§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Heathcoat Amory)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In case hon. Members for Scottish divisions may be scandalised at a Sassenach Minister introducing a Bill which has such a substantial Scottish interest as this has, I hasten to say that I am deputising this afternoon for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sure that all hon. Members will hope that he will soon be back, reinvigorated and restored in health.
I am fortified by two reflections. The first is that I have 25 per cent. of Scottish blood in my veins. I had a Scottish grandmother and I hope that that will be regarded as a qualifying percentage this afternoon. Secondly, I am fortified by the knowledge that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will, when he has the opportunity of winding up the debate with his accustomed skill, be speaking to Scottish hon. Members in their own tongue.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
Is the Minister aware that there is a very considerable English fishing interest as well?
I shall come to that. At the moment I am trying to put myself right from the start with hon. Members from Scotland.
Hon. Members will know that our debate this afternoon is not to be a wide one, embracing the general activities of the industry, but I should like to say at the outset that the fishing industry is one of our great national industries, vital to our national larder and, in a wider sense still, vital to our national economy and to our national security. The welfare of this industry will always be an object of the most active concern of Her Majesty's Government. If I might strike a personal note, I should like to say that I am proud of being associated with the activities of our fishermen, for whose qualities—even in the few months I have been Minister—I have learned to feel the warmest admiration.
34 Today, the subject of our discussion is one small but, I believe, sensible Measure. In short, this is a simple Bill, but one which, I hope, will commend itself to hon. Members in all parts of the House. It does two things. It provides more money for grants for the Herring Industry Board, and it makes new arrangements through which fishery harbours can receive financial help from the Government. I emphasise that, in neither respect, does it involve a change of policy.
Before I explain the purpose of the Bill may I say just a word or two about the herring industry itself? Among our fisheries, herring fishing still occupies, and has for many years occupied, a very important place—particularly in Scotland and in East Anglia, where so many families are dependent for their livelihood on this branch of the fishing industry. Unfortunately, the popularity of herrings has declined sadly, both in the home market and in the export trade. Sales in the home market have gone down from 836,000 cran in the peak post-war year of 1947 to about half that figure. What I find rather sad is that the present level is at least 100,000 cran fewer than that reached in 1938. No one who has the welfare of the industry at heart can feel altogether happy about such a position as that.
I am convinced that an improvement can be achieved if we can convince the public that the herring is a cheap and a valuable food. Personally, I have no doubt about that at all. I regard a really good herring or a really good kipper—or, better still, two really good herring or two really good kippers—as making an excellent meal. My complaint is that I do not see them on the menu as often as I should like, but when they are on the menu I almost always "have a go." I recommend all hon. Members to follow my example.
The export market is also taking fewer herring—300,000 cran a year now, I think, compared with figures that sometimes exceeded 1 million cran before the war. The post-war peak of export was 573,000 cran in 1948. That decline is serious, and the Government are trying to help the industry in a number of ways. The first way is to encourage fishermen to renew and modernise the fishing fleet by making grants and loans through the Herring Industry Board. I am glad to 35 say that already grants towards 40 new boats have been approved, grants have been made towards a number of new engines and others are under consideration at the present time. The second method is to provide a guaranteed market for the catch by making available funds for building new fish oil and meal factories where the surplus herring can be converted.
I wish to emphasise, however, that these two measures will not make the industry healthy unless the sales in the important home and export markets can be increased. That is where we must all redouble our efforts. We must tempt the palate of the public by providing herring of the very highest quality. I underline that—herring of the very highest quality. The Government, therefore, look to the industry and to the Herring Board to continue and to intensify the efforts they are making to expand markets.
The proposals which relate to herring are contained in Clause I of the Bill, which provides for increasing from £3 million to £3½ million the sums available for grants by the Herring Industry Board. In addition, it enables a further £¼ million to be authorised by Order with the approval of this House. These grants, as hon. Members know, may be made for a variety of purposes; for the promotion of sales, for research and experiment, market development—and also for the conversion of herring to oil and meal. Most of the expenditure is, in practice, involved in that last object, the conversion of herring to oil and meal, and since the new money provided under this Bill will, in fact, be required largely for that purpose, I should like to explain that aspect in rather greater detail.
In operation, what happens is that the Herring Board buys all surplus herring landed from British boats and pays for them at subsidised prices. It arranges the conversion of those herring into oil and meal, either at factories which the Board has built, or is building, near the ports, or, where they do not exist, by arrangements with commercial plants as near as possible. The funds which we are discussing are used for paying for the capital cost of these new factories, and to enable the Board to buy the herring from the fishermen at prices higher than it would otherwise be able to afford.
36 Hitherto, the Board has had to send large quantities of these surplus herring quite long distances to where the factories are situated. This has been expensive and has, I think, been the main reason—or we hope that it has been the main reason—why the Board, without subsidy, would have been unable to pay anything but very low prices indeed for these home surplus herring. Our intention is that the scheme should stand—we feel it must—on its own feet without subsidy when once these factories have been built in the right places.
The House will remember that the scheme was started in 1946 to take care of landings which at times exceeded, and, in the nature of things, are bound to exceed, the demand in the market available for herring at that moment. Since 1947, as I have said, the home consumption of herring and kippers has sadly declined, in spite of the efforts of the industry to prevent that happening, and we have not yet recovered our prewar position. In those circumstances, the need for an oil and meal scheme as an outlet for the surplus herring is unquestionable and has grown from year to year.
The Government obtained the authority of Parliament under the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1953—a Measure which received the assent of all parties—to spend an additional £1½ million. That brought the total up to £3 million. It was hoped at that time that that would be enough to provide for the completion of the programme of factories, but for reasons outside the control of the Herring Board it has not been possible to complete the factory programme as soon as was expected, and it is thought that it will take another two years to complete.
Three factories have been completed at Wick, Stornoway and Great Yarmouth, and another four are under construction at Peel, Peterhead, Mallaig and Avoch.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
Did my right hon. Friend say that the factory at Avoch was now under construction?
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the factories are under construction now?
I am told that, in practice, it is difficult to find sites for these factories, for one reason or another. I thought that three had been completed, and I rather thought that three out of the four other ones were under construction, but I will get that information checked, and my hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland will make that point clear.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
There is, of course, a factory at Fraserburgh which has been completed and is working. My right hon. Friend did not mention that.
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary tells me that he will deal with that afterwards. I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that that is a commercial factory and not a Herring Board factory. If I am wrong, my hon. Friend will correct me later. In addition, there are the commercial factories scattered over the country.
That brings me to the need for additional money. The present limit of the grant, as I have said, is £3 million. At 31st March last, the total expenditure at that time amounted to £2,157,000, which included £203,000 for the oil and meal factories and £1,700,000 for subsidy. Hon. Members will see the difference in the proportion there. We do not know yet exactly what the expenditure will be for the current year, but it is expected to amount to about £450,000, which will mean that by the end of this March something just over £2,600,000 will have been spent, leaving only £400,000 out of the original authorisation. That, so far as we can see, will all be required to complete the present factories and to cover certain other outstanding commitments.
Therefore, unless additional funds are provided, after the end of March of this year there will be no further subsidy available on the surplus herring,and the Board will have to make a very substantial reduction in price. After making a very careful examination of the situation we have reached the conclusion that the reduction involved would be too big a cut to impose on the industry straightaway. In the past two years the price for surplus herring has been reduced from 50s. a cran, first of all to 45s. in 1953, and then from 45s. average to 40s.in April, 1954. If the subsidy were to stop forthwith, a further drastic reduction in 38 price would be required, probably to 30s. or even below. That would diminish the catchers' earnings, force many vessels to stop fishing and lead to more unemployment in the areas of Peterhead and Fraserburgh and parts of the Highlands where, I understand, unemployment is already a serious problem.
The Government have concluded that the subsidy ought to be continued temporarily, though we cannot and do not contemplate it remaining permanently. Therefore, in accordance with the policy which the House accepted in 1953, it is intended to cover only the period remaining before the factory programme is complete. Thereafter, it is hoped that the Board will achieve substantial savings in transport and will be able to pay a reasonable price to the fishermen without subsidy.
With prices roughly at their present level, and allowing for the new factories which will come into operation, we hope, later this year, the estimate is that £250,000 should cover the subsidy requirement for the coming year, 1955–56, and a rather smaller amount the next year. The £500,000 which the Bill provides should be enough to cover the requirements for two years, but I am sure hon. Members realise that the amount required depends on very variable factors which are extraordinarily difficult to forecast, like the size of the catch, the amount sold for human consumption and the market price for oil and meal.
In those circumstances, we feel that in rather an unpredictable industry such as this we ought to provide for contingencies, and that is why we ask for this further authority whereby an additional £250,000 may be made available by Order requiring the affirmative Resolution of this House. If that extra money is required, the House will have an opportunity, of course, of considering this matter again.
Now I would like to say a word or two about the other part of the Bill, dealing with harbours. Here, it is entirely a matter of new procedure and machinery. I should say straightaway that this change does not imply in any way any reflection or lack of confidence in the Development Commissioners. Since the Development Commission was set up in 1909,that body has had a long and honoured history, and we are particularly grateful for the 39 help it has given both with agriculture and fisheries. It is really solely in the interests of simplification that these changes are required. If I describe the present procedure, I think hon. Members will agree that no further explanation is required here.
This is what has to be done at present. Under the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909, a harbour authority wanting help applies to the Treasury and the Treasury refers the application to the fisheries Departments concerned—the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the case of England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland in the case of Scotland. The Department then makes a report to the Development Commission. Having received that report, the Development Commission makes its recommendation to the Treasury. The Treasury may accept that recommendation or it may decline it, but the Treasury may not make a recommendation on its own.
That having been done, if the Treasury agrees to make a grant or loan, then that money is paid from the Development Fund to the harbour commissioners through the Department concerned. It is a perfect example of a circle-and-a-half, as far as I can see. and I think we can all acquire virtue by doing a little simplification.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Would the Minister make clear whether any new money is to be allocated under this part of the Bill or whether we are to subsist on the old allocation of, roughly, £290,000?
As far as I know there is no limit whatever on the amount. This is purely a machinery matter. As I understand, there was no fixed limit on what could be given in the past and there will be no fixed limit in the future. Applications will be considered on their merits. This is just a different and simpler way of doing it—a streamlining Measure.
What we propose is that from now on the fisheries Ministers themselves should assist harbour projects direct, through their Departmental Votes. In future, harbour authorities will apply to the fisheries Department for assistance. The decision whether to give assistance, and if 40 so how much—subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the Treasury—will rest with the fisheries Minister concerned.
This change is part of a general policy of transferring administration for well-established services to the Department primarily concerned. It is also in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates, which referred to the matter in its second Report for the Session 1953–54 on Grants-in-Aid. It referred to grants from the Development Fund and its recommendation in paragraph 25 of its Report is as follows:… wherever appropriate, expenditure should be transferred to the Votes of the Departments primarily responsible and that any legislation necessary should be introduced as soon as possible.Here is the legislation. We are seeking to carry out the Committee's recommendations in respect of fisheries harbours. It will strengthen accountability to the House and will involve no material change in policy in connection with applications for assistance.
Since 1909, the Development Fund has made grants totalling over £2 million for the construction or improvement of fisheries harbours. In the last few years the annual amount has been running at an average of £141,000 for grants and £45,500 for loans. I expect the expenditure during the next financial year to be somewhat higher than that.
In conclusion, I want to say a word or two about the Clauses, although not many words are required. I have already dealt with the provision for herring grants under Clause 1. Clause 2, as I have described, gives the fisheries Ministers powers to assist directly with harbour projects whichwill promote the maintenance or development of the fishing industry.I must emphasise that that is the only condition on which they can make grants for harbour works. The authorities eligible for grants—that is, for this assistance—are public authorities or other bodies not trading for profit, and that follows the precedent of the 1909 Act, I am advised.
Clause 3 is a corollary; it terminates the power of the Treasury to give assistance from the Development Fund under the 1909 Act and transfers outstanding rights and liabilities to the Ministers.
41 Clause 4 repeals an old Act which will no longer be required—the Fisheries Act, 1824, under which assistance might be given to Scottish fishery harbours to a maximum of £3,000. In view of the general powers given under the Bill, there is no need for that old legislation to continue.
Clause 5 gives the Secretary of State for Scotland power to continue to operate dredgers and to hire them to harbour authorities on such terms and conditions as may be approved by the Treasury. I confess that I feel a little envy here; the Secretary of State for Scotland has dredgers whereas I have none at all. On the other hand, it is probably extraordinarily difficult to make such things pay, and, on the whole, I am not sorry that I have no dredgers. Hitherto, these dredger services have been financed from the Development Fund.
The remaining Clauses are formal and I think I need only mention that Clause 7 provides that the Act will come into operation on 1st April. How often that seems to happen! In this case it will enable the new financial arrangements for the harbour boards to begin at the beginning of the financial year.
This is a modest Measure, but on the harbour side it deals with procedure and accounting in a way which, I think, will save a little time and trouble to all concerned. On the herring side, I think, it makes reasonable and moderate provision for continuing a scheme of importance, in present circumstances, to fishermen. I therefore hope that the House will give a Second Reading to this practical and useful Bill.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
The House will, I know, be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his full explanation of the Bill. As he said, it is a rather modest Measure. From the Parliamentary point of view it is very specialised, relating not only to one industry but to only a part of that one industry. Nevertheless, like everything else connected with herring, it is important to a large number of people and to widely scattered areas of the country.
It is mainly a herring Bill and mainly a Scottish Bill and I feel, therefore, that there are many other hon. Members far better qualified than I to speak on the Bill in detail. I was grateful to the right 42 hon. Gentleman for the self-exculpation which he made at the beginning, because I have to go some way along the same road in imitating him. I have not even the excuse that I am deputising for a Scottish Member or a Scottish Minister. All I can say is that I think my Scottish ancestry is somewhat more impressive than that of the Minister.
§ Mr. Younger
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who, of course, has wide experience as a former Secretary of State for Scotland, will wind up the debate later in the day, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, and it is my duty at this stage simply to say that the Opposition give a welcome to the Bill—a rather cautious welcome, because it does not seem to do very much. Indeed, it seems that the purpose of today's debate is largely to give another opportunity to the many hon. Members interested in the herring industry to raise a number of questions relating to the industry.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the changes on the harbour side have been introduced solely in the interests of simplification. We must take that statement at its face value. He described the system which exists at present, where we go around a circle-and-a-half, but I wonder whether the system could have been quite as absurd as that, at any rate in origin. He did not tell us what was the effective function of the Development Commissioners in 1909 or what it has remained, perhaps, until now. I am quite willing to believe that it has become redundant, but presumably there was some purpose in the past and up to the present in putting these requests both through the effective Ministry and through the Development Commission.
However, I accept his statement that there is no change of policy there. I can only express the hope that when the Ministry is dealing with these requests, on its own and not in conjunction with the Development Commission, it will be as forthcoming as in the past. I imagine that the real initiative for approving or disapproving proposals remains with the Ministry.
I do not think anything more need be said about the Clause dealing with 43 dredgers, despite the disappointment of the Minister and his reference to his colleague on that matter. On Clause I and the grant of a further £500,000, recent Reports of the Herring Industry Board certainly leave no doubt that the money and a great deal more—if it could be spared—could be usefully expended. What strikes me when reading those Reports is the extraordinarily patchy nature of the prosperity which the industry enjoys from time to time. I am thinking of the local patchiness that appears. Even in the best years areas are seriously hit without warning, where the whole community is dependent on a reasonable catch of herring.
In the recent Report I noticed reference to the continued misfortunes of the Forth and Clyde and the apparent migration of herring from the Shetland area. If only for human and social reasons, we all agree that these areas must be helped when they fall on evil times. From the industrial point of view, so uncertain are the movements of herring that it is important to keep the facilities in working order, even in an area which is unsuccessful for a year or two, for who knows when those areas will once again urgently require the machinery?
The Minister said something about home and foreign demand. We all regret the extent to which demand seems to have been dropping in recent years. In relation to home demand I am sure that in this branch, as well as in the other great branch of the industry—the white fish industry—the emphasis must be on quality. I cannot remember the words of the Minister but he said, in effect, that we must stimulate the public into realising what valuable food herring is. I am sure that the emphasis must be on modern processes. In the Report much emphasis was laid on the fact that so many foods are now easily prepared by the housewife. If food is not easily prepared in the home, no matter how good it is, the housewife tends to look elsewhere. New ways of cooking and other more elaborate processes involving more research are recommended, but I do not think we should despair of making the herring as easily prepared a meal as many others.
We have been told that much of the money to be voted under the Bill is to be spent on factories for conversion to oil and meal. The aim is that this scheme 44 should stand on its own feet. I have no doubt that that is a worthy objective, and none of us would disagree with it. I am sure the House would be sympathetic if, later, it became necessary to come back to the House for the further £250,000 for which provision is made. But we must not be taken at this stage to assent to the proposition that if once again the scheme goes awry and cannot stand on its own feet we must acquiesce and let it go down. It may be that the House will again have to consider further provisions.
On the export market quality and modern processing are quite as important. Recent reports show that this takes us into the realm of high politics of East-West trade and there is a great deal of reference to sales, or attempted sales, in the Communist bloc. It does not seem a happy story. I am not blaming the Government, or the herring industry, but the fact remains that there seem endless obstacles to what one might have thought was an almost unlimited market. I also notice in the Report a reference to failure of sales to Israel through lack of Government support. I can guess the sort of thing that happened there, currency difficulties and one thing and another which hinder trade between us and Israel. Nevertheless, when I was in Israel a year ago I noticed a great deal of imported fish, including some from Norway. If they can export to Israel it does not seem obvious why we cannot also.
§ Mr. Younger
My hon. Friend mentions Germany. The Reparations Agreement had not started to function, so I did not see or hear much about German fish.
I do not know to what extent this money is to be used only for the business of conversion to oil and meal. The 1948 Act covered a great many other things including, for instance, equipment for certain purposes. It would be very surprising if, in this debate, we did not hear of many requests for help in other directions than those specifically mentioned by the Minister. The attitude which the Under-Secretary takes in his replies to the questions which will be asked can do a great deal to encourage the industry, and in so far as this Bill will help him to be more forthcoming we welcome it.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Duthie (Banff)
I am sure that all who are interested in the herring industry and represent that industry in this House much welcome the Bill, and also the timeliness of its introduction. It seemed to me that a debate on the herring industry was most necessary at this time. As the war years recede our perspectives concerning inshore fishing become clearer.
I hope the House will bear with me if I deal with this matter in detail. In herring fishing we have the drift net, the ring net and the trawl and in inshore fishing we have the seine net, line fishing, pilchard fishing, crab fishing, and so on; but there appears to be no uniformity of Governmental attitude towards these various phases of the fishing industry. Despite the very generous provisions in the Bill, herring fishing is by no means advantageously placed compared with other fishing activities.
