HC Deb 16 April 1946 vol 421 cc2563-86
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

I beg to move, That the Herring Industry (Amending) Scheme, 1945, under Section 2 (7) of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, a copy of which Scheme was presented on 22nd March, he approved. The purpose of the Herring Industry (Amending) Scheme, which is now before the House, is to confer certain additional powers on the Herring Industry Board. This Board was set up in 1935 under the Herring Industry Act of that year which empowered the Board to prepare a scheme for the reorganisation, development and regulation of the industry, and it specified a number of powers which could be conferred on them by the scheme. The scheme had to be approved by Parliament. Such a scheme was duly made. Since then, however, the request has been made for further powers being conferred on the Board and it is accordingly proposed to amend the original scheme. The amending scheme confers three additional powers on the Board. There are further powers which, under the Herring Industry Acts, may be included in the herring industry scheme. Probably it might be an objection against the scheme which I am now submitting, that it does not confer enough, but these other matters which are involved are of a somewhat controversial nature and we have therefore picked out for the present scheme, the powers which are most urgently required, and about which there is general agreement. We have consulted the industry and there is agreement, in accordance with the statutory requirements, about the prcposed extension of the powers of the Board.

The three additional powers arc as follow. The 1935 scheme empowers the Board to make loans in connection with the construction, reconditioning and equipment of boats. The amending scheme substitutes in effect, in paragraph (a, 1) the word "provision" for the word "construction" as authorised by the Herring Industry Act, 1944. This alteration will enable the Board to assist a man in buying an existing boat as well as in the building of a new boat, and will be of great value at the present time, when many fishermen are hoping to purchase secondhand vessels which the Admiralty are now releasing. The second provision is in paragraph (a, 2). It provides additional loan-making powers to the Board, in accordance with the provision made in Section 61 of the Herring Industry Act, 1935. The inclusion of these powers will enable the Board to give assistance to societies or organisations for the purpose of acquiring nets and gear, fuel for boats and other fishing requirements. The third proposal is in Section 2 of the Herring Industry Act, 1944. It says that the Board may be given power to purchase boats and equipment for the purpose of chartering or hiring them to fishermen. The amendment proposes, under paragraph (c) to provide those additional powers, the need for which has been represented by several hon. Members. The men coming back from the Forces who are willing to give service in gathering the food we require cannot, in many instances, purchase boats, but can hire them. The amendment makes it possible for this to be done. This is a relatively small but I hope useful scheme. I commend it to Members of all parties, and I hope that this Motion will be agreed to.

5.32 p.m.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

So far, this scheme has been a complete washout, as the Secretary of State for Scotland no doubt knows. We have to discuss whether the amended scheme will make it any less of a washout. I do not think it will. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the purchase of existing boats instead of newly constructed ones, and particularly those about to be released by the Admiralty. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures issued by the Admiralty only the other day. For a 75-ft. boat, which is the only craft of real use to the industry, the hull, at the launching stage, costs £3,750. Those are the terms offered to the fishermen. The complete boat, with engine, costs £6,750. In addition to that, they have to be reconditioned at a cost of not less than £2,000, making the total cost of a 75-ft. boat of the type held by the Admiralty and about to be sold to the industry, £8,250, as compared with about £3,000 to £4,000 before the war. That is not, on any calculation, an economic proposition for the herring industry. Before I come back to this point, I will ask a question. The word "requisites" I take to include nets. The question is, Do second-hand nets qualify for a grant or loan?

The point is important. The right hon. Gentleman probably knows that a new net is of no use for fishing. It has to be put into the water for two or three months before it can catch fish. The Government have made little or no attempt to make new nets available in recent months; and none of them will now be of any use until July. The only way in which the fisherman can get effective nets for immediate fishing is by the purchase of secondhand nets. I want to know whether the grants and loans cover the purchase of secondhand nets. If not, why not? It is a very vital point.

I confess I am bitterly disappointed with the operation of the Herring Industry Act, 1944, and of those schemes which preceded it. Those who took part in the passage of that Act will not easily forget it. It was at the peak hour of the doodlebug but we were much too enthusiastic about the herring fishing industry even to worry about the doodle-bugs. We were all led up the garden path. The Secretary of State for Scotland, then Mr. Thomas Johnston, spoke of the Bill in glowing terms, and of the scheme which was to be produced. It has turned out to be simply tall talk. Large sums, relative to this industry, were bandied about, and included in the text of the Bill. Now we know that it was only the Treasury up to their old tricks again. One of the favourite tricks of the Treasury is to use the phrase, "a sum not exceeding." In this case, the sums ranged from £500,000 to £750,000. They were mentioned in debate, and written into the text of the Bill. Everybody thought that the fishermen were to get this £500,000. They have turned out to be only a few paltry thousands of pounds. We should have known better, and have taken the figures only at their face value.

