Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £40, be granted to His Majesty towards defraying the charges for the following services relating to Fisheries, Scotland, for the year ending on the 31st March, 1948, namely:
|Civil Estimates, 1947–48.|
|Class VI, Vote 23, Fisheries, Scotland||£10|
|Class VI, Vote 24, Herring Industry||£10|
|Class X, Vote 3, Ministry of Food||£10|
|Class VI, Vote 1, Board of Trade||£10|
§ —[Mr. Westwood.]
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having made a gesture in this matter by withdrawing the previous Motion. It is a pity we have such a short time in which to discuss the fishing industry, in view of its great economic importance to Scotland, and the contribution it can make to our food supplies at the present time. On 30th June the Chancellor of the Exchequer made, in this House, a statement of extreme gravity. He said:… in some cases imports may be restricted by shortage of supplies, and the possibility of cuts in particular foods, including rationed goods, cannot be ruled out.The gloom with which that statement was received on both sides of the House was little relieved by the succeeding remark that we might perhaps count on increased imports of animal feedingstuffs. Animal feedingstuffs can be converted fairly quickly into eggs and butter, much more slowly into mutton and still more slowly into beef. We have had a cut in the protein ration in the form of a reduction in the meat ration. It is a foregone conclusion that further cuts will come in the days ahead. The Chancellor went on to say:In order further to reduce our adverse balance of payments, we must make available for export an increasing proportion of our production …"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 961.]Both those statements have a considerable bearing on the fishing industry.
I do not think that the Government have yet got across to the man in the street the grave threat to the food supplies of this country which faces us. I noted in 1126 "The Times" this morning, a leading article which stressed the need for winning great quantities of food and coal from the soil. Considering that we draw hundreds of thousands of tons of first-class feeding-stuffs from the sea, it is rather remarkable that the writer did not refer to the possibility of increasing our food supplies from this source. One of our objects in selecting this subject for Debate today is to probe the policy of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to food production from the sea, and to expose shortcomings which have come to light in the course of the past year, and to stimulate him to make greater efforts. The Government have been at pains to tell us what they are doing, or failing to do, in the way of increasing food supplies for this country. We would like to see a far more determined effort to increase food supplies by stimulating the agricultural and fishing industries, and more particularly the fishing industry, which is of such great economic importance to Scotland.
To take the white fishing industry first, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt tell the Committee, with pardonable pride, that during the first five months of this year British fishing vessels have landed at Scottish fishing ports 15,000 tons more of white fish than they did during the corresponding period of last year. I want to warn him that that figure is not necessarily so satisfactory as it looks, and also that Scottish trawlermen who operate in the near and middle waters hive been complaining that the yield from those waters is falling off. That means that more effort and expense will be entailed to catch a very much smaller number of fish, until at last production will become uneconomic. In other words, the grim spectre of over-fishing is rearing its head once more. The Government were warned that this would happen. As far as I know they have taken no active steps to deal with the situation. A fishery ought to be managed on exactly the same principle as a forest. The aim should be a sustained yield. In other words, it should be managed so that the correct proportions of fish of different ages are present and preserved in the fishing ground, because it is in that way that the largest quantity of mature fish can be taken each year without reducing future yields.
The last thing I should urge the right hon. Gentleman to do is to increase the 1127 taking of fish from the North Sea. I am concerned that we should not depress the opportunities for future yields from that area. That is a difficult problem with which to deal; control is necessary Even the scientists now admit that, though up to 1939 they were always opposed to it, the weight of evidence is in favour of control. What has the right hon. Gentleman done about this problem of over-fishing in the near and middle waters, because those waters are of supreme importance to the Scottish trawling industry? It was built to fish there, and is not capable of proceeding to the more distant grounds. Three methods of control are available to the right hon. Gentleman. All are necessary, but none of them is really being applied effectively; two are not being applied at all. They are, to control the size of the mesh used for taking fish, to control the tonnage of vessels or the landings of fish, which are much the same thing, and also to close successive areas in the North Sea in order that the spawning grounds may be rested, and the young fish given a chance to grow.
What has been the result of the international conference which took place in the spring of last year? I know that a Convention was drawn up prescribing the minimum size of mesh to be used for nets, and also the minimum size of fish to be landed or sold, a very important point, which concerns not only the trawling industry but also the seine fishing net industry, because it is no use disguising the fact that the seine net fishing industry is just as destructive of immature fish as is the trawling industry. That Convention does not begin to operate until two months after the last ratification. I know that the Government have ratified it, but how many of the other nations which took part in that conference have done so? I believe that a considerable number have not. What pressure is being put upon our Government to put pressure on those Governments to come into line with us on this matter? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use the whole weight of his influence to get this done. It is an equally urgent matter, again requiring international agreement, that the nations interested in these near and middle waters should not build excessively large fleets of fishing vessels, which will only end in 1128 ruining the fishermen of their own nation, and those of the other nations who fish in those waters.
The third remedy is to divide the near and middle waters into areas and to rest each of them in turn. Of course, that would involve adequate policing of the rested areas by the fishery protection vessels of the various nations concerned. It is obvious we cannot expect any great increase of fish in the immediate future from the near and middle waters. This subject also raises the question of the condition of the Scottish trawler fleet, which was built to fish in these waters. Before the outbreak of the war the Scottish trawler industry was in a very depressed state and the fleet itself was very far from being an efficient instrument. Eighty per cent. of the fleet were over 20 years old before the war. They have not grown any younger since then and these aged trawlers were literally scraping a living from the bottom of the North Sea from the ever dwindling supplies available. Because of their small size they could not exploit the far more prolific distant waters of the Barents Sea, the seas around Bear Island, the shores of Greenland and the remoter parts of the Norwegian coast.
Hull exploited these waters and they got into difficulties partly because of unregulated landings but chiefly because they failed to devise and apply any satisfactory method of preserving the fish caught during the early part of the voyage. Thus they landed large quantities of fish inferior in condition and sold them for uneconomic prices, in that way depressing the prices for the whole fishing industry. Experiments have been conducted at the Torry research station in Aberdeen which have shown us how fish ought to be handled. It is for the Aberdeen trawling industry acting, I hope, under advice, guidance and pressure from the Minister, to apply the results of these experiments. They will have to build larger vessels so that they may take part in more distant fishing. We want bigger, faster, better equipped and more comfortable trawlers than the men have now. They must be provided with proper facilities for freezing the first half of the catch.
There is a great opportunity for the Scottish fishing industry here. Hull has not done this yet. Why should we not leap into the breach and build the most 1129 up to date trawlers that can be built to bring back nothing but prime quality fish. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what is being done about modernising the Scottish trawling fleet? Are any new trawlers being built? Is the industry able to find the money to do the job or is any advantage being taken of the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporations? There is no time to be lost over this. In the very near future the Scottish trawling industry will find itself faced with severe competition from abroad. I saw an announcement that the largest trawler ever built for Iceland was launched in Aberdeen last week. That is the fourth modern trawler to be built for Iceland in Great Britain, and I am told that they have 34 on order at the moment.
Where are they going to sell the fish which they catch? It is a thousand to one that they are aiming at the British market. What they will send to us, unless I am very much mistaken, will he prime frozen fillets. Already our fishermen are asking for restriction on the imports of fish. I do not think that we would be warranted in keeping that prime quality fish out of this country, certainly not in present circumstances, unless we could produce something as good ourselves and in sufficient quantity. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is doing everything in his power to restore prosperity to our white fish industry by encouraging a rapid increase in its efficiency. I ask him particularly not to neglect our inshore fishing industry which is a very important part of our fishing industry. The inshore fishing industry catches one-fifth of the white fish landed in Scotland. We have every reason to be grateful to these hard-working and hardy men for the splendid job they did during the war in maintaining fish supplies as well as they could at a time when the trawlers were engaged elsewhere. A big problem faces these men in the lack of nets and gear. A very steep rise has taken place in the cost of gear. Their produce is superior to that of the trawling industry, but they are subject to the same maximum price control which allows nothing for the superior quality of inshore fish. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence with the Minister of Food when this matter comes up for discussion, as it will in the near future when he has a conference with representatives of the 1130 Scottish Herring and White Fish Catchers' Association.
