Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £16,945, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, including Grants-in-Aid of Piers or Quays.
It might be convenient that I should explain the three items which are included in this Supplementary Estimate. The first Subhead, F, is for £11,345. This is not new money. It is a re-Vote of money put back from the Fishery Board Estimate for 1920–21 for the purchase of herring. That sum was not spent during the financial year. The bulk of the purchase price of those herrings—I am speaking of what is familiar to Members who represent fishing constituencies—was paid by the Board to curers during the summer of 1920. A further instalment was to be paid a few months later, and a small proportion, namely, 1s. per barrel, was retained pending shipment of these stocks. Shipment was expected to take place during the financial year to which I have referred, namely, before 31st March, 1921, but owing to the dullness of the Continental market it was not effected until a later date, and accordingly the payment of 1s. a barrel was postponed until the financial year 1921–2, and that sum amounts to £11,345. The second Subhead refers to a repayment on Admiralty drifters, the sum involved being £4,000. In 1919 a scheme was devised by the Admiralty whereby surplus Admiralty drifters were sold to ex-service fishermen at what was at that time regarded as a reasonable price. I am speaking of the year 1919. That scheme provided for payment of the price by instalments spread over a period of 12 years. Unfortunately, the herring fishing industry passed through a period of very acute depression, and the market price of its products dropped very rapidly. Ex-service men, therefore, found themselves in many cases quite unable to pay the instalments as they fell due, and in these circumstances it was decided, after full consideration, to reduce the original price by 25 per cent. It was also thought proper—and I think the Committee will agree with this view—that the concession should extend not only to the fishermen who through acute depression of their industry were unable to pay their instalments, but should also extend to those fishermen who had paid the full instal- ments during the period in question. This sum of £4,000 is required for the purpose of remitting by 25 per cent, the sum which was due to the Admiralty by the fishermen in question.
The last special head "Appropriations in-Aid" is for the purpose of meeting a sum of £1,600 by which the actual payment has fallen short of the original Estimate. That arises in this way: The original Estimate included as receipts from the sale of Admiralty drifters, £2,000. It was decided, however, that the Admiralty had a prior claim upon these receipts, because of the cost to which they were put in reconditioning the drifters. The amount involved was really £2,000, but against this we have effected a saving of £400 on other items, leaving an estimated deficiency of £1,600. I thought it was desirable to make this brief statement, so that the Committee could understand the sums that are to be voted.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY:
The Committee will be indebted to my right hon. Friend for the explanation he has given on this Vote. I am not quite sure that I followed him in respect of the £11,345 on the first item. That sum was, I think, originally voted in the Estimates 1919–20.
I hope that I had made it clear that this was not new money. It is re-voting a sum which was not expended in the financial year in which it was originally voted.
My point is that it lapsed. It was not appropriated for other purposes. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman as to the general position now with regard to the cured herrings which the Government have in stock? Are they disposing of these, and, if so, where? Are they endeavouring to open up new markets for these herrings? I made a request last year that efforts should be made in order to develop the cured herring trade at Scottish ports, and that the Government should not only open up the old markets in Russia and the Baltic ports, but should develop new markets. This Vote gives an opportunity to inquire from the right hon. Gentleman what endeavours have been made by the Government to assist the Scottish herring industry in that respect, knowing as we do the desperate times through which it has been passing. I presume that this payment of £4,000 in respect of the Admiralty drifters brings this scheme to an end. It has been of great assistance to the ex-service men, and I think the 25 per cent, concession has used the money in a very good cause.
Sir H. COWAN:
I do not think the Committee will consider that the concession of 25 per cent, made to the men in respect of the Admiralty drifters, which they bought at top price in 1919, is in any way unreasonable. But when my hon. Friend (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) asked the Secretary for Scotland to assure him that this 25 per cent, brings the transaction to an end I feel apprehensive. The men who bought these drifters in 1919, shortly after the Armistice, were ex-service men who, abandoning the opportunity of remaining at fishing and making enormous profits by doing so, devotedly served the State and undertook operations more hazardous, perhaps, than those in any other theatre of war.
Sir H. COWAN:
I am glad to know that I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. These men, who made sacrifices perhaps greater than those rendered by any other branch of the service during the War, were told when the War was over, when they returned to the fishing industry, that they would have the opportunity of acquiring a certain number of Admiralty drifters on terms which would enable them to compete favourably in the industry. What happened was this. They were allowed to acquire these drifters on terms which did seem favourable, but the market value of the drifters fell lower and lower, until to-day men who have not served the country in the War can buy drifters at prices, not 25 per cent., but 50 per cent, lower than the prices which these men were asked to pay. The result is that these ex-service men are unable to compete in the industry, and unable even to pay the instalments on the purchase price to the State. In the circumstances it is unreasonable to suggest that the concession of this 25 per cent, should bring the transaction to an end, and I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will use his influence with the Treasury to obtain a further rebate or relief of an equal amount, making in all a rebate of 50 per. cent, on the original price paid for the drifters by these men.
