§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," resumed.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am glad to be able to bring the House back from the stormy atmosphere of the railway clerks, to the much more peaceful and tranquil, and, I think in many ways, more profitable atmosphere of the herring, which is an article of food of great importance to this country. I do not suggest that the issue we have been discussing is not of great importance, but I think that in the long run it is not of greater national importance than this Bill. When I was interrupted I was saying that Clause 2 of the Bill carried out in general the recommendations of the Elliot Committee. Paragraph (a) refers to thepower to purchase boats and equipment for the purpose of being chartered or hired to persons desiring to engage in the herring industry, including in particular persons who have previously been engaged in that industry and persons who have served whole-time in the Armed Forces of the Crown or the Mercantile Marine.I attach immense importance to this Clause. One of the most important things after the war will be to get the young men to come back to the herring fishing industry. This is vital, and I believe this Clause will assist to that end. Before we are able to get them back we must make it clear that it will be not only a worthwhile profession but a good life, and this Bill will go a long way in that direction. I am particularly interested in the reference to persons who have served whole-time in the Armed Forces of the Crown or the Mercantile Marine, because a very large percentage of our young fishermen have served in them during the war. They have done magnificent work, and it is of vital importance that they should be welcomed back into the industry and enabled to take part in it when the war is over.
Paragraph (b), relating to refrigeration 'and processing, really opens a new vista to the herring fishing industry. If what the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said is true—and I believe to be true—and also what was said by the Secretary of State for Scotland, that the experiments now being carried out at Torry are very promising, there is the possibility of achieving a regular supply 1255 throughout the year of herring for the people of this country. That is of great importance. Paragraph (c) carries on this refrigeration question. It is also of great importance because the Herring Industry Board must see that these experiments are successfully completed before the herring are released to the public. Nothing would be more disastrous than a grave mistake, as might conceivably happen. This business is only in the laboratory phase at the moment, and if the first results were not quite right and a lot of "dud" herring were issued to the public, the effect might be disastrous. I think that is safeguarded under this Sub-section.
Paragraph (d) gives power to levy contributions out of the proceeds of first sales of fresh herring. Anybody who saw as I did the condition of affairs at Fraser-burgh during the last summer fishing will realise how necessary it is. They will know that the early boats may realise over 50s. or 60s. a cran, while the boats that come in afterwards find they can only get less than half that price, merely because the train happens to have gone. It is very important that some method should be devised of equalising prices as between different drifters, and I think this Clause carries out that idea.
There is one point with regard to the powers of the Board that I should like to put to the Minister. I hope that he will be in a position to give me an answer, because I have support for my argument. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) has asked me to say that he approves of what I am going to say, and the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major MacCallum) has spoken to me in the same sense. The powers of the Herring Board should be extended to cover all wholesalers. They should be licensed in the same way as fishermen or fish salesmen. I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland received a deputation, shortly after the publication of the Elliot Report, and expressed general sympathy with this view; but the point has not been given effect to in the Bill.
I do not think that retailers should be subject to any kind of control. We want to get all the retailers to sell herring and we want to encourage the sale in every way; but I see great dangers if one 1256 section of the trade itself should not be subject to the authority of the Board, and others should. Fishermen and fish salesmen are to be subject to the authority of the Board, under the licensing system. If an important wholesaler decided to run counter to the policy of the Board he might, in certain circumstances, wreck the whole thing. I ask the Minister, therefore, to look into this matter. This is such a good Bill that I should like to see it passed through the Committee stage without any Amendments moved by private Members at all; but I have received the support of the Scottish Herring Producers' Association and the Clyde Producers' Association, as well as that of the two hon. and gallant Members I mentioned, for the suggestion I am now making; and I ask the Minister whether he will, if necessary, table a Government Amendment, between now and the Committee stage, to give effect to the proposal I have put forward.
Apart from this single point, it seems to me that all the pitfalls have been avoided in the Bill. What is more important is that the financial provisions are adequate. It is one of the first Bills that I have known, after 20 years experience in this House, of which I am able to say that I think the financial provisions are excellent. On the question of powers I will just add that it appears to be the policy of the Government not to be in any great hurry about the setting up of this Herring Board; and, if this is so, I think it is a pity. It should be set up without any delay, so that it can get down to its problems. We shall be confronted with an emergency situation as soon as this war is over—and it may be over sooner than a lot of us think, in view of the way things are going. The Board should be well in the saddle. It is the Board which should devise the plans for meeting the emergency situation that will arise on the Continent of Europe immediately after the war.