The provision of adequate harbours is another thing which calls for urgent action by the Government. The inshore fishing industry, unlike the trawling industry, has been modernising itself, and they are working with a new and larger class of boat. In the old days, the fishing boats were drawn up or kept in safe harbours during the winter, but now they are in use all the year round, but there are many parts of the coast where the harbour facilities are really not good enough for modern vessels. These boats are very valuable, and £10,000 or more can be spent on some of them, yet it is a deplorable fact that the owners of some of these boats are unable to insure them through the winter because there is no safe harbour in which to keep them.
I pass now to the herring fishing industry, and here we have an entirely different picture. Before the war, we were taking 150,000 tons of herring out of the waters round the Scottish coast. To go a little farther back, 40 years ago, we were taking 300,000 tons of herring out of Scottish waters, without having any appreciable effect on the shoals of herring. Contrast that 300,000 tons with the 109,000 tons which we took last year from Scottish waters. In the Scottish waters, we have a great untapped, or rather under-tapped, source of food from which an additional 200,000 tons of food a year can be obtained—food of the very highest quality, with proteins, fats and vitamins all in one. The country may well be very glad to make the fullest possible use of the food which can be obtained from that source. But the Government's handling of some of the problems connected with the herring fishing industry have not inspired that industry with very much confidence in the Government.
The problem of the herring fishing industry has long been one of marketing, but it is complicated by a number of other factors, such as the seasonal nature of the industry, the unpredictable movements of the herring, the spasmodic landings which occur, not to mention the lamentable failure of the industry itself to modernise its methods. In spite of practically unlimited supplies, the fact remains that, owing to our adherence to antiquated methods, we cannot yet land in Great Britain enough herring to supply 1131 the needs of the market throughout the whole year. The days when that gap could be filled by salt cured herrings has gone, so far as Great Britain is concerned, for ever, and it is most certain also that it is coming to an end in other parts of the world where salt cured herrings have been sold in the past. The aim of the herring industry ought to be unrestricted fishing, but, before that can be achieved, a really flexible outlet must be found for the products of the industry, and the answer, beyond doubt, lies in quick freezing and the utilisation of surplus herring for the manufacture of herring meal and oil.
The Herring Industry Board has established two experimental quick freezing plants at Lerwick and Fraserburgh, where they can process 100 and 200 crans a day respectively, but that capacity will have to be increased many times before even average landings can be dealt with. The point that I want to stress is that there is in the world a vast potential market for the consumption of herrings, frozen herrings and frozen kippers—in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America and the Far East. Indeed, so great are the possibilities of disposing of herrings in that form that I think we can look forward to replacing a very large part, if not the whole, of our lost markets by selling frozen herrings and kippers. Refrigerating transport is already available in those parts of the world which I have mentioned, and cold storage facilities already exist there.
But what about our own end of the business? We must have adequate cold storage facilities in this country, and that is what we have not got. Lerwick is the only important herring fishing centre in Great Britain which has those facilities. Those facilities will have to be provided, and I want to know 'hat the right hon. Gentleman is going to do about it. They will have to be provided at all the principal herring fishing ports, Stornoway, Lerwick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead. I am not saying anything about England, because that would be out of Order. Has the right hon. Gentleman given any thought to the question of the provision of refrigerating space on the vessels serving Shetland, which has long been one of the principal centres of the herring fishing industry?
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman said that if he were to refer to the East Anglian herring fishing, he would be out of Order. Surely, the East Anglian fishing industry comes under the jurisdiction of the Herring Industry Board, which, in turn, comes under the jurisdiction and control of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and, therefore, it ought to be possible to put the English point of view in this Debate?
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
The hon. Member is perfectly right, and I am sure I could leave the case of the East Anglian fisheries in his hands.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Young)
If the hon. Member looks at the words on the Order Paper, he will see that the Motion relates to "Fisheries. Scotland."
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
Great as may be the prospect of developing the processing of herring and kippers by quick freezing, we are still faced, for the time being, with the necessity of saltcuring a very large part of the catch. For that purpose, barrels are needed, and, if we are to have barrels, we must have the hoops with which to hold them together. I think that the Government deserve to be roundly condemned for the way they handled the question of timber for herring barrels and the question of strip iron for hoops last winter. There was a great lack of foresight in arranging for supplies of these things. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can escape his share of the blame for this, because it is part of his duty to ensure that this great primary food producing industry in Scotland is given the tools with which to get on with the job, and given them in time. It is no good waiting until the fishing season starts; the barrels must be ready long in advance.
The same applies in respect of iron tot hoops Again and again last winter, coopers had to be put off because no strip iron was available with which to make the hoops for the barrels. I think that is very deplorable and very damaging to the reputation of the Government —not that I am going to lose any sleep over that. The non-delivery of timber last winter threw the whole industry into a state of the gravest uncertainty. The 1133 curers could not engage their female staff, because they did not know what number of barrels would be available. The number of staff taken on is directly related to the, number of barrels available for the cured herrings. These arrangements have got to be made months before the beginning of the herring season. I do not think it ought to be necessary for hon. Members of this House to have to exert the sort of pressure which had to be exerted last year in connection with this matter. The whole affair would have been ludicrous if it had not been so serious for the herring industry. Licences for hundreds of standards of timber had been issued without the slightest effort to see that there was any timber available against those licences. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do all he can to see that timely steps are taken this winter so that we shall not have that anxiety again.
The industry had no sooner recovered from that shock, and made all possible preparations for the summer herring fishing—and, in fact, some of the boats had already started fishing—when again the industry was thrown into a state of confusion and anxiety owing to the extraordinary delay by the Government in fixing up the contract for the supply of salt herrings to Germany. That caused great embarrassment to the Herring Industry Board. They had suddenly to borrow £1 million from the bank, because they were faced with the prospect of themselves having to buy the whole of the output of cured herring in the hope that they would be able to sell it somewhere. That was very disturbing to the industry, more particularly because Germany has been the best customer of the Scottish herring industry for many years past. This year it was more important than ever that trade should be done with Germany, because the ancient markets in the Baltic—Lithuania, Latvia, Esthonia and the free State of Danzig —have all gone, as those countries have been swallowed by the Russia python. It will be unwise to count on these markets ever being recovered.
One of our best prewar customers was Poland, and she has no money with which to buy the herring. Neither is the Russian market to be counted on. Russia has only made occasional purchases of herring ever since 1919, and almost 1134 invariably these have been block purchases at a most uneconomic price for our herring fishermen and curers. Germany, therefore, remains the market which is of outstanding importance to the Scottish herring fishing industry—at least, until the quick freezing of herring and kippers comes into its own, and other world markets are opened up.
Let me say a word or two on the vexed question of the disposal of surplus herring. From time to time the dumping of herring has been condemned, usually most vehemently by hon. Members who know least about the practical difficulties involved in dealing with surplus herring. Dumping, of course, is associated with gluts, and gluts are an act of nature which cannot be foreseen.
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
The trouble is that when the men shoot their nets at night they do not know there is going to be a glut. It is only in the morning when the nets are laden with herring, and when tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds are lost by the men, that they know anything about it. They have to deal with it after nature has provided the glut. The two chief reasons why the herring are dumped are, in the first place, that it is a physical impossibility for the crews who are assembled at the ports to handle more than the normal catch of the fleets at those ports. Obviously, it would be quite uneconomical to have crews of workers and ships with full crews standing by throughout the whole season, in order to deal with a glut which may possibly never occur at all. The second reason for dumping is the state of the herring which are landed late in the day when there is a glut. They are soft owing to the time that has been taken to haul the nets, and the long delay of the heavily laden boats in getting to port. Soft herring are useless for curing.