By doing so he will give them a chance of living. Unless this is done, they will have no chance of making a living at all. Men who have made the sacrifices which these men have made for the State, and have returned to their original occupation without capital, without any opportunity of recovering what they lost during the War, should not be imposed upon by the State by being asked to acquire drifters, nominally on terms of the utmost generosity, but really on terms which handicap them in the race of life. I agree with my colleague (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) in hoping that the Government propose to do something more for the fishing industry in Scotland by purchasing herrings or by in some way assisting the industry. I am aware that a very large amount of assistance has been given to the industry during the past two years, but where the coal mining industry has been subsidised to the extent to which it has been, there is still a strong case for doing something for this deserving class. It is very difficult to suggest what should be done. I have myself, as representing two great herring fishery ports of Scotland—
I wish to associate myself with my hon. Friend who has just spoken. [Interruption.] I feel that the Scottish Members, who very seldom raise their voices in this House, have every title to speak upon a Vote of this kind, which affects such a very large class of Scotsmen. For myself, having studied this Vote, which is more than some of my hon. Friends have done, I only feel that not half enough has been done for the men on whose behalf the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Sir H. Cowan) has just spoken. We have had great difficulty in the East Coast of Scotland in satisfying these fishermen—who rendered splendid service during the War—as regards what the Government have been willing to do for them. Despite all that has been said with regard to economy, and economy is very desirable, the last class that should be dealt with in the niggardly spirit the Government has shown are the fishermen who did such splendid service during the War period. I hope, when it come to points like purchase in connection with the herring fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, or whoever is responsible, will look leniently upon those who are deeply affected by this matter and give them every consideration.
The hon. Member can talk about the scheme for the assistance of herring fishing, the purchase from curers of pickled herrings for resale, and the other matters with which the Estimate is concerned.
I feel personally that on these Votes which affect Scotland it is extremely difficult to talk about anything whatsoever. Here we are being asked to vote a large sum of money. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to what I have to say. Here is an item for repayment on Admiralty drifters. It refers to the remission of part of the purchase price allowed to ex-service fishermen who purchased surplus Admiralty drifters from the Fishery Board. I could dilate upon this topic for many an hour, but I do not propose to do so. My only desire in rising was to put in a word on behalf of those who did good War work, and who as a whole are deserving of every sort of support. I make an earnest appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to do what he can. I know how hard it is in Scotland in any of these matters to make an impression upon the Government generally, because, feeling as strongly as I do on another matter altogther, not connected with fishery, I mean the question of the importation of Canadian cattle—
If we cannot get satisfaction in this matter from the Government, I shall have the utmost possible pleasure in dividing the Committee against the Government.
At the risk of attracting the anger of the Scottish Members towards me, Mr. Chairman, I should like to be allowed to say a word or two about the herring question, In the first place, I do not agree that the Scottish Members have any right to take the first place in any discussion on herrings, because we on the coast of Norfolk deal with more herrings than they over do. In reference to Item FF, it says there is to be paid £11,345 in respect of purchase from curers of pickled herrings for re-sale. I am at a loss to know why it is necessary to get that re-Vote into this Estimate. These pickled herrings are salted herrings. They are not consumed at all in this country, and I was under the impression that these pickled herrings were exported either to Russia or the North of Europe. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary undertook to allow the Export Credit scheme to deal with money required for the export of pickled herrings, and I should have thought this Vote unnecessary because the Export Credit scheme might have dealt with it. I am sure, however, there is a very good explanation for this Vote of £11,000. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) mentioned other markets, and there is one very big market which will come when we have made peace with Turkey. I would commend that to the attention of the Government.
As to Admiralty drifters, the Secretary for Scotland told us quite rightly that the herring fishery last year was a bad fishery. It was a bad fishery, and we never had a decent herring the whole year. I should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland what he thinks was the cause of the failure of the herring fishery which necessitated him asking for this money back again on the drifter Vote?
As we have to vote £4,000 back, may I make a suggestion on that point, and that is that the Scottish Fishery Board should deal with this question and ascertain whether the reason for the failure of the fisheries last year was caused by the extreme heat altering the food of the fish? I support this Vote. It is a splendid thing to help to form the nursery of the Navy, and I think the Committee should allow this Vote to go through.
I agree with everything my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland has said about the rebate on the price of the drifters. I know cases of men who find it impossible to make a living owing to the very high price they paid at a time when tonnage was very dear. A question I wish to ask is this: Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the Government is doing with the stocks of herring which they purchased? I have had questions put to me on this matter very often. It is quite obvious that the action of the Government affects the private traders materially in this matter, and it would help those who have put questions to me if it were known what the Government are doing with their stocks of herring.