I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food on the front bench. Apparently the Ministry of Food think that it will be able to do the job, or most of the job, quite all right in the immediate future. If that is the case, we shall keep a sharp eye on the activities of the Department, but I think the Ministry would find it of great value to establish the Herring Board as quickly as possible, to work in the closest co-opera- 1257 tion with the Board; and, later on, gradually to hand over to it an increasing measure of authority. It could be an agreeable division of powers. I do not think that the Ministry of Food should run the whole thing for any considerable period to come. Here is a tremendous opportunity of setting up the Herring Board at the earliest possible moment, and associating it from the very outset with the work of the Ministry of Food; so that, if and when conditions alter, and peace breaks out, the Herring Board will be able to discharge its functions, and take over the job which is now being done by the fisheries Department of the Ministry.
I would add a word about paragraph (c) of Clause 4. It refers tothe making of loans to any society or organisation formed for the purpose of acquiring nets and gear, fuel,etc. This brings up the whole question of co-operation in the herring industry. I have long been an advocate of that cooperation, particularly among fishermen. I am convinced by long experience, however, that co-operation cannot be imposed from above. It must be on a voluntary basis, and come from below. This is where the Bill is very wise and sound. Although some fishermen occasionally vote Socialist, they are the most terrific individualists in the world, as any hon. Member who has ever come into contact with them will admit; and they have a rooted objection to being pushed about, by any one, in any way. Therefore, if co-operation is to be effected, it must come from them.
I regard it as encouraging that they are beginning to produce unauthorised, unofficial, but recognised leaders among themselves who do, in fact, negotiate with the Ministry of Food and with other Departments on their behalf. A few years ago they could not have done even that. It is a step in the right direction. The seeds of the co-operative plant have been sown; but for some time the plant will be a tender growth, and will require very careful nursing by the Government and by the Herring Industry Board. I am satisfied that in the course of time it will flourish.
With regard to the export side of the industry, it is an occasion for great satisfaction, indeed of congratulation, that the exporters, since the publication of the Elliot Report, should have agreed to form 1258 a company, and to work together for the first time in history, during the period of reconstruction. Their aggregate experience, which is great, will thus be at the disposal of the Herring Board and the Government.
In this connection I should like to say one word about trade marks. The Mot Report, and this is the only point I find myself in disagreement with it, appeared to desire a uniform brand for exporting herrings. I think this would be a great mistake. Have a minimum standard for export if you like; but keep the individual trade marks, because it is on these that the export trade in herrings before the war was built up, and they are really the best guarantee of quality, as any importer of herrings on the Continent will tell you. He sees a particular trade mark, and knows exactly what is in the barrel; and the goodwill and reputation for highest quality herrings we built up before the war was largely built up on those trade marks. There is nothing in the Bill which would require the Herring Board to eliminate the trade marks, but it is a point I thought I would like to make.
If this industry is to be well found it must be provided with good boats and have good bases. The harbours from which it is to be conducted must therefore be brought to a high state of efficiency and modernised. This is a particular responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture. It is not directly relevant to the Bill under discussion, so I will content myself by saying that there are debts; and we know what ought to be done in a civilised society about debts which have been incurred over a very long period, and are due to conditions for which the debtor is in no way responsible.
This Bill is very much concerned with boats; and I think the Herring Board, the Ministry of Food and the Scottish Office should seek and obtain the cooperation and assistance of the Admiralty so far as the provision of new boats is concerned. I cannot see any reason why they should not get it. The record of the Admiralty with regard to the fishing industry is not at all a good one. I remember we made pleas on many occasions in this House—Members on all sides of this House—that the Admiralty should give a hand in keeping some of these fishing craft in decent repair through the period 1259 between the two wars. Deputations went to the Admiralty to beg them to give a little financial assistance to keep the boats in good repair. What was the Admiralty's reply? It was that they would not want, in the event of another war, either the fishermen or their boats. Twice they gave that reply; it is on the record. Now we hear from the Secretary of State that four-fifths of the drifters were requisitioned by the Admiralty within ten days of the outbreak of war, and 50 per cent. of the fishermen. That happens always in war; but in between wars the Admiralty are not keen on doing much for them.