What is happening? The Board have laid it down that grants and loans are available only for successful and energetic fishermen. I ask the Secretary of State to think of the man aged 21 who joined up at the outbreak of the war and served throughout, on Admiralty service, and perhaps rose to the rank of skipper lieutenant by the end of the war. He had not much chance to become a "successful and energetic fisherman," because he was too young to have started fishing before the war. He may have been only 18 or 19 when the war broke out. Nevertheless, this is the very kind of man who now requires financial assistance. A fantastic position has been reached in respect of the qualification for the grant or loan. Either a fisherman must be possessed of "considerable means," in which case he does not need the grant, or, if he has only about 200—a man who served throughout the war could hardly be expected to have saved more than that out of his pay—he does not qualify for the grant. The net result is that practically nobody qualifies for a grant. Either a man has cash, in which case he does not need the grant; or he has no cash, in which case he does not get it. That is the position at the present moment. The number of applications for grants and loans have been few enough in all conscience: but the number turned down has been almost 90 per cent. The Act has hardly come into effective operation at all.

In this amending scheme there is just one ray of light. For the first time, and at long last, there is one reference to the ex-Serviceman as such. That is at least a step in the right direction, because these are surely the men to whom we most need to bring assistance. It is the young fisherman coming back from the Services whom we want to start up again; but, so far, we have not been able to do anything for them at all. I went recently to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on a deputation representing the British Legion. We asked for special treatment in these schemes for ex-Servicemen as such. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland told us categorically that he saw no reason why any distinction should be drawn between a man who had served in the Forces during the war, and another man who had been fishing in the ordinary course, and in many cases made a great deal of money. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that that was a most disgraceful statement to be made by a responsible Minister of the Crown. I cannot believe that he had Cabinet responsibility for it. [Inter- ruption.] I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Joint Under-Secretary said he saw no reason why the slightest distinction should be made between the ex-Serviceman as such and anybody else; and he applied that principle over the whole field of industry. That was a grave and most disquieting statement of policy. I say to the Secretary of State that, if he is not proposing to do something special to help the young ex-Servicemen who served magnificently right throughout the war to get back into the fishing industry, he will be making one of the mistakes of his life. Nevertheless, so long as boats remain at their present prices, and the present terms and conditions of granting loans continue, I personally should hesitate to advise any fisherman to make an application for a loan. Under existing conditions, he may well find himself burdened with a load of debt which will hang around his neck for many years to come.

I was in Peterhead, in my constituency, last weekend, and I had a discussion on the granting of loans at a meeting of fishermen. One of the young ex-Servicemen, who has just got back from the Forces, and wants to get to sea, and cannot do so at the moment, asked me what could be done. He pointed out the exorbitant price for boats now being charged by the Admiralty, the impossibility of getting nets, and the difficulty of the situation he was in, without any capital, in getting a grant or loan. I had to tell him of the observations of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and his answer was, "Ah, well, it is just as I thought, it will be the burroo ' for us for the next few years." Translating, for the benefit of the Sassenachs in this House, I may say that "burroo" in Scotland stands for unemployment exchange. That is the frame of mind induced by the schemes introduced up to date by the Government among the young fishermen who have just come back atter serving their country so magnificently for the past six years. It is a disastrous situation; and I wish 1 could feel—I cannot at the moment—that this scheme was anything like drastic enough to remedy it.

5.42 p.m.

Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and.Shetland)

There is nothing in this scheme to which one can object. It does not contain anything which is not in various Acts already. I was very much surprised the other day when I discovered that the Herring Board had not actually got power to make grants and loans for the acquisition of secondhand boats. All their powers were for building boats. I put down a Question to the Minister, and I do not know whether that was what woke up the Herring Board. They have been slow, considering the amount of pressure that has been put on the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture to deal with this question. It has now become a matter of urgency because. as a result of this pressure, the Admiralty are about to release a number of boats.

