HL Deb 27 June 1938 vol 110 cc285-306

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the principal object of this Bill is to provide a measure of financial assistance to herring fishermen and to extend certain provisions in the Herring Industry Act of 1935. Your Lordships will perhaps recall that the Act of 1935 set up a Herring Industry Board, a part of whose expenses was to be met from the Exchequer. That Act also provided for loans from the Exchequer to enable the Board to finance the re-equipment of the fleet and similar purposes. It was hoped that this financial assistance and machinery would place the industry on a satisfactory footing. Unfortunately that expectation has not been realised. There was some improvement in the total catch between 1934 and 1937—and I do not propose at this stage to detain your Lordships with a plethora of figures, but I may say that the increase was small in relation to the amount of the catch before the War, or even in 1929 before the economic crisis arose. The main difficulty is the decline in our export trade in cured herring. A number of Continental countries who were previously large customers of this country have, as your Lordships are aware, now replaced this source of supply to a considerable extent by home production, and the keenness of foreign competition makes it all the more necessary that our home industry should be in an efficient state.

In present circumstances many owners are not in a position to replace obsolete vessels even with the aid of loans granted to them under the 1935 Act. The Government therefore propose an emergency scheme of assistance, limited to a period of five years, by which grants in addition to loans would be made available for the construction of new boats. The idea is replacement and not expansion, and it is proposed in the Bill that the scheme shall apply only to motor boats. According to present prospects herring fishing can only be a part-time occupation for a substantial number of fishermen, and it is felt that a vessel offering more opportunity of alternative employment than the steam drifter can offer must be considered. Moreover, the initial cost and running expenses of a motor boat are considerably less than those of a steam drifter. The intention is, therefore, that as steam drifters fall out of commission they may be replaced by a corresponding number of motor boats with the aid of grants under the scheme. These grants will not exceed one-third of the total cost. The owners will be able to raise the bulk of the remainder of the cost, if so desired, by means of a loan. The maximum amount of these grants will be £250,000 over the five-year period.

Other important parts of the Bill which I now present to your Lordships for Second Reading are the reconstitution of the Herring Industry Board and the continued payment by the Government towards certain expenses incurred by the Board. As I expect some of your Lordships are aware, the Herring Industry Board is in different form from that of the ordinary marketing board in that it consists at present of three independent members, together with representatives of the various sections of the industry. The Board has power of control over all these various sections. It has been proved that this constitution has not functioned well, and it is therefore proposed that the new Board shall consist of three independent members only. That means that the trade representatives will be dispensed with, and will be replaced by an Advisory Council whose function it will be to advise and assist the Board. This plan is in accordance with the express views of large and important sections of the industry, and your Lordships will observe that the necessary provisions governing this alteration of the machinery are included in Clauses 1 and 2.

Clause 3 provides for contributions to the administrative expenses of the Herring Industry Board and also to the cost of schemes for market development, research, and other purposes. The provision for these purposes in the Act of 1935 came to an end in March, 1938, by which time it was thought that the industry would be able to bear the whole cost, but recently the Government have decided that the industry is unable to bear the whole cost of all these expenses at the present time; so under this head £125,000 would be available up to March, 1944. Clause 4 relates to the grants for the construction of motor boats, to which I have already made some reference. The remaining clauses in the Bill raise no important questions of principle. They provide for the extension of certain powers of the Herring Industry Board and for certain other small minor matters.

It is true that the expectations raised at the time of the passing of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, which we now know as the principal Act, have not been fully reached, largely owing to world movements outside the control of this Government or of the home industry; but we cannot on those grounds leave the herring fishermen in the lurch. They are, as we are fully aware, a community that has suffered great hardship and loss in the past ten years, and they deserve all that we can give them in sympathy. I should add that the success of measures such as these is, of course, dependent to a very large extent on the degree of good will and co-operation within the industry itself. I think your Lordships will recognise that the Government have endeavoured to play their part and shown readiness to give sympathetic consideration to all the problems to which I have just referred, but I hope that in future the relations between the Board and the industry will be more nearly what we should all desire to see. Your Lordships will perhaps have seen the publication of the third Report of the Herring Industry Board since this Bill was debated in another place, and from study of that Report your Lordships will be aware of some of the great difficulties that have been experienced in recent years within the industry. The object of the Bill which I now present to your Lordships is that some of the main difficulties will be obviated and I hope that your Lordships will not hesitate to give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Feversham.)


