. He is an exceptionally efficient, competent, able man, but he is not a man who really loves the land or really understands the land or farmers. I know that he has farmed since the beginning of this war under peculiarly fortunate circumstances, with peculiar advantages. Unhappily, he therefore thinks he knows everything there is to know about farming. But you cannot know everything there is to know about farming unless you farm in good days and in bad, not as the Minister of Agriculture has done, only in good days. Unless you make full financial allowance and appreciate the real position of the farmer financially and the difficulties which he has to face over a long term you will have a shortage of food in this country much more acute than it need be. Guts and work and loyalty cannot carry on against insuperable odds for ever; there must be greater appreciation of the financial and other needs of agriculture and the immense difficulties with which the farmer will be faced if he is to be asked to increase his livestock as he should do. There will be a shortage of food, that is 727 certain, but if it is greater than need be then let the blame be placed where the blame should be—on lack of appreciation on the part of the Government and of the Minister of Agriculture of the difficulties of the farming community.
§ Mr. Francis Beattie (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Last Tuesday was St. Andrew's Day, and along with other Scottish folk I listened to the broadcast of our St. Andrew's night programme. I was thrilled by our national music which was sent to our brothers across the seas and the music we had from our brothers throughout the Empire. The tailpiece of the broadcast came when the Secretary of State for Scotland broadcast a message to Scots at home and overseas. The phrase that stuck in my mind was a simple one. He said, "Surely it is not outwith the wit of man to devise some means of dealing with the surpluses of production which occur from time to time." That is really the crux of the whole situation to-day. We read of herring being thrown back into the sea, of over-production, and of waste generally. To-day the scientist is finding the answer with incredible speed to many problems put up by the enemy, like the magnetic mine for instance. Scientists are finding improvements for protecting our gallant boys and girls in the Fighting Services, and I venture to suggest that scientists will have to be put on to the job of food preservation immediately after the war. Canning and dehydration are all very well. I should like to pay a tribute to the way in which the members of the canning industry have applied themselves to their problems during the war. I should like to think the scientists have found out all there is to know about dehydration. Dehydration is all right in war time and some form of it will stay after the war. I have tasted potatoes which have been dehydrated. By the application of boiling water one can have very good mashed potatoes. They are very good.
There are other ways of food preserving. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) referred to refrigeration. Before the war there existed in America a system of "quick freeze" which marketed vegetables, fish and produce of all kinds, making these available to the community. It was coming into evidence in this country just before the war. There are certain patent rights concerning this 728 particular method, and of patent rights, and of international ones in particular, I am a little scared. I want this particular method of food preservation to be available to all classes of the community in this country. I want the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food to get together and say that in the public interest the Government should be recommended to buy the patent rights from America; and having got them, the British Government ought to allow firms to use them by licence, right from the refrigerating end to the marketing end. There is no earthly reason why the woman in the little shop in the smallest village should not have one of those refrigerating cabinets displaying all kinds of fresh food ready for cooking. Before the war I used to see automatic cigarette machines, which are of considerable value, outside even the smallest shops.
Reference has been made to the Sea Fish Commission. I had the honour of being a member of that Commission. I have to thank my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) for putting my name forward for that Commission. I learned a tremendous lot on it. When I suggested to him that I did not seem to be a very appropriate person to go on it, he said, "Wait a little, and you will soon find out that there is some connection between the loaves and the fishes." And it was so. The Commission was set up just ten years ago, and we had our first meeting one month later, in January, 1934. We were told by the Government to make a Report on herring first; the purport of the message was, "Get going, and keep going until you have that Report done." We visited almost every port in Great Britain, I think, and inland markets as well. We got a lot of information, and in due course the Herring Report was produced. I can tell you that that Report was the seventh revise and no one of the secretariat put in a single comma or period. It was the work entirely of the members of the Commission. If the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture are in any difficulties about things let them read that Report and they will get most of the answers.