I welcome the Bill and all its provisions. The Herring Industry Board is doing a first-class job. The Clause transferring powers to the Ministers most intimately concerned with the industry is all to the good, I welcome particularly the extra provision for sales promotion and for oil and meal production. The establishment of oil and meal factories round the coast is another reason for all-year-round fishing. It seems that every help that we can get from the Government for the herring industry is conducing towards all-the-year-round fishing, and that is as it should be. But this brings me to one of the great disadvantages under which the herring industry is labouring; that is, the classification of herring fishermen as seasonal workers.
The beau ideal of inshore fishing has been visualised in this House ever since I came here in 1945 and the same view was held before 1945, as expressed time and again by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). The beau ideal is to have a vessel which is engaged partly in herring fishing and partly in white fishing by means of the seine net, which is today the approved method of catching white fish by inshore fishing vessels.
But what happens? When the seine net fisherman is precluded from fishing because of weather conditions or any other valid cause, he draws unemployment benefit; but when the herring fisher- 46 man is ashore for the same reason—between seasons, we choose to call it—he is denied unemployment benefit and is classified as a seasonal worker. It is obvious to anyone with an intimate knowledge of the industry that the herring fisherman must, of necessity, spend longer time ashore than the seine netter. He takes much longer to overhaul his gear. For instance, the seine netter operates one net when fishing, while the herring fisherman may be operating up to 90 nets and repair work is very protracted. Moreover, the herring fisherman's ropes and ancillary equipment require tremendous care, involving considerable periods ashore.
Since the Bill is a further inducement to all-the-year-round fishing, I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary, when he replies, to let us know the Government's intentions concerning the classification of herring fishermen. Are they still to be classified as seasonal workers? If so, the pious aims expressed in the Bill will be largely defeated.
The present classification of herring fishermen is one of the main deterrents, particularly on the North-East Coast, an area of which I speak with some knowledge, against vessels getting adequate crews. Fishermen prefer to go seine netting rather than herring fishing. The obvious reason is that if they are cast ashore through stress of weather or any other cause, they know that they will automatically receive unemployment benefit, whereas if they were herring fishermen and were ashore for any length of time, the probability is that their application would be rejected and they must go through the whole rigmarole of appeal tribunals and finally must refer to their Member of Parliament.
While on the subject of deterrents against getting crews and to the industry as a whole, I must mention the further deterrent of the cost of drift nets and ancillary gear. The herring fisherman, as we know him, is essentially a share fisherman. [Interruption.].That is as we know him in Scotland. I would say to the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) that the same thing does not apply in English ports.
In my part of the country, however, the herring fisherman is essentially a share fisherman. He is responsible for providing part of the actual gear—the 47 nets, the ropes, buoys, stoppers, buoy ropes and everything else that goes to make up the fishing gear. The present-day cost of a herring-net, however, is six times what it cost in 1938, and a number of other things, such as ropes, have risen somewhat similarly.
Far too many fishermen arc today working as casual labourers on hydroelectric schemes and I am almost beginning to despair of ever getting these men back into fishing. There is nothing in the Bill, unfortunately, that will facilitate their return, but the problem is one which must be carefully borne in mind by the Government in dealing with the industry.
I particularly welcome what is said in the Bill about harbours and also the new status of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Strung around our Scottish coasts are a number of former herring harbours, some of which are still active. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire is fortunate in having within his constituency two—Peterhead and Fraserburgh—which are still active. But while some other ports are active in some degree, others are completely moribund and some are destitute of fishing craft and silted up.
In most of these places, while the harbours are not used for herring fishing, there still exists ashore expert personnel for the handling of fish, nets and the rest. I sincerely trust that the Bill will mean the inception of an intensive programme of repair and reclamation, so that the dredgers will be able to transform the seaboard into an area of potential activity.
One consideration concerning harbours that I must emphasise at this juncture is that in their hey-day, when their future looked absolutely assured, before the outbreak of the 1914 war when herring fishing was right at the crest of the wave, many of our fishing ports indulged in all kinds of expenditure on harbour additions and developments. Many of these places have heavy harbour liabilities outstanding at the present time. I submit that these places should be most generously considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the application of his new powers under the Bill.
I am optimistic concerning the export prospects for cured herrings. The effect 48 of the Russian contract has been enormous. Here, again, I pay tribute to the Herring Industry Board for the work that it did. I should like particularly to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire for the steps he took in the very early stages to make the Russian contract possible. I believe that in Russia the recommencement of our export of herrings has revived the taste for British cured herring among former eaters of herring and is inculcating the taste for these herrings among the younger generation. I sincerely hope that this will prove to be the case, because it is quite possible that once the taste is established the trade will become permanent and will grow.
This country is only touching the fringe of the export field as a whole. There is a colossal market in the Caribbean area and in South America, where, at the moment, the markets are more or less closed to us and are the complete perquisite of the Dutch. The Dutch are able to send cured fish to these markets at prices which we cannot even consider. I do not know how it is done, but the fact remains that the Dutch can sell much more cheaply even than we in this country can produce. That is something else for the Government to consider. If the industry is to come out on top, as we hope it will and as, in the national interest, it should, these questions must be tackled.
It is most regrettable that the taste for our own fresh herrings at home has fallen off. A great deal remains to be done in presentation and in packaging. For instance, we seem never to have got away from packaging cured herring in containers of two sizes, one a full barrel and one a half barrel. We have never devised a household container, an idea which is well worth trying. It is by the method in which we pack cured herring that the housewife is denied the opportunity of trying them. It would be well worth while if cured herring could be bought in 7 lb. and 14 lb. jars and a trial made on the home market to publicise them in this form. Once people realised the tastiness and nutritional value of cured herring we should start something which would be very much worth while for the industry in the long run.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Is it not the case that the Herring Industry Board has been 49 experimenting in the packaging of cooked herring and other forms for the household, and that that has been tried in the export market?
§ Mr. Duthie
I agree, but I want to see far greater development than is in evidence at present, particularly with regard to cured herring. I was brought up very largely on cured herring and I can speak with a great degree of enthusiasm about the nutritional value of that food.
There are various methods of dealing with the herring, such as freshing, curing, klondyking, kippering and making oil and meal. I should like to appeal from the House to our fishermen on a matter in which they could help very much. Where shoals are abundant the great thing for a boat's crew is to get the catch out as quickly as possible and get back to sea. The quickest way to get rid of a catch is to have it sold for oil and meal. If it is sold for curing, kippering or canning, one may have to wait longer for one's turn for discharging.
This brings up the question of the care of the catch when it is on board the vessel. When the catch is intended for conversion into oil and meal not much care need be taken of it, but if one is out for the curing price, with the possibility of not getting back to sea that night, one must take the maximum care of the catch. I appeal to fishermen to realise that it is in their own interest and that of the industry, in the long run, that the maximum care should be taken of the catch while it is on board the vessel and that they should do their utmost to get into the higher grade of the market, irrespective of any consideration of getting to sea again the same night.
We have been hoping for a great deal from the Herring Industry Board in the matter of research. We all know that the drift net, which is the uniform method of catching today, is the most selective fishing appliance ever devised. The net drops like a curtain with every mesh fully extended and is absolutely selective in the fish which it retains. There are other methods which are infinitely less costly in gear and which have not been adequately examined. There is the Larsen net from Denmark, which is operated by two vessels and is in the nature of a floating trawl. Experiments with it have been made by the Herring Industry Board but, 50 up to date, I have not seen a report on the results of the experiments. I sincerely trust that this net and other methods, which would be still selective but would cut down gear costs, will be examined to the full extent.
The trawling of herring in the early months of the year is a menace to the herring industry as a whole. It takes place, unfortunately, on the North-East Coast. The fish which are trawled have gone down to spawn. The drift net catches herring when they are feeding, but the herring should be left alone when they have gone down to spawn. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) mentioned the loss of fishing in the Firth of Forth and other places. That is the result of the upsetting the spawning habits of the herring completely by successive years of trawling. That is what has happened in the case of herring which used to multiply in the Moray Firth. The only herring to be found there now come from elsewhere.
The Board and the White Fish Authority are open to the charge of being somewhat arbitrary on occasion in refusing help for the replacement of engines. A vessel cannot succeed if she is not properly engined. In a number of cases unsuitable engines were installed in the vessels when they were new. The vessel with a bad engine cannot repay her loan in the same manner as one which is adequately engined, assuming that both vessels are equally well crewed. The Board and the Authority, when they come to applications for the replacement of engines which are unsuitable or ineffective, pay far too much attention to the financial position of the vessel in respect of payment of its loans and outstanding debts. The vessel is a national asset. It may have a perfectly good hull. To protect that national asset it is essential that the vessel should be properly engined.
The Authority and the Board should have the courage to say, "We are ready to put in a new engine provided that we can be satisfied that those who are running the vessel or are to man it are a good risk for the future." That can only be done by testing local opinion to the fullest possible extent. I sincerely trust that the Minister and the Government will induce the Board and the Authority to look more leniently upon these applications, because in the absence of replacement of engines vessels become more or 51 less derelict and are tied up at the quayside. The Bill is a most timely one and most heartening for the future of the industry.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) had to say about the export of herring and in the tribute which he paid to his hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). I do not think that the hon.Member himself should be quite so modest about his own part. Those of us who know a little about this business know that he has helped in many ways in a private capacity and I am sure that the industry is grateful to him for the part which he has played.
The export of herring is a problem which the industry must face. The Minister gave us figures which could only be described as alarming about the decrease both in the internal and export trade. He said that we were now unable to consume, in this country or by export, about 600,000 crans compared with a few years ago. I was interested in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) had to say about the export trade to Israel. That subject has been raised on many occasions. Contrary to what my right hon. Friend said, in 1953 the Report of the Herring Industry Board made it quite clear that there was a trade with Israel but that it could not secure the backing of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman will remember that it was raised with him personally when he was Minister of State at the Board of Trade.
The Report pointed out that in 1953:Western Germany, heretofore an importer of cured herring, was able to effect a substantial export of cured herring to Israel, using their Reparations Agreement as a 'lever'.That was two years ago and we have to take cognisance of these facts because the Herring Industry Board wanted to increase its trade with Israel, Israel was prepared to accept greater imports of herring but, because the Board could not get the Government to act as guarantors, the market was lost.
At that time, I thought it was a perfectly good risk, and today the State of Israel is still willing to import fish. I do not think that these markets should be denied to our own fishermen because it only means, in the long run, that the 52 market will be lost for ever if we allow our competitors to continue supplying Israel with fish and prevent our own people from doing so.
I was also interested in what the Minister said about the fish oil and meal scheme. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman said that the scheme is a necessary outlet for surplus herring, but he must appreciate that it means more than this. It is also a saver of foreign currency. Just over a year ago I raised with the Minister the question of meal imports into this country. He disclosed then that we were paying about £1¼ million for those imports, and I suggested that we ought to go in for a greater and more rapid expansion of the oil and meal side of the Herring Industry Board.
One cannot deny that progress has been made in the interval. Indeed, I could wish that in this respect the White Fish Authority had dealt as quickly with some of its problems as the Herring Industry Board has done with this one. It was that question I wanted to raise this afternoon. About a year ago I had the privilege of taking a deputation to the Scottish Office in connection with this side of the industry and I placed before the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the suggestion that it might be possible for the Herring Industry Board to accept surplus white fish for conversion into meal.
I am not sufficient of an expert in the industry to know whether this is a possibility, but it was suggested that because the Board had all the facilities for doing this, and because apparently the White Fish Authority did not desire or would not move in the matter, there might be this joint use of this surplus by the Herring Industry Board. I received only last month a letter from one of the most go-ahead trawler owners of the country, who is in my constituency, in which he wrote:In closing, I would like to add that my opinion must remain the same. The Herring Industry Board should be responsible for surplus white fish as well as herring. First, because they have the organising machinery already in motion and the white fish could be absorbed into it with very little bother or expense. Secondly, their produce would be of a very much better quality as the mixing of herring and white fish produces meal of a very high quality.I do not know whether this statement is correct or not, but I have no reason to doubt it.
53 I suggest that the Government might consider whether it is possible, because it would be an addition to the industry, it would help to satisfy the demand for fish meal, and it would offset the imports for which we are at present paying other countries.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Would my hon. Friend not agree that one of the obstacles is the interlocking arrangement between the big trawler owners, who set up their own fish meal factories?
§ Mr. Hoy
That may be so, but I do not want to argue it at the moment. I am in a rather conciliatory mood this afternoon and I do not want to say anything to upset the Minister, because I want to get something out of him if I can.
I am suggesting that while this scheme is being considered here is another suggestion for the Ministry to consider also, because it might help both sections of the industry. Indeed, it may be one answer to the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Banff, who argued that these boats ought to be allowed to work in a dual capacity. That may be one solution of the problem and on it I will say only one word, on research.
As the hon. Member for East Aberdeen shire knows, we have been discussing the disappearance of the herring from the Forth. In the more belligerent days of the Joint Under-Secretary, he would have convinced us that the disappearance of herring from the Forth was due to a Labour Government. Of course, that is all right for a political argument but, after three and a half years of his own party's rule, the herring have not yet come back. I was interested to hear the explanation given by the hon. Member for Banff and I do not know whether that is the answer.
I suggest that if the Under-Secretary deals with this matter when he replies to the debate, perhaps he could give answers to my specific questions which we could convey to the people who are earning their livelihood in this industry, who are doing so to the best of their ability, and who ought to be receiving the greatest encouragement not only from the Government but from every section of the community.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeen shire, East)
I should like to begin my remarks by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) for the very kind things he said about me. He was far too generous—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I did not expect "Hear, hear" to that remark; however, I will accept it. My hon. Friend speaks with great authority upon the fishing industry; and the fact that I shall only follow him on one point, which I regard as of vital importance, does not mean that I do not agree with him upon every other point he made, because I find myself in complete agreement. And when the hon. Member for Banff and I find ourselves in complete agreement, it is best for the Government to do what we suggest.
The main purpose of this Bill is the completion of a new industry, namely, the conversion of herring to oil and meal. Its subsidiary purpose is to transfer to the fisheries Ministers power to make grants or loans for the construction, improvement or repair of harbours; and to write off existing debts, subject to Treasury consent and approval. The Minister's own account of how this is done at present was sufficiently convincing to show that this is a wise and salutary administrative reform, and I want to congratulate the Government of having undertaken it. I wish it had been done thirty years ago; my life would have been a good deal easier if it had been.
If we take into account the legislation passed during and since the war to increase the powers and financial resources of the Herring Industry Board, the amount spent in general by the Board upon the interests of the industry, the amount spent in particular under the grant and loan schemes, and the amounts given through the Development Commissioners, by this very intricate method worked out with the approval of the Treasury, to fishing harbours in the form of grants or remissions of debt, it will be found that more public money has probably been spent upon the herring industry, having due regard to its size, than upon any other single industry in this country. I think that this was fully justified, and right. It is a lot of money in proportion to the size of the industry; but the herring industry is of vital importance to the prosperity of the northeast of Scotland in times of peace, and 55 to the security of the country as a whole in time of war.
As I see it, the fundamental objective of the Bill is to take another step towards putting the industry on a sound economic basis. That is also the main objective of the House, and of both parties in the House, because there is no party quarrel on the subject of the herring fishing industry. The industry is to be put on a sound economic basis, first, by modernising an obsolete fleet; secondly, by reviving and expanding our oversea markets; and, thirdly, by creating and developing the new industry with which this Bill deals. If we can do these things it should enable maximum production to continue; and there need be no fear of any gluts, which were the bane of this industry in pre-war days.
Has the objective been achieved? In large measure I think the answer must be "Yes." First, the conversion of the herring fleet from steam to diesel-oil drifters has been virtually completed. Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff said, the great Russian market has come back to us after an absence of nearly forty years; and oversea markets for canned herring are opening up and, until some restrictions recently imposed by Australia, were responding in a very encouraging way. I think there is a great future for the export of canned herring from this country.
I agree also with what the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) said about Israel.The difficulties here are financial. We all know that Israel has not got the available cash and, in the circumstances, we are not prepared to allow the necessary credits. Even if we did, it is doubtful whether sufficient cash would be available. But I want to impress on my right hon. Friend the Minister that here in Israel there is a tremendous potential market for the sale of cured herring in every form. Many of the inhabitants in Israel come from countries in Europe which, in the past, were great consumers of this particular type of herring, which—let us face it—is not popular in this country.
Our people will not eat cured herring and I cannot imagine why. I think cured raw herrings are the best of the lot, and eat them in large quantities—alone. I wish only to say that there is a potential 56 market in Israel of which we must never lose sight; and that we should watch its development, because we may find it of great value in the future.
Thirdly, this Bill is designed to complete and develop the meal and oil industry, which, also, has great potentialities. There is one point in connection with the building of these factories to which I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention, in the hope that he will pass it on to the Joint Under-Secretary to deal with when he replies to the debate. I do not think it will come in any way as a surprise to my right hon. Friend. What progress has been made in the construction of the factory at Peterhead? That was contemplated, approved and started a long time ago, and there have been some very peculiar delays.
I want—I have had an assurance from the Minister that he thinks it is likely—this factory to be completed in time for next summer's fishing. I should like him to say something on this point. In other words, I am asking for a further assurance on the specific subject of the factory at Peterhead.
I asked just now whether the main objective of the Government and the House to put this industry on a sound economic foundation has been achieved, and I said that in a considerable measure it has been. Does that mean that all is now well? I am afraid the answer to this question must be "No." As the Minister himself pointed out, the home market lags behind to an extent that is becoming alarming. I have given up the effort, which has lasted for thirty years, of trying to persuade the British people to eat raw cured herring. They will not do it, except in certain specific communities.
That is no reason why they should not eat good fresh herring, and bismarck herring, which are only slightly less good than straight-cured herring, and kippers. I think there is still a hangover from the kippers which we had during the war. And I am quite certain that, in the long run, the answer to the problem of the home market lies in a single word, which is "quality." We have to give the public the best.
I have discovered more than once in recent months, in some multiple shops in the English countryside, some slightly faded fresh herring; and the same applies to kippers. The public should only have 57 the best, smoked for long enough with the right kind of wood. The dye does not matter. It is only a vegetable dye. What matters is when the dye is used to conceal the fact that the kipper has not been sufficiently cured. That matters a great deal.
I now want to come to what, in my opinion, is the most serious aspect of this matter, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff will agree with me, and that is the existing and pending shortage of crews. Why should that be? I think there are two reasons. First, there is the high cost of production, and particularly the cost of nets; and. secondly, the point to which my hon. Friend referred, the fact that the herring fishing crews are still classed—and, I believe, wrongly classed—as seasonal workers.
We all know that we are going through a period of moderate inflation at present; and many of us, when we are considering production costs and prices, are apt to underestimate the benefits obtained by all industries as a result of boom conditions—for example, the increase of purchasing power. It is not only the price of nets and of oil that has risen. The price of the end product has risen, too; and purchasing power with which to buy has risen.