If the Ministers want the co-operation and assistance of the Admiralty after the war, I think they ought to have it. A lot of boats will be released from naval service after this war, some of which might well be adapted for the purpose of the herring industry; and some of the boats now being built for naval service might be designed for that. If the Ministers want the co-operation of the Admiralty, they have a pretty strong case to put to a Department which rejected the industry before the war, and clung to it like a barnacle as soon as a war broke out.
If the industry is to prosper, it will have to sell large quantities of herring in this country, and also to export on a pretty large scale. A good deal has been said about the markets of Central Europe and of Russia in this Debate. It is absolutely essential that these markets should be regained, particularly the market of Northern and Central Europe. I must say with regard to the Russian market that nobody has been a stronger advocate than I have been, inside and outside this House for many years past, of Anglo-Soviet cooperation; but I would like to say to the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) that we really did have a devil of a struggle to get the Russians to buy herrings. They would not do it, because they would never put them on the priority list; and it is not fair to make bitter attacks on Governments between the wars because they refused to grant credits for the purchase of herrings when we were faced year after year by the absolute refusal of the Soviet Government to buy herrings, because they wanted other things more. Looking back, I am not at 1260 all sure that it was not a good thing that they bought these other things which they have put to such good use during the last two or three years.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Was it not the case that the Government at that period, supported by Members on the other side, made it most difficult, and put the highest price on anything the Soviet was buying, and that if they had been given the same financial conditions as other countries they would have bought herrings?
§ Mr. Boothby
The hon. Member puts me in a slight dilemma. If he is talking about 1926 and the Arcos raid I am with him. I thought the Arcos raid was one of the silliest things this country ever did. If he is referring to 1936 I am against him, because we were struggling very hard to get the Russians to buy herrings. There was no question of lack of credit, or of not doing everything to get them to buy herrings.
§ Mr. Boothby
That may be, but I do not think there is any reason for quarrelling about it now. We have to concentrate on seeing that the Russians buy some portion of our herring when the war is over. They have developed immense fisheries of their own at Murmansk and in the Caspian Sea; but I hope that with the good will and sense of comradeship and friendship we are now developing with the Soviet Union, we shall be able to persuade them to take, at any rate, a proportion of our annual catch of herring. If so, that will put a bottom in the export market, and be of great value to the industry.
I am glad the Minister of Agriculture is here. I am sure he will realise the importance of this point, as he was the Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade for a considerable time, and a very successful one. I feel that the Department of Overseas Trade and the Export Credits Guarantee Department can be of immense assistance to this industry. Before the war there was a relationship developing between the herring exporters and the Export Credits Guarantee Department which showed every sign of being of enormous potential value. I would beg him to see that not only the 1261 Herring Board, but the Departments themselves, on behalf of the industry, keep in close touch with the Department of Overseas Trade and the Export Credits Guarantee Department.
Many Members have spoken about the home market. I spoke about it on another occasion. The Ministry of Food has given an example of what can be done by propaganda for the consumption of a particular article of food, and methods of cooking it. One hon. Member referred to eating a matje herring in Holland before the war. With the possible exception of caviare there is no delicacy that equals the taste of herring before the roe is formed in the early spring, light cured and eaten raw. It is absolutely delicious. It has a flavour which is unsurpassed by any other article of food and also engenders a tremendous thirst. It is regarded, and very properly, as a tremendous delicacy both in the countries of North and Central Europe; but I have never seen it on any table in this country, where you get nothing but the horrible Bismark herring. I think if some restaurants in this country would start experimenting with matje herring they would find people would get very excited about it. There is the further point about the cooking of a herring. I would like in one sentence to conclude the story of my lunch yesterday which I was telling.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Willits)
I think the hon. Member's cooking experiences are not within this Bill and they are becoming rather long.