What did we find when we got to work? We found depression and distress, but we found also this remarkable thing, 729 that 500,000 cwt. of Norwegian herring were allowed to come into the country. Think of it. Why? Because of that thing called "balance of trade," in order that coal might go from this country to Scandinavian countries, to whom it was sold at a cheaper rate than our industrialists were getting it. Never let that happen again. Never set up a Commission to find out what is wrong with an industry and let it find that there is a backdoor through which 500,000 cwt. of herring are coming into the country. Across the fjords booms were put down and the shoals of herring caught behind them. The Norwegians waited to see what the London market was like. Then they sent in trawlers and scooped out the herring and popped them on to that market. People often thought they were Loch Fyne herring. I heard my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) talking about Loch Fyne herring. On page 30 of our Report there is the statementWe found that even kippered Norwegian herring, we were told, have been sold as Loch Fyne herring.When we went round the ports we found boxes marked "Loch Fyne Herring" and "Loch Fyne Kippers." We must do something to stop that. There must be a national mark. The Commission pleaded for that. I want to see a national mark, so that other herring, wherever caught, either abroad or elsewhere, shall be properly marketed. What else did we find? We found "a pretty kettle of fish." I think of the distress that we found; I think of Buckie, of Fraserburgh, of Peterhead; I think of the forest of masts in Buckie harbour; the boats not going out and 10s, a week being charged for harbourage; of the houses of the fishermen, the finest men in the world, mortgaged up to the hilt. There was debt and depression. That must never happen again, never.
I remember too our export to Russia, Poland and Germany. Russia faded out of the market, of course—I am talking about pre-1914. To Germany and to Central Europe we gave cured herring. We found that the Germans had started a herring fleet on their own after the last war. I am not blaming them particularly for that, but what they did was that they were determined to have sea sense in 25 years. Our fishermen, who are the salt of the earth and the ocean, have had sea sense for centuries, and the Germans 730 realised the value of sea sense, and have done all they can to get it. Then there was the Dutch fishing fleet. They also were supplying central Europe. It is the responsibility of the Government to find considerable markets for our fishing folk after this war.
Another point that we must never forget is our loyalty to the fisher folk. I want to emphasise that point. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) knows what he is talking about. I remember seeing him coming in from a night's fishing with the fishermen, which he did to get a knowledge of this industry on his part of the coast. It is true the boats were not always so good as they should be. Let me tell the House a story about boats and loyalty. There was a fishing family in the north among the many fisher families ranged throughout the length and breadth of our coast. There were three brothers, and there was a sister, as well as the father. The little girl was at school. When she left the local school or was about to leave, the headmaster came to the family and said, "Do you know that this little girl is very brilliant? It is a pity to let her go. Could she not go to the Academy?" They said, "Well, all right, we'll get the money." They were maybe hard up, but they sent her to the Academy. We know what that means; every member of the family had to sacrifice something, a not uncommon happening in Scotland. When she was about finished at the Academy, the rector of the Academy said, "This is a really brilliant girl. It's a great pity that she should leave. Will you send her to the university?" They said, "Yes," and to the university she went, and she passed with honours in every conceivable subject, medicine particularly. That secured her a good post out in the East.
A few years later there came a letter from her saying, "I have saved some money. I have never forgotten your kindness, and I would like to provide the finest boat that you can buy, in order that you can get a good living." She sent £4,000. The boat they bought sailed the sea and did great work. It is a well-known boat in the North. I will tell the House its name in a minute. I was very proud of seeing that boat. One night, not long ago, I was sitting comfortably in my home while it was blowing outside and was pretty cold, when I heard the announcer on the wireless say, "The 731 Admiralty regrets to announce the loss of H.M. drifter 'The Girl Helen.'" That was the name of the boat and the name of the girl. That is a story which should not be forgotten because it typifies the loyalty of the fisherfolk.