We are a little inclined, when considering a particular industry, to get things slightly out of perspective. I give one example. The Russians are today paying for our cured herrings a good deal more than they did in 1913,which was the last time they bought them in any quantity. Nevertheless I suggest in all sincerity that the Government should look into the question of the price of nets, particularly drift nets. I am not satisfied that the prices which are now being charged are wholly justified. I am not asking for a subsidy; but I would ask my right hon. Friend to have consultations with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade about net prices.
While he is at it, perhaps my right hon. Friend will also look at the price of oil. I am thinking, in particular, of fuel oil for fishing vessels. I do not expect him to wage a war against the Standard Oil Company, of New Jersey, or against the oil companies generally. I am not asking for the moon; but there is one aspect of this question which 58 affects the Government through the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Something might be done here in the very near future for the fishing fleets. I would be out of order if I explained precisely what I have in mind. I merely go back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say that I have recently been in communication with him on the subject, and I think it might be a good idea if the Minister also got into communication with him on the same subject, and put such pressure on him as he can.
I come now to the question of fishermen being classified as seasonal workers, which I personally regard as the most serious single aspect of the problem confronting the industry today. I feel sure my hon. Friend the Member for Banff would agree with me in that. I want to address a serious argument to the House, because I believe that the success or failure of this Bill depends largely on what the Government are going to do about it. I would fear for the future of the industry if nothing is done.
To make my point clear I want to emphasise that the character of the herring industry has changed to a very remarkable extent since the war. Despite the fall in demand to which the Minister referred, demand is not, in fact, being met by production. For two years running we have been unable to fulfil the Russian contract, and that is very unfortunate. The big fishing seasons which we used to know in the old days have undoubtedly moved south, and are of rather briefer duration.
Let me take, for example, the Shetland fishing, which has failed for the last two years to produce anything significant, and compare it with the quite astonishing summer fishing, not very long, but of an intensity unparalleled in the old days., which has taken place at Fraserburgh and Peterhead further south. There is also the strange disappearance of the herring from the Forth, which has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Leith.All these things are not purely fortuitous. They are the result of some processes which are going on.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
On the Shetland fishing, of course the grounds are not searched in the way they used to be searched. The catching power of the fleet must have fallen very much. 59 No longer do hundreds of boats go out to search the enormous area. That is not the whole reason, but it should be taken into account.
§ Sir R. Boothby
I agree that there is not the number of vessels, but there are means of discovering shoals which were not available in the old days. The last thing I would wish to do is to discourage the Shetlands; but there has undoubtedly been a scarcity of herrings in these waters in the early summer, and a curious concentration off the north-east coast of Scotland.
I do not say that it will last for ever. I agree with the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr.Younger), who said that there should be facilities at all ports in case the herrings moved again. The herring is an incalculable animal. Look at this year's autumn fishing. That was something of a phenomenon. There were enormously heavy catches at the beginning, followed by practically no catches in November, which indicates that the November herring will now swim only when conditions are exceptionally good. As soon as conditions deteriorated, the fishing became spotty, and finally collapsed altogether, after a fortnight which must have had few parallels in the history of the industry.
On the other hand, the west coast of Scotland fishing has developed with startling rapidity on an all-the-year-round basis, giving an opportunity for earning a livelihood to fishermen in my constituency for much longer than they would have dreamed possible in the old days. Not only Stornoway and Ullapool, but Bulga, Handa, and the Stour at a later stage, look good for the future. Inverness as well is a good port for small herring which are suitable for canning purposes, at times when they cannot be obtained elsewhere.
Who knows the cause of all this? I read in a learned work the other day that it was due to water circulation which has been changing during the past decade; and that may well be. The habits of the herring remain incalculable. All we can do is observe these things, and try to adapt ourselves to changing circumstances. What is quite clear is that the herring fishing industry has become an all-the-year-round job. It is an all-the-year-round industry; and barrels must, 60 therefore, be taken to the herring wherever they are found. This is of vital importance.
I conclude by making two practical suggestions. The first is that, as a result of the changes which have taken place since the war in the location and period of the fishings, and of the further changes which this Bill is designed to bring about by putting all round the coast factories for the conversion of herrings into meal and oil, the herring fishermen should no longer be classified as seasonal workers.
There is great competition at the present time. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff referred to hydro-electricity schemes. Unless we give the herring fishermen some greater sense of security than they now possess, my fear is that, although there may be glittering prizes to be got by lucky crews if things go well, they will not think the game worth the candle. Only their removal from the category of seasonal workers can produce this greater sense of security.
In return, the fishermen ought, when difficulties are being experienced, to be prepared to take their catches to where the necessary curing facilities are available. This should be achieved not by directing, not by giving orders to the fishermen; but by giving them an appropriate premium on their herring, which would be cheap at the price, if available but idle curing facilities were to be brought into full production as a result.
Finally I want to say that I have confidence in the future of this industry. One of the leaders of the industry made a speech the other day in which he spoke about the possibility of a landslide. I do not believe that that is likely to happen; and the dividends paid by the companies both in England and Scotland which have been owning and managing drifters in recent years do not bear it out. There is no room for the mediocre in the modern herring fishing industry, either afloat or ashore. But there is, I believe, good money to be made by skilful and enterprising skippers and their crews, if they are given the chance to do it, and that is all we ask.
The problem of manning the fleet is the one that I want to try and ram home to the Ministers concerned. There are not only the hydro-electricity schemes, but 61 other big industries as well. My constituents are now going south in considerable numbers from Peterhead and Fraserburgh—an unemployment area, one of the few in the country—to Corby, where they are being offered good conditions of work, housing, pensions, and everything else. We shall not be able to stop this drift away from the fishing fleets unless we do something to give the men a greater sense of security. I am sure that the best way to do it is to stop pretending that the herring fishing industry is any longer a seasonal industry, and that the fishermen are seasonal workers. The increased cost of unemployment benefit would be absolutely negligible, and the advantages inestimable. The only way to make the Bill work is to encourage the herring fishermen to work flat out, all the year round; and accept the fact that, if they are given the right conditions, that is what they can and will do.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
I am provoked into rising, although I do not represent a fishing constituency, very largely by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), particularly by his reference to all-the-year-round fishing by the herring industry. I am also concerned about the point which he stressed earlier in his remarks—the importance of giving to the consumer the best herring and the best kipper. I may say that although I do not represent a fishing constituency I know something about herring.
I suggest that we cannot have all-the- year-round fishing for herring and at the same time always give the consumer the best herring. I agree with what is said in the Report about at least one of the reasons for the falling off in the popularity of the herring, and we make a mistake if we do not recognise that there is this falling off. The Report speaks of the need for a close season in herring fishing. Anyone who has any experience of the handling of fish, particularly of herring or salmon, will recognise that it is a crime——
§ Mr. Duthie
Surely the hon. Member will agree that while a close season may be advisable for the Minches, the same conditions will not apply to Northern Ireland and would not apply to East 62 Anglia and might not apply to Shetland. He will agree that in each area the habits of the fish are different.
§ Mr. Lawson
I would agree that there are very different conditions for the herring in the water and at various times of the year.
However, in my experience, which ended just before the war, we cannot have a consistently good herring all the year round. There are remarkable differences in the type of herring caught, and considerable differences in quality. Very often people are offered black, hard herring that taste like sticks. Probably if one went to the cafeteria this evening and asked for a pair of kippers—and they are available each evening—one would find that they were like sticks and not worth eating. This variation is a feature of the herring.
There is a period of the year, especially about now, when herring ought not to be taken out of the water. I draw attention to the remarks in the Report which actually argue for a close season. This feature must be taken into account. If we are to give the housewife the best herring and kippers, let us recognise that freshness is not the problem. It is easy to overcome difficulties about freshness.
The big difficulty is that the housewife can seldom be sure of getting anything approaching the right quality of herring. The customer ought to be assured that she can get something which approximates to a uniform standard. The industry should pay close attention to ensuring that the housewife does not regularly find herself being offered fish that is not fit for consumption. I am talking not in terms of freshness but in terms of the nature of the fish, many of which ought not to have been taken out of the water.
I shall not try to suggest how the problem of seasonal fishing should be overcome, though I should not imagine that it would be too difficult to combine herring fishing with other forms of fishing. However, the industry should overcome the problem of ensuring that the catch is fit for consumption. The industry must be organised with that in mind. Quick freezing has been developed, and efforts must be made to ensure that fish of good quality is made available for ordinary consumption. I know little or nothing of the meal and oil side of the 63 trade, but it may be that the poorer type of fish could be selected for meal and oil while the better types are selected for human consumption.
It should not be a question of leaving the matter to the buyer on the quayside. People with the knowledge of categories and qualities who are able to classify——
§ Sir R. Boothby
That is, to a considerable extent, being done. The catches are now being separated, and the poorer stuff is going to the factories, while the better stuff goes to the curing stations.
§ Mr. Lawson
It was not done when I had intimate knowledge of the trade. I am glad to hear that it is done now.
I know that we cannot provide an article that does not vary in quality, but every effort should be made to see that there is as little variation as possible. I suggest that that can be done if we organise the trade and think in terms of quick freezing and storing during certain periods of the year. On that basis there may be a chance that the industry will recover. If that cannot be done, then I say that the bad will drive out the good. If the quality of the fish is not good, not only is the taste bad but there is more difficulty in dealing with the bone. If the herring is consumed when it is fit for consumption it is very much easier to take out the bone.
Bearing these problems in mind, I think that the industry is in a fair way to solving its difficulties. I am reassured when I see that the Report advocates the same measures as I have done, though it adds that the Government were not prepared to adopt them. I should like to know why, and, further, whether the idea of a close season could be adopted.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia Ford (Down, North)
I would say, in contradiction of the hon. Member for Mother well (Mr. Lawson), that whenever I have herring or kippers in the cafeteria I find them very good indeed, but I agree that we must do our best to maintain the quality of the fish offered to the housewife. She must be given the very best of choice in the shops of the very best quality.
Northern Ireland's interest in this Bill is a very small one and perhaps not very obvious. Any Member whose constituency 64 contains fishing ports and fishing villages will welcome the Bill. In many coastal areas of County Down, fishing is the only industry available and it provides the only source of employment.
The rising tide of prosperity in the United Kingdom has meant that some sections of the community have benefited more than others. I feel that the fishermen in Ulster and elsewhere have not benefited as much as others. Their living is very hard-earned. It involves long cold nights and days at sea: their livelihood is precarious, uncertain, and sometimes dangerous. They may grumble a little sometimes, but we all do that. But I feel that they are not envious of the comparative comforts of other sections of the community. Theirs is a way of life, often followed in their families from father to son for many generations. It is a calling which is important to them, and to the rest of us. It is a basic food-producing industry, upon which others depend.
All the fishermen ask for is an assured market for their catches and a livelihood from their labours. In County Down, the number of fishing boats at sea is considerably less than it was some years ago. My right hon. and gallant Friend who, as Home Secretary, is now responsible for Northern Ireland, was so successful in his previous job that the increased supply of other foods which he achieved has caused a slump in the demand for our fresh herring, and there is now a large surplus which cannot be marketed. Last year well over one-half of the herring catch which was landed in Northern Ireland's ports went to make oil and fish meal.
It is that which makes the Bill of interest and importance to Ulster fishermen. Clauses 2 to 5 do not apply to Northern Ireland, but Clause 1, which increases the financial grants to the Herring Industry Board, does apply to us, in theory anyway. I hope that it will apply in fact and in cash.
Although we send representatives to the White Fish Authority in Edinburgh, I understand that there is no representative of Ulster on the Herring Industry Board. The Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland acts as a sort of agent for the Board, and I am pleased to say that the liaison is a very good one. It is an arrangement which works very well on both sides.
65 Although our proportion of the total United Kingdom catch is very small, it is important to us. The Herring Industry Board buys our surplus herring for processing into oil and meal. That totals half our herring catch. I hope that part of the increased grants under the Bill will be used for the benefit of the Ulster fishing fleet and herring industry.
The decision of the Board to build a fish meal factory at Peel, in the Isle of Man, was a disappointment to Ulster fishermen, but last year the Board placed fish meal and oil plants in a factory near Belfast. That was a help, because it meant that there was a local output for our surplus catches. I understand that plans are going ahead for this factory to be transferred to premises on the coast near Ardglass. This is good news, because although we export fish to the United Kingdom, we also import fish meal into the Province. The heavy transport costs of this double and contradictory journey add to our difficulties.
Although I appreciate that my hon. Friend must have the interests of Scotland closest to his heart, I hope that I may have an assurance that the Board will spend some of this money in Northern Ireland. If he can give that assurance he will not only earn my gratitude but—what is much more important—he will give hope and encouragement to the dwindling number of stalwart men who earn their living off the shores of Ulster.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am very glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) because I, too, represent one of the more remote and smaller herring fishing areas which are running into difficult times. She has spoken of the hard life led by fishermen, the high cost of transport, and other troubles that we share.
The importance of herring fishing in places like Stronsay in Orkney and Balta-sound in Shetland was not only that it gave employment and provided a livelihood for many fishermen, but also that it brought a great many subsidiary occupations with it. In the summer there was a concourse of curers, gutters, and others, all of whom brought cash to the district. Even now Lerwick, in the Shetlands, depends in some measure for its cash upon a successful herring season.
66 It is not easy to revive the industry where it has declined. We all agree that herring fishing is a very chancy business. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) has spoken of the waywardness of the herring shoals, but what is most galling to herring fishermen is to catch the fish and then find that there is no market for it. They do not like not catching the fish; that, however, is a risk which they know they must face when they go to sea; but great despondency was spread throughout Shetland last year, when, after two lean years, they began to catch fish one week, only to see the flag go up closing the port.
The Bill increases the amount of money which is to be granted to assist in the conversion of herring to fish meal, and I welcome that, but fish meal is still, so to speak, the long-stop of the herring market. It is where the herring goes if it does not go for human consumption. I join strongly with those who urge that every effort should be made to increase the human consumption of herring.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen-shire told us, with sadness in his voice, that after devoting 20, 30, or 40 years to the business of popularising herring he finds that the obstinate people will not eat it.
§ Mr. Grimond
If it is cured herring which the hon. Member spoke about, there is something in what he says, but there are many other forms of herring. They can be improved by adding a little sherry, milk, or whisky, and in many other ways. We should not despair of very greatly increasing the human consumption of good herring.
I hope that some of this money will be devoted to quick freezing, which is really a very important factor in spreading the crop so to speak, and putting it on to the market at times when it can be absorbed. The extension of quick freezing is extremely important at places like my own constituency.
As to the export trade, we have been delighted to see the opening of the Continental market, but we have been a little surprised to see that we have not filled our quota. I should like the Minister to say a word or two upon that subject. Is it true that we really cannot fill our quota? If so, why is it that we see ports being closed?
67 I should like the Minister, too, to say something further about the possibilities of barter. I do not like it, but Israel has been mentioned, and other countries may also be in difficulties about buying herring against any form of currency. I should have thought that it would be possible to to do something upon a barter basis. Poland, for instance, has coal and cereals to dispose of, which she might trade against herring.
I place very great stress upon the need to expand the human market all over the world and not to be pessimistic about it. I think that, on occasion, the Herring Industry Board has been pessimistic. I wonder if it does all it can by advertising. Time was when, if one took a boat from the Clyde to Arran, one always had herring for tea if one had a strong enough stomach. Does that still continue? I have said previously that British Railways should popularise cheap herring teas in its restaurants and restaurant cars. The herring areas themselves are to blame to some extent. Do we find delicious herring cooked and prepared in a multitude of ways in Aberdeen, Peterhead, and Wick, or even Lerwick?
§ Mr. Grimond
Sometimes, but not often enough.
If we are not prepared to eat our own catch, even after the magnificent lead given by the Minister of Agriculture—whose intake must fill us all with admiration; he is said to eat two per day——
§ Mr. Grimond
The dish is herrings with sherry, not sherry with herrings.
Seriously, if we can popularise new ways of preparing herring so as to make them a speciality, we shall be helping the industry. I am not denying their value as a cheap food, but I think that they can be made a very great delicacy. Now that people have got to the stage when they are prepared to pay for packing, tinning, and so on, new possibilities lie in every direction. We might do a great deal to advertise herring at gatherings like the Edinburgh Festival. I hope that the Board will give a banquet at the Festival to those who are interested in the 68 industry, so that we too may do our part in popularising this fish.
I am extremely glad to think that the process for making out a case for grants in connection with harbours and piers is to be shortened, but can the Minister say what is the position with regard to those works which are already in various stages of construction? I take it that they are to continue under the old system and that no further money is to be granted under the Bill, but the position is not clear.
In my constituency, it is a lamentable fact that the two islands where the great bulk of the fishermen live—Burra Isle and Whalsay—has no proper harbour. It will be several years before the anchorage is provided at Whalsay. I should be glad to know whether there is any chance of speeding up that process, because we cannot expect people to go to sea unless they have a reasonable place to keep their boats.
I have already referred, in an interruption, to the question of searching the grounds. I do not think that the matter comes directly under the Bill, but it is a serious one. In the old days, hundreds of boats used to go out from Lerwick or Baltasound every night. Now only 40 or 50 go out. I admit that they are equipped with echo-sounders and cover a greater range, but if they once lose the shoals they have difficulty in finding them again.
I join with the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) in hoping that in places where, of late, fishing has been light, the apparatus of fishing will be kept in being. I hope, too, that support will be given to the excellent work done by the research vessels of the Scottish Office in tracking the shoals and making some forecast of what the fishing is going to be. They have not always been accurate, but they do important work, certainly in my constituency.
If we could find out a little more about the movement of herrings it would be of great assistance. Every winter we see the tantalising sight of a large Russian fleet appearing to the north of Shetland. The Russians anchor a factory ship off the coast of Shetland, and catch and process herrings. I have begged the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose courage we much admire, to go aboard and see what they are up to, but he has so far refused.
However, I think it is apparent that they are, in fact, processing a Norwegian 69 type of herring, which I think they catch somewhere pretty far to the North, and which is said to be a not very good type of herring. But if they have found it worth while to bring over this great fleet and catch these herrings, there must be a considerable stock of them, and they must have some use. I very much wonder if we are not missing something very near to our own doorsteps by allowing that fishing, whatever it may be, to be entirely in the hands of the Russians.
I welcome this Bill, as far as it goes, and I join with those who hope that the herring, which is an excellent food, will maintain and even increase its popularity, and that the other parts of this Bill will give some assistance to herring fishermen round the coasts of Britain.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) may like to know that on Saturday morning we had herrings for breakfast, and on Sunday morning kippers for breakfast. There was salmon in the shops, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Mother-well (Mr. Lawson), which was selling at 11s. per lb., but we did not have any on the grounds of price, because we are Scots. I often think that herrings would be consumed much more if they cost 11s. per lb., because everybody regards them as being too cheap to be good. The more the Herring Industry Board can disabuse the public of the impression that because herring are cheap they are nasty, the better it will be for the herring industry.