§ Mr. Scollan
Is the hon. Gentleman making an excuse for dumping the herring into the sea, when the fishermen have been offered a price and have not taken it?
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
It the hon. Gentleman will wait a moment, I will come to that point. There is, in fact, only one practicable way of dealing with surplus herring, and that is to convert them into 1135 herring meal and oil, for which they are worth 16s. a cran at current prices. That is a process which has been woefully neglected in this country up to date. Norway has got 79 factories for making herring meal and for the extraction of herring oil, and Norwegian fishermen are earning great money at the present time in fishing principally for meal and oil. Before the war they even found it worth while coming to the Shetlands to collect, not herring, but herring offal, and to take it over the North Sea, there to process it. In Scotland there are at the present time only two such factories, one at Lerwick and the other at Fraserburgh, and both are far too small for the job. Nothing could possibly, to my mind, exceed the stupidity of the men who recently dumped 180 tons of herring at Fraser-burgh rather than take the £1,600 offered them for the catch, which was useless for anything else except conversion into fish meal and oil Our fishermen have got to get rid of the old-fashioned idea that it is wrong to send herring to what they call the "gut factories." They really are food factories, and that is the way in which they should be regarded.
It is of the utmost importance to this country that we should augment our supply of fish meal and, more particularly, of edible oil at the present time; and the prospect of increasing our supply from herring is quite good. What is needed is an adequate factory at each of the herring ports of Scotland, Stornoway, Lerwick, Peterhead, and Fraserburgh. Such factories offer the only practical solution. They are admirably adapted to that purpose because they can store herring for five days quite well, which will produce first class herring meal, which is valuable for feeding to cattle and poultry, while the oil.is useful for turning into margarine. Indeed, it is commonly used in Norway without any conversion at all simply as a cooking oil. I have a bottle here, if any hon. Member would like to see it. It looks like olive oil, and is odourless and practically tasteless. The factories can store herring up to three months, and still produce a nearly first-class product though at greater cost. I am sure the Committee will not object to my paying a special tribute to the Shetland fishermen, and I should rather hope that the 1136 right hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity of backing up what I say. I say it for these reasons: because Lerwick is the only herring fishing port which is today co-operating too per cent. with the Herring Industry Board; last year they had the highest gross earnings of any other port in Scotland; and there is every prospect that the results will be even more striking this year. The whole emphasis there is on production—every one in the industry there has got his coat off ready to get on with the job. I cannot help thinking that a little more of that spirit spread throughout the herring industry at the present time would not only lighten the task of the Herring Industry Board, but would improve the long-term prospects of the industry itself, and encourage the Government to play a more active part in dealing with all the problems that undoubtedly exist.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
I associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence)as to the importance of the fishing industry, and, like the hon. Gentleman, I should have liked very much, if there had been more time, to deal with what is a vital and important industry, particularly so far as Scotland is concerned. I will endeavour, in as short a time as possible, to deal with as many points raised by the hon. Member as I can. I entirely agree that the aim of the fishing industry should be a sustained yield—I think they were the words he used—of those foodstuffs which are gathered from the sea.
The hon. Member asked me what action had been taken in connection with the recent international conference. The 1946 Conference drew up a convention which laid down increased sizes of the mesh of nets, and increased sizes of fish which may be landed. The convention has been ratified by Britain, and he asked me how many other nations had ratified the convention. It has been ratified by three other countries—Sweden, Portugal, and one other which I do not recollect at the moment. The Government have taken several opportunities of reminding the other countries of the desirability of ratification, and it is understood that the countries concerned intend to ratify as soon as the necessary preparatory steps have been taken. Control of the tonnage 1137 of the North Sea fleet was the method of conservation proposed by the British delegation to the standing advisory committee on over-fishing, which met in January and April of this year. The limit proposed was 85 per cent. of the 1938 tonnage. At present the figure is 67 per cent. Closed areas and policing have been proposed by other countries as alternatives to the control of tonnage. I think that answers the main point which was put to me. I will try to deal with the other points before finish.
The fishing industry, as already indicated by the hon. Member, is one of Scotland's major industries, and relatively it is a more important factor in the Scottish economy than it is in England. In 1946 nearly one-third of the British catch of wet fish was landed in Scotland. It is fitting, therefore, that a part of one of the Scottish Estimates days—although I regret that we have not more time in which to discuss it—should be devoted to discussion on fisheries, and I welcome this opportunity of reviewing the situation. Judging by the quantities of fish landed, I submit that the fishing industry has made a good recovery from the dislocations of the war. Here, I wish to associate myself with the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland to a brave, hard-working and fearless body of men who, both in war and in peace, are ever ready to do their duty by the country. Two-thirds of the steam drifters and trawlers, and half the motor boats over 45 feet in length, were requisitioned by the Admiralty, and about 45 per cent. of Scottish fishermen were on naval service during the war.
Indeed, the landings of white fish by British vessels, in Scotland in 1946, were about 20 per cent. above the 1938 figure. This was attributable partly to a greatly increased catch by inshore fishing vessels, which landed almost a million hundredweights, and partly to the higher catches obtained by the reduced fleet of deep-sea vessels fishing in the North Sea and other waters, which had been rested during the war. Landings of white fish, for 1947, show a further increase compared with the first half of 1946, and with consumption of fish at a considerably higher level than before the war one might be tempted to think that the fishing industry has nothing to worry about. There are signs, however, that the present position will 1138 not be maintained, unless changes and new ideas are introduced in the industry.
The Committee, which was presided over by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, drew attention to the obsolescence of the Scottish trawler fleet, and the fact that before the war production in the near and middle waters had become uneconomic. The higher prices which have ruled during and since the war, and the higher yield from the Mirth Sea grounds in the last two years, have combined to make conditions more remunerative. But the yield of trawlers fishing in the North Sea is again on the decline, and is already considerably below the high level achieved in 1945. This suggests two things—that the improved stocks in the North Sea are again diminishing, and that if the deep-sea fishing industry is to avoid falling back into the condition in which it was before the war, efforts should be made to increase the efficiency of catching fish.
The Committee will be aware that considerable attention has already been given to the overfishing problem, and that the Government have taken a leading part in the matter. The Overfishing Conference, in 1946, recommended that a committee should be set up to consider appropriate measures of conservation I have already given an indication of what we have been doing in that direction. It appears, therefore, that the industry ought to look further afield, for developments in the future, to the more distant grounds. This may require bigger trawlers than have been operated hitherto in Scotland, with better accommodation for crews, and with refrigerated space for preserving in good condition the fish caught in the early part of a long voyage.
The Committee to which I have referred presided over by the hon. Member tot Orkney and Shetland, carried out a wide survey of the fishing industry in Scotland, and produced two valuable reports, which were published in the early part of 1946, containing a great many recommendations. Many of these dealt with matters for which the industry or others, such as harbour authorities, are responsible, and only about a quarter of the committee's proposals directly affect the Government I am glad to say that a number of these recommendations have already been followed up. The Inshore Fishing Industry Act, 1945, gave effect to the principal 1139 recommendation of the committee's first report—the provision of financial assistance for the purchase or building of inshore fishing vessels. In so far as the other recommendations involve legislation, the Government will announce its proposals in due time when an opportunity of legislation presents itself.
Up to the end of June the total sums offered to Scottish fishermen and accepted for these boats, for M.F.V.s and secondhand boats, amounted to £200,000 by way of grant, and £340,000 by way of loan. In addition, grants and loans are available, under the Herring Industry Act, 1944, for the construction or purchase of boats to be used mainly for the herring fishing, and £110,000 by way of grant and £198,000 by way of loan have already been offered, and accepted, in respect of 41 new boats, 19 ex-Admiralty boats and 12 second-hand boats. Building yards are busy all round the coast and most of them have waiting lists.