I would like to take up the question now of distribution. Behind the scenes the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and myself have had a small difference of opinion on this matter not long ago, concerning the covering for herring in transit. We came to a satisfactory conclusion, and now herring is transported by rail with lids on the boxes. Since I came into this House to-day I have been given information that Messrs. Duncan McIver, of Stornoway, one of the biggest kipperers, have had to tell their customers that the Ministry of Food have said they are not to purchase any more wood for boxes. The trade must therefore cease. Good heavens; the trade in kippering must stop! There must be an answer from the Ministry. I am told that there is plenty of wood for boxes in Aberdeen. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will have a complete answer. If not, I suggest that he goes to his friend the Minister of Supply, who will no doubt give him the wood, because that Minister, who was also Chairman of the Sea Fish Commission, has a great affection for the humble herring.
I sometimes think the Ministry of Food are leading us into a fools' paradise. We are told that fish are available when fish are not available. Let me give an example. A wholesaler in Glasgow before the basic period had a certain number of customers. The total number represented, say, 1,750 points. After the basic period his retailer customers were cut down, but he still had the same number of points. He was allocated different fishing ports from which to draw his fish. That sounds very good on paper, but two of those ports are closed for six months, and half of his supply does not come, so the retailer customers cannot get their full supply of fish. That comes right back to the canteens in the factories, where the workers cannot get fish. There is something fundamentally wrong in that situation.
Helensburgh, on the Firth of Clyde, used to draw its fish from Glasgow. To-day 732 it draws its fish from Wick. [Laughter.] Yes, it is supposed to save transport. Recently the Minister of Food wrote a letter to a little fried fish merchant in Helensburgh saying that a consignment of fish which had been despatched to him from Wick had arrived at the Ministry of Food in London and as they thought it would not keep until it arrived at Helensburgh they were sending it for salvage. That showed that the fish comes from Wick, What is more, and what they should take notice of, is that the heavy lorry which used to take fish from Glasgow to Helensburgh now goes there empty and brings back fish guts to Glasgow. I think the Minister might just have a look at that matter. If there is any point that I have raised that is not applicable to the Ministry of Food, I do not want the Minister to fall back on the words of the old comic song, "The other Department, if you please, straight on and up the stairs." I do not want the Minister to throw the onus upon other colleagues of his on the Front Bench, but rather to promise to consult with them.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabane)
I agree very much with what was said by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) when he said that it was a good thing that the attention of the House had been concentrated to-day on the subject of food. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is very skilful, and he concentrated the attention of the House on food in a particularly cunning way. His Amendment clearly in the first part of it builds a very wide road in order to enable him to drive a very narrow vehicle down it. He has talked about herrings, he has talked about livestock, and it is very evident, I think, to the House that many matters with which he has dealt and with which other Members have dealt are not primarily the concern of the Ministry of Food. Indeed, if I may say so, there has been much competition between the Ministry of Agriculture, the Scottish Office and the Ministry of Food as to who should have the honour of replying. The competition has been rather in the manner of Kai Lung.
§ Mr. Mabane
I should perhaps be happier if that were so, but as I was saying 733 the competition has been rather in the manner of Kai Lung. Each in turn has protested his own unworthiness to deal with such an eminent and distinguished occasion. In the end the other two Departments succeeded in bowing me on to the stage. As I am here, the House will expect me perhaps to deal particularly with that part of the Amendment which is primarily the concern of my Department, the Ministry of Food. Before doing so, I should like to say, having read the King's Speech again with considerable care, that it does not seem really there is much reason for my hon. Friend to regret the emphasis in the Speech on the subject of food. The importance of food in the transition period has been emphasised; indeed it has been emphasised outside, and no one, I think, would be more surprised than the hon. Member if there had been a particular gloss on the matter of food relating to herrings in detail.
The Ministry of Food is concerned with providing food for this nation, and in the search for food the world is its parish. It is necessary for the Ministry of Food to think of food internationally, and it is very conscious of the difficulties that exist now and which are likely to increase to secure supplies adequate and sufficiently varied for our needs. It is very interesting to recollect that in the series of Food Facts which is reasonably well known Food Fact No, I emphasised the shortage of shipping, To-day, as has been evident, it is well known to hon. Members of this House that Food Fact No. 1 is the shortage of food. Again the House will have observed that my Noble Friend the Minister of Reconstruction during the latter part of his term as Minister of Food played a leading part, indeed one might say the leading part, in impressing upon the people of this country the fact that they must look forward to a continuance for some time after the war of food shortages at least as acute as those we have experienced during the war. Perhaps it might not be going too far to say that the House and the country are beginning to derive a sense of the importance of this question, not a little from the utterances of my Noble Friend.