The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) dealt very adequately with the case of the young fisherman. I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to another class of fishermen who have suffered very severely as a result of the war. I want to know how far this amending scheme is to be used to help them. The men are those who had their boats requisitioned at a time when they were at a very low value indeed, owing to the depressed state of the herring industry. After one, two, three or four years' hiring, many of these boats were lost, and all the compensation these men are entitled to is the very depressed value at which the boats stood at the date of requisitioning. This is all tied up with the Act dealing with defence compensation. We thought we had found a hole, through which relief could be brought to these men but I am sorry to say that I got a letter from the Ministry of Transport yesterday to the effect that that is not the case. It says that it is specially desired to help men who are engaged in industry, or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take particular care to see that this amending scheme is made use of to help men who have lost their boats and have received in compensation a sum of money which is wholly inadequate to replace them.

There is another point about which he would perhaps say a word. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the interest on these loans will he 3½ per cent. repayable in 20 years. Under the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, as far as I can make out, the interest is 2½ per cent. repayable in three years. I do not know what the reason is for this very wide difference in terms. We can welcome this scheme because it gives the Herring Board powers which it ought to exercise as quickly as possible.

5.45 P.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I support the remarks made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) about ex-Service fishermen having priorities and special treatment. While one welcomes the amendment of the law, one hopes that under it better opportunities will be given to the actual working fisherman rather than an extension of privileges under the scheme as amended to the shore owners, in financing the new fleet we hope to see come to Scotland to prosecute this industry. At the moment, even with this amendment, the cost of boats, nets and gear makes it virtually impossible for ex-Servicemen, or others who are of poor economic status, to acquire new vessels. I am repeating myself, but when the Act went through in 1944 I made a prophecy—quite an obvious one, hardly worthy of the name of prophecy—that men coming back with an ordinary Service gratuity could not hope to take advantage of the scheme as it stood. Even with this amendment, I cannot foresee any enthusiasm among the men in my constituency who have been fishermen and are the sons of fishermen, and hope to become fishermen again.

A great deal more must be done. There is no mention yet of the training which hon. Members, including myself, proposed on the technical side for the new entrants to this industry, who have to learn the whole technique of the diesel-engined vessel and bring their fishing methods up to date. They hope to make a vocation of the herring industry, with a certain guarantee of security in what is, we trust, going to be, in their own interests and that of the nation, a wholetime job. We have not gone nearly far enough on the financial side to meet the needs of these men who are the first legitimate claimants for any assistance this House can give. We, should not pamper the shore owners and others who are out, for their own private profit, to finance other people going to sea, at any rate, until we have seen that these men, who, during the most profitable years of the industry—shame to say, during the war—were elsewhere serving the nation, have first the opportunity of acquiring vessels and of getting the greatest possible financial assistance to set themselves up in the industry.

I am extremely alarmed at the state of the fishing industry, not only in Scotland generally, but particularly, in my own constituency. Today we have there what is relatively in proportion to population—and to able-bodied population—the highest record of unemployment in Great Britain. Two months ago we reached the figure of 1,200 able-bodied men unemployed—in Lewis alone. Today it must be over the 1,500 mark, but I have not the most recent figures. Taking the whole of the Outer Hebrides alone, we must nearly have reached the 2,000 level. That is a serious state of affairs. We have another record, and again it is in proportion to the population. We contributed the greatest number of able-bodied men to the Services of this country to the sea-going Services, both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, and ancillary services of all kinds. For that reason we have a special claim on the Government and the Secretary of State, and especially on the Treasury—because these men have given what cannot be represented in pounds, shillings and pence. Those will not be "meaningless symbols," if put in the proper context in which my right hon. Friend, the Lord Privy Seal used them some time ago. Pounds, shillings and pence are the lifeblood which we have to infuse into these islands, because it is as much a social problem for the whole nation as an immediate personal problem for the men and area concerned. If we intend to maintain these communities, and I think in the interests of the nation we must do so, then we must rehabilitate the industry and give men an opportunity, to the limit to which this House can go in generosity, and in every other form of assistance we can give, to build for themselves and their families a livelihood, and security for themselves and their children their native land.

This is an honourable calling—the calling of the sea, the calling of the fishermen. Tributes have been paid to them in this House during the war and, in a less practical way, before the war. We had derelict areas then, and this House accepted a Motion in 1936 that in the Islands of Scotland and the Highlands the conditions were conditions of distress. They were described as a "distressed area" and for all practical purposes they were accepted as such but. "for geographical reasons," as the Scottish Office then argued, they could not be scheduled as a distressed area. But surely geographical disadvantage strengthens the case for help. Surely, there you have a more especial case than any other in Great Britain; and, when you add to that the fact that today you have nearly 2,000 able bodied men, passed as men of first-class physical condition for war service, and praised as men of first-class performance during the war, unemployed, I think it is high time that the Government gave priority to doing all they can to assist these men to rehabilitate themselves in an industry which is so important to the nation.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

At the end of Questions, the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) was very anxious to know when this question would come up, because he wishes to take part in this Debate, but in view of the fact that he is not here, the hon. Member for West Fife will take it up.