Let me say a word about the Highlands and Islands where fishing has always, with agriculture, been one of the main occupations. The Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel, set up earlier this year, has paid special attention to this industry, among others, and appointed a Fisheries Group under the chairmanship of my hon Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex. Anderson). This Group has already travelled many miles, visiting the fishing communities in the Highlands and discussing with them their problems and ways of dealing with them. At one of its first meetings the committee supported a scheme put forward by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society for the purchase and equipment and administration of some small ex-Admiralty motor boats for use by lobster fishermen, and this scheme has since received grant aid from the Development Fund. It is hoped that it will enable the small crofter fisherman to obtain boats which will extend his radius of operation, and enable him to fish more continuously for lobsters. I can assure the Committee that the group and the panel are tackling their task with vigour and I am sure that they are performing a useful function in discussing with local interests the problems confronting them. A great many schemes for the improvement or extension of fishery harbours have been, and are being, dealt with. The war put a stop to all work 1140 except the most urgent repairs, and there are considerable arrears to overtake. Since the beginning of 1946, a total of £379,000 has been offered by way of grant or loan to harbour authorities, including £212,000 for an important scheme at Stornoway.
Now I turn to the herring industry, which has been a good deal in the news of late. I think it was suggested that the Government—and that means myself in this case—were rather lackadaisical in dealing with some of the problems connected with the herring industry, particularly as regards the supply of wood and steel for making the necessary barrels. I am not apologising for any action which I took. I acted in conjunction with the Herring Industry Board, and I was able to provide for the industry the wood they required when it was extremely scarce. It was an extremely difficult job. On one occasion we had to buy wood which we did not require to get the staves we did require. Having solved that problem, I discovered that there was a shortage of steel for making hoops, but, here again, I was able to provide 1,100 tons of hoops to enable the necessary herring barrels to be made for the industry.
I have no apologies to make, and I am sure that the Board and fishermen in Scotland are deeply grateful to the present Secretary of State for the action he took to enable contracts to be completed with the Control Commission. I would remind right hon. and hon. Members opposite that we were the sellers of herring; we could not compel the Control Commission to buy. We had to make contracts with them, because it so happened that there were others in control of Germany as well as ourselves. That must be kept in mind when we are dealing with this problem. We had to face up to the difficulties, and instead of being criticised in the way I was by the hon. Member, I think that I should have been complimented on being able to get a 20,000 tons contract, the staves necessary to make the barrels, and the steel necessary to make the hoops and carry out the contract.
§ Mr. Westwood
You do not supply people because they are hungry. Do not let us "kid" ourselves. The fishermen are not willing to supply herrings without a price attached to them. They have to 1141 be bought and paid for, and. consequently, a contract had to be entered into. I think we did a "dashed good deal" so far as the herring industry is concerned. I have no apologies to make, none whatever.
In order to see the position in its proper perspective it is well to remember that between the wars the herring industry was in a very depressed state, mainly on account of the contraction of former markets abroad for cured herring. These conditions resulted in a herring fleet with a catching capacity greatly in excess of the demand for herring, much of it consisting of old boats requiring replacement. In the buyers' market created by these conditions the fishermen often received very low prices for their catches and fishing became unremunerative. This in turn led to a further deterioration in the fleet. In an effort to strengthen their position, the fishermen were often led to dumping substantial quantities of herring rather than accent very low prices for them, and to restrict the number of boats fishing and the number of nets in order to avoid catches greatly in excess of demand.
It was in these circumstances that in 1935 the Herring Industry Board was set up with the duty of re-organising, developing and regulating the industry. Before the war the Board had made a start in their task; as a result of their propaganda the demand for fresh herring and kippers was already on the upgrade. If all the kippers that were put on the market were properly kippered instead of some of them being dyed; if we were really providing only the best of the herring for kippering, we would not lose the market which we reckon to lose if we are to have dyed kippers instead of properly cured kippers. The other day, I had one of the finest meals I have ever enjoyed—a really good meal—of kippers. I did not get it in a London hotel because the producers supply the London hotels with dyed kippers instead of properly cured kippers.
During the last two years the position in the industry has been quite different from what it was before the war. The demand for herring at home is at an increased level but the result of the war has been to jeopardise the markets abroad which were open to us between the wars. The herring fleet, which was greatly reduced by requisitioning and the call-up 1142 of fishermen during the war, is growing, and, though it is still below the prewar level, is capable of catching far more herring than are required to meet the home market demands. The future prosperity of the industry depends very much therefore on our ability to regain the former export market or to find new outlets for herring. As hon. Members will know, the Board in their 11th Annual Report published in November last year set out their plans for the reorganisation of the industry in a most interesting survey.
Taking a bold line, the Board aim not merely at restoring the level of production between the wars, but at regaining the level of production which obtained before the first world war when it was, generally speaking, at about twice the level in the inter-war years. To achieve this task, the Board emphasise the need for developing new outlets for herring and particularly quick freezing and conversion of herring to oil and meal. The processing of herring to oil and meal has the advantage that, within limits, it can take varying quantities of herring from day to day because the herring can be stored before processing; it can therefore act as a buffer between the fluctuating daily landings and the more or less regular demand of the home market and other outlets. I agree that we have to develop that side of the industry. It has the additional advantage at a time like the present of adding to our supplies of fats and of meal for cattle food, always providing they do not dump them. Both quick freezing and conversion to oil and meal are tried processes, hitherto operated on a small scale only in this country and new plants would be required for their development on any scale. The Board believe that both processes can be successfully developed to the advantage of the herring industry as a whole and of the fishermen in particular.
§ Mr. E. Evans
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what was the exact price offered for the dumped herrings. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), who opened this Debate said it was 16s.; my impression was it was 30s.
§ Mr. Westwood
I will give my impression of that before I am finished. At any rate I will try to deal with it.
1143 The Board made it clear, however, that their target can only be achieved by the expansion of new and of existing outlets if all sections of the industry co-operate in the interests of all. The Committee may well ask what are the prospects for realising these high aims as far as the herring industry is concerned? The Board tell me that their proposals have on the whole been favourably received by all sections of the trade, and there is general agreement with the aim of developing each section of the industry by enabling it to operate to full capacity and at the same time ensuring a degree of stability which will encourage expansion. The Scottish Herring Producers Association, representing the Scottish fishermen, have, however, made certain reservations with regard to oil and meal though they have expressed their willingness to give the proposal a trial.
I must confess that the happenings at certain Scottish ports during the current season do not augur too well for the future. What is the position? Under the present system of price control and the arrangements made by the Herring Industry Board and the Ministry of Food there is an assured market at stable prices. Herring for the fresh and kipper market fetch between 89s. 10d. per cran—the maximum price fixed by the Ministry of Food—and 85s. 10d., a voluntary minimum price agreed between the fishermen and the buyers. Herring for quick freezing and canning are sold at 70s. per cran agreed between the fishermen and the processors. Before the season opened and before any definite order from Germany had been placed, the Herring Industry Board undertook to purchase the whole cure at a fixed price; in virtue of this undertaking the fishermen agreed to sell herring to the curers at 55s. per cran. The Board arranged that the same price would be paid for herring for klondyking.
Lastly, the point raised by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) the Ministry of Food maintain a standing offer to purchase at the subsidised price—and I emphasise "subsidised price"—of 30s. per cran, for processing into oil and meal, all herring surplus to other requirements up to the capacity of available processing plants. The Ministry's subsidised offer had the double object of encouraging the fishermen to supply herring for conversion 1144 into much needed oil and meal, and at the same time of creating conditions in which the fishermen could be sure of supplying to capacity the home market for fresh, kippered frozen and canning herring and also the curers and the klondykers.
The offer has been willingly accepted by English catchers, many of whom are now fishing from Scottish ports and also by the fishermen in the Shetlands. It has been willingly done by the fishermen in the Shetlands who have played their part nobly and well. They are doing their best to help this country and the Government in dealing with this problem, and I pay my meed of praise to the fishermen of the Shetlands for the way they are dealing with it. I should have liked to deal with many other points, but I realise many others Members want to take part in this Debate.