§ Mr. Boothby
May I point out that I desisted purposely from telling the story of my lunch yesterday, because you ruled it out of Order, and I thought that that was right on an agricultural matter. But one of the great points in this Bill is propaganda for the sale of herring in this country; and one of the things that the Herring Board has to do, even better than the Ministry of Food has done, is to teach people how to cook herrings. My heart leapt when I saw herrings on the menu at this lunch; and my heart sank when they were brought. My heart sank because they were not split and boned. The one thing that people object to about herrings is the hones. The proper way to treat a herring is to split it, and take out the bone, and then fry it, if possible, in Scotch oatmeal. The way they give a herring to you in this country is enough 1262 to put anybody off herrings altogether. I therefore ask the Ministry of Food to pay special attention to the preparation of herrings.
This Bill is a very fine example of what can be done by means of co-operation between the State and private enterprise, instead of fighting between the State and private enterprise. From this point of view it is, I believe, the shape of things to come; and it may well be an important precedent. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Scotland for bringing it in with such expedition, and for the interest he has shown in the herring fishing industry. The fishermen have served this country well during this war, and they deserve well of it. I believe that their industry has a great future. I believe that this Bill will go a long way to make a great future for them; and I am sure that this House and the public generally wish the fishermen well.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
There is not much time for me, and, therefore, I shall curtail my remarks. I must say, at the beginning, what everybody else has said—"Thank you," to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) for his most excellent Report. I was a great admirer of the Duncan Report, and I think it served a very useful purpose. I think my right hon. and gallant Friend and his Committee, among whom I would mention Provost Carstairs, a constituent of mine, who has very great knowledge of the subject, have done a great service. First, I would ask the Minister to tell us a little more than the Secretary of State did, in response to a question of mine, about the intentions of the Government in regard to the Board. The Committee recommended that preparations for the post-war period should be regarded as a matter of urgency. I urge that the Board should be reconstituted now, not necessarily on a full-time basis, but on some basis—plans should be made now. Secondly, I think that the Government should say now what sort of Board it will be. The first Board was composed of nine people —far too many; the second Board was composed of three. The Elliot Report suggested that it should be three again. I think that the Board should be small and elite. Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether that recommendation of 1263 the Committee has been accepted? Also, do the Government intend to set up an advisory council? That is a matter of very great importance. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) spoke, with more optimism than I should care to express, about the emergence of leaders in the industry. One of the great weaknesses of this industry in the past has been that it has not produced effective leaders. One way of promoting leadership would be through this advisory council, whose members could be changed, and picked from among young fishermen.
One of the best recommendations of this Report—and I would like the Minister, if he must neglect all my other points, to deal with this—is that contained at the top of page 33, where the Committee recommend that the Board should be empowered to buy, sell, process, and export herring, and generally assume the powers of a trading concern. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) was dilating, earlier on, about the neglect of the herring fishing industry by the Government between the two wars. I think my hon. Friend would agree with me that the trouble in those years was not the neglect of the Government. We were at the Government's throat every month or so. They were doing their best, but they were handicapped by two major defects in the system.
The industry produced repeated surpluses, and there was no way of disposing of those surpluses. Russia and Germany were not taking what they used to take—never mind the reasons. Along comes my right hon. and gallant Friend and his Committee with a recommendation that will go far towards settling that problem. The recommendation is that, where the herring industry at, shall we say the Lowestoft fisheries or the Yarmouth fisheries—wherever you like—suddenly produces an enormous harvest, which cannot be disposed of through the usual channels, the Board can, as a trading concern —as a piece of the automatic business by the Board, not as a special measure—buy such quantities of the catch as it is necessary to steady the market. I can support that with all consistency, because I and several of my hon. Friends many times approached the Scottish Secretary with a similar proposal in past years. The great 1264 obstacle was that the Government had no power to undertake such a plan, because the Board did not exist. Now the Board will exist.
The hon. Member says that the Government were doing their best. Did he listen to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), supported by another hon. Member, say that on two occasions a deputation went to the Admiralty, and that the Admiralty said that as there was not a war on they would do nothing for the fishermen?