In introducing the Bill, my right hon. Friend apologised to the House for being English, but he did claim that his grandmother had some Scottish blood, which probably explains the reason why he is where he is. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), who opened the debate for the Opposition, also apologised for representing an English constituency, but his name is very well known and very well advertised in Scotland. The only thing that is wrong with the right hon. Gentleman is his politics, because the produce of his family is extremely good; Younger's ale and herrings go very well together.
I do not want to discuss Clause 1, which deals with herrings, as much as two other Clauses in the Bill. Clause 2 deals 70 with harbours, and its object is to short-circuit the procedure, which has been so circuitous up to now. I want to be assured that, in short-circuiting the procedure,the policy of grants and loans for harbours will be slightly changed in favour of harbours. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister said that there was no change of policy, but I was hoping that there would be, by way of a loosening-up, where needed, of the grants for harbours.
In my constituency, there is a harbour, and I think I am right in saying that, under this Clause, it would be open for a grant or loan, because there is no definition of a harbour in the Clause. The only restriction in the Clause, apparently, is that a harbour must be used for fishing, but not entirely or solely used for fishing. The harbour at Arbroath is not only a fishing harbour, but is also a commercial harbour.I should like to be assured that harbours which are really dual purpose harbours are not excluded from the advantages of this Clause, but will be able to take advantage of it. I hope I am right in that assumption.
What is to be the policy towards grants and loans respectively? I think it was the Minister who gave some figures which appeared to show that the amount of money given in grants was very much larger than the amount issued in loans. If that is to be the policy, that will be fine, because Arbroath already has a debt of £5,000 on its harbour, and it needs some improvement. If the policy is to be only loans involving the payment of interest and redemption charges, it will be a difficult situation for Arbroath, because it may mean increasing the landing charges for fish and for other articles of commerce. I therefore hope that there will be generous grants as well as loans, and I should like to know, when the Under-Secretary replies to the debate, what the proportion has been in the past and whether the proportion for grants is to be increased in the future.
There is also a small question concerning land approaches. What does that mean? The Bill states that the grants and loans will be available for thepurposes of the execution of works for the construction, improvement or repair of a harbour, pier, quay, jetty, boatslip or slipway in Great Britain, the landward approaches thereto…71 Does that mean only the road, or does it include bridges? Again, I must apologise for referring to Arbroath, but over a river there is a bridge for vehicular traffic. Does that count as being part of the harbour? At the end of the harbour, there is also a slipway leading to a boat repairing and building yard, across the end of which there is an iron bridge for pedestrians which is rather dangerous and requires considerable repair and renewal. Is that considered a "landward approach" to the quay? If it is so, I should like to be assured of the fact, because it is an important part of Arbroath harbour.
Next, we come to the question of dredging, which is very important in some of these harbours. I hope that dredging will be generously interpreted as being necessary for the general use of the harbour and not purely for the benefit of fishing boats, because, in a harbour used by all kinds of craft, the dredging is of benefit to all. I think I am right in saying that up to now the dredgers have been owned by the Secretary of State and financed and operated by the Development Commissioners. The terms on which these boats have been available for hire have been so high that I do not think they can be used by many harbours, because the charges are quite beyond the purse of the average harbour board.
I should be glad if, in the course of his consideration of what to do under this Bill, the Secretary of State would review the whole question of hiring charges. The lending out of dredgers must be done at a reasonable rate if the harbours are to use them. Today, Arbroath has a dredger of its own, and it may be—I do not know—that the word "apparatus" in Clause 2 covers a dredger. I hope it does, because at present this dredger can go to sea only with great difficulty, and then only in a calm sea. The result is that in the winter it cannot go to be repaired, because the sea is too rough, and in the summer, though it can dredge inside the harbour, only in fair weather can it take the material which has been dredged out to sea to dump it.
If it can be repaired under the word "apparatus," that would solve the problem. Otherwise, it may be more economical to hire the Department's dredger, if that can be done at a reasonable rate. I hope that under the new pro- 72 cedure a real reform will be made in regard to the dredgers. If these were used all the year round they could be hired out at a very much lower rate than at present.
Those are the only points I wish to raise. I welcome the introduction of the Bill and I am glad that the procedure is to be streamlined. I hope the Bill will improve the system of improving harbours and the use of dredgers. I sincerely hope that the policy will be slightly changed so that grants, loans and hire of dredgers will be used to better advantage than in the past, and for the betterment of our fishermen and of the fishing industry generally.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
Most of what I want to say has already been said and I should not like to be accused of vexatious repetition, much as that is within the traditions of this House, particularly on fishing debates.
The Bill is an inconsequent, fragile sort of thing. It is the least adventurous of all the fishing Bills introduced since I have been a Member of this House. I want to comment upon one or two of the remarks of previous speakers, my hon. Friends on both sides of the House. I put it that way because on a fishing debate we come together a great deal. I should deplore it if this great industry came into the cockpit of party politics.
I thought the Minister painted an unnecessarily pessimistic picture. He gave us details—and they were frightening—about the home market and the foreign market. We know the history of the foreign market too well, and the things that have happened in the far-distant past. They should not be resurrected today. The decline in the foreign markets is very much the fault of the Governments of the time.
We should try every device to resurrect the home market, because a catastrophic decline in home consumption might very well spell disaster for the industry. The Herring Board is addressing itself to the marketing of herring, but whether adventurously enough is not for me to say. The fact must penetrate more into the consciousness of people that the herring are still there, although they may not be as acceptable as the new foods which are coming in.
73 I understand from the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Down, South (Mrs. Ford) that the alternative dishes are entirely the result of the endeavours of the present Home Secretary. How, she did not explain, but she made it plain; and who am I to contradict a lady?
It is true that the demand for herring has fallen off, but we must take the alternatives available to us. Probably the most acceptable are tinned kipper and tinned herring of various sorts. Tinned herring have been thoroughly spoiled for anyone with any sense of taste by being deluged in cheap tomato sauce. The sooner that nonsense is stopped, the better. It is deplorable. An attractive picture of a herring is painted on the side of the tin, but often we can hardly see the herring. We have to dive for it through gallons of red liquid which would even take the dye out of a dyed kipper.
Some speakers have put their finger on one of the disabilities in the industry, which is the recruitment of adequate manpower. The men go into the industry, but the wastage is very high. The industry is criticised for having a close season, which is generally between March and April, when, it is admitted, herring are not at their best. I am assured by my constituents who are interested in the industry that it is essential, if they are to keep the crews, that the crews be employed all the year round. The industry just cannot afford not to do so, not because it wants to catch bad herring, but because it would otherwise lose men from the industry.
In my borough, Lowestoft, fishing has always been considered the major industry. It is so today, but we are fortunate in having alternatives. We have a trawling industry, and through the contracts we have been able to make for shipbuilding and ancillary services engineering is fast catching up on fishing. It offers an alternative form of employment for the crews, and there is a great deal of drift from the fishing industry. Everyone will agree with the points made by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie),who is very knowledgeable, and the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshrie (Sir R. Boothby). We have taken these points up in the past with the National Insurance Commissioners. In view of the very strong representations made to him 74 today, I hope that the Minister will again approach his advisory council and see whether we can get these men into the scheme.
On the subject of research, reference has been made to the unpredictable habits of the herring, which is a most elusive creature; it is here today and gone tomorrow. No one knows where its next habitat will be. Great research strides have already been made, but science should apply itself more and more to a study of the habits of the herring. There is nothing more frustrating and economically wasteful than to amass a great fleet, say, in Yarmouth or Lowestoft or round the coast, with Scottish vessels coming all the way down, and English vessels all concentrating on the very lucrative and fascinating East Anglian herring season.
One full moon the herring are there, and there is a glut. The flag goes up when there is a glut. In a day or two, the herring are gone and the whole season has collapsed. The boats are kept in harbour, and search is made of the whole of the periphery of the fishing area for the fish. Here is a fruitful field of research, which would be rewarding not only from the scientific but from the economic and industrial points of view, particularly for the utilisation of gluts of herring.
The glut is one of the big problems which probably only occurs in this industry. It is a problem which must be approached in a much more imaginative and realistic way if the herring is to be utilised to its full capacity and turned to the best advantage. How that is done is a technical matter for the trade. There are such things as cold storage and freezing. There is, I think, for the herring industry a great future in cold freeze.
I was talking this morning on the telephone to some friends in Lowestoft, where canning is going on and the kipper is being stripped of its flesh. I know that some of my hon. Friends will be very interested in that process. On most herring, a considerable amount of flesh can be stripped off, even though we may sometimes see people in tea-rooms struggling with a herring to get something on the end of their forks. I think that if all the modern processes are utilised to the full there is a future for the herring industry. I understand that there is a great market in America for canned kippers.
75 A deterrent to the full attractiveness of the fishing industry is the poor amenities on board our vessels. I am pleased to see that, in this respect, Lowestoft is probably the best-equipped of all the near-water ports in regard to trawlers. The record concerning drifters is not so good. But the dual-purpose boats—the trawler-drifters—which provide better accommodation and amenities for the crew and the possibility of their leading a more normal life on board should attract more men, and should enable them to receive the rewards of their efforts. I think that more people would be attracted to the fishing industry if they could see opening up any avenue for promotion and training. A matter to which we shall have to address ourselves is the technical training of crews so that they may rise to positions of responsibility in the industry as skippers and mates. The way in which this is being done is not, I think, quite good enough for modern standards, but I am very pleased that much is being done in this direction.
The hon. Member for Banff raised the question of the over-fishing of herring. Years ago it used to be asserted quite confidently that we could not over-fish herring, and there was always a demand for all-out fishing. That encouraged the setting up of factories in which the residue of the catches could be utilised for meal and oil. It has been said that with high-powered modern efficiency it is becoming more and more doubtful whether the herring is as impregnable as it was thought to be.
There is a school of thought today which is quite certain that the modern trawler and ring net fishing will do a great deal to deplete stocks. As the hon. Member for Banff said, we have been trying to prevent the depletion of white fish by fishing conventions and that sort of thing. This is the trouble in Iceland today. We thought that the herring was immune from that danger, but, unless we are careful, we may find that the basic stocks, the parent fish, are killed before they are able to reproduce.
This is a small Bill, and it seems to me that the Government are introducing it before the next General Election so that they may say that they have at least done something for the herring industry. The Bill is, I suppose, not without its value. We 76 shall support it, of course, or, at least, we shall not oppose it, and we can only hope that this immature little thing will grow a little more in stature, and will bring some good to the herring industry.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
I think we all welcome any Measure which will help the interests of our fishermen on whom, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) said, we depend so much, both in peace and in war.
The Minister said the main object of the Bill is to assist the conversion of herring into oil and meal. It is from that point of view that I wish to direct my main remarks this evening. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and others, I am afraid that the day is approaching rapidly when the main outlet for herring landed in this country will be for processed herring—factories for animal feeding stuffs and for fertilisers—rather than for human consumption.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I should like to see an increase in the human consumption of herring, but, despite all the propaganda which the Herring Industry Board and others have put out, most housewives in the cities ignore the herring and refuse to cook it unless they can do so in a more attractive way.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) talked about improved methods, and they are many. I understand that in America they are making little herring cocktail sausages and things of that kind which, no doubt, will go some way to encourage the consumption of herring. But I still maintain that, despite all the propaganda, the day has now arrived when the main outlet for our herring is in meal and oil. For that reason, I think that it is imperative that all existing channels and new channels for the processing of herring should be examined and developed to the utmost.
This will not only be in the interests of the fishermen, but also in the interests of many people who are employed on shore, and, ultimately, in the interests of the country as a whole. It will also ensure—and this point was also touched on by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire—at least one secure 77 market for the fisherman. In fact, it will ensure that he has a market for most of the year. On the western seaboard, in my constituency in the Minch, herring fishing goes on for about ten months of the year, and it has been very prolific, particularly during the last two years. The uses to which processed herring can be put seem to be very expansive indeed, and I hope that, with the aid of the scientists, a new field will now be open to us for using processed herring. Because of what I may call this all-the-year-round season which the fishermen will have, I support the pleas made on both sides of the House that they should betaken out of the classification of seasonal workers.
As a Member for a Highland constituency I am, naturally, particularly interested in the Bill. Scotland has a predominant interest in the herring industry, and a great quantity of the herring caught round the shores of Scotland is landed at Highland ports. In the past, unfortunately, we have seen those Highland ports depressed and virtually finished due to the fluctuation of the herring fishing industry. We should, therefore, welcome every move to stabilise that industry and I hope that this modest Measure will go some way towards doing that.
In my constituency there are four active and thriving herring ports—Kyle of Lochalsh, Gairloch, Ullapool—where the landings have increased enormously. In 128,000 crans were landed, and, in 117,883 crans. The fourth port is Avoch, which has been already mentioned. Despite that there are no herring meal factories at all in my constituency. It is true that in the past year a factory ship has worked in the area, and there have been a number of complaints—particularly from Ullapool—about the activities of that ship.
I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us what the policy of the Herring Board really is towards these factory ships. I shall not weary the House with the correspondence I have had with the Minister over this particular ship, but it would be as well to know just what the Herring Board's policy is to be throughout the whole Highland area, and particularly in my constituency.
At present the majority of the surplus herring from Ullapool and Gairloch are being transported vast distances to Fraser-burgh, and, in some cases, even as far 78 as Wick. I understand that the Herring Industry Board is obliged to build a processing factory in the area of Inverness. As the Minister knows, Inverness has turned down that proposition, but the Ross-shire County Council is most anxious that a meal factory should be established at Avoch. There has been a certain amount of opposition to this from the neighbouring tourist resort, which is three miles away. I am glad to say that at a recent meeting of the county council the opponents of the scheme were defeated, but perhaps the Minister could tell us just what the smell nuisance is. I understand that in a modern factory the smell is not so bad, but that fumes coming from the chimney can be carried some distance.
Avoch, as I have said, is one of the most thriving, active and alive fishing ports in the North with young crews. Do not let us forget that the people there have kept their harbour—a harbour, which, incidentally, the fishermen themselves built at the beginning of the century without aid of any kind. They kept it going throughout all the bad times, and now that they have reached good times I hope they will be given the assistance for a new pier which they need for the meal factory there. The fishermen are 100 per cent. in favour of this factory, so if the Minister hears of any opposition he will know that it certainly does not come from the fishermen.
The county council has assured the Herring Industry Board that if a meal factory is erected there the county council will support the building of a new pier. That would be of inestimable value in any case, and not just for the development of the herring industry. Not only would the fishermen use it for bringing their herring to the factory, but it would be of great value for future developments. The House must not forget that this is in a Development Area, which was scheduled when the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) was Secretary of State for Scotland. I gave him my full support at that time, but, unfortunately, we have seen little or no development there. That makes the present case even stronger. I hope that the Minister will lend all his support to the creation of a factory at Avoch.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think that small industries have started up round about Ullapool, which should help a little.
§ Mr. MacLeod
No, the only industry which started has closed. It was a woollen factory. I shall not go into the reasons for that just now. Precious little industry has come into the area. In fact, as far as I know, the only thing which has been started in that region since it was scheduled is a knackery, employing two or three men.
A meal factory there would put a stop to a practice which went on last summer. Herrings from the west coast being taken to Fraser burgh were very often dumped, unloaded from the lorries at Conon Bridge, which is only about one-third of the distance from the west coast to Fraserburgh, and very near to Avoch. Up to 1,000 crans were left lying for about three weeks because the Fraserburgh factory was not able to process them. The herrings were then loaded up again and taken to Fraserburgh for processing—a ridiculous situation. The wastage of labour and expense must have been colossal. Surely it would have been better to have the factory at Avoch to process those herrings, so cutting down haulage costs.
Last year there were about 60 boats fishing just offshore from Avoch for the kessock herring. All those herring had to be landed at Inverness, which neither wants nor will give any support to a factory. Those herring should have been landed at Avoch. Last year's landings were 39,463 crans—quite a considerable fishing, as anyone who knows anything about the industry will agree. The fishermen would far rather have landed them at their own home port in Avoch and given encouragement to the people there. I hope the Minister will give all his support to this future development.
I have only spoken of Avoch in connection with meal factories, but I hope that similar factories will be erected at other places on the West Coast nearer to the herring catches. I hope, too, that the Herring Industry Board will support the widening of the road between Ullapool and East Coast ports. I feel sure that the hon. Member for Banff will support me. It is ridiculous to think that the Hydro-Electric Board, having introduced a major scheme and diverted the road for the scheme, should have constructed a narrow road with passing places between Ullapool and East Coast ports. If we are to have development in those areas, that kind of nonsense must be stopped. The 80 Hydro-Electric Board is paying the cost of this replacement, and surely the extra money required to construct a proper road should be found.
The landings at Ullapool, which are very heavy, are made at an old-fashioned little pier. It is quite out-of-date. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us something about the extension to the pier, which I gather has been agreed upon. I make no apology for going into these constituency points in some detail, because the herring industry plays a vital part in the life not only of my constituency but of all the Highlands constituencies. The prosperity of the Highlands not only benefits, but it is in the entire national interest as well, and I hope that this Bill will assist towards that prosperity.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Like the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), I, too, had a Scottish grandmother. I am not a bit ashamed of that. Let us now praise famous women! It gives me a warm feeling for the people, which may not be inappropriate having regard to the duties I have to perform as Member for Aberdeen, North.
Today, I want to speak of herring fishing from the point of view not only of Aberdeen but of other herring fishing ports, in particular in relation to the quality and age of some of the fishing boats and the effects which the poor quality and age of boats have upon some of the crews. I also want to refer to the reluctance of some of the owners—not a majority—to renew their boats.
The relevance of this matter is obvious from Clause 1, which seeks to amend Section 5 (1) of the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1948. That Section is very comprehensive. It serves many purposes, and I need only refer to the fact that it provides grants, to enable the exercise of powers by the Herring Industry Board, for promoting the sale of herring or products thereof, including kippers, market development, schemes for revival of winter fisheries, purchasing boats and equipment, promoting research and experiment, and converting herring to oil and other products.
It would be difficult to find in the whole code—if I may call it a code—which relates to fishing in Scotland a more comprehensive Section than that. Therefore. 81 I feel justified, particularly after the able and comprehensive speech of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie), in asking the House to consider this Bill in its proper perspective. This Bill continues a series of Measures relating to the fishing industry which were passed by the Labour Government. They were designed to help various phases of the fishing industry and, indeed, consumers of that succulent article of food, the herring, and other fish.
For instance, in their first year of office, the Labour Government passed the Inshore Fishing Industry Act, 1945, giving financial assistance by grants and loans to that deserving industry. Then the White Fish and Herring Industries Act, 1948, which this Bill seeks to amend, was designed to regulate the mesh of fishing nets, to license fishing in the North Sea, and to give financial assistance to a great variety of relevant persons, to inshore fishermen, to persons desiring to engage in inshore fishing, to co-operative societies, to organisations of fishermen and to the Herring Industry Board.