My Lords, the Bill that your Lordships have before you was examined by my noble friends in another place, who did not oppose it in principle, and I do not propose to offer any opposition to the Bill as a whole. In all the circumstances we have supported the Bill, but we are nevertheless not satisfied with certain details which I will as shortly as possible explain to your Lordships. To begin with, we do not believe that this Bill will solve the problems of the herring industry. It will only be one of a series of Bills, and it does not in our opinion provide the ultimate solution, nor is it likely to do so. I should like to congratulate the Government on the change they have made in the composition of the Board. I think it is far better to have three altogether independent members instead of a mixed committee representative of different sections of the industry, who cannot be independent and cannot be altogether representative. I wish the Government had adopted the same principle in the Films Bill which we had before this House earlier in the year. However, I am glad to see the principle enshrined in the present Bill.

The criticism which I now venture to offer upon the Bill is in regard to the provision by Clause 4 of £250,000 to subsidise the building of new motor boats. If it had been new boats I would not have minded so much, because then it would have been left to the fishermen to provide some of the motor drifters as they desired or as they could satisfy the Board about them. To lay it down that they are all to be motor boats in the future is, I think, bad policy taking the long view, and for two reasons in particular. I know that the Admiralty's expressed view nowadays is that the steam drifter is out of date for naval purposes, but I do not agree with that. I saw far too much, as other noble Lords did, of the great value of steam drifters to the Fleet for all sorts of purposes at home and abroad, from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, all over our home waters and as far away as the Red Sea, to accept the Admiralty's present view. They proved to be most valuable craft that will stand up to a great deal of knocking about, which the motor boat will not, and they are better sea boats in bad weather than are motor boats. That is one reason.

The other reason is that in these days I do not think it is good policy to encourage directly by Government subsidies the further use of imported motor spirit in place of our own coal. The amount of coal, you may say, is not very large. There are at the present time about 700 steam drifters and they consume approximately 150,000 tons of coal a year, or about 240 tons per drifter. This subsidy will provide 250 motor boats, and it will lead to a diminution in the demand for our coal to the extent of about 60,000 tons of coal a year. It will affect labour in the ports where the bunkering is done and it will of course affect labour in the coalfields. Furthermore the State is now going to be directly interested in the coal seams of the country, because we are becoming the coalowners of the country under the Bill which is to come before your Lordships for Third Reading tomorrow. We have, therefore, a direct public interest in encouraging the use of coal, and yet by this Bill we are subsidising the use of motor spirit. Moreover, in time of war, when motor boats will be largely used because we want to get all the fish we can and the steam drifters will be useful for naval purposes, then will be the time when we want to use coal rather than imported motor spirit. That is, I think, a serious criticism of this particular provision of the Bill.

With regard to the future of the herring industry, I speak with some diffidence on this matter in view of the presence of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Mancroft, who has a great reputation for his knowledge on this subject, but I would like to make one or two suggestions with regard to new markets. The falling off in the prosperity in the herring industry is, as your Lordships are probably well aware, due to the falling off in the demand of three great European countries, Germany, Russia and Holland. All three countries have, to a certain extent, developed their own herring fishing fleets, and they do not buy herrings from us for various reasons, including the fact that they are catching them for themselves and also because of economic reasons. But there are other markets which should be developed in our various trade agreements with Northern European countries. We have done what we can, I fully admit, to encourage the purchase of herrings, but I think more could be done.

Take for example the case of two great markets, those of Poland and Rumania. There the difficulty is that there are no credits. It is difficult for either Polish or Rumanian merchants to buy from us because they cannot get clearances of sterling. I think a great deal more could be done in that respect. It is true that last year guarantees were made to the extent, I think, of £60,000 to Poland, but that is nothing in comparison with the potential Polish market. Poland is a great herring-eating country, and if we made guarantees more easily available I believe we could sell a great deal more in that part of the world. Then there is another part of the world that is almost untouched but which could consume immense quantities of fish, and here you have the advantages of new inventions in preserving foodstuffs and fish in particular. I am not now referring to freezing but to the new system of chilling, or frosting, as it is called. Many of your Lordships who take an interest in the preservation of agricultural produce know that that has made great strides. Modern methods of chilling and frosting would enable fish to be sent to far-distant markets and to arrive as fresh as when it was caught. The market I have in mind is West Africa. There is a great shortage of fish there, and the natives would welcome greater supplies of cheap fish. I think attention should be given to that particular market.