I thought it was necessary at least to indicate to the Scottish fishermen how much I regret—I am talking now of the Buchan fishermen—the line they have been taking. We are doing everything possible to help. Bear in mind that the Government are often criticised for maintaining controls that are not required, and I would just say to the fishermen that it may well be that the present arrangements will have to be reviewed unless the objects for which they have been made can be fully realised. Two must keep a bargain when the bargain is made. Again, from this Box, as Secretary of State for Scotland, I make my appeal to the fishermen to face up to this problem. What the English fishermen and the fishermen of Shetland can do, surely all fishermen can do to enable us effectively to carry through this work of dealing with a great industry and a major industry as far as Scotland is concerned. If for no other reason than that it gives me an opportunity of paying my compliments to the Shetland fishermen, and of making my appeal to other fishermen to fall into line and enable us to tackle this problem effectively, I welcome this Debate.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Sir John Graham Kerr (Scottish Universities)
There is a poem written by one of the select band of poets which emanated from the University of Oxford. It purports to be a guide to members of that 1145 university who are proposing to go up for university examinations. One of its most striking passages is this:Steer clear of factsThe fool who deals in those,A mocker he inevitably goes—a wise bit of advice which no doubt has helped many eminent men from that university in scaling the giddy heights at which we see them today. I am going to risk wounding their feelings by not steering clear of facts: this is no time to do so. I am sure I shall be supported in this by those who have the vision to see forward into the future and to see the abyss towards which we are steadily moving, in which lurks universal ruin, with starvation for many and death to many. It is surely no time to evade the facts. It is time rather to grapple with the facts and to see what we can do to make use of them to enable us to evade the horrors of the abyss I have mentioned.
I propose to deal with a few facts. They have to do with our Fisheries. It is a great subject. I am not going to spend time over the ordinary existing fisheries because they will be debated fully by other speakers just as they have been admirably treated by the two speakers who have preceded me. Nor need I say anything to emphasise the importance of the fisheries in general to Scotland. We all recognise their importance though perhaps we do not always remember that Scotsmen have been great world pioneers in the realm of fishery science. It was the old Scottish Fishery Board which was one of the very first government fishery departments. The successor of that Board, the Home Department of the Scottish Office, has followed its great traditions. It has got its active centre of fishery research at Torry, which has been referred to tonight, staffed by an able set of specialist scientists, and it has, in close alliance with it, that great laboratory at Millport, which, although not controlled by Government—it is privately owned—is financed mainly by Government, through the Development Commission
Rather than spend time on those parts of the subject, I would like to follow the point with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt, regarding the need of new developments in our fishery industry. It is now just about 40 years ago that by studying the charts of the West Coast of Scotland I was able to select a particular 1146 West country loch, Loch Sween, as a most admirable place to study what might he called fishery science. I returned to that place year after year, and devoted much time to it. My greatest interest came in studying what are called plankton, that is to say, that great population of tiny little creatures which dwell in all the seas of the world, especially in temperate and cold climates, and which constitute an immense food supply. They are fed upon by great numbers of marine animals. The herring, mackerel and the whale are among such marine animals, and all of us know the nourishing quality of the flesh of herring and mackerel. In these days, too, I have no doubt that many hon. Members have had the experience of tasting whale steaks, and they know how nourishing they are. Each of these three animals subsists entirely on plankton.
It would be interesting to see a development of our fishery department in the direction of making use of that same plankton. I have sailed through many square miles off the West coast of Scotland, where the sea water was almost like soup from millions of plankton organisms, yet at another time one hardly found any; just as, sometimes, in Loch Fyne you will find any amount of herring and a great herring fishery while at another time the,herring have vanished. What has happened? They have not, of course, passed out of existence. What has happened is that the herring has followed the concentrations of plankton. If we could follow those concentrations we should be able to get herring in all seasons. The first question I have to put to the right hon. Gentleman is, What is being done or contemplated in the way of developing this aspect of the matter, of devising means of tracking down those concentrations of plankton? Once they are tracked down, what will be done to develop means of collecting the plankton on a commercial scale, packing it and making use of it for food? For in it we have a vast potential additional food supply waiting to be tapped.
One of the great plankton feeders is that group of shellfish which includes the oysters, mussels and clams. In Loch Sween and in other Scottish West Coast lochs there once lived a tremendous population of oysters. They have apparently been killed out by a fine mud which has settled down on the floors of 1147 those lochs. Apart from that I have actually witnessed them disappear during these 40 years. At the beginning of that time I used to get lots of big oysters, but they gradually became fewer and fewer, and at last they almost disappeared, smothered by the deposit of mud. It is not want of food because there is still an abundance of plankton there today—the minute plankton on which the oyster feeds.
My second question, then, is what is being done now to develop or to revive oyster fisheries in the West Scotland lochs. I should add that while abundant oyster food is available, there is also an important negative feature about those lochs, namely, that there are no towns upon them with sewage going into the lochs and causing danger to public health. Before I sit down might I ask just one other question although, Mr. Beaumont, you may declare it out of Order because it has to do with education? It is to ask whether the Government are able to do anything to infuse a little of what we may call fishery science into the curriculum of the schools in the neighbourhood of great fishery ports such as Aberdeen. Such an infusion would not only be a great thing in education but would be an immense help to the fisheries in teaching pupils to appreciate the scientific development on which the success of the fisheries rests.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
One of the most fascinating features of some of the speeches from the Benches opposite—notably that of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence)—was the tendency among the Tories to demand of the Socialist Government that they should bring this industry, which was allowed to lapse into chaos and decrepitude, into shape and order by more controls and more planning. There are one or two small criticisms of the Scottish Office that I may have to make—rather reluctantly but necessarily for public reasons—in respect of fisheries development in the Western Islands and Highlands. However, I should like to soften any criticism by telling the Secretary of State that the kippers which he said he so much enjoyed the other day were sent to him anonymously by myself.
§ Mr. MacMillan
In Scotland we very much appreciate the fact that the Secretary of State is corning himself to visit the Western Island and Highlands and to have a look at the situation in the industry and the fishing communities of that area. We will welcome him very much and would have welcomed him even more had we been quite as happy about progress in the Scottish fishing industry as he appears to be himself. I must be a little critical here because I do not think any Minister in this Government or in previous Governments can afford even to sound the least bit complacent about the progress we have made in the development of this industry. Some of us speak today as Members for constituencies in an area which comprises about one-fifth of Great Britain with a population of about one-third of a million.
A good deal of the depopulation of that area is due to the procrastination and lack of decision of past Governments. The depopulation is alarming even on the seaboard area and the islands because of the neglect of the fishing industry. That industry and agriculture are the two primary producing industries of this country which we have neglected so badly in the past. We cannot afford for a long time to be complacent, and I hope we never will be. Two years have passed with our own Government in office, and we have had two busy Sessions, but I hope we are coming to the point now when a good deal will be done to put this industry on its feet and give security and a more guaranteed future to the men in it than has been done through the Herring and White Fishing Industry Acts of past Governments under which certain measures were taken. However, they were inadequate in themselves and I see them only as a first step towards the goal to which we must help the Scottish fishing industry to advance.
When we ask for the development of the fishing industry areas, in the Islands especially, we seem to come right up against a financial decision on almost every occasion. I would like to know just where policy is framed in this respect. Is it solely and finally a Treasury decision, yea or nay, even after a declaration of policy, or of sympathy at all events, by the Secretary of State and other Members 1149 of the Government? The Secretary of State said he had set up an advisory panel for the Highlands and Islands. I have the honour to be Chairman of that panel, on which hon. Members sit with me, which is representative of all the counties of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I do not think anybody inside or outside that panel will deny that it has worked hard. Its members have travelled around seeing at first hand what could be done to develop those areas. If I may single out one, because of its greater physical activity than almost any other group, the fisheries group, under my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex Anderson), has done a great amount of work investigating at first hand the conditions in the fishing areas around the Highland coast and they and I are going out again into the Islands in the near future. Here is a point of criticism, however. When this panel was set up, the Secretary of State inaugurated its meetings and deliberations with a call to "action," and the panel promised, with me, at that time that he would get action and recommendations for action for the development in those areas, of roads, bridges, piers and harbours. We recommended strongly constructing a bridge to link up Benbecula, North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, a scheme essential to all economic and fishery development.