I think if any evidence were needed of the determination of the Government to pay close attention to this problem, it could be found, and these doubts could be allayed, by the very fact of the appointment 734 of a Minister of Reconstruction charged with the task of providing food, work and homes in that order as his first responsibility. I really do not think it can be claimed that the Government of this country nor the Governments of other United Nations are slow to recognise this important fact. [Interruption.] No, not in words, in deeds, In preparations detailed and specific for the post-war world those concerned with food can claim that they have got off first. It is not that Parliament or the people are pressing upon the Government that attention should be given to these matters; it is that the Government have gone out of their way to warn the world. They have done a great deal more than warning the world. They have initiated action. Other Members have referred to the first important action in the international field. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen particularly referred to the Resolutions of the Hot Springs Conference. These Resolutions urged that production throughout the world should be increased. The hon. Member read certain Resolutions or certain parts of certain Resolutions which are important Before I sit down I shall call the attention of the House to certain other Resolutions. It has been made plain that the machinery of the Combined Boards and the London Food Council, which now succeeds the London Food Committee, is to be used to secure that when the war is over there shall not be a scramble for the world's food supply.
It is vitally important that the food supplies of the world should be allocated to the nations of the world in accordance with determined needs, and one of the principal tasks of the Ministry of Food is of course to secure that in various exporting countries the production so far as we can help it should be stepped up to the highest possible extent. There has been meeting at Atlantic City the Council of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Other Members have referred to that particular aspect of the work. They have, rightly, said that there will be devastated areas and hungry areas and other parts of the world to succour. This country is certainly playing its part in making available to U.N.R.R.A. resources to enable that task to be carried out. Indeed, I think that 735 in the international sphere it is very evident that this Government and the other Governments are taking early action to do what can be done to meet the food shortage which this Amendment foreshadows.
But this Amendment particularly refers to what is being done here at home. Many Members who have taken part in this Debate know a great deal more and in greater detail about agriculture than I would claim to do, and many of them know what has been done. The hon. Lady spoke with great fervour about the work of the farmers. I think that the work of the farmers is very generally recognised throughout the House, and not only by Members representing agricultural constituencies.
§ Mr. Mabane
I am talking about the knowledge of the people of this country about what the farmers have done. [An HON. MEMBER: "South of the Border."] The problem of food shortage has been with us for four years in this country and there can be no doubt that the Agriculture Departments and the farmers together have stepped up agricultural production in this country to a point few would have believed possible before war broke out. As compared with pre-war years, the tillage area has increased up to 1942 by 53 per cent. I am informed that the total net output of agriculture, allowing for the big loss of imported feeding stuffs which agriculture has suffered, had gone up by 70 per cent. up to 1942, and that when the figures are revealed further important progress will be shown for 1943.
§ Sir E. Findlay
Would my hon. Friend say that 53 per cent. is the increase in the tillage area, in view of what the Air Forte and the Army have had to take over?
§ Mr. Mabane
It is strange but true that 53 per cent. is precisely the figure for the increase in tillage. The Hot Springs Conference, in Resolution 12, urged that until the danger of actual hunger had been removed there should be concentration on the maximum acreage of human food crops. It recommends that:As a first step in overcoming the general shortage of food, every effort should be made by countries whose agriculture can be expanded in the short-term period, so long as this is required and so far as the conditions of individual countries require or permit, to increase the acreage under crops for direct human consumption, and even to hold back the rebuilding of depleted livestock herds.Until the danger of actual hunger is past there should be a concentration on the maximum acreage of human food crops, even if this means postponing the restoration, of depleted livestock herds. So far as the production of such crops—bread grains, sugar beet, potatoes—is concerned, our effort is at full stretch, and we must maintain the high level of output that we have already reached. That does not mean that we should not take steps to move in the direction that my hon. Friends the Members for East Aber deen and West Perth indicated. What they were saying was comforting to me and to my right hon. Friends here, because it was evident to us that they were knocking at open doors. While it will be difficult, there will be opportunities from now on at least, of taking the first steps towards the restoration of our livestock output, which, as hon. Gentlemen have said in this Debate, has inevitably declined during the war as a result of the shortage of feeding stuffs. There can be no drastic change, no great increase in the herds, so long as the feeding stuffs situation remains as it is. In this respect, there is no real prospect of any great easement for some time to come. There can be no question of encroaching on human food crops, but there are means known to those who know agriculture whereby it will be possible to increase the herds to the extent that new leys will call for an increasing head of livestock; and in other directions the Agricultural Departments intend to take the first steps towards the restoration of the livestock output.