I heard that. The hon. Member was talking about the boats. I am talking about the problem of the catch—a very different matter. I invite my right hon. Friend to say that it is the intention of the Government to accept that primary recommendation, to make it a regular part of the Board's new work to undertake these purchases. Let me turn to the point about the boats, to which my hon. Friend has referred. Here we are to have a grant, for five years, of £820,000, for encouraging the building and purchase of new boats. Incidentally, I am very glad to find that my neighbour from West Fife so strongly defends the institution of private capitalism. It makes me feel hopeful that, the longer he remains Member for West Fife, the more he will become imbued with the sound capitalistic views of the Eastern part of the county. The Scottish Secretary did not tell us for what that £820,000 was going to be used. I am going to ask two questions, which are absolutely vital. How many boats has he in mind? The Duncan Commission were criticised in many quarters for producing a Report dealing with scarcity. Their recommendations were to cut down, and many regretted that that was so.
Here is the Minister, in this Bill, legislating for a period of some kind of moderate expansion. How many boats? It is of first-class importance that you should build just as many boats as the industry can profitably employ. If you build too many, you go back to the old 1934–36 days of trouble. If you build too few, you are keeping many competent men out of a trade, and you are refusing the population of this country an excellent food. It is important that we should know how many boats the Government have in mind. Secondly, it is even more important to know what kind of boats.
1265 Anyone who has gone through those years of trouble in the herring industry has seen that this question of the kind of boat is vital. A member of the Elliot Committee, who is a very skilful and experienced man, has himself been building and putting into the business a new type of boat. It is a motor-boat of a type which can go to the Yarmouth fishing, and, when herring fishing is not being done, can be used for catching white fish. The result is that the crews of all his boats have, without exception, week after week, season after season, come home with more money in their pockets than any other crews of any other ships. That is, directly, the result of having the right kind of boat, so that I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us that the Department propose to extend their research as much into the kind of boat, as into methods of refrigeration and other things.
I have just one or two small points to add. The first is a constituency point. One recommendation of the Elliot Committee is that there shall be research into the problem of winter fishing. The Firth of Forth produces one of the winter fisheries in Great Britain, perhaps the only one. From our point of view, it is very important that we should know what the Government means by saying that there will be encouragement for winter fishing. I want to know what is intended by that. I observe that in Clause 2 (3), it is proposed to have a levy in order to create a pool, out of which less fortunate fishermen will be assisted, but it is only to be imposed in those ports or areas where the prevailing opinion is in favour of such a scheme. I suppose that is the proper way to approach the problem, but I am very doubtful of its success. I do not think my right hon. Friend would ever do it in the East of Fife. We are all, as one hon. Member said, very individualistic there. I feel that the Government will have to use a certain amount of propaganda before they can get this idea over, and yet it is a most important idea, and one would like to know whether the Government have any very strong views on it.
My last point is this. There is nothing in the Report about the necessity for a flat rate of transport. I think myself that our fishing in Scotland will never succeed unless we can maintain 1266 the present war-time Ministry of Food fiat rate transport charges. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) may ask how it is possible for his fish to compete with Yarmouth, if it costs them two or three times as much to send the fish to London. That is getting at the root of it. That is practical politics and it is business. I hope the Minister will say what is being done about that. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is recommended."] Well, if so, I will ask the Government if they accept the recommendation. I congratulate the Government on the Bill and wish it success.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
I should like to start by joining with the Secretary of State for Scotland, in expressing personal thanks to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) for his Report. He took a great deal of trouble over it, and he has the satisfaction of knowing that he must be the first chairman, at all events, in our memory, to produce a Report with a very large number of recommendations, all of which are either covered by existing legislation, or will be covered in future, and I am sure that, as far as the English side of the industry is concerned, we are extremely grateful to him.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) asks me whether grants could be made to companies. The answer is that, where the company consists of a single man, or three or four fishermen together, then that will undoubtedly come within the scope of the Bill; but not where the company is an ordinary liability company with large numbers of shareholders scattered round the countryside. The hon. Member also asked me whether we would take powers to regulate the processing of kippers, and my answer is that these powers already exist in the main Act in Clause 3. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) said it was time the primary producer came into his own, and I appreciate what he said. Speaking as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in this country, I thoroughly share his views. He also asks me whether a boat should not be able to come into a particular port with fish. Perhaps he will let me have fuller particulars. I rather think it is a matter for the Ministry of Food, but I will look into it, before the Committee stage, if necessary.