After months of waiting, we have not yet had a decision from the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport. I would draw his attention to the fact that he asked for action at the first meeting and those of us who have sat in this House for quite a number of years now pleading for those developments as individual Members, do not feel like wasting two years, or possibly more, of our private and public lives upon a panel which has been asked for action but which, when it gives it, does not find the adequate and urgent response which was anticipated at that time. I shall not be too harsh with my right hon. Friend in that regard because, so far, we have been waiting only months where already we have waited unsuccessfully years for other Governments to move. Nevertheless, we expect, and the people of this country expect, in months, the things they would not have expected of Tories in years. Therefore, we are setting a faster pace for the Minister and the Scottish Office. It 1150 is in fact the best compliment the Government could be paid.
There is the danger all the time, which we Members for agricultural and fishing constituencies feel, that there is an industrial 'area mentality among hon. Members of the Government who are tackling these problems, and it is difficult to get over that, just as it would be difficult for me, as a person born in a crofting constituency coming to a city, immediately to adapt myself temperamentally and in every other way to the demands and the feelings and the needs of an industrial area. Therefore, it falls upon us to put pressure upon Ministers who were themselves born in industrial areas, who have been brought up in them, who have been surrounded by industrial problems in an industrial environment all their days, and I make allowance for the Secretary of State and Under-Secretary to that extent, that they have not had the same background as the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and myself and certain other rural hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. But they must realise that we still live off the land, and that we were practising agriculture and fishery long before we were practising even the now all-important business of coalmining, and that fundamentally we depend on the land and sea. In some respects we are thrown back on our original resources more than on coal-mining itself. Let us not forget the importance of keeping that balance between agriculture and fishery, on the one hand, and industrial activities, on the other. Time and again members of the Scottish Office have not had that background, or native interest, or native ability, to grasp the needs and requirements and feelings of the fishing and agricultural areas of this country. But this is a time when they will have to strike that balance between town and country, and to remember the interests of the communities of these primary producers in the landward areas.
When talking of fishing, we must not forget we are talking of human beings, because fishermen do not live at sea all the time. Their families have the same social background and want the same comforts as other people. The Secretary of State and the Government really must get down to this problem and treat it 1151 as a special area problem, which it is admitted to be. It is admitted to be a special area. The Highlands and Islands Medical Service is an acknowledgment of that fact; so is the MacBrayne steamer subsidy. We are not asking for eternal charity, nor need we apologise for demanding attention. In every war as it comes along, disproportionate claims are made on these areas, and they never fail. We want to see these areas given the essential capital equipment with which to get on and produce, and help to contribute to greater production for the country as a whole.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made claims for the native virtues of his own constituency, which we would not contest but would only ask to be allowed to share in the Western Islands, and other parts of the North-West. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. MacLeod) is present, and I have no doubt that he would be staking claims for his home ports, which might come into conflict slightly with the Western Islands. But we have no real conflict; though, there may be little local competitions and arguments. We are all here determined to see that whatever Government is in power these fishermen shall no longer be neglected as they have been neglected in the past. They can be neglected only to the peril of this nation, and the expense of the community as a whole. Here we are as a nation pressing them every day to produce more food, and to bring more fish into the shops. That cannot be done indefinitely, with obsolete vessels and expensive gear which has to be replaced from time to time. We cannot increase production substantially unless there is a new fleet.
The former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, gave an appalling picture of the aged condition of the herring fleet not many years ago in a speech here during the war. We are anxious about getting reconditioned boats, and new boats for our constituents. This should have very high timber priority, because it is a food priority after all. We are anxious that the engines and gear should come forward more quickly than they have been coming forward. The fishermen are willing to fish. Younger men 1152 are more anxious today to fish along the coasts of the Western Islands than they were in the past despite the depletion of the waters and the depredations by illegal trawlers. They are very tired of the neglect of Governments of the proper protection of inshore fishery grounds. I have little time, and have to speak even more rapidly than is my wont.
We should have an immediate inquiry into the whole McBrayne steamer service now. I would ask the Secretary of State, together with the Minister of Transport, to have a look at the conditions under which lobsters are being transported from our islands to the South. Our fishermen are losing hundreds of pounds every week of the year because they cannot get their lobsters sold in time to arrive alive at Billingsgate. It may be that they are shunted from the passenger train into a siding at Broad Street, instead of being taken direct to Billingsgate. That should be examined at once. The men are going out with the encouragement of good prices, and encouragement to produce more food, and they find themselves running into heavy losses because of some hitch in transport, because of someone's carelessness or because of a lack of coordination in distributing the lobsters.
The question of flying consignments of lobsters South has been raised It has been stated that the cost of doing this from Stornoway to London worked out at £500 or £600, which J find difficult to accept as a real figure. I think it is an estimate intended to dissuade us. We should call in an expert who can tell us dispassionately what the cost of these consignments might be. I would like the Secretary of State to go over the various recommendations of the panel quickly; to go over them this week and next week, to go over them before his visit to the Western Isles in August. Popular as his visit will be, and glad as we shall be to see him there, we shall be many times more grateful to him, on behalf of our constituents, if he carries out the advice he gave to the panel on its inauguration and gives us this action now.
I am tired of saying, year after year, many of the things which I have said to Minister after Minister occupying the place which is now being adorned by my hon. Friend. One gets tired of it, and the time has come when, in our own interests, in the interests of food supply and in the interests of main- 1153 taining for strategic and other reasons. a population in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, in the interests of employing them instead of having them on public funds, on which they do not want to depend, the Secretary of State should be taking action, to use his own words, taking prompt decisions and forcing decisions on the Treasury, and keeping his own officials as well as his fellow Ministers right up to scratch. We do not want to see the recommendations from this panel of ours subject to the time-lag of months and years that has occurred in the past between previous recommendations and their being carried out. We have all been very weary of that in the past.
The time has really come for action in these areas and already certainly the Dominions overseas are taking action. Australia, New Zealand and Canada today, once again, after the second world war, in which our men have contributed out of all proportion to their numbers, are clamouring for these men, for the most enterprising, active, and adventurous men that there are. They want them across the Atlantic and in Australasia. They know that they are the finest stock to populate their Dominions. We should be competing with them to make sure that these men do not go, that they are able to live in their own country and there make their proper contribution to it and to the world.
§ 9.29 p.m.
Mr. Boothhy (Aberdeen and Kincardine, East)
We have had an interesting and useful Debate. It was not so long ago that the Minister of Health said that we lived in an island which was filled with coal and surrounded by fish. He went on to say that it would take a genius to produce simultaneously a shortage of both. We can congratulate the Government on having produced the shortage of coal, but we most seriously hope that they will not bring off the double, and manage to produce an unnecessary shortage of fish at the same time, because we may, before the next six months are out, depend on fish to a greater extent than many people in this country realise at the present time
I have very little to add to the admirable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) upon the subject of the white fishing industry, upon which he is an admitted and acknowledged expert.