With regard to our own home market, a great deal has been done, I know, in the way of advertising and advising people to cat more fish. I tell my own relations to eat herrings, and I try to get them whenever I am able to influence the catering in my own establishments; but the trouble is that we do not understand the preservation of herrings as it is understood in many foreign countries. Herring properly preserved is a great delicacy. Many of your Lordships who have travelled in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany will know that there one gets most delicious herrings preserved in various ways. They are a very cheap and wholesome food. I am told that the Swedes, for example, have sixty different methods of preparing herrings for the table. The British housewife complains of monotony because she only knows of one or two ways. I know it is difficult to change the habits of British housewives but I should have thought that a good deal could be done by collaboration between the Herring Board and the catering industry in this country. The catering industry is becoming very organised in this country and very important, as more and more people take meals out of their own homes. That applies to all classes of the population. If you approached the proprietors of eating houses, hotels and restaurants, especially in the North of England, and asked them to supply palatably prepared herrings in various forms, they would be eaten by housewives as well as by their husbands and there would be a demand for them in the homes. I feel sure you can promote consumption of herrings in our domestic market.

I make no apology for dwelling upon this matter because there are people who say pessimistically that the herring industry is fading away, is disappearing and cannot be revived. From the point of view of national defence, it would be a great disaster if that were the case, because the herring fisherman is a valuable reserve for the Royal Navy and so are the herring vessels. For this splendid class of men to be gradually driven into other occupations would be a real disaster to the country. For these reasons, speaking for my Party, I hope that this Bill will have good results.


My Lords, whatever we may say about these Herring Fishery Bills, there is no question as to what we all feel about the debt we owe to the herring fishermen. I cannot speak with personal knowledge of the Royal Navy, but the noble Lord opposite knows what valuable service they performed during the War. As an East Norfolk man I know what they do in peacetime in the lifeboat service. What we all want to do is to help the herring fishermen, but I doubt very much whether this Bill will go far in that direction. This is an addition to a series of Acts which have been discussed in the two Houses of Parliament over a number of years. My noble friend who introduced this Bill spoke of the failure of the 1935 Act. Of course it failed. Its premiss was wrong. People should take into consideration the fact that the mainstay of the herring fishing industry is the export trade, and that export trade rests on pickled herrings which go mostly to the Baltic ports, to Germany and to Russia, in large quantities. We cannot eat pickled herrings here. They are unpalatable to English or Scottish people. The herring trade—I am not talking of the fishermen, the men who go to sea, but of the men in the trade—has not yet realised that that export pickled herring trade has gone.

But the trade keeps whining, if I may without offence use that expression, and its representatives in another place have in the past been whining that we should do something to put the export trade in pickled herrings on such a basis as to recover the sale of pickled herrings to Russia and Germany. They mean State assistance. We shall never get that trade back, but that is not recognised by firms in the fishery trade any more than it is recognised in Lancashire that Lancashire will never get back the former export trade in very coarse counts of cotton of which it had a quasi-monopoly before the War. Unless both trades recognise and face the altered position they will never again get on to a satisfactory basis. I remember speeches in another place asking for credits to enable Russia under the export facilities scheme to buy pickled herrings for consumption in Russia. They have had a trade balance here and we have given them plenty of credit, but they have not bought herrings as before. One reason is that the urban population of Russia does not eat pickled herrings, and the branch lines transport facilities have become so poor in the interior of Russia that it is difficult to get herrings distributed to the rural districts after they reach Russian ports.

Again, as the noble Lord opposite said, both Russia and Germany have developed their own herring fisheries. I made it my business a few years ago to go to Dantzig, Tallinn and Lübeck to investigate the position for myself, because I was born near the greatest of all herring ports, Great Yarmouth, and am interested in the problem. I came to the conclusion that for reason of self-sufficiency these countries had developed their own herring fisheries. One extraordinary thing is that Russia has even developed herring fisheries in the Caspian and Black Sea, where I did not think that the herring existed. However, they are getting herrings there and supplying the southern part of their country. As we have lost—I think beyond all recovery—the former volume of export of pickled herrings to Russia and Germany, I think this Bill is merely a palliative which cannot possibly heal the gap.