I remember, when we were discussing this subject in 1944, I said, from the other side of the House, that every fisherman who returned from Service who was capable of sailing a boat and desired to do so, should be able to get a boat. Many hon. Members have taken up the slogan in connection with pensions, "Fit for service, fit for pension." I say that every fisherman who has been taken into the service of the Admiralty, if he is fit for the Service, is fit for carrying on the fishing industry, and a boat should be placed at his disposal There should be no hesitation about that at all. Some hon Members opposite, when on this side of the House, were very much astonished that I should be advocating such a system of private enterprise, but I am all for the fishermen getting boats and equipment, and the opportunity to follow what the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) has called a great and honourable calling, one of the original callings, with agriculture.

I have paid many visits to Aberdeen and to Peterhead—not the prison—and have found the conditions amongst the fishermen deplorable. I am certain, however, that bad as they may be in the immediate days ahead, though some may have to go on the "bureau "—although I would prefer that not one of them went on to it—I am certain that this House will never allow the fishing industry to go back to the condition in which it was during the period between the two wars. I have had a lot of experience in the North of Scotland and at Loch Fyne of the condition of fishermen, and it is almost impossible for hon. Members who have had no such contact to understand the deplorable conditions of the fishing industry and the fishermen at that time. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor had many discussions with people interested in the industry, but I want to see the right hon. Gentleman working out boldly, on the basis of the 1944 Act and the Amendment, a general scheme for the industry, to ensure that every fisherman who is capable of going to sea and sailing a boat shall have a boat supplied, and that the industry is organised. It has been in a disorganised condition for years. Fishermen would go to sea and bring back catches, never knowing whether the catches would be properly disposed of or not. The organisation was always chaotic, and very often it was not the fishermen or the consumers who benefitted from the catch, but the people in between the fishermen and the community. I have been in the market many times when fish was scarce and demands were coming in from different places, and I have seen one man in the market buying up the catch of another member of the market without having touched the catch or the boxes of fish, but making very big profits out of buying from one to sell to another. I know the Secretary of State is deeply interested in this question, and his experts should work on the financial plmi not only so that the fishermen may have an opportunity to go and fish, but they should work out a broad general plan to ensure the organisation of the industry for the benefit of the fishermen themselves.

I see that the hon. Member for East Fife has just come into the House. I felt it was necessary to try to hold the fort until he arrived, but I will conclude by saying that I hope the scheme will be worked out in such a way that the fishermen and the consumers will be able to rely upon it, and, as a consequence, our people will get a good and healthy food and the fishermen will get a good and deservedly high standard of living.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) among his other qualities shows always a great friendliness towards other Fifers in the House, and I express gratitude for the courtesy he has extended to the county and to me also this afternoon. I apologise to the House, and especially to the Secretary of State. I was most anxious to hear his statement and to take part in the Debate, but I did not know that it had actually begun.

I attach the greatest importance to this amending Order, particularly to that part of it which enables the Herring Industry Board to charter rather than to sell vessels. The House is aware that I have in recent months been pressing the Government very hard to consider the dire straits of the fishermen in my constituency. In November last, half of my constituent fishermen were idle; today, three-quarters of them are idle. Why? Because there are not sufficient boats—

Mr. Boothby

Or nets.

Mr. Stewart

I am coming n to nets—with which they can go to sea. ''Our chief concern in Fife is boats, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State informed me a few days ago that he thought that at least 15 new or additional boats were wanted. Fifteen boats is a considerable number in a limited part of the coast such as that which I represent. Fifteen boats would give employment to many men. As a matter of fact I think the Secretary of State is underestimating rather than overestimating the case at the present time. I believe the number required is greater.