1154 He was, I thought, extraordinarily inter esting and sound. I think that the right hon, Gentleman, from his observations agreed with practically every word that my hon. Friend said. I want to emphasise, with him, the very great danger of over-fishing certain grounds in the North Sea. I share the regret that he expressed that we have not yet got a satisfactory international agreement with regard to this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland said that two or three nations had ratified the very mild agreement that already had been arrived at, but that there were several others that had still to ratify it. I think the opinion of hon Members on both sides of the Committee is that the agreement in itself does not go far enough. So far as white fishing is concerned, we are heading straight for exactly the same situation as confronted us between the wars. We are going to have a tragic shortage of fish within the next three or four years in the North Sea if we go on as we are doing now.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to make the strongest possible representation, as Secretary of State for Scotland, to the Foreign Secretary to bring the maximum pressure to see if we cannot get a decent agreement with regard to the preservation of these most valuable grounds in the North Sea. I would like to add to what my hon. Friend said a word about the dangers of catching immature fish in our home waters. The inshore white fishing industry in this country is far from blameless in this matter. At present many boats are fishing round our coasts with far too small meshes. Some of the fishermen themselves have said to me, "We feel ashamed to be fishing with a mesh of this kind. We know it does harm. We catch immature fish. It is doing damage to the spawning grounds, but we cannot get any other nets." I would like to stress the importance of nets If the Government can give the inshore fisherman the necessary nets, I think he would be only too glad to fish with a bigger mesh. If he cannot get any other nets, he must go on fishing with the present mesh which in many cases is far too small.
Of course, the remedy is to restrict fishing altogether at certain times in certain areas of the North Sea and, I think, to prohibit it in some of our home waters. 1155 The right hon. Gentleman knows very well the pleas that have been put up in Parliament after Parliament for excluding foreign trawlers from the Moray Firth, one of the great spawning and breeding grounds of fish. The need is just as great today as ever it was. Why no Government in this country—and I include all the Conservative, National and Labour Governments of the past as well as the present Government—has ever had the courage to close the Moray Firth to foreign trawlers, and to tell them that we are doing it in the interests of the fishing industry as a whole, I do not know. I agree with the hon. Member who suggests that that should apply to the Minch as well. I have never been able to understand what is the Foreign Office's objection. Nobody is going to declare war on us because we clear the Moray Firth and the Minch, in the interests of fishing as a whole. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see if he cannot do what no Secretary of State for Scotland has ever yet been able to achieve—to make the Foreign Office move in this matter. It is a very serious situation, and we will give him a laurel wreath if he succeeds.
I turn for the remainder of the not very long remarks I am going to make, to a subject with which I am more familiar than the trawling industry, and that is the herring industry. Here, as the right hon. Gentleman very truly said, an entirely contrary situation prevails to that which exists in the white fishing industry. We are not catching enough herring; that is the root trouble of the herring fishing industry today. When the fisherman dumped a few crans into the sea at Fraser-burgh the other day, the Ministers were indignant, and the public were shocked; but that was a fleabite, because what, in fact, is going on at the present time, and has been going on for the last three years and for long before that, is that thousands and thousands of crans of herring are dumped into the sea every year by not being taken out of it. It does not really much matter whether we do not bother to haul them on board, or whether we haul them on board to push them back again. The result is much the same. We cannot deplete the herring shoals, or do any harm by catching the maximum amount of herring. Ever since the reign of Queen 1156 Elizabeth, when, by the mercy of God, they left the Baltic Sea and came to the shores of Scotland and East Anglia, it has been impossible to catch too many. It is true to say that, every time we deliberately cut down the number of boats or reduce the number of men, we are in effect dumping herring.
There was a shocking example last autumn at Yarmouth and Lowestoft, because we knew then that there was starvation in Western Europe. We knew that the German people were going to have a hell of a winter and be seriously undernourished; yet here we had an article of food which has probably more pure nutritional value than any other article of food. It has proteins and it has fats, both of which are absolutely vital. We could have shipped all these herring to Germany, if we had taken the most elementary measures to deal with that situation. We could have sent thousands of crans. I was down there and saw the situation at the docks, and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) was there, too. There was a glut; and the fleet generally was restricted, and for certain periods there was practically no fishing. If that situation had been foreseen, and proper steps had been taken to cure and barrel these herring, even if they were only rough cured, and klondyked, a great deal of starvation would have been prevented last winter in Western Europe.
§ Mr. E. Evans
Is the hon. Member being quite fair? Was not the real cause the chaos which was due to the lack of integration in the industry itself? Was it not the fault of the system of internal organisation?
§ Mr. Boothby
I have not the time to go into that, but I believe that the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. There were the fishermen, there were the boats, and there were the herring. What steps were taken to deal with the herring when they were landed at the docks? There was practically no transport, no barrels and no labour, while the most elementary precautions on the part of the Government could have seen that these things were provided. Had the Government acted some months earlier, this situation would not have arisen; but it was bound to happen when they failed to exercise any foresight, and that was the cause of the trouble.
1157 Having said that, I would be the first to admit that, in the smaller difficulties, when brought to their notice, the Government have been most helpful. There was the question of timber. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman did his very best, although I think he might have foreseen that there was likely to be a shortage of timber before he did. Once we drew attention to the fact that there was serious shortage of timber both for boat building and for making barrels, he did his level best, and brought strong pressure to bear on the Cabinet, and got some timber. When we also drew his attention to the fact that there were no nets, he did persuade the President of the Board of Trade to stop exporting them from this country, and that, I quite agree, was a most creditable action on his part. Some of us thought that, had the President exercised a little foresight or imagination, he would never have exported the nets at all, but perhaps that was asking too much. When we did draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that Scottish fishermen had no nets while we were exporting nets in considerable quantities to Europe, he took the necessary action and it was stopped.
Then there was the question of the M.F.Vs. Again the right hon. Gentleman brought pressure to bear on the Admiralty. After a good deal of struggle, and after many of these vessels had been kept for several months rusting away in ports up and down the coast, and with strong support from all of us on this side of the Committee, he at last induced the Admiralty to part with some of them, when they could not think of anything else to do with them. He will be glad to hear that these M.F.Vs. have been a surprising success; even though they were kept on their bottoms on mud-flats, they have turned out to be much better than was anticipated. Quite recently, too, I made the suggestion that the deck watches of some of the smaller craft should be sold to the fishermen at a reasonable price. The Government have made that concession, although I think they might have given them to the fishermen. However, I appreciate what they have done; they are selling them at a reasonable price, and I am grateful.
Nevertheless, I would like to remind the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply that the shortage of timber and the 1158 shortage of nets continues to be acute. We have not solved either of those problems; they are slightly better than they were, but they are by no means cured. If some of the older fishermen had not, in their wisdom, stored up nets, which they have now given to their sons and nephews who have come back from the war, a great many of these young ex-Service men would not be at sea today. It is only because their fathers and uncles showed wisdom in preserving the nets, which, in many cases, belonged to the prewar era, that they have been able to go to sea.
On the larger issues, I do not think that the Government have displayed much vision, foresight or courage in dealing with the problems of the herring fishing industry. In the shoals around our coast, we have a mine of infinite value. What are we going to do with it? A question which the right hon. Gentleman should ask himself is: Are we going to exploit it to the full? As the Herring Board has pointed out, we shall need about 1,000 craft with which to catch no less than 3 million crans of herring a year. That is the maximum amount; that is what the mine is worth. If we are going to do that, we shall, as the right hon. Gentleman said, have to have an outlet for occasional gluts. Unless we have that outlet we can never hope to catch to capacity. Does this outlet exist? Of course it does, and we all know it. The outlet for occasional surpluses is the manufacture of oil and meal; there is no other. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are no fewer than 79 of these factories in little Norway at the present time, as against two small factories of an experimental type in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland had a harsh word to say about the Buchan fishermen, whom I have the privilege to represent. I would like to put in a word or two from their point of view. They remember very vividly the years between the two wars when the price of herring was forced remorelessly down by economic conditions over which they had no control, and when they lived on the border of starvation. They know now that costs are high, and rising. There is no tendency for the cost of coal or nets to go down; on the contrary, the tendency is the other way. I say quite frankly to the right 1159 hon. Gentleman that I do not think he will get them to go to sea—and I emphasise that—for the purpose of catching herring at 30s. a cran, which is a very different thing from selling surplus herring at 30s. a cran.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to do me an injustice. I made no appeal to the fishermen to go to sea to catch herring at 30s. a cran. My appeal to them was that if there was a surplus it should not be thrown back into the sea, in view of the fact that food is so necessary and we can obtain oils and meals from such a surplus.