I wish to support what my hon. Friend said with regard to the reduction of price to the ex-service men. I am surprised the amount is so small. I could have hoped it would be very much larger. There is one point about which I wish to ask the Secretary for Scotland. I understand that, in addition to the drifters which the Scottish Office sold to the fishermen, there were also drifters sold by the Admiralty to ex-service men. In that case I understand the Admiralty have refused to allow any rebate. I think it is very wrong that in one case the Scottish Office should be able to grant fishermen 25 per cent, rebate, which is too small, and I think should be 50 per cent., whereas in the case of the Admiralty, although the vessels are the same, and have been bought for the same purpose, it has been refused. I think the Secretary for Scotland might take the matter up in the interest of Scottish fishermen, and I should like to ask him if he will do so, while considering at the same time the possibility of giving further reduction.
This Vote is really a picture in miniature of the whole Government's foreign policy, and its effect on a great British industry, namely, deep-sea fishing. Take the items. First of all, there is the repayment of £4,000 for Admiralty drifters. One of the reasons that the price of drifters had fallen very much has been the throwing on to the market of many scores of fishing craft surrendered by Germany. That is why fishermen with craft on their hands, which are not worth in the market to-day what they paid for them, cannot get credit for them, or advances or mortgages, and they cannot keep up the payment.
It is throwing the thing out of gear—the whole shipping market and the fishing vessels. That is one of the reasons that we have to pay this £4,000. I should like to support the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen (Sir H. Cowan) in his inquiry as to what is happening to the scheme for giving these vessels to ex-service fishermen on part payment terms? Has that broken down? I can tell the Secretary for Scotland that a little further south the trawlers were handed to the—
May I ask whether the Secretary for Scotland is seeing that these Scottish fishermen to whom I have just referred, these ex-service men, have been given fair play? I should like to know if we have to find this money to make good to these gallant fellows the stores they cannot get. Are they to have fair treatment? Has the Secretary for Scotland used his good offices to see that they get this fair treatment? Now in regard to the pickled herrings. [An HON. MEMBER: "Red herrings!"] No, I leave it to the Treasury Bench to deal with the red herrings. This is part of a large Vote. We subsidised the herring industry, and the reason we have to pay now, and why the men are suffering tremendous hardships, and why the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire spoke was—
I am in possession of the House for a few minutes—[HON. MEMBERS: "A few minutes!"]—and with your permission, Mr. Hope, I intend to examine these Estimates. This Committee has not always done so, and the Government finds itself now in its present financial condition. The reason why these men are suffering such hardship is because of the general depression in the European market. It is not only the loss of money, but the deterioration of men in a valuable industry. I speak of the deep-sea fishermen. We are losing these men of talents, with their skill and hardiness; and they are the best support of our Navy. I hope I will be excused for a little heat in this matter, for this is one of the tragedies of the Government policy after the War. There are millions of people dying of starvation who could be kept alive by the herrings being sent out to them to Russia. The whole industry could revive, and instead of our voting these sums of money—
If the surplus stocks held by the Government could be got rid of the whole industry would revive. I would like to give the Committee an opportunity of expressing its sense of failure of the Government's policy. I cannot move a reduction because I should be depriving these fishermen of their money or the herring fisheries of their subsidies, and so I am constrained to simply criticise and ask for further information. I think we should be given some further information with regard to the Admiralty drifters.
The hon. and gallant Member has not addressed the Committee with his usual lucidity and relevance and I must decline to follow him in the somewhat irrelevant line he has adopted with regard to the policy of the Government in regard to fishing. The hon. and gallant Member for Kincardine asked whether the Government had explored the various channels by means of which these herrings could be disposed of, and I can assure him on that point. Through the good offices of the Overseas Trade Department the Government made the fullest investigation as to continental markets where these herrings could be disposed of, and so successful were they that I am able to say that all those herrings have been disposed of and shipped to various foreign ports. I am speaking about the Scottish industry and not those ports south of the Tweed.
With regard to the Admiralty drifters, I have been asked whether I could not secure a greater remission than 25 per cent. The Committee will recognise that this is rather a matter for the Treasury than for the Secretary of Scotland, and I can assure hon. Members that I shall convey their representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, indeed, I think the hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir C. Barrie) has already seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With regard to the distinction alleged to have been drawn between the treatment of fishermen by the Admiralty and the Scottish Office, I am not fully informed. I am responsible for what is done in my Department, and although I have many troubles of my own, I do not answer for the Admiralty, and no doubt my hon. Friends will consult with the Admiralty. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) asked me a question about ice and coal supplied to the fishermen. I have no information on that point, but I am not aware that there has been any boycotting or any difficulty placed in the way of those fishermen, whom we all recognise have played an exceedingly gallant part during the War, and in respect of that this Vote has become necessary. Therefore, I am not surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull has abstained from moving a reduction of this Vote.