I have been endeavouring, with not very great success, to persuade the Government, and eventually I had to appeal to the Prime Minister, to release for fishing purposes some of the boats now owned by the Navy. The Prime Minister, after, no doubt, a general strafe round the Departments, was able to inform me that a considerable number of motor fishin,, vessels were to be released for sale to fishermen. But as I have always pointed out, these boats, while good enough for tiding us over the present period of 15 months or so, until new boats are built, are not entirely suited to the industry. I do not think a great many fishermen will purchase these M.F.Vs; but large numbers would charter them. I have discovered, however, that the Admiralty have no power to charter these vessels. I ask the Scottish Secretary to represent to the Cabinet, particularly to the First Lord of the Admiralty, the necessity for giving the Admiralty power to charter vessels, as we are now giving the Herring Industry Board power to do. that were done, I feel certain that, in Fife at all events and possibly elsewhere, considerable numbers of fishermen would apply for such charters and would hire those boats for a year, two years, or perhaps more, until the up-to-date vessels with which the Herring Industry Board is experimenting, are ready to operate.

The powers taken by the Herring Board to charter arise out of the recommendations of the Herring Committee, a prominent member of which was the Provost of Anstruther. Many men returning from the war without means and perhaps without friends to whom they can turn for the very large capital sum involved in purchasing boats today would probably find it much easier to hire boats. I am glad the Herring Board is to be given this power.

I think it is not out of Order to ask the Secretary of State to what extent it is proposed to use these new powers. How many boats is it proposed to build? There must be some financial provision behind the Order. To what extent is the House committed; what sum is involved? The funds of the Herring Board are voted by this House; how far can they go for this purpose? Is the Secretary of State to ask for an additional grant? I feel he ought to provide a very considerable sum of money for the Board to purchase boats for the purpose of chartering them to men returning from the war. I would be glad it he could tell us what the programme is, how many boats he has in mind and in what period they are to be built?

Or is this Order to represent merely an easy-going programme for the Herring Board during the next five or ten years? I hope that is not going to be the case and I have every reason to believe that it will not be so. The Board is composed of men of considerable energy and sympathy for the trade, but unless the Government provide drive behind the Board and provide finance and above all facilities for acquiring essential equipment, nothing effective will be done. What are the facilities to be? One cannot get engines for the boats today. The Minister of Supply told me the other day, under a good deal of pressure, that the manufacturers of fishing boat engines have now been instructed to show preference to fishermen over private yachts and, I believe, over certain exports. But does the right hon. Gentleman know the terms of that instruction to the engine makers? Is it a real instruction? Does it mean anything? Will it mean that I can get engines which I cannot get now for the men for whom I have been fighting all these months? Does it mean that the Herring Board will have power not only to acquire hulls, but also the engines, which are vital? And if these boats are built and chartered will they have the gear? The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has drawn attention to the fact that there are no nets. What is being done to ensure that the Board, if not the unfortunate fishermen, are to get nets for the boats?

I have put a number of questions to the right hon. Gentleman and I am sure he will not regard it unfair or unreasonable that he should answer them. I can assure him that the industry will regard this Order as of very little value unless the answers are given with the greatest definition. I congratulate him on bringing this matter forward. It should have been brought forward a long time ago. I press him now that it has been produced and will be welcomed in all quarters of the House not to make it valueless through the lack of real power and drive.

6.8 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

Some years ago a right hon. Member of this House was told to "Speak up for England, Arthur." It seems to me that in this Debate it is time someone spoke up for England. Every speaker, so far, has spoken for Scotland and I am certain that people who read the Debate will assume that the herring industry is a Scottish industry, whereas the herring, of course, is at its finest maturity when caught off the English coast, particularly off the coast of my own constituency.

Mr. Boothby

I think I must ask for your Ruling on this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. and gallant Member has made a mistake. The herring is at its finest off the coast of Aberdeenshire.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I think this is drawing a red herring across the question under discussion.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn

I must rest content with saying that I do not think the herring either in England or Scotland can be beaten anywhere in the world.

The herring industry in England must be built up if we are to get rid of places which can be classed as distressed areas. I hope the provisions about ex-Service men and so forth will be interpreted very widely. I also hope that the provision regarding people who have been engaged in the industry will not only apply to the fruitful years before the war, but will be interpreted in the widest sense. The shoals are there and there is the prospect of colossal catches off the coast of my constituency, where the industry could be built up to what it was in its heyday.

It is important to my town that we should get this basic industry started, so that it can, in the long run, bring prosperity back to us. In the short run, it is important in relation to the food problem in Europe. If we in Yarmouth could provide each German with one herring, and other places could provide each German with two potatoes and a slice of bread per day, we could solve the problem of starvation this year. It is to be hoped that the industry will be of great help to this country, and also in solving the crucial problem which is facing us in Europe today.