1267 My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart (Mr. F. Beattie) and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) asked questions about the Board itself. The answer is that the Board, assuming that the Bill becomes law, will be reconstituted at once, consisting of three people, and we anticipate that it will then begin at once to prepare plans for the post-war regulation and development of the industry. It will be realised that, for the moment, it cannot have any executive powers, but, as soon as war conditions admit, we hope to give it executive powers. These executive powers will, we imagine, start at first with the production end of the industry and will later on deal with the distribution end. The hon. Member for East Fife also asked about the number of boats we have in mind. That, of course, will also be a matter—as will the design of boats—for the Board, and it is one in which we shall endeavour to give them all the assistance in our power.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove asked about the levies for social security. That is a matter which is being considered by the Government at the present moment in connection with the recommendations of the Beveridge Report, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will be kind enough to wait until the White Paper on our proposals comes out. The conditions in the industry are, of course, not too easy, but the general position governing the fishing industry, and other similar industries, is that we think it ought to be dealt with by general legislation rather than in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) asked why there should be a different figure in Clause 4 from that in Clause 6. Clause 4 governs the amount of loans' and so forth that may be made to fishermen, that is, £1,700,000. Clause 6 extends the borrowing powers of the Board to £2,500,000 and the difference between the two sums is in order to cover expenditure which the Board may wish to make for its own purposes, such as, for example, processing. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) asked about wholesalers' licences. They probably know that the 1938 Act gave us 1268 powers over licensing of port wholesalers, and as far as we are advised that should cover the difficulty, because we are informed that there is very little actual business done between the individual fishermen and inland retailers. But if my hon. Friends think that our existing powers do not go far enough, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will be very glad to go into the matter further if it is thought that further powers should be taken on the Committee stage; but we are inclined to think that our existing powers are sufficient.
The hon. Member for East Fife also raised a point about the question of whether or not the Board could deal with landings when gluts arise. The answer is that we contemplate that the Board will be authorised to undertake refrigeration and processing. That will have to be done in conjunction with the various interests in the industry, but the Board will also be empowered as principals to purchase, refrigerate, and process herring in special cases such as that indicated by my hon. Friend, when landings occur which are beyond the normal capacity of the trade.
The only other subject I would mention is that raised by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan). It was perhaps a little unfortunate that he should destroy the harmony of what was otherwise a unanimous day by introducing two apples of discord into the Debate. One was as to the relative importance of Scotland and England. I could go into that at great length. Suffice it to say that Englishmen land slightly more herrings each year than the Scots, despite their being smaller in number.
§ Mr. Hudson
The fact remains that they do. But the other much more important point of the hon. Member for Western Isles was an attempt to score, as I think, some party capital, and to rake up old sores at a time when I should have thought all of us would welcome and admire the magnificent effort being made by the Soviet Forces, in our attempt to destroy Hitler and all his works.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Member had better Jet me finish. As I say, I, personally, do not want to renew old sores, 1269 but for the sake of historical record it is just as well that I should give the House the actual facts. I interrupted the hon. Member from memory, but I have since had the facts checked and they are as follows. Up till 1932 the Russians made no use of the exports credits scheme. From 1933 they bought for spot cash. When the credit arrangement was negotiated in 1936—over £10,000,000 sterling —the Russians bought capital goods. The export credit was, during those years, available for the purchase of herrings. My hon. Friend made the astounding statement that the Soviet did not think that we were reliable providers, when in fact the herrings were available—and I know as I was at the Department of Overseas Trade—for someone to buy them. The Russians did not take advantage of them. I am not blaming them. They were entitled, as a Government, to decide what they should buy, and they did not buy the herrings.
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
The right hon. Gentleman has taken me up completely on the wrong point. I was not dealing with that at all. I was talking about the diplomatic break with Russia in 1927. It was a most important thing and had repercussions on the herring industry.
§ Mr. Hudson
That has nothing to do with the fact that we could not sell herring to Russia in the days immediately before the war. There was a point made also by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove when he called attention to the magnificent efforts of the fishermen of this country to make good, as far as possible, the difficulties caused by the requisitioning of such a very high proportion of the boats by the Admiralty, not only of the herring fishermen but also of the white and inshore fishermen. Although, no doubt, the supply of fish is nothing like as great as we should like, nevertheless, the fact that we have such supplies as we have is very great testimony to the efforts the fishing fleet have made.