The main object of the Bill is dealt with in Clause 4. The noble Lord who introduced it spoke of replacement of boats, not of extension. That is satisfactory as there are already twice as many boats engaged in the herring fishery as are necessary to catch all the herring we can sell. Now I am told we are going to use these new boats not only for catching herrings, but, when the herring season is over, for catching what are known technically as demersal fish—soles, plaice, haddock, cod, turbot, whiting and so on. We had a Bill before us the other day and were told that as it was difficult to sell enough fish of a demersal kind we must find more buyers, and we must attract more buyers by means of fish in better condition and in more regular supply. More buyers! Now we by this Bill are not only going to catch unsaleable herrings, but when these are no longer obtainable in prime condition we are going to turn the motor boats over to catch another kind of unsaleable fish for which there are not enough buyers to make the trade remunerative.

I do not know much about the usefulness of these motor boats for the Royal Navy—the noble Lord opposite has better knowledge about that—but I certainly think that they are not as safe in rough weather for the men as the steam drifter. What is the objection to the use of the steam drifter? The cost of coal. Here you have the increased cost of coal throwing the fishermen out of their living. It was coal, or the necessity to sell coal in the Scandinavian markets, which recently compelled the Board of Trade in our trade agreements to give facilities in the British markets for foreign demersal fish caught by the Scandinavian countries, because the Scandinavian countries demanded facilities for selling here their competitive catches if they were to buy coal from us in larger quantities. You have the case of the drifter fishermen now being sacrificed in the interests of the coal miners. I do not want to go further than that; but I should like to say this in passing. We grumble a great deal at the increased cost of living. Yet everything that a man eats and uses—food, public utility supplies, light, transport, kitchen fire, even the making of a shirt—demands coal; and a large portion in the increase of the cost of living to-day has been brought about by the action and reaction of the increased cost of coal. Those who have so eagerly wished that the cost of coal should go up must realise that the higher cost of coal and everything which it makes is at the bottom of the increase of the cost of living even as it is at the bottom of our not being able to use steam drifters.

The noble Lord spoke of the Report of the Herring Industry Board which recently came out. The Third Reading of this Bill in another place took place on June 16. This Report was not in the hands of members of the House of Commons or of myself until June 16. If I am correct in that statement, may I then add that I do not know why it was brought out so late? I wish to make a protest against its coming out and into the hands of the public so late relatively to the Bill. It is Command Paper No. 5762; it is headed "184, Strand" and is dated 31st May, 1938. Apparently it was not put into the hands of those persons who are interested in it until June 15 or 16, and June 16 was the date of the Third Reading in another place. The consequence was that it was very difficult for those who, like myself, read the debates on the Bill to refer to it for information at earlier stages, otherwise attention would have been drawn to the two paragraphs which I should like, if your Lordships will allow me, to read. This is a Government Command Paper, and shows what the position in the industry is and how futile these subsidies are while the present conditions are in existence. Paragraph 5 on page 6 reads: The Board have been subject to severe and often acrimonious criticism because of their failure to find more outlets for herring. This criticism may in some cases be due to a deliberate reluctance to face facts or to an almost incredible ignorance on the part of some persons in the industry of the economic factors which affect their own business …. That is a grave indictment of men who are running their own industry.

Now I should like to go to paragraph 9 It would appear that notwithstanding their original acceptance of the Report of the Sea Fish Commission a considerable proportion of the industry are opposed in principle to its recommendations and to the putting of them into execution by the Board. They do not desire regulation, reorganisation or the placing of their business upon an economic basis. A startling indictment, that ! What they do desire and have repeatedly asked for is that they should be enabled to continue on their old uneconomic lines and that the losses consequent upon their so doing should be met by Treasury grants and subsidies which ultimately fall upon the general taxpayer. In other words, the industry—not the fishermen—are out to catch the subsidy and not to catch saleable fish. That is something which should be taken into consideration by the Government when they again think it is necessary for taxpayers to pay to put the herring industry on a better basis.