§ Mr. Boothby
I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would make that important intervention On this occasion I was dangling a red herring, and I am glad to have extracted that remark from him, because it is very important. The fishermen do not quite see the difference. Why they do not, I cannot say; but they are not yet persuaded that their earnings will increase with an increased turnover. They have not yet got that into their heads. In time, I think they will. The right hon. Gentleman well knows mat in this, as in every other matter connected with economics, I am an expansionist by conviction; but we shall never put over to the fishermen an expansionist policy unless we produce a plan which fires their imagination, and also instal the necessary plant with which to carry it out. We must, first of all, guarantee a fair price for all the herring that can be caught for freshing, kippering, curing and canning and satisfy them that the necessary plant exists to enable these branches of the industry to be exploited to the full.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked upon the subject of quick freezing. Only the Government can do that; no private firm can do it. We have only just begun a small experimental plot in Shetland. It is nothing. The time has come when the Government ought to go forward and not be afraid to spend money on it. Then there is the question of methods of distribution. There is a vast scope in this connection, especially from the point of view of distribution of herring in our rural districts. Many people in the country never see a herring, whether it be fresh, kippered or any other kind of herring, from one end of the year to the other; 1160 and that, of course, includes the question referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, of proper cold storage facilities. We shall only persuade the fishermen to go all out, and allow the surplus to be sold at a reduced price for conversion into meal and oil, if we satisfy them completely, as we are not satisfying them at the moment, that every possible avenue is opened up for the sale of herring, at a fair price for freshing, curing, kippering, canning and so forth. The fishermen are conservative by nature, but if and when they are persuaded—and the time will cone when they will he persuaded—they can change their outlook. There is the example of the conversion from the old steam drifter to the modern diesel engine, dual-purpose craft. That conversion took a long time: but, now that it has come, it is very thorough.
Finally, I say to my right hon. Friend: Do not forget the bases. No fleet can operate to capacity unless it operates from an efficient base. The Government must see that the harbours from which the Scottish summer fishing is conducted—Lerwick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead—are kept in good order. They are asking for money now; and, in my view, they ought to get it. There is no harbour in Scotland that is not asking for money and, in most cases, with full justification; but at the actual bases of the herring fleet, the need is most urgent.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)
Will the hon. Gentleman state why all this was not done during the many years when the party to which, I suppose, he still bears some allegiance, was in power?
§ Mr. Boothby
I recommend the hon. Gentleman to read all the speeches I made for 23 years on this subject He will learn a lot about it. I think this is about the 25th. In any case, the condition of the harbours at Fraserburgh and Peterhead was very much better in 1938 than it is today, but I am not blaming the Government for that.
Let me say this, in conclusion I do not think that we should go back to the free market. I believe the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that. But I do say that circumstances may make that—not, perhaps, necessary—but possible, or even inevitable if there is no co-operation, if there is no goodwill, if there is no spirit of comradeship in this industry. I am personally strongly opposed—and I think 1161 I speak on behalf of all my colleagues on this side of the Committee—we are against a return to a free market. But the only logical alternative to a free market in herring is to arm the Herring Board with sufficient powers, and with sufficient financial resources, which it has not at present got. I know that if I develop this theme I shall be out of Order, for I shall be discussing legislation, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I mean.
The curse of this industry at the present time is suspicion—suspicion between every section of it; and also suspicion between the industry as a whole and the Board. It is a tragedy. We must try to eradicate it. We shall eradicate it, I think. But, in order to eradicate it, the right hon. Gentleman will have to exhibit a good deal of guts and a good deal of imagination, and so will the Herring Industry Board—rather more imagination, rather more guts than they have exhibited in recent months. If they do show those guts and that imagination, and stop paying the rather saponaceous tributes to the fishermen that we have heard for a long time —the fishermen did their duty during the war, as everyone else did, and they do not claim to have done more than that —and take constructive action on the lines I have indicated, then, I think, this industry has very likely a greater future before it than it has ever had in the past.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Let me in the few minutes at my disposal say how very much I regret that many hon. Members who wished to take part in this Debate have not been able to do so. I feel that this discussion, if it had been possible to continue it longer, might very well have been most productive of ideas. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has talked about the further need of control over the fishing industry. He himself said that if he expanded that argument he would be out of Order. If I seek to reply to him I shall be very much out of Order. But I should endeavour to make some sort of reply to some of the points made. The hon. Gentleman said there was still a great shortage of nets and timber and gear in the fishing industry, and we accept that. My right hon. Friend, although he did 1162 say in the course of his speech much had been achieved in the past 12 months, nevertheless, appreciates that he will have to continue to represent the needs of this industry, and actively secure that the amount of nets and gear is kept at the maximum.
The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Graham Kerr) made a most interesting speech earlier on in this discussion. He asked me if I would reply to certain questions he put. He was concerned about the development of oyster fishing in the West of Scotland lochs. I can only say to him that research is being very actively carried out by the Scottish Marine Biological Association at Millport, and that for the research it is doing it receives a grant from the Development Fund of about 90 per cent. of its expenditure. He had some interesting observations to make about the concentration of plankton moving from one part of the seas to another, and the fact that herring, particularly herring, followed those concentrations of plankton; and he asserted it was because of the plankton having gone from Loch Fyne that the herring that used to be found there in such very great quantities were no longer to be found there.
In 1942, experiments in the artificial cultivation of fish were begun in Loch Sween, which were conducted by scientists from Edinburgh University, and by other scientists. Those experiments continue. The theory behind the experiments is that the food on which the fish feed can be made more abundant, and the fish are able to increase more rapidly in size and weight than they do normally. The Herring Industry Board have made available an experimental vessel for the making of plankton surveys in various herring fishing areas. I do not know whether they hope to do as the hon. Member suggested they might do, namely collect the plankton where it can be found and bring it to Loch Fyne, or any other part of the seas or lochs in the Western Highlands from which the herring seem to have gone. Nevertheless, if they can trace the plankton, as he put it, it should be possible for the herring fishing industry to be directed to where the herring are most likely to be obtained.
I was also asked about the cost of transporting lobsters from the Highlands and Islands to London. We have discussed 1163 this question with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, but as yet we have not got their final reply. However, the indications are that the cost would be prohibitive, even if the total catch were increased greatly from the present quantities. A recent commercial quotation for one journey was £600. I am informed that that would make the transportation of lobsters by air a hopelessly uneconomical proposition. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen both said that we, the Government, had better see to the harbours around the North Coast of Scotland. My hon. Friend also had in mind the harbours in the Islands to which these fishermen might have to return, very often with small craft. Both hon. Members asked for increased grants, and also that the grants should be made available more readily. I have with me a list of about a score of harbours on which work is being done, or in respect of which work has been approved, which are enjoying grants from the Development Fund.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles, who asked that the Secretary of State should take his own advice and disclose some action in regard to recommendations from the Highlands Advisory Panel, did less than justice to himself. He talked about the North Ford, but he knows it is under active consideration, and is not a matter which can be considered in isolation, and 1164 certainly not in the same way as it was being considered in 1935, because the position just now is somewhat dependent on whether certain airfields will be laid out. It may well be that airfields which have been planned for the North Ford—
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
I had all those considerations in mind, and referred to them a year ago. They could have come to a joint decision between them by this time.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Highlands Advisory Panel recommended that grants should be made towards the carrying out of an extension at Stornoway harbour, and a grant of £100,000 and a loan have been approved.
§ Mr. Fraser
I should have thought my hon. Friend would have given the Secretary of State some credit for so readily accepting the advice of the Highlands Advisory Panel, and getting this project carried through. I have a list of at least a score of harbours around the North of Scotland and in the Highlands on which work is being carried out at the present time, assisted considerably by grants from the Government.
§ It being Ten o'Clock The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.