That Act, in turn, amended the Herring Industry Acts of 1935 to 1944 and also amended the Inshore Fishing Industries Act, 1945, by increasing the financial assistance available for persons engaged in or desiring to engage in the inshore fishing industry to £1 million, and by increasing the aggregate amount of the loans that might be made to £1,800,000. Those are substantial sums, and compared with those statutes and those sums, the present Bill is trivial and the amount by which it proposes to increase the relevant sum is also trivial.
However, this Bill is a step in the right direction. Its purposes are good, but its design, in my submission, is inadequate. The purposes are direct, indirect and ultimate. They include the preservation and development of the herring fishing industry and the preservation of that hardy and courageous race of fishermen who serve the consumers and help to feed the people of this country. But, ultimately, they include the conservation of many ancillary industries of which shipbuilding and ship repairing are very important, and it is to this subject that I wish to address my few remarks.
We all know that at present foreign shipyards are competing with British shipyards with some success in the matter of prices and delivery dates. The point 82 I wish to make—and it is the one major point in my speech—is that it would be a disgrace if Government grants and loans were to be spent in foreign shipyards, thereby diminishing employment in British shipyards. We also know that in too many cases accommodation for crews is unsuitable and unsatisfactory, and we therefore hope that the money provided by this legislation will be spent in local shipyards and on ships of a type which will give to the crews decent working conditions and decent living accommodation.
If these questions cannot be answered fully and clearly, and in a way which will satisfy the fishermen who have to use the ships, who serve in these ships in this dangerous and essential industry, then action must be taken to amend and extend the legislation so as to ensure that the men get proper amenities. Some, but not all, of the present fishing boats are from thirty to forty years old. There are many fine ships serving the herring ports with satisfaction to all concerned, but there are others which are dangerous and should be scrapped.
The Bill is part of a legislative code which is not sufficient for this purpose. An instance of this is the number—a minority, it is true—of owners who will not renew their boats and who are not taking advantage of the legislation which is available to them. I think the House will be with me when I say that prudent business men and industrialists plough back into their businesses and industries a proportion of their profits. This enables them to conserve their stock and machinery, to preserve their businesses, to develop and extend their scope. It brings added profits to them, it makes for the health and happiness of their workers and it makes provision for their families and successors.
In the shipping industry, this is done by wise, far-sighted and humanitarian ship-owners, with profit to themselves and their workers and their wives and families, but, unhappily, there are some owners who do not follow this wise course and who take the last ounce out of their business and who invest their profits in farms instead of in renewing and rebuilding their fleets.
§ Mr. Duthie
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member does not want to mislead the House in this matter. Will he agree with me that the herring industry 83 is the one exception which does not merit his strictures? It is run by owner-fishermen themselves and not by company owners ashore. No one is more aware of the necessity for keeping his craft up to date than the owner-fisherman.
§ Mr. Hughes
I gladly and readily agree. I was careful to say that my criticisms related not to a majority but to a minority. I think the hon. Member for Banff will agree that there are some drifters which go in for herring fishing and which are not in a satisfactory condition. As long as there is one to which these criticisms apply, I suggest that the criticisms are justified.
I want to direct the Under-Secretary's attention to two questions—and I will put my comments in an interrogative form: first, what safeguards are there to prevent grants and loans under the Bill and the other relevant legislation from being spent in other than local shipyards? I do not want the Minister to answer now; perhaps he will answer in his speech and will permit me to proceed with my short speech, because I have another question to put.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)
I should very much like to reply to the hon. and learned Member's question, but grants and loans for boats do not come under the Bill at all and I shall, therefore, be unable to reply to him.
§ Mr. Hughes
Does the Minister care to reply to my second question, which I was about to ask him: what provision is made to ensure that money spent—grants and loans under the Bill—isspent in such a way as to ensure that the crews, where there are crews—and I know that many of the boats are owner-crewed—have adequate provision?
I am quite sure that every hon. Member who is familiar with this industry will agree that there are herring fishing boats in which there are crews, and I want to make quite sure that proper provision is made for those crews.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow his argu- 84 ment. In this debate we have heard hon. Members from Scotland and others who have dealt with the herring industry and I want, if I may, to keep to the specific points concerning the harbour boards.
Before I do so, however, I want to pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which he opened the debate. Although he said this was a narrow Bill, my right hon. Friend did not omit to stress the importance of fishermen, both to our economy and to our security. It is as well that the people in this country should reflect on the kind of disaster which happened off the north coast of Iceland the other day when they are complaining, urged by an ill-advised Press campaign, about the cost of fish. I think the people who complain about those things should go to sea in a trawler for a while and see what it is like off the north coast of Iceland at this time of the year.
To come to the part of the Bill about which I want to speak, I am very glad to hear that, although there is to be no change in policy, there is to be a change in the procedure concerning fishery harbours, because in one case in the past I tried unsuccessfully to obtain assistance for the harbour of St. Ives. This is definitely a fishery harbour, and I should have thought that the First Lord of the Admiralty would be interested in it, in view of the great help which St. Ives gave when one of Her Majesty's ships was stranded there recently. Unfortunately, he was not interested, although it must be borne in mind that in time of war the harbour might be very useful indeed.
Although there is general approval of the Bill by the appropriate authorities in my constituency, who forwarded their views so quickly, they want information on one or two points. For instance, there seems to be a slight difference of opinion as to whether Clause 2 (1) will apply. One authority writes:It is a pity that there is no provision as in Clause 2(3) for the remission of interest or repayments of principal in the case of loans on harbours obtained through the Public Works Loan Board.Another authority points out, however, that this is covered under Clause 3(3). The authority says:One of the very important provisions of the Bill is contained in Clause 3(3) whereby the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries may. with Treasury approval, remit the payment of interest on or the repayment of the principal 85 of any loan with respect of harbour works where such payment would cause undue hardship. I know that Mevagissey and St. Ives are at present very heavily handicapped financially and have for some time past been unable to meet their obligations in respect of such payments.That would seem to be a question we could ask the Minister to clarify. Will this be covered by the Bill?
St. Ives has asked me to recallthat on the occasion of the last storm damage the Treasury indicated that they would not look with favour on any future applications from St. Ives unless the Council took steps to repay the Public Works Loan Board loans out of the General Rate Fund.For a place the size of St. Ives that would seem a rather large demand. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be: able to tell us that these matters are covered by Clause 3 (3).
On the question of improvements, I want to put in a specific plea for two harbours in my constituency. In one case the fishermen wish to make a place to land fish and at present they have nothing but the slipway. They want to build a better platform to do so. In another case they want a slipway to haul up fishing vessels, which would be of great benefit to them.
Clause 5 deals with dredgers. My right hon. Friend said that perhaps he was glad that he would not have to own or operate dredgers in England. But this is a very important and relevant matter in West Cornwall and a great problem is presented to harbours such as St. Ives. Newlyn has had to spend large sums of money in dealing with the problem of shingle. I believe it has already spent £50,000 in dredging shingle over the past seven years and it is obliged to set aside £4,000 a year to meet future liabilities in this respect.
I am sure that it would be too much to expect the Secretary of State for Scotland to lend us one of his dredgers, but I ask my right hon. Friend whether dredging would come under "improvements" in the Bill. That seems to be very much a question which should be considered. One authority has said that it wishes the provisions of Clause 5 could be extended to enable the Minister in England and Wales to act in the same way as the Secretary of State does in Scotland. Such an arrangement would no doubt be of great benefit to Cornwall. 86 The harbours I have in mind are Looe, Newlyn and St. Ives.
No doubt these are all points which we can consider during the Committee stage. I do not think it is quite fair to call this a very modest Measure; it may be much more. It may be an extremely useful Measure for us. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that there is not any limit on the demands which can be made and that he will consider them sympathetically. I hope very much that he will do so and that we shall be more successful than we have been in the past when making claims for assistance from the Ministry.
I conclude as I begun by saying that no Bill can be modest if it is to help the interests of fishermen and fishery harbours, because to any of us from the coasts the question of the next generation of fishermen is an ever-worrying problem. Not only do they come into prominence when they go to sea and accomplish great feats of bravery as do our lifeboat men—no doubt hon. Members will have heard of the recent case in the Isles of Scilly—but as men instantly available for service in time of war. We know of the hardships of the industry and we hope that real assistance to the smaller fishery harbours will help the next generation of men to carry on the great tradition of their fathers around our coasts.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) thought the money provided by this Bill was not adequate. I do not agree. I think that £3½ million, with another £¼ million, is a great deal of money for the Herring Industry Board. That part which has already been spent has acted as a bulwark in overcoming the difficulties since 1935, when the Board was formed, until the present time. I think it has paid handsome dividends.
I did not quite follow the hon. and learned Member when he talked about ships being built under grant and loan in foreign shipyards. In a long period of service in the fishing industry I cannot recollect any craft being built abroad by grants and loans from British taxpayers. What I do recollect is the action of the Chamberlain Government, a very significant and helpful one. After Hitler froze the Unilever profits, Unilever built in 87 Germany 20 large trawlers shortly before the war. They were allowed to come to Britain and played a great part in the defence of this country as minesweepers, minelayers, and the forerunners of frigates.
I welcome this Bill because It gives us a chance of talking about the herring industry—something which rarely happens. I regret to say that I do not think the House has been treated courteously in the way in which this Bill has been dealt with. It reached hon. Members on Wednesday, and now we have Second Reading on Monday. There are about 20 fishing ports in my constituency. I have telephoned to one or two, at considerable expense, in order to find out their views. The public have a great interest in the spending of this money. I do not know why there should be this rush to have the Second Reading debate. It amazes me, and is entirely contrary to the procedure of the House.
I wanted to make a number of inquiries about a vital issue arising from the Bill, and I had the greatest difficulty in doing so in the time available. I want my hon. Friend to realise that Members of Parliament are not idle people waiting for a Bill suddenly to emerge. I had to be in Glasgow on Friday, and here in London for a meeting on Saturday. I have had to spend a great deal of time on this question this morning. Although time seems to be something of which we are short in this House, I cannot forgive the unseemly haste in bringing the Bill before us for Second Reading.
I also wish to draw the attention of the House to the words of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, which lays down that:The Board shall, not later than the expiration of three months from the last day of each financial year of the Board, make a report to the Ministers on the proceedings of the Board during that year, and the Ministers shall lay every such report before Parliament.I have had a careful search made in the Library this morning, but cannot find that any of the Reports and accounts of the Board have been discussed and debated in this House. As it is the taxpayers' money which is being spent, I think that is wrong.
I accept my 625th share of the blame for not raising the matter earlier. One of our Parliamentary duties is to safeguard the public purse, and I do not think 88 it is good enough to allow expenditure to go on year after year like this, particularly when heavy losses may be incurred unnecessarily, as happened over the Claridge's Hotel kipper fiasco to America, I do hope that time will be found for discussion of these Reports each year in future.
To my mind the vital points which arise from this debate and from the record of recent years is the failure of the home market, the failure of the export market, the difficulty of maintaining crews, and the development of conversion to oil and meal. Failure of the home market is an indictment against the distribution side of the fishing industry. I cannot understand why fishmongers, whether wholesalers or retailers, should not concentrate on this magnificent food, which is of much higher nutritive value than most of the foods that we import. It is difficult to understand what they would sell if they did not sell herrings and cod, which represent over 90 per cent. of the fish that comes from the sea.
I am sorry to make such remarks about an industry that I was once engaged in, for many years, and with great happiness. but these things are bound to emerge. After all, the fishmonger is the medium for bringing this food before the public. Is he asking for too much profit, or is it simply that he is an innocent party and the housewife will not buy and cook this delightful food? I do not think that is wholly true. Most men and women have an appreciation of good food, and anyone who ate herring in season—not out of season—would continue to buy it if it were available at a reasonable price.
The decline in oil and meal prices is not only serious from a national point of view and because of the loss of good food; it is serious for the fisherman. My right hon. Friend referred to the steep decline in the price paid to fishermen for fish bought for conversion into oil and meal, and said that it had declined from 50s. I think that actually it has declined from 55s., and it is now down to 40s. and to 37s.at times when the quantities offered are more than are accepted at individual ports.
I well remember that a company of which I was a managing director starting a herring freezing venture at Yarmouth to try to help the herring industry, which was then in difficulties. I went to the 89 small but efficient Fisheries Office in Whitehall and asked the Secretary what the herring fishermen required per cran in those days of 1934 to pay their way. The figure I was given was 30s. a cran. Forty shillings or 37s. 6d.a cran in 1955 is not the equivalent of 30s. prior to the war.
I have serious apprehensions because, as my right hon. Friend said in his opening speech, the Bill is designed to enable the oil and meal side to pay its way within a couple of years. It might pay its way, but, on the other hand, the industry might be brought to an end.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Surely, the hon. Member would agree that in 1904 the herring for which we pay 40s. a cran today would have been dumped back into the sea. They would not have been used for oil and meal.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I did not say 1904. I said 1934–20 years ago. I am sorry if my articulation is worse than usual.
The Herring Industry Board has carried out advertising campaigns and has made praiseworthy efforts to have "herring weeks" in different towns, but they all seem to have died a sudden death, with the result that that part of the fisherman's catch for which he gets a minimum of 85s. a cran is gradually being reduced.
I am quite certain that one method of regaining the lost ground is quick freezing, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. I have an interest to declare in that I am a managing director of cold storage companies in Grimsby and London, and I am drawing on my experience for the benefit of Members of the Government Front Bench, if they care to take notice. There has been a tremendous growth in the quick freezing of other foods since the war. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) will realise that the growth and development of the quick freezing of horticultural produce, fruits, and vegetables of all kinds, has been simply colossal, and it is understandable.
Fresh peas, for example, can be obtained for about six weeks of the year in their fresh state. Now, they are available, equally as good as fresh, for 12 months in the year. One prominent hotelier who was asked a month or two ago whether the peas he was serving were fresh, 90 replied, "No." When the customer asked, "Why not?" he said, "For 10½ months in the year I have got to give my customers frozen peas and I do not see why I should make a change for the other six weeks."
Herrings are not unlike that; they are seasonal. The season begins, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) knows, at Lerwick late in April or in May and it continues down the East Coast until it finishes in East Anglia about the end of November, or sometimes in the first or second week of December. There are no good herrings in Britain after that date, with the possible exception of a spasmodic and very irregular and small supply on the West Coast.
These seasons have been determined throughout the ages. The argument used by my hon. Friends the Members for Banff (Mr. Duthie) and East Aberdeen-shire (Sir R. Boothby) about herring fishing being a job in respect of which men should be paid National Insurance benefit out of season is not a sound argument. I am sorry to say that, but there never was herring fishing in Britain in winter other than the spasmodic West Coast catch. We relied on the Norwegian catch—wrongly, I think—to keep us going.
We should take a leaf out of the horticultural book and go ahead and freeze our herrings at the port of landing instead of taking good herrings will-nilly with some inferior ones and converting them into oil and meal. I have no objection to oil and meal conversion, but it is a last resort. It has been a valuable last resort, but it would be much more valuable to use a greater percentage of the catch as fresh human food.
Bountiful Providence brings the seasonal horticultural crops to maturity just as happens in the different herring seasons from Lerwick down to East Anglia, and what has been right and successful for horticultural produce should apply with great force to herrings. I strongly urge the Herring Industry Board to talk to some of the private enterprise processing firms who have started to quick-freeze herrings in recent years, and who are doing it with great skill and success, and try to get them interested. We give grants and loans to buy craft. Why not grants and loans to put up quick-freeze plants where they are needed?
91 It is a risk, of course, to ask a private enterprise firm which has made a success at Grimsby, where there is a choice of fish, fruits, and vegetables to freeze, to go to Ullapool or to any other place and start a plant there, but I think that, after exploratory thought, the Board might be able to interest one of the firms into doing so. I understand that the plant at Fraserburgh, to which my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire referred, was built by the Herring Industry Board and was acquired by a private enterprise firm, which now uses it successfully for quick-freezing herrings and for fruits and vegetables from the Moray Firth area.
§ Mr. Grimond
Would it not be possible to use that same plant for freezing, say, chickens and lobsters——
§ Mr. John MacLeod
The frozen fish also has to be sold, but the housewife is not buying it. How would my hon. Friend overcome that difficulty?
§ Sir D. Robertson
My hon. Friend has made a good point, and I frankly agree that that difficulty must be overcome. I spent this morning talking to one of the principal processors of herring at Lowes-toft. He told me that there was not a good frozen herring in the country today. They are completely sold out because the demand has been so great. The frozen herring have been sold mainly in consumer packs made up for the public and sold through grocery stores. That is very interesting. I hope that the Board has its eye on this development, which follows a similar development in the United States.
I agree that the drawback to selling the herring is the presence of the bones. Although progress has been made in the marketing of filleting machines which take out the spine and the bones attached to it, no machine has been produced to take out the little feathery bones. They are not harmful—I have eaten them by the thousand in my lifetime—but they are a deterrent to the sale of herrings.
I hope that in the Bill we are voting money for research. Here is a field for 92 research. The filleting machine is a known success. Hundreds of them are used in this country and overseas to take away the dangerous bones. If a machine were produced to deal with the feathery bones which remain there is no doubt that success would attend the marketing of herring. The deterrent is the bones, and not the cooking smell.
§ Sir D. Robertson
An amazing success has attended the sale of quick-frozen foods. People queue up to get them. If the herring were sold filleted in a presentable form there would be a great demand for it. When I was a young man in the industry hardly any filleting was done. At Hull, Grimsby, Aberdeen, Fleetwood and Milford Haven, cod was sold whole, but gutted; the heads, tails, and fins remained. Nowadays, scarcely any cod is sold in that condition.
The great bulk are filleted at the ports of landing, and are delivered to people's homes ready for eating. If we can carry out thorough filleting of the herring without bones we shall achieve success in selling the products of the industry, and we shall supply the people with food which they certainly ought to have.
It is the case today that the industry is changeable and that the only certain thing about it is that it is uncertain. It was not always like that. I cannot dogmatise about this but from experience I am convinced that the trawling of herring is wrong and that drift netting or ring netting is right, that is, catching the herring on the surface when they are at their best and not when they are at the bottom of the sea, heavy with spawn or waiting to spawn, or as weak spents, unable to rise to the surface. The Hull boats used to fish them off Buchan Ness and I remember when the Fleetwood craft first discovered the banks where the Loch Fyne herring spawned, somewhere between the North of Ireland and the South of Scotland.
93 Sixteen years ago almost to this day I made my maiden speech in this House, and in it I advocated quick freezing. If I had had the time this morning I should have looked up that speech. We all appreciate the tremendous service of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire in breaking down Russian resistance and making it possible for the "usual channels" to negotiate a contract. It is sad to learn that those contracts were not fulfilled.