I notice in this Report some reference to gluts. One has heard from time to time the public—"grumble" is not quite a strong enough word; perhaps "protest" is a better word—protest that fish are thrown back into the sea because there are gluts in face of the need to feed our people better. I think that the public should know this: that they are not right, they are not on sound ground, when they protest against these gluts as being either intentional or avoidable and wasteful. They are neither intentional nor avoidable. Gluts come at a time and in places utterly unforeseen by man. One does not know much about the ocean currents, the salinity of the water, the amount of plankton or amœbæ, or other things which direct the herring shoals and cause a glut. Many of these gluts are not of herrings which can be eaten, but of immature herrings. Nothing deteriorates so quickly as a herring, and the immature herring is foul and unfit for human consumption a few hours after it is taken out of the water. Transport is therefore out of the question. So a glut of immature herrings ought at once to be done away with either by being used for manure or by being thrown back into the sea. It is a misfortune, but it cannot be helped. As for gluts of mature herrings, in my part of East Anglia we do not know in advance where the gluts will be landed; we do not know where they will occur, we cannot prepare to handle vast catchings to be transported, and it is not an economic proposition to keep adequate railway facilities or men always waiting for unexpected gluts at an unknown place. Therefore they have to be put to some use as manure or thrown back into the sea. Then it is said, quite rightly, that they might be made into oil or meal, for cattle or chicken food. That is so, but the transport to the place where the oil or meal is to be made is an uneconomic matter. You cannot keep mills for making meal or distilling oil everywhere where an unexpected glut may occur. That suggestion must therefore be ruled out. I draw attention to this matter in the hope that my remarks may reach beyond this House so that the public should understand when they hear of gluts thrown into the sea. Gluts are among those difficult, inescapable and undesirable occurrences with which no man can deal.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, talked about various ways of curing and selling herrings. He made one suggestion that herrings should be sold in West Africa. Herring deteriorates and becomes putrid. "Imperfect curing," as known in Natal—fish that is not fully cured—or good fish which has gone wrong, creates leprosy, and in Norway I have myself seen a hospital for leprosy said to be brought about by ill-cured fish. I should hesitate very much, if I were Lord Strabolgi, to suggest that herrings which might or might not be well cured and sound should be taken to tropical climates like West Africa. It was ill- cured food which, in the Middle Ages, before the turnip was introduced, brought leprosy into the cities of England. For that reason I hope that he will reconsider the matter before he again recommends that cured herrings should be sent to tropical climates.

He was, however, quite right in saying that the world does not know—rather, it has forgotten—many of the ways of preparing herring for the table. People have even forgotten how to bone a herring. People often say that they cannot eat a herring because it has so many bones. The Elizabethans will tell you how to deal with that: by opening the herring by the belly not the back and taking its spine right out. Also from Elizabethan times there have come down twenty, thirty, and even fifty books which give ways of serving herring for the table, ways of cooking it which are never thought about to-day. To tell the public about that is the duty of the herring industry, and not to whine about getting subsidies or credits for Rumania who will never repay these credits. The industry should not think about getting Government credits for exports of herrings to Rumania, which will never be repaid and the herrings will be no more than gifts to Rumania. If you sell these Balkan countries herrings, you will get their paper, and later on you can put it in the waste paper basket—we know all about that to our cost. The duty of the herring industry is to find ways of bringing the herrings into the interior towns of England. Some fishmongers will not sell the herring because it only sells for 2d. or 3d., and there is little profit on it; they would rather sell a more expensive fish costing 2s. or 3s. Something should be done to assist the rural public to obtain herrings: to open shops in villages with a constant supply during the herring season of fresh herrings in good condition in country districts.

I do not think that this Bill is of much permanent use. It is merely allowing the herring trade to have a grant which they will catch in the form of a subsidy, rather than sell more fish. I think before Bills of this kind come again before Parliament it should be made quite clear to the industry that they must put their house in order, and that unless they do we, who feel the greatest sympathy with the fishermen themselves, are not prepared to pass Bills which only constitute a waste of money without developing the trade on a wholesome foundation.


