Class Ii.

Orders of the Day — REPORT [20th March.] – in the House of Commons on 23rd March 1922.

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Resolution reported, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, 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 Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, including Grants for Agricultural Education and Training, a Grant in Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and certain other Grants-in-Aid; of the Agricultural Wages Board, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Resolution read a Second time.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

I beg to move to leave out "£10," and to insert instead thereof "£5."

We were all delighted to hear the very satisfactory remarks of the Minister of Agriculture in respect of the International inquiry which he proposes to set on foot with regard to foot-and-mouth disease. I should like to ask one or two questions with regard to that inquiry. Does he propose to set it up at an early date, and if so, could he give us some indication as to when the date is to be? Is it suggested that it should be in the nature of a Royal Commission? I presume that would not be so, seeing that other countries are to be invited to attend. But can he tell the House what countries he proposes to issue invitations to attend the inquiry. Does he propose that the Dominions, Canada, Australia, the Union of South Africa, the United States, and countries on the Continent of Europe should attend? It would be of interest to the House and to the agricultural community if the right hon. Gentleman could give us some information on this point. He went on to say in the Debate the other day that he had great sympathy with the proposal that some of us made that further efforts should be directed towards the investigation into the diseases of stock generally and into such problems as polluted land. I understood him to say his desire was to create an institute of research. May I again urge upon him that, before he sets up an institute for research into the diseases of animals on any extensive scale, he should first assist the efforts which are being made by private organisation to promote investigation into animal diseases. I suggest that it will be much better, more economical and much more efficient to assist financially an organisation such as the Diseases of Animals Research Association which has been started in Scotland than to set up an institute such as he proposes. This association has received the whole-hearted and enthusiastic co-operation of the agricultural community throughout Scotland. It is not within my knowledge whether any such organisation has been set up in England, but this organisation in Scotland has been welcomed by the Scottish agricultural community. Large subscriptions have been made to it, thereby relieving the State of the necessity of spending money which the State would have been asked to spend. In this way the interests of the agricultural community are brought right into the centre of animal diseases investigation and research. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman, knowing as we do the sympathy which he has for his office, will lend his support rather in the direction I have suggested than in the direction of creating any such institute as he proposes. The value to the country of real investigation into animal diseases can hardly be over-rated. I say, without fear of contradiction, that millions of pounds annually might be saved to the country if the result of the investigations are all that we hope.

I wish to remove a misconception which may have arisen from a speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lanark (Captain Elliot) a few nights ago. I am sorry he is not in his place. Had he been here, I would have endeavoured to administer a little soothing syrup to him, after what I would call his outburst of a few nights ago. I had referred to the desire of a great part of the Scottish agricultural community that the administration of the Diseases of Animals Acts, as far as Scotland was concerned, should be handed over to the Scottish Board of Agriculture. The hon. and gallant Member replied that the whole of the Scottish agricultural community was opposed to any such change, and he quoted, in support of that statement, a resolution passed by the county council of Lanarkshire. I might have quoted, if I had had the opportunity of doing so, a resolution passed by the county council of Aberdeen, strongly in favour of the administration of the Diseases of Animals Acts being handed over to the Scottish Board. I forget the words that the hon. Member used, but he said that such a suggestion was part of a wild Scottish movement for Scottish Home Rule.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

Can the hon. and gallant Member say that such a change could be effected without legislation?

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

No, Sir.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

Then the hon. Member cannot pursue the subject.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

The reason I embarked upon what I knew to be a somewhat perilous voyage was that this subject was debated at great length on the Committee stage of this Vote, and, with your permission, I desired to remove a misconception to which the hon. Member had given expression.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

I cannot say that there may not have been inadvertance on the part of the Chair, but it is quite clear now that the hon. Member is out of Order.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

The speech of the hon. Member lasted for 10 minutes. However, I will not proceed with that subject any further. I will conclude by expressing the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer some of the questions I have put to him in regard to foot-and-mouth disease, and that he will take into consideration the points I have made in regard to animal diseases research.

Dr. MURRAY:

I beg to second the Amendment.

Colonel LAMBERT WARD:

I should like to call attention to the amount expended under Item "M. 10," on the employment of trawlers. This expenditure was incurred in running trawlers and drifters to relieve unemployment among ex-service fishermen in 1919 to 1921. This involved the country in very considerable expenditure. After deducting the Appropriation-in-Aid, we find that it has cost the country something like £50,000. Why did we have all this unemployment amongst ex-service fishermen in those years? One of the principal reasons of the unemployment then and now is due to the fact that Dutch trawlers are bringing large quantities of fish into our ports, which they sell in competition with fish caught by our own ex-service fishermen. In days prior to the War that fish was almost entirely sold to German buyers. As things stood in 1919–20, the Dutchmen bought or exchanged as much fish as they could for German marks, which were, however, constantly depreciating in value, as they are now, with the result that they are now taking no more of them, and they are bringing their fish into our ports and selling them in competition with our men. The British owners bought their trawlers at a very high price, and consequently find it difficult to run them, and the effect of this competition has undoubtedly greatly accentuated the distress amongst the fishermen, and necessitated grants such as this being made to endeavour to diminish the distress which has occurred.