I was interested in the provisions relating to freshing, curing, kippering and processing, because I have been trying to impress on business men, and on people coming from the Forces with capital, the possibilities there are in this direction for investment. There is a great future in my district, and no doubt in others, for the processing of herring and other fish, and linking that up with the preservation of other kinds of food. It is an industry which has never been worked properly. Here is a chance, and I hope that when we decide on this scheme the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will not he content with working out their scheme in the Ministry, but will go to the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Transport and see that there is proper coordination, in order to make the herring industry a really big new industry in the East of England. I hope that this scheme is only a beginning. It is but a drop in the ocean, or, shall I say, in the herring shoal. We have the chance to revitalise an old-established industry which had almost collapsed in Eastern England, and to build it up into a basic industry which will last for years to come. I hope that the Secretary of State, for Scotland, will assure us that he intends to show some interest in the herring industry in England.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Alex. Anderson (Motherwell)

I must disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn). I believe myself that the herring is only at its very best when it passes out of the Pentland Firth along the Caithness coast, coming as fast as it can from the Hebrides, seeking a less salubrious area further South. I would like to give my blessing to this Bill as one who has been actively engaged in this industry. I feel sometimes that we do not approach the problem from the proper angle. It is not a matter of providing boats or nets or engines. The industry has been depressed since 192.4. That has not been due to lack of nets. With modern catching power the danger of any herring fishing is unregulated landings of fish, with no provision made for proper processing or proper marketing.

I would particularly impress on the Secretary of State one part of this amended scheme, to which he should give the full force of his authority, that is, the development of scientific research and technique in dealing with herrings. Unless we can get the herring treated in a modern fashion, the markets that we are at present finding on the Continent because of the needs of hunger will not persist into that period when we in this country will be looking for a higher standard of living. I particularly urge this point upon my right hon. Friend, since I believe that of all fishing, herring fishing is the most important, because of the tremendous amount of shore employment which it gives. It is not merely the catching and landing of herring which is important, but the ancillary industries, such as barrelmaking, hoopmaking, kippering, netmaking, ropemaking, canning and the procuring of salt. All these industries help to make our countryside not merely prosperous because of our proximity to a fishing port but make the hinterland a busy hive of ancillary activities.

Passing from the processing and preparation aspect, I turn to the fact that modern fishing requires a craft of such extent that the ordinary fishermen cannot face the capital charges; so that, unless this scheme is administered sympathetically and rightly, we shall have the industry getting into the hands of the shore corporations. These can, at all times, secure a profit by laying off sufficient ships to make the catching power of the remainder meet the demands of the market—laying fishermen idle so that shore owners can secure a profit out of a restricted catch. That will happen if these loans are given, in an excessive degree, to the shore corporations, and it the ordinary fisherman is not treated so as to make it possible for a young man, who has given good service in the Navy during the war, who is ambitious and knows his job, to become not merely a paid deck hand in some boat, but, after a time, a share-owner in that boat, able to take pride in the condition of his ship and the product he is providing. We must ask the Secretary of State to see that the widest possible interpretation is given to the terms of this scheme, in order that the ordinary primary producer may have an opportunity to do more than be a pawn in the ancient game of catching fish. I think the proposed amendments of the scheme are wide enough to give the Secretary of State and the Herring Board an opportunity to put this industry once more upon its feet. There is no industry more important; there is no better food, than this product and there is no finer class of men than the men who go down to the sea in drifters, to catch the herring.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

I wish to deal with a phase of this subject which has so far not been discussed. I have been under the impression for a long time that a separate Ministry of Fishing is required in this country, not one attached to the Ministry of Agriculture. It was found necessary, in the state of agriculture before the war, to have some kind of organisation, but in the fishing industry and the herring industry there was no organisation of any kind. Working on the distributive side—in which I was engaged for many years—I have watched boats coming in with great catches, and seen the buyers coming down and selecting exactly what they wanted. Because there were no facilities in that particular point on the West coast of the Clyde, apart from one or two little backdoor places where some curing, kippering, etc., was done, whole boatloads of fish had to be thrown back into the sea. There is not one iota of difference between the position today and what it was in those days. Things have not advanced at all.

This proposal now before us does not propose to alter the position in any way. It only proposes to give a kind of compensation to the men who have served in the Forces during the war, to put them back into a postwar job. There is no attempt to deal with the fishing industry or the herring industry. I can remember when the finest herring in the world, coming from Loch Fyne, were sold in the streets, eight and 12 for 6d. There was a time, when fishermen brought in their catches, and everyone in the population of the West of Scotland took the opportunity of buying and selling fish. Even the unemployed did so, and it helped to get us out of a difficulty. Instead of that, there is now a chaotic condition and a scarcity of the fish which is teeming round our coasts.