My Lords, it is rather difficult to follow anybody who has the comprehensive detailed knowledge of the subject possessed by Lord Mancroft, but I would like to welcome this Bill on one ground at least, and that is, that it shows that His Majesty's Government are still alive to the necessity of doing something with regard to the industry. We all acknowledge the services rendered by the fishermen of the country during the War. I am not going to claim that those services were greater in degree than those of any other section of the population, although I think they were, perhaps; but there is a particular point attached to them which I think should be in the memory of the Government and of the people of this country, and that is that the service rendered by the fishermen during the War was a service in knocking down the whole of their own prosperity, because Germany was one of their principal markets, and in smashing the power of Germany they were smashing her power to take their herrings.

At the same time I think the Government have made some mistakes in dealing with this industry. For instance, as I have mentioned once before in this House, although they might have lost it in any case, they did lose the command of foreign markets at the end of the War by their lack of knowledge of the industry. Before the War the herring industry had been organised under curers and fishermen, but just before the War a new section, the exporters, arose. In the arrangements made at the end of the War by the Board of Trade, to assist the fishermen to regain their markets, they insisted upon neglecting the exporters and keeping them outside any arrangements, and thereby they lost all command of the markets, because the exporters sold outside the Government scheme, and the conditions of the industry changed from cash against documents in London to cash against documents in Berlin, which put the industry entirely at the mercy of the German buyers.

I was very glad to hear Lord Feversham say that on certain grounds, which he mentioned, we cannot leave the fishermen in the lurch. I think that on no grounds can we afford to leave the fishermen in the lurch. There is a good deal which might have been done by the Government. For instance, Lord Mancroft pointed out that we were sacrificing the white fish markets in order to sell coal to Scandinavia. The whole industry is united in a feeling that, seeing that Russia is one of our greatest markets for herrings, His Majesty's Government might, in their trade credits arrangements with Russia, have insisted upon Russia taking our herrings as part of those credits. It is a perfectly easy thing to do. Russia does need herrings as a cheap form of food, and we all think that not enough has been done in this direction. It is possible that what Lord Mancroft says is true, that in the long run we have lost those markets, but it would help to ease the situation if something of that kind could be done. We also know that one of the great necessities from which Poland suffers is that she must get an export market for her timber, and timber against herrings is a bargain which can always be made. I feel that we do suffer in this country from the fact that when it comes to organising industry His Majesty's Government are prepared to make arrangements for ourselves, but when we want to create strong individual markets the Government do not come to our help.

There is another point of view. I do not think that anybody in this House, and very few people in the country, realise how cheaply the fisherman has been doing his work for the past twenty years. I do not think that any fisherman in work has made on the average from his work two-thirds of what he can get in unemployment assistance. It would be a cheap thing for the nation to keep the fishermen at work as long as they can, buy the herrings up, and use them for anything—bury them, if you like—rather than pay the fishermen unemployment benefit at times when they might be fishing.

With regard to the Herring Fishery Board, I am bound to say that I think the Board have been in an impossible position, and have incurred a great deal of blame which is not properly deserved. They have laboured under one cardinal disability, and that is that they could never he allowed to make any suggestion in the trade which could involve a heavy expenditure by the Government. That means that they are doing their work with their hands tied. If the Government have a real responsibility towards the fishermen then they must be prepared to spend money in any direction which will enable the industry to get on its feet again. What must be done is to spend money to put industries on their feet, even if, after you have put them into prosperity, you get your money back by means of taxation.