I am perfectly certain that this indiscriminate system of taking herring from Ullapool and sending them to Wick for conversion into oil and meal is wrong. No one would challenge the use of the poor quality herring for that purpose, but there is nothing clever in so using herring of good quality, heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, with the fishermen getting 37s. to 40s. for them when the curing price is 63s. That is bad business.
It is no use expecting Germany or Russia to keep on buying the quantities which they bought in the inter-war years. They are now catching their own herring. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke of the huge expedition which goes to the fishing grounds to the North of Scotland every year. I do not know, but I imagine that they are trawling for herring there. We have to face the fact that this trawling has been carried on for years off Smith's Knoll, in East Anglia, by the Germans. That is an added reason why we should develop our own market and use this wonderful food which is so plentiful round our coasts.
The Minister dealt in his speech with grants and loans. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland have referred to the Herring Board's refusal to provide new engines in certain cases. This reflects a fundamental weakness in administration, either by the Government or by the Herring Industry Board, or by both. One of my constituents, a very gallant and fine fisherman who served in two world wars, purchased under the grants and loan scheme in 1948 the fishing craft "Resonance." He had to take it with the engine which it contained. He would have liked another engine but at that time of great shortage there was no alternative.
The craft cost him £11,000. Shortly after he had purchased the craft he had 94 trouble with the engine and altogether the craft cost him over £3,000 in repairs in a year or two. What is more important, he has lost a great deal of fishing time because the craft has had to be towed in five or six times owing to engine breakdowns. The only way in which he can keep the engine running is to run it at half-speed, and everyone knows that a fishing craft cannot tow its gear properly at half-speed.
This man has been able to keep up his interest payments and to clear his gear costs, but there is still a debt of £6,000 outstanding. I ask the Government to look at this matter. Surely it would be better for the Government to finance this man so as to enable him to get rid of the bad engine and put in a good up-to-date engine. This would give him a chance of earning his livelihood and paying off his debt.
I spoke to the provost and leaders of the industry, and visited this fisherman and his sons. I liked the look of them very much. I am convinced that it is wrong policy not to help these people in the way which I have suggested, because so many of these people had to take over this kind of equipment only because it was better than nothing. This fisherman's condition is hurting not only him but the State, because the State is really the owner of that craft. If he gives up business, what will the State get out of it? No other fisherman will buy that craft unless it is offered at a sacrifice price for the hull alone.
If I were the Minister I would say, "This is a case where, in the interests of everyone, the State should risk a little more money in order to turn this craft, which is a liability, into an asset." The Herring Industry Board has a good record but it should not be penny wise, pound foolish, over this man, who has done so much for the country in time of war, and who is a fine producer of food in time of peace.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) will forgive me if I do not follow him, because he is much more experienced and versed in this topic than I am.
I want to associate myself with the plea made to the Minister by my hon. Friends 95 the Members for Banff (Mr.Duthie) and East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edwards Evans). I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider the classification of the crews of herring drifters as seasonal workers. I fancy that this matter, which has been brought up on many previous occasions, has had to be referred to another Department. I fancy that the answer has always been the same. I dare say that on every occasion when we have written we have all had the same answer. It is time, therefore, that this was more seriously considered by the Department concerned than has been the case to date.
In introducing the Bill the Minister referred to subsidies for herring meal and other purposes. The word "subsidies" is unfortunate in this context because, as a nation, we have come to think of them as money poured into an industry which is lost forever. So far as herring meal factories are concerned, a large part of the money spent in the last few years and of the extra money which is to be spent in the future is to be applied to the building of new factories, so in this context it is not a subsidy, but an investment in the development of the industry.
§ Mr. Fell
But it would be false to call even that part which will be spent on harbour improvements a subsidy, because it will be an investment in the future of the nation. It is true that a small part spent on purposes other than the building of fish meal factories, perhaps on transport, can be considered as a subsidy. However, it would not be helpful to the attitude of the people towards the herring industry if they thought it was being helped by subsidies.
§ Mr. Fell
Because subsidies are held in suspicion by the people, I think rightly.
With regard to the amount which will be used for the fish meal project over the next year or two, I notice that the price per cran paid in 1953 fell from 50s. to 45s.,in 1954 from 45s. to 40s., and even on a few exceptional occasions to 37s. I also notice that the estimate for what is called, wrongly, the subsidy for meal for 96 1955–56 will be about £250,000 and in 1956–57 a little less. I hope I would be wrong in assuming that this is an indication that the price per cran to be paid for herring fish meal will drop in that way.
Although I have said that this money should not be called a subsidy, I believe that the industry with the strongest case for a subsidy, with the exception of agriculture, is the fishing industry. My main reason for saying that is because very little maintenance was carried out during two world wars and its ports and harbours suffered great damage. Indeed, about a quarter of them have been damaged during the last forty years. Any money invested either in the men, or in the ports from which they work, is an investment in the defense of this nation, for if we should have to defend ourselves again the Admiralty would immediately want the assistance of all those engaged in the industry.
I do not want to be controversial, but it might have shown a helpful spirit if someone from the Admiralty had been present during this debate. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I hear cries of "Hear, hear," coming from the Front Bench opposite, but I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) did it when he was in office. It was obvious that there would be discussion of our harbours today, and although the Admiralty may not be specially interested in them now because they do not want them for defence purposes at present, they would quickly be interested in our harbours if there should be an emergency. It would be instructive for them to be present at a debate such as this.
I want to mention one point about my constituency. Clause 2 refers to provisions for giving assistance in connection with harbours. I wonder whether the harbour at Great Yarmouth comes into the category mentioned. It is well known that at Great Yarmouth much could be done to improve port facilities. Much work must be done to help the port, which was very badly battered during the war. There was no maintenance work carried out during the war when the port was used exclusively by the Admiralty. It is not now in the best possible condition. I should like to hear whether anything might be done about that.
97 Having said that, I would say that I am most grateful to the Minister for his encouraging speech. This is a good Bill. Indeed, anything that is done to help the herring industry will always have my complete support.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I ought to begin by making at least two apologies. First, I have what I might call a marital interest in this matter, and some of it, at any rate, should be disclosed, for my wife has a share in a fishing boat. It is one of those comparatively small boats that go ring net fishing off the West Coast of Scotland. Secondly, though there is no sea at Kettering, I happen to be an honorary officer of the Clyde Fishermen's Association; and I am proud of it. I have held that honorary office for some time and I know how the fishermen on the West Coast live.
I know something of the increasing difficulties which they have had to meet. If I speak mostly about grants and loans, it is because many of their difficulties have been of a pecuniary kind. Their boats were requisitioned during the war. Those who had them back, or who succeeded in keeping them during the war, did not do so badly. Those who were compensated were compensated, like other people, on the pre-war value, and when they came to replace what were, after all, the essential tools of their trade and their means of livelihood, they had to pay very much more for the boat, for the engine, and for the net.
I will not go into figures, but I agree with what has been said about the difficulty with engines. For some years they were very hard to get, and these fishermen, in order to continue to ply their trade, had to take engines which were no doubt suitable in one sense for the boats but were hardly suitable for the rather rough attention that was all they got on an ordinary fishing voyage.
We remonstrated with the Scottish Office in this matter and they took the line—and I must say that I think that it was quite a reasonable line—that the engine that a man gets, even when he is helped with a grant or a loan, is his own business and that they could not go into questions of its suitability or its maintenance. That is the beginning of the matter.
98 The herring themselves have added to the difficulties. There is some evidence that one does not want to go into at length and that is, anyhow, of a rather doubtful character, that herring are moving probably northwards; and that there are actually, apart from anything else, fewer herring in the waters off the west of Scotland than there used to be. There is a large climatic change going on; but the herring, from their point of view, have other troubles. They used to be chased, once upon a time, by sailing boats Then they were chased by engined boats and the engines grew larger and larger; and the disturbance caused above the herring by even a small fleet of ring net boats is enough to frighten anybody.
Moreover, the herring are detected by ingenious devices the working of which I do not understand—but they work exceedingly well—and the herring do exactly what I should do in the circumstances: they go straight to the bottom where the ring net fishermen cannot get at them. Thus, both the volume of herring and the chances of getting them are getting rather smaller. Add to that that the fisherman has to live. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that in the village in Argyll, where I live, there are men doing this work who find it very hard indeed to get bare sustenance day by day. That is no casual thing. It is a thing that used to happen, that for a time stopped and that has now recommenced, and it is made even more serious by the financial difficulties which I will mention.
What does a fisherman do when he cannot get the herring? He begins to take risks that he would not otherwise take. What does he take them with? He takes them with the net, and nets have gone up in value and cost more than anything else. The result is that there is damage to nets and loss of nets. Then the fisherman has to meet far heavier standing charges than he used to have to meet. Some of them may be due to his engine troubles. I have mentioned those. Others, of course, include the interest he has to pay on his loan. Again, perhaps he was very wicked about it, but he used not to insure, as a rule. Now he has to insure. These standing charges take money out of every voyage.
The result is that the men who are doing the job are finding it harder and 99 harder, not to make a fortune out of fishing, but to get a living out of it. The Herring Board is now doing good work. One need only compare the name that the Board now has with the name that it used to have not so very long ago. It is now known and respected and, to quite a large degree, its work is understood.
What is the problem? I believe that the problem is one of setting up factories, a problem of selling herring, of treating them by quick-freezing or some other means; but, fundamentally, the problem is whether we are to keep these fishing communities. I am not thinking of the big towns. I am not even thinking of the moderately big towns. I am thinking of these little villages up and down the West Coast, many of them on either side of the Clyde, where there are fishing communities which, under the pressure of these difficulties, have steadily shrunk.
A community of that sort ought to be kept, not merely upon the ground that these men are the stuff out of which our sailors are made in time of war and that they and their forebears have done fine service for Britain, but also because they have grown up and lived in this business of fishing. They live a hard life, and, as a fishing community, they are something of real social value. I therefore join in doing what appears to be the custom in any debate about the Highlands, of unashamedly holding out a metaphorical hat and saying to the Government, "You really must be rather imprudent in making subsidies to these people, and you must also be rather imprudent in not trying to squeeze men—who at present are really in difficulties—to make repayment of loans."
I hasten to add that I know two things. First, the Herring Industry Board and the Government have not been squeezing hard, and if the Minister is going to say that they have hot been squeezing hard he will find me agreeing with him. Secondly, I am an incorrigible Englishman, but I have seen quite a bit of West Highlanders and know that getting money out of them is not always easy, even when they have got it. In this case these men have not got the money to repay much of these loans and, more than that, the way things are there is not very much prospect of their getting it. One cannot 100 get blood out of a stone, or money out of a man who has not got it. We may wreck a good community, which is of real social value, if we try too hard to fulfil the iron-handed mandates of the Treasury in matters of this sort.
Do not let us be ungrateful. Carradale is to get a harbour—or, rather, a reasonable pier—at long last. Anyone who lives there knows how much that means to the community. It is a thoroughly good thing that the granting of that sort of help to the fishing community is to be transferred in the way proposed by the Bill. Do not let us be ungrateful for all that the Herring Industry Board has done. I simply say that if we are to complete the work we have to face the fact that we shall lose quite a lot of money doing so, and we shall lose it for the purpose of preserving communities which have a real value, and not merely a naval but a social one.
I may be asked whether I have any positive suggestions to make, or am simply asking for the hat to be held out. I make two positive suggestions. The first is that nets are really the immediate crux of the matter, and anything which can be done to cheapen their production, so as to allow the fishermen to have them rather more cheaply, would be a singularly good investment. If we are going to give any money at all, I know no better way of doing it than by subsidising in some form or other the production and maintenance of nets. I would add to that one very small point. I once went to a Scottish prison—hon. Members will be glad to hear that it was only as a visitor—and was glad to see that, by arrangement with the trade, the prisoners were making nets. Work is very badly needed for prisoners in English prisons, and we might take a tip from Scotland and think about making nets.
My second point is that this is a question of preserving communities. We cannot consider fishing communities apart from the remaining activities of West Coast villages. We have to consider them as they are being considered at present, in conjunction with things like farming and village crafts. I do not want to exaggerate the importance or practicability of village industry, but something upon those lines would be an indirect contribution of the greatest value to the communities for which I have tried to say a word tonight.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I wish to intervene in this debate only very briefly in order to reinforce the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), and to ask one additional question about Clause 2 of the Bill. At first sight, it may be wondered why hon. Members from Cornwall are taking an interest in the Bill—because our fishermen constituents are not primarily interested in the herring industry. They fish for pilchards or, as longshoremen, for lobsters and crabs, or as at Mevagissey, where at certain seasons, quite a number of other fish are landed, using that ancient and effective system of fishing the long line, which does less damage to immature fish than any other method of fishing.
In Cornwall, we are not primarily concerned with the herring industry, and are really most interested in Clause 2.Cornwall has many small and very small ports which are concerned with the maintenance or development of the fishing industry, in that, in the past, they contributed largely to it and are still doing so, although to a lesser extent now because in most cases those ports have deteriorated owing to the increasing cost of keeping up their harbour works.
A year or two ago Mevagissey was in serious difficulties about raising sufficient money to restore the harbour arm, which had been undermined by the sea, and also to carry out repairs caused by enemy action. One of the difficulties was that it already had a considerable loan debt, and there was no means of raising the additional revenue to enable the harbour authorities to pay the interest on further loans. I assume that Clause 2 (3) is intended to deal with cases such as that, when it speaks specifically of the Minister being able to remit the payment of interest in certain cases. Cases such as that of Mevagissey are by no means unusual with small or very small ports.
Cornwall also has many ports or fishing places the origins of which are rather difficult to ascertain. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) described a fishing port in Scotland which had been built by the fishermen themselves. Cornwall has a number of small harbours which were built by various private people many years ago. Nobody knows very much about their origin, or who is now the responsible authority. I 102 have some in my division. There is Gorran Haven which, if only a little money could be spent upon it, could be restored and could make a real contribution to the industry. On the north coast, at St. Agnes, there is a port which has completely disappeared. The sea has washed it away and only the foundations are left.
I have been to some trouble to discover the legal position in relation to this small place. Very many years ago a private Act was passed concerning it, but nobody knows who are the successors in title to those who built it. I should like to know whether the words in the third line of Clause 2 (1) are intended to cover such cases. The Clause states:The… Minister may… give to a public authority or an association of persons or company not trading for profit assistance by way of grant or by way of loan.In cases such as that—when it is very difficult to find out who is the present authority—would the Minister have power under this Clause to come to an arrangement with any group of local in-habitants who could make out a case that there was a need for some small sum of money for the maintenance or development of the fishing industry at these places?
I have no wish to prolong the debate, but I desire to reiterate the importance of the small and very small ports, and to express the hope that the Bill will be of assistance to them, in so far as it makes, not a change in policy, but a simplification of the rather complicated procedure which it was necessary to follow hitherto in order to obtain loans or grants in cases of this sort.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I wish to support what the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) has just said about the small ports and fishing villages of Cornwall. Perhaps I know the harbour of St. Agnes better than he does, for I can well remember standing on its walls and seeing the waves sweeping in there. I have seen it in its heyday and also, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, since it has become a total wreck.
I support the plea made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for help to be given to the small industries and 103 small villages. Great places like Hull and Grimsby can hold the nation to ran-some, as far as Icelandic fish is concerned, and can back their policy to the extent of defying the Foreign Office. They can send out reams of paper justifying their actions. But tonight we are not thinking of these great ports; we are thinking of the small villages and, often, the handful of brave men who man our lifeboats when there is danger at sea and who man our minesweepers in time of war.
Time after time, and year after year, we find these people appealing to the Cornish Members of Parliament to help them because their industry is facing extinction. It has now become so bad that we are finding it extremely difficult to recruit young men into the industry at all. A short time ago, I learned to my great surprise and horror that we were even recruiting foreigners to man the fishing industry in Cornwall.
Nor is it only a case of the fishing industry. As the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries knows, our broccoli, flower and new potato growers are also facing difficulties. In my own district, there are certain other small industries, such as granite, which are the backbone of the countryside and of small remote places, which now have to face extreme foreign competition, and which are able to get very little help at all. I am pleading that whatever can be done through this Bill to assist these small fishing villages shall be done.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
I hope that the House will not agree with the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), who said that we are only interested in the smaller fishing ports of Scotland and Cornwall. I feel that we must not forget the contribution of the larger ports which, even though they do not make a contribution in herrings, mean so much to the industry and the country in making available the cheap fish which we eat.
I wish to add my welcome to the Bill, which will undoubtedly be of great benefit to the herring industry. As hon. Members know, the port of Hull is not very interested in the humble herring; it goes farther a field to chase King Cod. But I 104 am quite sure that, if I should try to widen the scope of this debate so as to encroach on the problems of the distant-water section of the industry, for example, the Icelandic dispute or the quayside price of fish, I should be ruled out of order, so I will confine my brief remarks to Clause 2, which deals with the improvement of fishing harbours, both large and small.
The port of Hull claims to be the largest fishing port in the world. It certainly operates a very fine modern fleet of large trawlers, which spend three weeks fishing off the coasts of Norway, Iceland or Greenland—ships which now cost £200,000 to build, but which cost £30,000 before the war, and which are built without any form of Government subsidy. I am sure hon. Members will agree that the efficiency of such a fleet largely depends on the facilities of its home port.
Out of the 162 trawlers operating from Hull, only 40 can be slipped at St. Andrew's Docks. There, we have four slipways and one side berth, and 122 ships from that port cannot be slipped on those slipways. The reason is that these slipways were built in the years before the war by the railway companies. Now, they are too small for modern ships. Not only does that mean great delay and extra expense to the industry, but it also means that ships have to go elsewhere to commercial ports, where they use berthing facilities and dry docks which could be better employed by the Merchant Navy.
It is also a fact that, when an owner wishes to build a new ship, he has to think pretty hard if he knows that the vessel cannot be slipped in his home port, and this may mean his choosing a design not of the most modern distant-water type, which must be bad for those yards specialising in trawler building in this country. I also want to point out that in this matter a similar state exists in Grimsby. I understand that ships over 175 feet long cannot be slipped there, and that those over 150 feet long cannot be side-tracked.
I hope that my hon. Friend, in reply to the debate, will be able to assure me that Clause 2 covers, or could cover, loans or grants so that the slipways in these two vitally important Humber ports could be improved so as to enable them to slip their own ships. If that is done, I am quite certain that the Bill will not only 105 be welcomed by the herring industry, but also by the important distant-water section of our fishing industry.
§ 7.38 p.m.
Major W. J.Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I should like to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) in looking at this Bill from the aspect of the provisions of Clauses 2 and 3, which deal with harbours.
I wish to begin, as did other hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, by paying my tribute to the men in the fishing industry as a whole, and by emphasising their importance to our country both in peace and in war, and the importance of assuring them of a livelihood. It should not be just good enough to keep the old men still working in the industry, but must be good enough to keep the younger generation working in it, confident that the industry will continue to provide them with a livelihood and will not let them down.