I think the greatest disgrace in the administration of this nation's affairs—and I would commend this point to the attention of the Secretary of State—is the fact that we as an island, with the greatest potentialities for fishing in the whole world, have to import fish from Newfoundland. It is a disgrace the blame for which should be attached to lack of organising ability on the part of past Governments. I sincerely hope the present Government will bring forward something which is better than a mere palliative of this kind, to deal with what is a very great problem.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)

I wish to add a word in praise of these measures which have been brought forward. It is impossible for this industry, one which has been neglected probably more than any other British industry, to be rescued in the short space of a few months after long years of neglect by previous Governments. The scheme which is now brought forward amending the Act which was passed by the Coalition Government shows that that Government did not take a wide enough view of the problem. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland upon bringing this matter forward. Particularly, I would like to say how happy we feel on this side of the House about the arrangements which, I hope, will shortly be made for the processing of the fresh herring. In that, I think, lie great possibilities for the expansion of this industry. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that we can look forward, as a result of the application of science to this industry, to a time in the very near future when the British housewife will be able to have fresh herring every day in the week, should she so desire. There is no reason why that should not be the case as a result of the introduction of quick freezing. I hope that this system may be developed and expanded in the greatest possible measure.

It is true that there is a scarcity of boats and nets. I hope that the Secretary of. State, when he comes to allocate the available boats, will remember that there are other places in Scotland where there are unemployed fishermen besides Fifeshire, on whose behalf a special plea was put forward by the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). In my own constituency I am told that we could man something like ten boats with unemployed men. There are other constituencies in other parts of Scotland where that could be done. I hope that in the allocation of these boats my right hon. Friend will have regard to the needs of ex-Servicemen, particularly those who lost their boats miring the war. They should have first priority.

There is another problem to which I have been trying to draw the attention of this House, and that is the problem of neglected harbours. Unless we can have these harbours repaired and put into a proper state to receive the boats when they come in with the fish, then we shall not get very far. I was in my constituency a few days ago and I watched the boats as they were coming in and were having to wait until the tide changed before they could land their fish. Those boats were waiting for two or three hours. During that time, of course, the fish was deteriorating. We find not only one defect in this industry, but a whole series of defects which will have to be tackled with courage, and very quickly. The state of the industry is the result of long years of neglect. I hope—and I believe my hope is not misplaced—that in this Government we see prospects of, at last, the requirements of the fishing industry being tackled in a methodical way and thereby fishermen will get that justice for which they have looked in vain to previous Governments.

6.25 p.m.

Winģ-Commander Millinģton (Chelmsford)

We have listened to Members from the fishing ports debating these provisions mainly from the point of view of their constituency interests. It is perfectly proper that Members should come to this Chamber and debate those interests. There are, however, wider interests in connection with the fishing industry which ought to be mentioned. We have heard of the shortage of nets and boats and of the other problems which confront fishermen throughout this island kingdom of ours, but I hope the Secretary of State will bear in mind consumer interests when these provisions are further considered by his Department. We had an occasion at Question time a few weeks ago when the whole House was made to laugh at my expense, and I lughed, too. The laughter was caused by the Parliamentary-Secretary to the Ministry of Food on a matter connected with the loss of fish at Billingsgate Market. A question was raised by an hon. Member stating that during one weekend some 40 tons of fish were destroyed because, through bad marketing and distributive facilities, the fish had gone to rot. Forty tons of fish were wasted out of 4,300 tons.

We are living in a world where there is a shortage of food. The fact that 40 tons of fish were destroyed because there had been some breakdown in the distributive machinery, is a reflection upon the whole administration. I suggest that, as this wastage of food consisted of a highly nutritious catch by our fishermen—part of it even the herring we are debating—it is a disgrace. I hope the system will be rectified. I represent a rural constituency where we are very grateful whenever a man knocks at our door, once a week, purveying fish for our consumption. We very rarely receive fresh herring and even more rarely the kippers which are produced by the herring industry. I am concerned that in the reorganisation of the fishing industry of this country we should have some positive provision for the total consumption of the catch which comes into our fishing ports. I must admit with regret that I do not see this provision in the scheme we are discussing this evening. For example, I want to feel that the Government have well in mind plans for a major canning industry, particularly in respect to the herring catch. I ask the Secretary of State to state, when he winds up, if he has in mind provisions for the modernisation not only of distribution but for the preservation of the catches of the herring industry. If he has not those matters in mind, will he at least give a promise that there is some expectation for the uture that there will be no further wastage of the magnificent catches which we can confidently expect in the next few years from the herring fleet?