I would like to add a word to what Lord Mancroft said about markets. It is a very difficult task to find new markets for herrings. Nobody in the trade, I think, imagines that you can export herrings successfully to any tropical or sub-tropical country. I think that is quite well recognised, and outside any such countries it is very difficult to find new markets. I have been told by somebody in the trade that a couple of days' fishing would supply all the herrings that are eaten in this country during the course of the year. I quite realise that the home market might be developed very much more than it is, but I think that shows that if the home market is going to be made really useful to the industry a very great deal of work must be done. I do not know if Lord Faversham could get into touch with Lord Strathcona. I do not think it would be at all a bad thing in popularising the herring if, for instance, on one day a week herrings were supplied to His Majesty's Forces. I think that would be a very good move and might help to popularise the herring. That at any rate is a suggestion. But all those suggestions are like a drop in the ocean. The real difficulty that the Board have to contend with and the industry has to contend with is that it is practically impossible to find new markets, and until new markets can be found, whether at home or abroad, I am afraid the herring fishery has to go through very difficult times.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Lord who has just spoken have I think given a blessing to the Bill generally, whilst at the same time making one or two minor criticisms. But the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whom your Lordships accept as a great authority on the herring industry, both in its bygone days and at present, has made certain observations with which one cannot but agree. The main argument put forward by the noble Lord is that there are considerable internal difficulties within the industry itself and that until those difficulties and disputes are settled—and he referred to the relative paragraphs concerning those disputes in the Third Report of the Herring Industry Board—it is his opinion that stabilisation within the industry will not be reached. His Majesty's Government fully and thoroughly appreciate that argument, and it is an argument for the provision contained in this Bill that the authority under Statute to control the administration of the industry should be reconstituted. Its constitution, as provided for in the Act of 1935, has not proved as eminently successful as was anticipated at that date. Therefore an Amendment is being suggested that in our belief will afford greater opportunity for good will and co-operation among all sections of the industry in the future than has been forthcoming in the past.


May I put it a little more clearly? The whole crux seems to be this. Herrings do not sell themselves any more than boots and shoes or textiles; they have to be sold, and human ingenuity has to learn how to sell them. But if you are going to make this trade prosperous and find wages for the men who catch the fish, the industry itself must bring more ability into the selling end and learn that the fish must be sold, and they must rely on the selling of the fish and not on the subsidy.


I agree with the noble Lord, but during the last ten years the Department that I represent has by organisation through marketing schemes and commissions directed itself to allowing the industry to have greater regard to the particular object the noble Lord has mentioned—to be able to organise itself and to have a special appreciation of the importance of expanding its markets. The natural corollary to that to which I was leading up, is the position of markets, to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has referred. Let me first say that probably the most serious problem confronting the herring industry to-day is the question of markets, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has referred to possible expansion and development of the foreign market as well as the expansion of the home market. So far as the Government are concerned, the herring export market has been borne in mind whenever possible during the conduct of negotiations with foreign countries and specific concessions have been secured in the trade agreements with the following foreign countries: Estonia, Finland, Lapland, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland, Italy, Argentina, and Germany. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is familiar with the conditions of the industry, will I think agree that the provisions of the German agreement have been most useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised the question of our export trade to Russia in the pre-War years and the condition of that trade to-day. With regard to the Russian agreement, although that agreement gave the Russian Government ample opportunity of buying herrings with the money that they have raised on the sale of goods to us, they have not elected to make use of it in that way.


My suggestion was that it should be part of the bargain that they did so use it.


If a foreign country could be persuaded to adopt the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, put forward, naturally His Majesty's Government would be prepared to pursue it as far as possible. But tile noble Lord will appreciate that it is much easier to suggest than to secure, in the formulation of a trade agreement which covers all trade commodities, the insertion on every occasion of a provision of this kind. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, raised an important question which was subsequently pursued by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. The noble Lord referred to the position of Poland. The Export Credits Guarantee Department is prepared to give guarantees in connection with export of herrings equal with other exports in cases where it appears to be a sound proposition and, as the noble Lord said, guarantees were given in respect of herrings to Poland to the extent of £60,000. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, says that that sum is as nothing compared with the figure that it should be, but I beg to submit to your Lordships that it represents a considerable facility for trade with that country.