My interest is centred mainly on Clauses 2 and 3, which authorise the Secretary of State, in the case of Scotland, or the Ministry of Agriculture, in the case of England and Wales, to make grants for harbour improvements, subject to Treasury consent, without going through the lengthy additional process, which has been required up to date, of examination by the Development Commission.
My right hon. Friend traced the links through which every application has to go. First, the harbour board applies to the Treasury, which sends the application to the Scottish Office, in the case of Scotland, with the request that it should report upon it. Having reported, the Secretary of State for Scotland does not take action or ask the Treasury to take action, but sends the report to the Development Commission, which has to give it full consideration.
Then the Development Commission recommends it in part or in. Toto. to the Treasury, which decides whether or not to sanction the scheme; but where is the cash to come from? It has to come from the Development Commission to the Scottish Office and then to the harbour authority. That is a very long way round.
I am not criticising the Development Commissioners, but no one who has read the Report of the Select Committee on 106 Estimates dealing with the position of the Development Commission can deny that the Government are quite right to amend that procedure. It may have served its purpose in 1909, when it was introduced, but the procedure is long out of date now.
The Development Commission consists of eight individuals who are voluntary and unpaid. There is a vacancy today. Only one of them represents Scotland, though it happens that he is well chosen, from my constituency. It is a small body of voluntary people, with no technical advice at its disposal. I understand, from the Report of the Select Committee, that the Commission meets only once in a month, but it has had a decisive voice as to whether a grant should or should not be made for a harbour trust. This cannot be other than an anachronism.
The Commission has done good work, and in saying so I do not speak without facts and figures in my mind. I can cite the case of the Port of Eyemouth, in my constituency, where there was a scheme in the last year or so for the reconditioning of Saltgreens Quay. Out of a total expenditure of £32,500, the Development Commission recommended a grant of £32,000. That is a measure of the assistance which the Development Commission was able to recommend. This took no account of help given for coast protection, for which about £70,000 has been granted, and when the storms blew at the end of January, 1953, another £600 was made available.
At Port Seton, another place in my constituency, the Commission authorised, in grant and loans, for the West Breakwater extension, more than £8,000 out of a total cost of £9,000. At Dunbar it authorised a grant of £7,350 towards a total expenditure of £9,800.The Commission was undoubtedly filling a very useful purpose. In spite of all that, simplification and speeding up of the process of distributing grants where they are needed will result from Clauses 2 and 3.
The Bill will allow a Member of Parliament a closer approach to the Government on the subject of harbours as it may affect his constituency. It was not always feasible for an hon. Member to approach the Development Commission in these matters. I look forward, when the Bill becomes law, to being able to approach my hon. Friend once again on the subject of Eyemouth. I do not want 107 a stop-gap policy towards Eyemouth; not just some use of the dredger, which we in Scotland have but the English have not; not merely some scheme for a sluice to prevent silting up, which is being explored nowadays. Frankly, I think it is being explored without very much confidence in those who have the greatest experience in these ports.
We want a scheme for a new entrance to the harbour which will let boats come in and out whatever the state of the tide, and will allow larger boats to make regular use of the harbour. This will benefit the fishing community and the whole County of Berwickshire, where the population is none too plentiful. Anything which benefits the industry of that county is doing something worth doing for the whole of Scotland.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
When my right hon. Friend opened the debate he was careful to try to get everybody into the mood that he required by stating that his grandmother was a Scot. I, too, had a Scottish ancestor. I want to get an answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland which is favourable to me, so I declare my interest by saying that my mother was a Scot. That may help me out in the long run.
The Minister did not suggest that the Bill was anything but a help. It is not a great Bill to do enormous things. It will grant an extra £500,000 to the Herring Board and will transfer one or two functions with regard to ports to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, otherwise, there is no difference between the position under the Bill and the position as it now stands. I was rather surprised when the hon. Member for Fal-mouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) went off into broccoli and granite. I did not see what that had to do with the fishing industry.
§ Mr. Hayman
The hon. Member may be aware that fishing is a very small industry. The same is true of the industries in broccoli and new potatoes. They are small industries which the Government are sacrificing to their own doctrinnaire economic policies.
§ Mr. Marshall
I am glad that the hon. Member gave his reasons, which was what I wished him to do. I disagree 108 with him profoundly on the points which he made about the smaller and the larger ports and the fishermen in them. I have been connected in a great number of areas with people who fish. I find that the inshore fishermen are well aware that their prime product covers only about 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. of the fish required in this country, but they are absolutely needed in order to give the necessary variety of prime fish for the table which, in its turn, makes it all the better for the fishermen in the middle and far distant waters. Never are fishermen at cross-purposes among themselves. There is a fraternity among fishermen in Scotland, England, Cornwall and Wales which we all know they share.
§ Mr. Hayman
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman may be aware that there are other people in Britain besides fishermen. There are a great many ordinary people, on whom we have to depend for support for all the subsidies given to all the small industries, who are very alarmed about the Atlantic fishing position and the unilateral action of the trawler owners in the big ports.
§ Mr. Marshall
I trust that the hon. Member is equally aware that when we consider the whole of the food products of this country at present, without any form of subsidy at all, the cheapest food product compared to what it was before the war is fish. Perhaps he is unaware of that.
I am speaking at the end of the debate, when nearly everything that can be said has been said about the fishing industry. I will not weary the House with the question of the gallantry of the men and the need for them in war and as part of the security of the ports. I wish to make two specific points.
First, the Herring Board as a whole does a great deal of experimental and research work. It goes in for a certain amount of research and experimental work other than the herring itself, and I am convinced that the biological study of the Cornish pilchard has so far not been undertaken, not because the Herring board or any other part of the Research Department did not consider it should not be undertaken, but, frankly, because they have not had the time.
If I am right in the substance of the point which I put to the Minister, I trust 109 that he will look into it and see whether it is not possible in the near future—this cannot be done overnight or in a week—for a report to be made on the study of the pilchard, in the same way as a report is made on the study of the herring.
Secondly, certain experiments were conducted not long ago into the Lampara gear, and I should like to know whether these experiments are being continued. If not, why not? I should also like to know whether they are likely to continue in the future. I think that this device can be of interest to the fishing industry generally, and certainly to the pilchard industry.
The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) referred to that part of the herring industry which suffered from time to time on the question of being classified as seasonal workers, and I want fully to support in every way the point which my hon. Friend made. It is a point, I feel, which Her Majesty's Government should look at very carefully indeed.
This Bill, small as it is, and little that it does, and although it only transfers the functions in regard to the ports, raises two points in that connection. The Minister mentioned that he was sorry—I do not think with enormous meaning—that he had not any dredgers but the Scots had. One cannot always foretell what is likely to happen, but I think my right hon. Friend should equally remember that there are cases where the Commissioners, in order to make some of our small ports more economic and efficient, purchase dredgers with which not only to dredge their own ports but, from time to time, to help dredge ports which lie adjacent or nearby. Therefore, before considering any development from that point of view, it would be a pity, I think, if we found that something which had been extremely helpful to our ports might be jeopardised by not taking into account that particular point.
I have already said that the function of the Bill does not alter the position with regard to ports, but, when mentioning ports, I think it is proper and in order to say this: there are certain ports that need a great deal doing to them for two reasons. One reason may well be to give greater facilities to shipping generally, apart from the fishing industry itself. The other reason is one about which Her 110 Majesty's Government should never be forgetful.
This country, however much our political philosophies may differ, however much changes may be made, remains, and will remain, an island, and at any time, apart from war, other things can happen and cause dislocation in regard to the major ports. I will not go into the details of what could happen. There are some things which one cannot actually foresee, but certain things can happen, and, therefore, the ports which can take not only small ships but ships up to 18,000 tons or 20,000 tons and are capable of discharging and loading with ease have an enormous security and economic value of their own.
No doubt hon. Members will from time to time put forward different points for improving the port which they represent, but I trust that whenever an hon. Member does that he will never forget the defence interest, not only from the point of view of war, but the defence economic interest, in case there should at any time be dislocation in some of our greater ports.
Every hon. Member here gives his blessing to the Bill and recognises and admires the work which our fishermen do for this country. Most people realise the dangers and hazards of the fisherman's life, and I trust that everyone realises that it is fishermen's wives who sometimes wait. Those of use who have experienced that anxiety know it very well. The fishermen of England, Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales deserve all that we can ever give them.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The Scots in this House are rather interested to find that it is mostly Scots who have taken part in this debate, and that with one or two exceptions, they have been the "Sudeten" Scots, or at least the "Fifth Column" Scots, who have gone into England—as into so many other countries. We welcome the return of these wanderers.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) say that it was his mother who was Scottish, because, judging by his name, I think that the male side of the family is also not very far removed. It is rather interesting to have that fraternal feeling. I hope that those who have not themselves any claim to 111 Scottish ancestry will not feel outsiders in this debate, because, although we are proud of being Scots, we have no objection to being called British, and this is a British debate.
It has been an interesting discussion, and we have been a little amused to find the enthusiasm for subsidies exhibited by hon. Members opposite. When the Railways Bill comes along I think that we shall again find some hon. Members opposite willing to have subsidies, though they will not call them subsidies. They will want to give them another name.
Shipbuilders, fishermen, or anyone else who can get assistance from the Government, will be quite willing to get £ s. d. by whatever name it is called. Hon. Members opposite bear some of the responsibility for the opprobrium attached to subsidies, because they have made political propaganda out of them, and today the subsidy has been referred to as though it were some kind of public assistance of which to be ashamed. That raises the question of whether we should have subsidies, to which I shall refer later.
It is rather curious that we are spending a day discussing this very small fish called the herring. To most people it does not seem very important, yet some historians claim that perhaps the movement of herring and the fall of Constantinople were the most important developments in the history of this county and the world. I believe herring played their part in the discovery of America.
Certainly Britain dates its beginning as a sea Power from the time when the herring left the Baltic and shifted to the North Sea. That great movement is considered by some historians to be the basis upon which the prosperity of the North Sea ports was built, and, indeed, on which that seamanship was built that enabled us to defeat the Armada and reign for many generations as the rulers of the sea.
Therefore, when we are discussing the herring we are not discussing just a little fish, but something upon which our prosperity has depended in the past and on which it may again depend in the future. The hon. Member for Bodmin referred to the importance of the industry's defence aspect. If these fishing communities were destroyed in a war it might bring disaster to us because, without them, it 112 would be impossible really to defend ourselves against all that might come against us. In the last resort we depend on food for victory or even for survival.
Fish are fickle. "La donna e mobile," it is said, but in that respect she cannot beat the herrings and fish generally. No one knows where they will move to next. The herring are in the North Sea now, but we have heard that they have left the Clyde and the Forth. All sorts of explanations have been given for that, but so far the scientists do not seem able to tell us why. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) may have given the right reason.
At one time it was thought that the herring migrated all round the coast of Scotland and down to England, but scientists later discovered that they are quite different herring coming at different periods—that almost different species or races of herring are being fished at different times. It is, therefore, not clear where the Forth herring and the Clyde herring have gone, but as they may return it is important not to forget that these places, although deprived of the fish at the moment, can still be very important fishing ports.
I was brought up on the Firth of Forth, and the "Caller herrin'" that every Scotsman knows refers to the Firth of Forth fish. Charles Reade wrote a novel called "Christie Johnstone," in which the penny wedding is described. Anyone who wants to know what the fishing industry was like in those days should read that moving story of the herring fishers of the Forth. There they call the herring "lives o' men." We have to remember that those places may return to importance as fishing centres.
What is to be the public's attitude to this industry? Hon. Members opposite believe that private enterprise should be left alone and that the Government should not interfere. They cannot maintain that attitude in regard to this industry. It is no use their indulging in humbug of that kind. They know as well as I that unless there is Government interference the herring industry may perish. Let us agree that it is the duty of the Government to interfere in order to help it and see that it survives. If we are not to agree on that then hon. Gentlemen must follow the logic of their own policy and allow it to die.
113 We must have a public policy towards the herring industry. We must maintain the production of a valuable food. We have to maintain what I regard as a vital industry. We have to maintain what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has described as vital fishing communities. If those parts of the country are to be populated it is essential that their people should have a means of earning their living. Those places cannot merely have some sort of suburban and residential areas. We must have people who work and live in them, and fishing is the essential economic basis of that. As has already been said there is also the matter of security in war.
If we are to give subsidies, which I think are probably necessary, they should be purposeful subsidies. It is not a question of pouring money down the drain but of giving money to help people help themselves. The fishing people do not want to be patronised, in the sense of being pensioners on the rest of the community. Those in the industry feel that they are doing a job and are not being paid any more than other people for doing essential work. If they do that work, with all its hazards, and live in isolated areas, they ask why they should be paid less for such an essential service than are people working in and around London.
It is only an economic freak that London has such a great economic drawing power and so many economic benefits, but London itself could not live if those isolated communities did not exist. Therefore we must maintain our fishing population and industries throughout the country as a whole. The Highlands must be maintained, and so must Cornwall. We must give people a reasonable livelihood if they do their duty to the State in those areas. It is public policy to see that those who do their duty to the community get a reasonable reward for their labours.
That does not mean that there must be any waste. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) that these things must be supervised. The basis of the industry is undoubtedly the harbour. Unless the harbour is in good condition the fishermen cannot be sure of working to the best advantage. But although the harbours may be the basis we must be sure 114 that the money spent on them is not wasted.
In the North of Scotland I have seen breakwaters on which the money has just been wasted. After thousands and thousands of tons of cement have been made into a harbour the fishermen must go back to their old cove, because the harbour was built in the wrong place. We do not want anything of the nature of "Someone promised them a harbour so give them one," without reference to its purpose.
The purpose of the subsidy is to make it possible for communities to live and thrive in the future. There should be very clear directions as to where these subsidies go. The industry has this difficulty that Nature, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has said, is bountiful one minute and niggardly the next. First there is a glut and then there is a scarcity. When the glut comes there must be waste, unless provision is made for absorbing the surplus. Methods have been worked out by the Herring Industry Board for absorbing that surplus. The first buttress, as it were, is this provision of oil and meal processing for the fish that cannot be consumed in its fresh or cured condition.
Nevertheless the main aim of the herring industry—and here I disagree with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod)—ought to be to supply fresh food to the people. It would be a great tragedy if fishermen were to risk their lives merely to supply the oil and meal factories, and not to give to the people the benefit of this beautiful fresh food.
§ Mr. John MacLeod
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not mean to misinterpret what I said. I do maintain, of course, that, at all costs, we must sell herrings for human consumption, I said that I think the limit of that consumption has been reached. Very fine propaganda has been put out by the Herring Board and by others but the herrings are not being sold, so I say that we must do all we can to increase the oil and meal processing.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I shall come to that, but I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about oil and meal processing. I think that we should increase the consumption as human food.
115 The Board has done a good job, but I am sure that no one will say that the last word has been said as to what can be accomplished in increasing consumption; and not even the Herring Board would agree that the limit of human consumption has been reached.
There are two main problems. The first problem is to find the fish. As I say, these fish seem a little fickle. One of the difficulties now is that, even though the fishermen are ready to find them, they catch the fishermen napping. The fish go in the Minch and the Moray Firth at the same time, and there is no possibility of the fishermen being in both places at the same time. It is not possible to reap the harvest capable of being reaped when the fish come to the surface in these two areas at the same time. That is a problem which can only be dealt with by means of a surplus of boats, which would be quite uneconomic, and therefore we must make a sacrifice to that extent.
§ Mr. Duthie
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was using those two places merely as an illustration, but the fish do not come in the Moray Firth and the Minch at the same time.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The Herring Industry Board Report says they do. The hon. Member may be right in what he says, but I can only accept the Herring Board's Report. If he is right, I apologise to him, and if not perhaps he will apologise to the Herring Industry Board.
The Board has tried various methods of spotting the fish. It has tried air spotting and the Asdic method, and various other electronic arrangements are being experimented with in order to discover where the fish are, and to save time. We may or may not have success in this field. What we must have from the fishing industry is efficient fishing and some co-operation with the organisation which we set up. The Report says that when there is a big rush of fish, the fishermen go into Fraserburgh and Peter-head but ignore Wick, where a great organisation has been set up to deal with the fish, with the result that Fraserburgh and Peterhead are overloaded while Wick stands idle. I hope the fishermen will co-operate and will realise that it is in their interests not to waste the community's money by leaving Wick standing idle.
116 It seems a tragedy that the community should have spent so much money making that fine harbour at Wick, and providing every facility for fishermen there, while the people there seem to have deserted the fishing industry. No boats go out from Wick to fish herring, and the people there seem to have become as fickle as the fish. Just as the fish has deserted the Clyde, so have the people of Wick deserted the herring industry. Unless the fishermen from other ports are prepared to use Wick, the facilities there will become a white elephant. The fishermen have a responsibility to land the fish at the ports in co-operation with the Herring Industry Board.
The main problem is marketing—getting the fish to the market and persuading people to buy it. Consider the amount of money spent in persuading people to buy soap powders and various kinds of pills. People will pay 1s. 1½d. for a halfpenny-worth of pills. That is because they are so persuaded by advertisements. If that sort of publicity were devoted to the herring, I am sure that sales would greatly increase. If people were convinced that the herring was good for health, or that it might prevent some diseases, they would buy it.
There is the difficulty of boning and cooking. I understand that the fleets could be prepared very quickly to enable some kind of mechanical boning to be done. The hon. Member for Banff, who knows so much about this subject, described some of the methods. There is no doubt that it could be done; indeed, I believe that some of the boats are on the point of being equipped for this purpose, but generally speaking the fleets will not do that unless they are sure that the catch will be sold.
The herring industry, like every other industry, has got to cater for the changing habits of the housewife. There are women who go out to work and who do not want to stand in the kitchen for long periods. They want easier methods of preparing food. The product of the industry has to compete with tinned and frozen peas and all sorts of other tinned foods which can be taken off the shelf and require little preparation. The herring industry and the Herring Industry Board have tackled this problem, and there has been produced the consumer pack of precooked frozen kippers or fillets which can 117 be put in the oven and heated, and are then ready to eat.
Success for this answer to the problem requires a big sales organisation. The Herring Board might be criticised if it spent anything like as much on advertising as some of the big commercial companies spend, but there is no doubt that once this sort of method is developed whereby easy cooking is introduced, the consumption of herring might well be expanded considerably.
I understand that these pre-cooked quick-frozen kippers could be sold for about 2s. a ½ lb. That would not be extravagant. Even if 3d. were added to that price to pay for advertisement, people would probably buy the fish by the time they were persuaded by the sort of salesmanship tactics which are employed to sell such commodities as soap. I do not see why it should not be just as important to put the right foods into people as it is for them to wash with the right kind of soap.
Exporting is another important method of expanding consumption. I understand that great progress has been made in redeveloping the Russian market. Perhaps the Minister can tell us a little about that. There is speculation as to whether the market will be affected by the change in emphasis from consumer goods to heavy industry in Russia. Will this concentration on heavy industry in Russia deal a blow to the trade in consumer goods, including herrings, which has been built up in the last few years? I hope that, through diplomatic channels, the Government will be able to persuade the Russian Government that they ought not to stop this trade, now that it is working satisfactorily, and that it might be a good thing for peace and good relations between this country and Russia if we could continue our herring trade with them.