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

I assure the House that I do want to do something useful to help one of the finest bodies of men that we have in England or Scotland at the present time—those engaged in the fishing industry. If we cannot get men in the herring industry, we shall not have that wonderful reservoir of manpower on which we were able to fall back during the last two great wars, and particularly the last one. If we had not had that reservoir of men, who knew the dangers of the sea and who were willing to take all the risks associated with saving this nation from the attacks of our enemies, we should have been in a very bad position today. Consequently, I want to do what I can to help those engaged in the herring industry.

I did not suggest, when I introduced this amending scheme, that it was the last word and I have no complaint about the manner in which it has been received. Not one hon. Member who has taken part in the Debate has objected to the provisions of the Scheme. Therefore, I am justified in saying, that, having got the approval of the industry itself, and now, having got the approval of all who have taken part in this Debate, I have done something useful for the industry which I am seeking to serve. After all, I wa.s brought up in a fishing village. It is all right for the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) to talk of Buckhaven, but I have jumped from the pier more than once when it was not so easy to do so as it has since become. There we had a fishing community who taught me something of the energy and enthusiasm which they showed in trying to win the harvest of the deep.

I repeat that I want to do something useful to help this industry. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has already pointed out that there is a ray of light here so far as ex-Service men are concerned. I do want to do something for the ex-Service man, and one proposal which I put to the House in introducing the scheme specifically states: including in particular persons who have given service in H.M. Forces. It may be only a ray of light, and I am not making the claim that the full blast of sunshine will come on the fishing industry as the result of this Scheme. It will not, but it is quite possible that there may be more than one amending order. We are trying to get more agreement, to get something that is noncontroversial, and I think that, so far, we have succeeded. It is hardly fair to talk about delay or the ineffectiveness of the operation of the 1944 Act. We could not operate that Act fully during the war, and even this Scheme, which I have introduced today, is a long drawn-out procedure under the 1935 Act, and I was not responsible for that Act. I assure hon. Members that I want to see this Scheme, which I am now amending, applied in the very widest interpretation, both in the chartering and hiring of boats and in the giving of the loans.

A number of points were raised by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). In reply to one of them, may I say that it is not for me, as I have no responsibility in connection with the Admiralty, to give the answer, but I will draw the attention of the Admiralty to the question of hiring some of their -boats directly to those engaged in the fishing industry.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Would the Secretary of State, in case that endeavour does not come off, also give the Herring Industry Board powers to purchase these motor fishing vessel.; from the Admiralty, in order that the Board may hire them quickly in the course of the next few months?

Mr. Westwood

I have been too long at this Box to. give a definite pledge unless I know I can fulfil it. What the hon. Member has suggested will receive full consideration. Beyond that I cannot go until I have had time to discuss the suggestions he has made. The provisions of the Herring Industry scheme were suspended at the beginning of the war, but some were revived in January, 1945, to enable the Herring Industry Board to undertake the preparatory work with a view to its future activities, and I propose to revive the remainder immediately, so that the Board may take charge of production and of the export side of the herring industry this year. In the small amending scheme which I have put before the House today, I cannot deal with all the problems of the industry, but we will at least try to do something here, in agreement with the industry, and now, apparently, with the complete agreement of both sides of the House.

Mr. Boothby

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, will he deal with the point which I raised about loans or grants for second-hand nets?

Mr. Westwood:

Certainly I will, but, at the moment, I think this must not be taken as a pledge. I do not see why powers should not be used to buy secondhand nets, and, if it is possible for that power to be used, the suggestion will receive not only sympathetic but favourable consideration so far as my advice to the Board is concerned.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Will the Minister say what number of boats he expects to get, and when?

Mr. Westwood

I have tried to be very fair with the House, and have said that all points raised would be looked into. I want the Order to be applied as widely as possible. I cannot say offhand just the number of boats required, but I know of no limits that have been placed on the Board's activities to give effect to the amending scheme which I am now submitting for the approval of the House.

Resolved: That the Herring industry (Amending) Scheme, 1945, under section 2 (7) of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, a copy of which Scheme was presented on 22nd March, be approved.

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