The question of the type of vessel which should be assisted by Government grant was raised by every noble Lord who has participated in this debate, and I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that in considering whether steam or motor drifters should be assisted the Government have had regard to the best interests of the herring industry itself. There was no doubt from the information available that the motor boat was both more economical as to capital cost and as to running expenses, and if the noble Lord will turn to the Report which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, page 16, paragraph 75, he will see that there is a statement as follows: As far as the composition of the fleet is concerned, it may be taken as an admitted fact that, firstly, it is absolutely impossible, with the present limited outlets for cured herring, for a steam drifter to earn enough to pay her way by fishing during the curing seasons only, even if operations be spread over the whole week, and, secondly, that outside the curing season there is only scope for the profitable employment of a limited number of steam drifters. It is not possible to estimate that number with accuracy, but it certainly would not exceed 300. On the other hand, it seems to be a fact that motor-boats of from 50 to 70 feet in length can find profitable employment in fishing for white fish when not catching herring. The larger of such vessels could fish for herring during the summer and autumn curing seasons and the smaller only during their home fishing seasons, and all would at other times prosecute the white fishing. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, mentioned that as a policy already being pursued, and suggested it was a very bad one because we have recently placed on the Statute Book the White Fish Industry Act which was to have the effect of limiting the number of trawlers both on distant and near waters. I would respectfully point out to the noble Lord that these fishermen concerned in fishing for demersal fish at such times as the herring is, for one reason or another, not procurable, will not be under the main provisions of the White Fish Industry Act in respect of distant water fisheries. They will be the small men who will be controlled by schemes adjacent to our own shores, and therefore there will not be a multiplicity of bodies which would be detrimental to the basic and fundamental purpose of the White Fish Industry Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred with, if I may say so, very great wisdom to the necessity of the herring industry negotiating and co-operating with the catering sections of the public to advertise to a greater extent the herring in the home market. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has written a book on the herring, and there he has quoted the many different ways in which the herring can be dished up. If my memory is correct, the number of cases quoted by Lord Man-croft exceeds the number mentioned by Lord Strabolgi, and instead of sixty cases I think there are about two hundred different ways in which the herring can be served.


I have only eaten sixty !


In respect of the necessity for increasing the demand on the home market I should mention that under the 1935 Act the Herring Industry Board have had an advertising campaign in hand and that the consumption in this country has very greatly increased. The figures are as follows: —In 1932 the consumption of British caught herrings was 396,000 crans, in 1933 it was 401,000 crans, in 1936 it was 473,000 crans, and in 1937 it increased to 502,000 crans; that is leaving out the figures for the hundreds. There has therefore been an improvement in that direction. The improvement is not so large as one would wish to see, but it is hoped, by greater co-operation and collaboration with all the sections of the industry, that the scheme of advertising which has been inaugurated will extend further and that still better results will be obtained. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, made the suggestion that I should negotiate with the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, Under-Secretary of State at the War Office, in respect fo providing that His Majesty's Forces should be fed with herrings. I cannot but think that His Majesty's Forces already have a full share of the consumption of herrings in this country, and I believe that they would be a very good means of advertising their consumption to an even wider public.

The purpose of this Bill is largely to effect what Lord Mancroft has suggested is the only remedy for the herring industry, by providing the right vessel which can be utilised for the whole year rather than the steam drifter, which is not even being replaced in his own area of East Anglia. It is suggested that assistance will be rendered to the small fishermen, not to the larger companies, and that they will have, therefore, the opportunity of obtaining a livelihood at all seasons. In respect of the internal organ- isation of the industry, it is hoped that the new administrative measures will lead to improvement, and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that in the negotiation of trade agreements the Government will continue to have special interest in the matter of retrieving the lost export market that used to be such an important feature of our export trade in days gone by and which we still consider an important aspect at the present time. It should be realised and appreciated that, whatever the will may be for the expansion of our export market, as long as certain countries of Europe, and in particular Russia and Germany, abide by a policy of self-sufficiency it is not likely that one will see any great marked expansion in that direction in the next few years.


Before the noble Earl leaves the export question, I would like to say that I have made a quick calculation of the £60,000 in respect of Poland, and find it is less than one halfpenny per head of the population. Therefore I was not exaggerating when I said that £60,000, in view of Poland's potentialities, is a very small sum.


I am not a mathematician of great rapidity, but I think that although it is not a very formidable sum it is at least of definite assistance to the industry. Any similar proposal to render assistance to other countries, provided there is a sound proposition laid before the Department concerned, will naturally receive the consideration that it deserves.


May I interrupt the noble Earl? What I said was that fishermen deserve the special consideration of His Majesty's Government and that His Majesty's Government now acknowledge that. Could we not exert on foreign countries the same pressure that the Government of Sweden were able to exert on us?


Your Lordships will appreciate that it is the Board of Trade and not the Ministry of Agriculture which is primarily responsible for negotiating the trade agreements with foreign countries. Therefore it is not competent for me to give a direct answer to the noble Lord, but there is no doubt that the consideration which the noble Lord has put before me to-day will have every attention paid to it.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.