The most important part of the Bill deals with the development of the use of the surplus for oil and meal. I am glad to hear that the Government hope that after another two years this development will be able to stand on its own feet. I am sure the industry does not want a subsidy if it can exist without one, and we should not subsidise an industry if it can be independent of a subsidy.
Hon. Members have raised some incidental problems which deserve the con- 118 sideration of the Government, and no doubt the Minister will reply to some of them. There is the important question of unemployment benefit, the anomaly between the men engaged in herring fishing and those in the white fish industry. This appears to be a great anomaly because there are double-purpose boats in which men fish partly for herring and partly for white fish, and I am not sure how these men qualify under the definition of unemployment. Perhaps the Minister will tell us something about this.
I should also be obliged if the Minister would reply to the questions which have been asked about nets. The most important question seems to be the price, and if that can be reduced I am sure it will be of some help. I am not sure that the Clyde fishermen's problem can be so easily solved. As I understand it, their problem arises from the lack of fish to enable them to pay for their nets. They probably destroy more nets trying to catch fish at the bottom of the sea.
There are problems such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty at Ullapool, where great catches come in and where sometimes 120 boats are used, and there are not the facilities to handle the catch. There is the difficulty that if Ullapool is developed and a great amount of money is invested, the fish may change their minds and go back to the Clyde, in which case we should be left in the position of having expended a great deal of capital with no possibility of realising any return on it. The best thing is to put these factories in a central area, within reasonable distance of the ports in that part of the country. That would be the most economical way of tackling the problem.
There is no need for the House to apologise for the smallness of the Bill or of the grants, because obviously these are what we hope to be the last of the grants. It would be a tragedy for the fishing industry if it required bigger sums. We have to compliment ourselves if, as the Government say, this is all the industry will need before it is put on its feet. I wish I could be quite sure of that. We are all prepared to live in hope. Probably that hope has existed for about 200 years and it may be that it will finally be fulfilled although, as the poet said, "I ha'e ma doots."
119 Without the sort of co-ordination and leadership given by the Herring Board and the Secretary of State, this industry could easily find itself in chaos. We must bear in mind that not all is done by the Herring Board; a great deal of the administration is done by the Secretary of State's Department, which also provides a great deal of the guidance. This is not a big, centralised industry. As hon. Members have said, it consists of a large number of small people, difficult to organise, very independent and individualistic people who are not easily persuaded to co-operate.
I question whether it would be possible to have another body which would bring all these people, scattered around the coast, into one common organisation. In my opinion the only two bodies which can do it are the Herring Board and the Secretary of State's Department. They can co-ordinate all the efforts, guide the efforts of those men into the proper channels and see that advantage is not taken of them in the general market.
We therefore welcome the Bill, and hope that the industry will soon be re-equipped to the greatest advantage of these communities and of the nation. The debate has shown that there is still a great deal of interest in the industry, and that most hon. Members wish it well. On behalf of my hon. Friends, I should like to thank both the fishermen, who give this valiant service to the economic well being of the nation and to its security, and the Herring Board for the efforts which it has been making to bring the industry into a state of stability, prosperity and mutual help.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)
I am sure that the House will agree with the sentiments with which the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) concluded his speech. As usual, hon. Members have shown the keenest interest and a wide measure of unanimity of purpose in the debate, and it has, therefore, been a pleasure to all of us who are associated with the industry to have taken part in this discussion.
May I first follow up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir. D. Robertson), who complained that we have rushed the 120 Bill upon the House. The Bill was available at the Vote Office on 3rd February and it was in the hands of hon. Members on the following Monday. It may be that even that is a rather short time, but it is not the shortest time in which I have known a Bill to be presented to the House.
I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire that we are here dealing with a very important national industry which calls for the creation and implementation of public policy. It is inconceivable that this or any other Government could allow this vital enterprise to go to the wall. It is an industry in which the State must play a part, not only for the reasons given by my hon. Friends the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R.Howard) and the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who pleaded so eloquently for the small villages, small industries and small trades, but also because, along the whole of our coastline, and particularly that of Scotland, the economy of the people depends upon this remaining an active and prosperous trade.
There is no dispute among us, therefore, that the State must play a part and that financial support must be provided. It is provided in one way in the white fish industry and is provided in another way, in the Bill, in the case of the herring industry.
The Bill deals not only with herrings, but also with harbours, and, as a good many questions have been asked about harbours, it might be best if I tried quickly—because I am sure I shall not be expected to make a long speech—to answer the main points which have been made on that aspect. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives that many of the points are better dealt with in Committee, but I will try to deal with them now as far as I can.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) was concerned to know whether a harbour had to be purely a fishing harbour before it could receive a grant or whether it could be a dual purpose harbour. A harbour which has fishing interests is eligible for a grant under Clause 2. When hon. Members from the great ports of England, such as Hull, ask me whether the Clause applies to them—as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 121 Haltemprice (Major Wall)—I must confess that I cannot so easily answer because, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, Hull is a British Transport Commission harbour. I do not represent the Transport Commission and I must ask him to allow me a little time in which to inquire into the matter. Perhaps he might raise it in Committee.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus also asked about the ratio of grants to loans for harbour works. I gather that up to now the average has been about two-thirds grant to one-third loan, but the ratio varies from case to case and often, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) pointed out, the grant can be as high as 90 per cent.
I was also asked what is a "landward approach." This phrase in the Clause is meant to cover anything essential to the functions of the harbour and primarily to cover approach roads. I cannot put it more specifically than that.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod) asked about Ullapool Harbour. The harbour is being extended to double its size—[An Hon. Member: "Too late."] I do not think it is too late—at a cost of £49,000, towards which the county council has been offered a grant of £33,000 and a loan of £15,000.Ross and Cromarty has not done too badly over this proposition and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the pertinacity and success with which he has pursued this matter.
§ Mr. Stewart
If I may take the point, this really is a landward approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty raised the question of the width of the new road to Ullapool. I do not think I can go very far in discussing the question. I know the case quite well. There would appear to be a strong case for having a wide road on account of heavy traffic. The point my hon. Friend made was that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, which is 122 undertaking this work, is not doing all that it might. That view, having been expressed in this House, will no doubt reach the Hydro-Electric Board. I think I had better leave the matter there.
§ Mr. John MacLeod
May I correct my hon. Friend? The Hydro-Electric Board is just replacing the road it has done away with. I maintain that it should not be replacing it but should be given assistance to make that road double the width.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked whether harbour development now in process will be completed under existing procedure or the new procedure. The answer is that Ministers will take over everything as from 1st April; whatever the liabilities they will be taken over.
My hon. Friend the Member for St.Ives asked whether there would be remission of loans under the Public Works Loan Board. The answer, I am informed, is "No," because this Bill does not deal with public works loans. My hon. Friend also asked about dredging. I think I can give a useful answer when I say that dredging can be assisted as part of a scheme of improvement and repairs, as set out in Clause 2.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) explained that under the existing system of loans or grants Eyemouth and other places get about £8,000 out of £9,000. I gathered from the remarks of the hon. Gentleman that it is expected under the new system that they are to get more. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how the new system will work?
§ Mr. Stewart
No, I did not intend to say anything like that. What I said was that at present there are quite a number of cases where the grant represents nearly 90 per cent. of the total monetary assistance, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian showed in the case of Eyemouth. Future policy will be like that of the past; it will be as in the time of the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire. The application of each harbour will be examined 123 on its merits, whether it is in Cornwall or the North of Scotland. Where there is a case for a large grant and a small loan that case will be met, but there are other cases where that is not necessary.
The House might like to have these statistics. From the inception of the Development Fund, in 1910,to the end of January this year loans to harbour authorities to the extent of approximately £383,000 have been remitted. Lest even after this debate Scotland should think it is neglected, I should point out that £362,000 of that sum was remitted for Scotland. I do not think there is any reason to complain there.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) asked whether the Bill applies to Northern Ireland. Clause 1 does apply. The Herring Industry Board buy surplus herring from Northern Ireland and is now in negotiation with the Government of Northern Ireland to see whether it would be possible to get some local firm in Northern Ireland to undertake actual processing there. I think my hon. Friend can feel that Northern Ireland is not being neglected by the Board.
I come back to my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty, who asked about Avoch. The history of Avoch is interesting. The Board tried to get a factory established at Ullapool, where the chief landings are made, and that would have been the best arrangement. The local authority planning committee, however, would not agree to a factory at Ullapool, perhaps because it is a charming holiday resort. I am sorry to say that, despite all scientific advance, there is a certain aroma about these factories. The scheme, therefore, was not possible.
The Board has searched far and wide for a suitable factory site and has tried Inverness, but Inverness rejected the idea and so the Board got to Avoch, on the Black Isle. The position is that while a site is available, and the fishermen want the factory and the county council approves it, the Avoch site would be valueless without a new pier, the cost of which is fairly substantial. The proposition, therefore, involving the cost of a 124 factory and of a new pier, has gone to the Development Commission, by whom it is now being examined. I wish I had been able to tell my hon. Friend the result of the Commission's consideration, but I hope to be able to do so very soon.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
What happened at Ayr after the Chairman of the Herring Board said that development would take place? After he made the promise to the fishermen, nothing was done.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am speaking from memory, but I think there was, again, the difficulty of getting permission to use a site or getting a suitable building. One or other of these reasons has stumped the Herring Board on many occasions.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) asked why the Herring Board could not buy sprats and give, I presume, to the sprat catchers the herring oil and meal price. The hon. Member and I have had this out before, and he kindly brought a deputation of his constituents to see me. I would like to have been able to meet the case put to me on that occasion, but sprats are white fish and the white fish side of the industry already gets a substantial subsidy—a much more generous subsidy, some would say, than is given to the herring side. I do not think it is possible to extend to the white fish industry the advantages of this further herring subsidy, which at the moment is confined to herring. I am sorry, therefore, not to be able to help.
§ Mr. Hoy
What I was suggesting was that an arrangement might be come to whereby the Herring Board could utilise the sprat surplus. All that the industry asked was that the suggestion might be considered, and not that the white fish side should get the grants on the same scale as in the case of the Herring Board. The proposal was sent to the White Fish Authority a considerable time ago but no reply has been forthcoming.
§ Mr. Stewart
The Herring Industry Board is free now to buy sprats and mackerel and to pay for them, but it cannot pay for them at the subsidised price that is offered to the catchers of herring. That is the difficulty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aber-deenshire East (Sir R. Boothby) asked what is happening at Peterhead. The 125 latest information is that the Herring Board is making good progress with the factory there. The main building is completed and some plant has been installed. The Board will do its utmost to have it ready and in working order this summer, and I hope that that will be so.
My hon. Friend, with his accustomed wisdom, drew attention also to the importance of getting the fishermen and their boats to deposit the herring for oil and meal at the right places.
§ Mr. Stewart
I quite agree.
The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire raised the same point. What a waste of national resources it is to have herring oil and meal factories at Stornoway and Wick and not use them to the full. The Board was sensible of that point and last year, as is known, increased the price from 40s. to 45s. for herring landed at Wick and Stornoway. I have no doubt that this year the Board will consider whether to apply the same kind of differential policy in settling its final prices.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) moved us by his very eloquent plea for ring netters on the West Coast of Scotland. I have considerable sympathy with him. Without doubt the ring netters represent that branch of the herring industry which has had the toughest time in the last year or two. We should like very much to do something to help, but it is not very easy. In fact, the ring netters on the Clyde are moving in increasing numbers over to dual purpose boats and to the white fishing side of the industry. The White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board are being very sensible in their co-operation in encouraging this movement. It may be that we shall see a wider change in that direction.
Let us face at once this question of National Insurance in connection with manpower. I am well aware of the anxiety on the subject in the minds of my hon. Friends from the North of Scotland. I have been involved in this problem in the old days, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire knows. The definition of seasonal workers is laid down in regulations made by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, after 126 consulting his advisory committee. The regulations do not classify drift net fishing or any other occupation as seasonal. They provide that any insured persons whose records show that they are normally unemployed at the same period or periods in successive years are to be treated as seasonal workers. That is all.
If a man is employed for 45 out of the 52 weeks he is not a seasonal worker. Herring fishing is becoming an all round the year effort and it may be that fewer and fewer herring fishermen could possibly be described as seasonal workers. However, I recognise the strength of feeling on this matter and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, who has been with us most of the day, has been impressed by it. I assure the House that he and I will represent to our right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance the views expressed by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Lawson
The question which I raised is related to seasonal fishing. Before he leaves the subject, will not the hon. Gentleman say something about persistently taking herring out of the water when they are not fit for human consumption? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] That is perfectly true.
§ Mr. Stewart
If I delve into that problem I shall be in great difficulty. The hon. Member will notice that opinion in the House is not unanimous.
§ Mr. Lawson
I quote from the Board's Report:The Board's proposals to end this were not acceptable to H.M. Government, and, such is the effect of the Law of Supply (if unregulated) and demand that, frequently, the highest first-hand prices are paid, and are reflected in the price charged to the consumer, for the worst quality herring that are caught.
§ Mr. Stewart
It must be admitted that there are seasons when herring are much better than others. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to speak directly about the proposals for a close season, I will gladly do so.
In its last Report the Herring Industry Board indicated that it had been considering this matter. In 1950, it put up a proposal which the Government at that time did not see fit to accept, no doubt for good reasons. The Board has not repeated that proposal to us yet. It may well do so one day but, until it does, 127 I cannot make a statement, except to tell the hon. Member for Mother well that as far as I understand, most of the Scottish fishermen are for the proposal but all the English fishermen are against it, and this makes it a little difficult to carry through.
I would like the House to feel that the Board has been open-hearted and generous about boats and engines. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland has a case I know very well which has given concern both to him and to me. The general picture, however, is this: Up to the end of last year the Herring Industry Board had received 49 applications for new boats. Of those, 40 have been approved, three are still under consideration, six only have been refused. In the case of engines, they have had 22 applications for new ones,14 have been accepted, three are still under consideration, two have been refused and three have been withdrawn.
That is not to say that everything the Board does is perfect or that it has never made a mistake—no one would say that—but,by and large, the Board has pursued a liberal policy in this matter, and individual cases, while giving us all anxiety, should not blur the general picture.
§ Mr. Stewart
In round figures, the assistance offered for new boats was as follows: grants, £142,000; loans, £205,000. For new engines: grants, £10,000; loans, £5,000.
§ Mr. Hoy
May I take this a little further? Has the hon. Gentleman received any complaints from those who would like to purchase boats about having to put down such a large percentage as 15 per cent. of the cost on the day of order, and so having to lay out this money until such time as the boat is completed and set to work?
§ Mr. Stewart
I heard that represented to me by the hon. Gentleman some time ago and he did it very persuasively, but I do not think that the White Fish Authority, the Herring Industry Board and the Treasury were altogether impressed by his argument; but no doubt the hon. Gentleman will return to it, as he generally does in these matters.
§ Mr. Stewart
There are difficulties. On research, as the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) said, it is terrible that in this modern age great fleets of boats, involving vast capital sums and manpower, assemble in one area or another hoping for herring, and none is found. We are all anxious that the methods of locating fish should be extended, and I can give the House the assurance that the Herring Industry Board and the Departments concerned with research are actively considering this matter.
Research on quick freezing was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who speaks with great knowledge of this matter. There is no argument about that. I agree with him. In this period the treatment of fish must follow the same movement as that of other kinds of food. The Board is fully aware of that. As hon. Members will have seen in last year's Report, the Board has persuaded kipperers to cooperate in the quick-freezing process. This year, the Board will be going further. The next Report, which, I hope, will be available to the House in April, will, I think, show that the Board has something further to say about the whole business of quick freezing.
The hon. Member for Banff asked about the Larsson net. He probably knows better than I do that experiments have been made. The Scottish Home Department has been consulted, too, but we have not found that it has been a success. It may be that we will have to go further with it, but I must report to my hon. Friend that quite serious work has so far been done, without success.
§ Mr. Duthie
I believe that the experiment has been made by the Board's own vessel. May I suggest that it should be tried out by an independent vessel and crew?
§ Mr. Stewart
The Board tried an experiment with that trawl in 1953. The results were disappointing. Experiments were subsequently carried out by both the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Scottish Home Department research vessels, but no clear evidence has yet been produced to indicate that this method will be successful. Nevertheless, I do not say 129 that this is the end of our efforts in that direction.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) mentioned pilchards. I am told that pilchards are white fish, not herring. Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries scientists are still working on Lampara fishing which, I gather, is a Spanish method. They are conducting a survey of pilchard fisheries. I hope that eventually my hon. Friend will get a satisfactory reply.
I think that I have said as much as I need say about research. I pass now to the; last points, one on exports and one on home markets. On exports, again I ask the House to realise that we are in a different world from that of pre-war days. Before the war my hon, Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire and I used to speak about the great sales to Russia. All that has changed. It is nobody's fault that our sales abroad, particularly to the eastern countries of Europe, are not what they were, but the Board is doing rather well within its limited sphere.
It has been successful in getting substantial sales to Russia in each of the last two years, as well as to Finland, Western Germany and Eastern Germany. I was asked about the Russian contract for this year. It is not for me to say what the effect of the recent changes in Russia will be upon the prospects of our deal in herring, but the Board is in contact with the Russian authorities on the matter. I hope very much that we may be able to carry through another deal this year.
One hon. Member asked why it was that we could not expand the sale of herring in Israel. The trouble is that Israel is peculiarly short of sterling, as we all know, and herring are very much a consumer product. It has never been thought, by this or the last Government, that it was a sound proposition to offer long-term credit for this product there.
§ Mr. Hoy
I pointed out that Western Germany is exporting considerable quantities of herring to Israel, and denying us a market. I should like to know whether Western Germany is accepting imports of herring from us and then in turn exporting her own, or whether she is re-exporting our produce, because she is exporting, as the Report for 1953 shows, in considerable quantity to Israel.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am sorry, but I am not able to give the hon. Member the right 130 answer. I do not know what herrings Germany is exporting, but since the hon. Member has invited me to do so I shall certainly look into the matter and let him know. I can only hope that by persistence and hard work, together with the assistance of the Board of Trade and other Government Departments, we can keep up and increase our exports of herrings.
As to the home market, I can only repeat the disappointment which has been ringing through the House all day. It is disappointing that we cannot get people to eat as many herrings as they should. It may be that the Herring Industry Board and the fishermen themselves will have to make a new drive—a new presentation or method of marketing herrings to suit the needs and wishes of housewives. That may come as an exhortation from this House—because I am merely expressing what others have said—to the Board, to keep thinking and driving towards the discovery of new methods.
I conclude by thanking hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House for having received this Bill so kindly, and I trust that it will now be given a unanimous Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. E.Wakefield.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.