Perhaps in conclusion I may be allowed to do a little modest blowing of the Government's trumpet. The report of the Elliot Committee was only presented to Ministers in January, and yet within six short months, despite the pre-occupations and preparations of the Second Front and many other highly important matters, we have found time to consider the recom- 1270 mendations and embody them in a Bill which we believe should provide the framework for the future of the industry. The herring industry went through a very lean time between the wars. It is a small industry. There are only some 10,000 men engaged in it but many of these have suffered great distress and hardship owing to the loss of foreign markets and to the swing of the British public's taste away from herring. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food tells me that his experts are sure that, once the Bill comes into operation and we are able to distribute herring, they can arrange propaganda abut the cooking which will result in a very much larger consumption. The British public is only too anxious to-day to eat all the fish that can be caught.
I hope—and I am very glad to see that hon. Members agree, on all sides of the House—that we shall do our best to see that the 4,000 men serving in the Forces and the Mercantile Marine, and the others, will not return after the war to the sort of things they had to put up with in prewar years. We believe the Bill provides a basis on which the herring industry can build up for itself a prosperous future. It implements all the recommendations of the Report, and if—as I hope it will—it becomes an Act, it will be up to the industry itself to seize the opportunity that the Bill provides and set up during the next few years, when the demand is bound to be good, a long-term permanent basis of prosperity. I hope and believe—and so does my right hon. Friend—that this Bill provides a firm foundation on which the industry can be built and I hope that the House will now give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I am sorry at this late hour that I should step in to detain the House, but I happen to represent a constituency that is very much interested in the herring fishing business. If I were to do justice to the fishermen of my constituency I should need to be as wise as Solomon, as versatile as the Secretary of State for Scotland, and as vigorous as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). On behalf of my fishermen, I, also, welcome the Bill because I have seen the difficulties under which they have had to work in times gone by in dull seasons. There have been many facets in this Debate and I was genuinely interested to find the Minister 1271 of Agriculture becoming so hot under the collar when my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) suggested that political exigencies interfered with the export trade of the herring industry. I do not want to cause any schism between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture; if I did, I should ask him to turn up the columns of "Forward" during that period, where he would find very remarkable evidence in print that the Government of the day did tremendous harm to the herring-fishing industry of this country. One would think that the Minister of Agriculture and the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) have forgotten all the diatribes against the Soviet Union when they sent their burglars to break into Arcos and the Soviet Trade Mission withdrew from Britain, and they were responsible for the disaster that happened to our export trade.
I welcome the Bill in many of its aspects and I am pleased that some assistance is to be given to fishermen in the renewal of their boats and gear and in the provision of new boats. As we all know, these boats are very expensive. Two types have been mentioned, the trawler and the motor boat—the latter used by the ordinary fishermen—and my people on the Ayrshire coast use a fishing boat that costs something over £2,000 which will, I am afraid, hardly be replaced now for less than £3,000 and probably £4,000. I cannot see that the amount of money that is being expended in the Bill will meet the situation for those who require it afterwards. The fishing industry has been very badly hit.—[Interruption.] There are meetings here and meetings there and meetings everywhere. I do not care if there are a hundred of them but it happens that one person has the Floor of the House at the present time and that person is entitled to order, during the period when the Debate is going on. What I was saying was that the herring industry has been very badly hit. The first thing that happened was that a large number of the boats procured by these people over the period, were requisitioned and I am not convinced that the requisitioning was done with any degree of sympathy regarding the fishermen. Those boats will be returned in a hopeless state, and it is to be hoped that they will be put into condition 1272 before they are handed back. The young men of the fishing villages have been taken away—they were among the first that were called on—and you could walk through fishing villages to-day in Ayrshire, and find that youth is conspicuous by its absence. What one would not like to see is a repetition—of course it is hoped that the Bill will prevent that—of the sad period they experienced between the two wars.
We have had figures given us in regard to production. The Secretary of State for Scotland told us that fishermen are producing at the rate of 25 tons per fisherman. That is without subsidies. We are attempting to bolster up agriculture for the purpose of producing foodstuffs but here we have the supply of food mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove being thrown into the pool without any assistance at all from the Government. I conclude by saying that I welcome the Bill on behalf of the fishermen in my constituency.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.—[Captain McEaren.]