Supporters of the Amendment have laid emphasis on the question of quality of livestock. The hon. Member for West 737 Perth, particularly, referred to the necessity of maintaining the quality of our breeding, and spoke of an export trade to the continent of Europe. The Government are very fully alive to the importance of high-quality stock for securing maximum production, and the improvement of breeding stock is one of the essentials of the agricultural policy of my right hon. Friend. But that does not mean that we can do what I believe my hon. Friends want now. They desire to encourage those who go in for high-grade livestock by altering the method of grading and the price structure. At present we grade up to 58 per cent. killing-out weight. In Angus, for example, if they are able to lay hands on the appropriate feeding-stuffs they can produce a better killing-out percentage. My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth referred to the meat ration. It is necessary for us to do all we can to produce meat. Therefore, we have had to concentrate on quantity and not quality. We have had to do the best we could with the feeding-stuffs at our disposal. There is no doubt that we could produce a better killing-out percentage than 58 per cent., but we could not get the quantity, and we could not confine it to one particular breed of cattle.
§ Mr. Mabane
We could not prevent anybody else using these feeding stuffs in order to get a better killing-out percentage in a relatively short time. But we are helping the producers of high-grade beef cattle by making the special grade for 58 per cent. cattle operate in future from January to August, whereas in the past it has operated only from March to June. If my hon. Friend will accept that as some small assistance, I shall be grateful for his thanks. There is no reason to suppose that the present producers of high-grade beef cannot operate with advantage. They can make the output grade far more easily than the other producers of cattle. Let us only hope that we shall get back as soon as possible to the kind of assistance that my hon. Friend desires.
I have to skip about rather, because, although the first part of the Amendment is in very wide general terms, I have to deal with certain matters which are distinctly detailed. That makes my task 738 more difficult. I want to turn to herring. There are always all sorts of rumours about the dumping of fish. Anyone who knows the trade knows that fish is often dumped because it is not in good condition on arrival. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) mentioned a figure of dumping, which enables me to give precise figures for herring for the season 1943. I am sure he wanted to be told that what he was saying was not correct. I am glad to be able to do so.
§ Mr. Mabane
I know. The hon. Member said that there was a rumour that 10 per cent. was dumped. In the season ending 31st October, 1943, the percentage dumped was .364 of 1 per cent.
§ Mr. Boothby
Can my hon. Friend give any estimate of the percentage of herring, not dumped, but lost because the fishing fleet did not go to sea on 18 days?
§ Mr. Mabane
Who can number the fish of the sea? I would not give an estimate of the number that might have been caught.
§ Major McCallum
Does that mean that the only herring dumped in the fishing ports were dumped because they were in too soft a condition to travel?
§ Mr. Mabane
No, the total number dumped in Scotland in 1943 was .364 of 1 per cent. from whatever reason, whether they could not be sold or were in bad condition.
§ Mr. Mabane
Yes, Sir, that is my information from the Scottish Office and if it is wrong—and I do not believe it is—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must take the responsibility. It would mean something if it were 10 per cent., so it may be given some significance as it is considerably less than 10 per cent. The hon. Gentleman when speaking about herring was not speaking really to the Amendment. I was not asked by him in his speech to say what we are doing about herring in the future. He made instead particular reference to herrings this year. He is right when he says that the herrings were in abundant quantities in the sea this year but he knows too that not until the herring season began were certain grounds 739 released to the catchers and that the Ministry of Food had no reason to know that those grounds from which the herrings were taken were going to be released. He knows that in the early days the herrings were not being caught in such quantities and he probably knows that in nine weeks more herrings were caught than in the preceding 28 weeks. That created, naturally, a difficulty and then came the matter of prices.
§ Mr. Boothby
The hon. Member has challenged me. If the Ministry of Food did not know that the Admiralty were going to make these grounds available, why did not they know and why did not they request the Admiralty long ago to make them available as it was their duty to do?
§ Mr. Mabane
We do our best and, as my hon. Friend knows, when he made a request that certain other grounds should be made available, we at once passed forward the request and it was turned down.
This is a vitally important point. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) made his case so clearly that a very large fleet of herring drifters were tied up at the quayside day after day because there was no market for the fish, and it ought to be answered.
§ Mr. Mabane
I think the hon. Member is anticipating me. Then came the matter of prices. The maximum price of herring was 98s. a cran. On examination the returns justified a reduction to 91s. a cran. The hon. Gentleman is right, there was inadequate consultation with the herring fishermen. We admit that; we admitted it at the time and we can wipe that away. A price of 91s. a cran is still, in our opinion, a price which gives a very fair return. We have said throughout that, if there is objection to that price on the ground that it is inadequate, the Ministry of Food is prepared to institute an inquiry on two conditions, first, that the inquiry shall be public and secondly, that the accounts shall be revealed. What happened. The herring were caught in much greater quantities than were anticipated and, not only did the price drop, but the herring fishermen determined that they would limit their catches. We did what we could, though there may be those that think it was inadequate. At that time there were only two restrictions on 740 herring. Let me digress to emphasise that herrings did not come within the fish zoning scheme. What were the two restrictions? We do not pay carriage from one port of landing to another. We will not pay for sending fish from Fleetwood to Grimsby. The other restriction was that we limited the purchases of catering establishments. On 23rd August, in order to help the situation, we withdrew these two restrictions.
§ Mr. Mabane
So much for the conditions this year. It has always been the objective of the Department that herrings should be eaten fresh. There has always been a limited demand in this country for cured herrings. The cured-herring market, as hon. Members have said, was overseas. One hon. Member suggested that the Ministry of Food might institute a campaign on the lines of "Eat more potatoes" and that it should say "Eat more herrings". We know to our sorrow what would happen if we were to say "Eat more herrings"; there would be no herring. It is not an article of food, the supplies of which are certain, as in the case of potatoes. Herring is in an almost unique position among the food supplies of this country. It is the only article of food that we commonly export in substantial quantities. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) is at the present time Chairman of the Committee on the Herring Industry and I have no doubt that he will produce solutions of some of the post-war problems. The post-war position of herrings is clearly going to be important in the feeding of Europe and we must do what we can.
I am very glad that this Debate has taken place to-day. People are making speeches about the brave new world in which there shall be freedom from want, but a great many people seem to forget the basic want, which is food. A world of white and glowing civic centres will, be little satisfying to people who still remain hungry. It is therefore notable that the Prime Minister, in his recent speech in the country with his peculiar instinct for putting first things first, and His Majesty in the Gracious Speech should 741 give pride of place in their forecast of post-war plans to food. The world has never been fully nourished. That is stated plainly in Resolution 3 of the Hot Springs Conference, and the Conference made plans to secure that the world is fully nourished. If that is to be so, there is implied a vastly increased pressure on the food supplies of the world, and that means we are going to need a vastly increased production. Whatever we do we shall need imports of food. We shall not get these imports of food given. We shall have to produce in return for them what our suppliers want at prices they are prepared to pay. We shall in short have to work for our food. That is why there is such force in the Amendment, in its stress on the need for us to do our best to secure from our own resources what we can to obtain for our own people, with our own hands and from our own fertility, as much as we may to satisfy those needs.
§ Mr. Boothby
I should not like to give the impression that I am satisfied with the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary in any way. Nevertheless, despite that fact, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain, McEwen.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.