Another reason for this unemployment among our trawlermen is that when fishing off the Icelandic coasts, however far they may be from territorial waters, they are never safe from arrest. They are always liable to be boarded by some Iceland officials and taken into port, and whatever they may have done, they are always heavily fined. Very often it is not necessary for them to be arrested at sea. They put into port under stress of bad weather, and they are boarded by a large party of armed men. The captain is told that two months ago he was seen fishing off such and such a cave inside territorial waters. It is no good the skipper denying it. He is taken into Court and the Vice-Consul, who is not an Englishman, advises him to plead guilty on the ground that it will save time and that he will probably get off with a smaller fine. In the majority of cases the skippers are mulcted in fines of anything between £20 and £50. A great deal of this unemployment would be avoided if on the Icelandic coast, or in some Iceland ports, we had a real Englishman as Consul, who would take some interest in defending the rights of the fisher- men which the nominal representative of this country out there does not consider it necessary to do.

Another reason why we have this unemployment is that off the Russian coast at present no British trawler is safe. About a month ago the Hull trawler "Magneta" was fishing off the Murmansk coast. She was arrested by a Russian gun-boat stationed there to protect their own fishermen. She was taken up the roadstead and ordered to anchor. The skipper protested that the anchorage was unsafe. He asked permission to change his position, and was refused. That night it came on to blow, and the "Magneta" dragged anchor and went on the rocks and became a total wreck, and no fewer than ten of the crew were drowned. Another boat, the "St. Hubert," was arrested three weeks ago fishing eleven and a half miles off the coast and taken into the roadstead, and there she lies still. One way of obviating unemployment among the trawler men I suggest would be to send a gun-boat to the Murmansk coast with instructions to the captain to see to it that the Russian gun-boats confined their activities to their own waters. There are a few suggestions, so that in future we may avoid having to ask the taxpayers of this country to pay sums like this to relieve the fishermen who, if properly looked after by this country, would be able to earn their own living. I support this Vote.

9.0 P.M.

Dr. MURRAY:

I have listened with great interest to the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend. I do not accept his description of innocent duds given to the trawlers that go out from Hull to fish in other waters. I do not object to this grant to them to relieve unemployment, but they go to other parts of the country and produce unemployment in these places. The City of Hull has been built upon the profits of fish stolen from our waters and within the three mile limit too. I am not going to sympathise with Russia or Iceland. I do not know much about them, but if the stories with regard to the three mile limit, which the Hull trawlers tell when they poach in our waters round the Western Isles, are of a piece with the stories which they tell in Russia and Iceland, then the people in these countries very often have right on their side, because I never met a Hull trawler yet—and I knew a good many of them—with very much respect for the three mile limit, no matter in what waters they were fishing. I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the amount of illegal trawling which is proceeding on the West Coast of Scotland at present and of which I receive many complaints. Also I do not accept the explanation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman of the unemployment caused to men in the herring industry. There is a grant provided here for helping ex-service men with drifters. These drifters are usually herring drifters. The real reason why there are so many thousands of men, and not only fishermen, but fishergirls, coopers, carters and others connected with the curing of herring industry in the various fishing ports of the country unemployed is the fact that the Russian markets have been closed and the Government did not take the matter in hand in time when some of us wanted them to do what they could to open up the Russian markets. When it was suggested from these benches that we should have trade regulations with Russia it was said, "What, shake hands with murderers!" It was nearly as bad as shaking hands with Michael Collins.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

It is not in order on this Vote to discuss the question of opening up relations with Russia.

Dr. MURRAY:

When Ministers are asked about subjects which are decided by the Cabinet, each Minister says that he is only responsible for his own Department, and yet we are told that we have the principle of Cabinet responsibility.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

That can be argued when we come to the Vote for the salary of the Prime Minister.

Dr. MURRAY:

As we understand that the salary of the Prime Minister is not going to be paid for more than two or three weeks longer, I do not know whether it will come on. I will not pursue that, but it is the fact that unemployment in the drifter-fishing industry is due largely to the Russian policy of the present Government.

Photo of Sir Philip Colfox Sir Philip Colfox , Dorset Northern

Is it possible to do anything to redress the grievance felt by certain fishermen who complain that trawlers frequently come along and cut away their lobster pots, which are never recovered? Can anything be done by way of reparation for these men who lose their pots?

Photo of Mr Frank Rose Mr Frank Rose , Aberdeen North

I wish to get some information as to the meaning of this Vote. I would like to know if it has any connection with a co-operative scheme which was got up about the time that is covered by this Vote, and I would like also to know how this Vote has got mixed up with what seems to be a heavy War responsibility in connection, not only with trawlers, but drifters?

The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen):

If my hon. Friend had only been here last Monday he would have heard me explain the Vote very fully. It is a very simple matter. In 1919 there was a number of ex-service fishermen out of a job for this reason. They served in the War and did splendid service. Their boats, trawlers or drifters, were still in the hands of the Admiralty, and the Admiralty had on hand a great many trawlers and drifters which they were willing to divert back to the fishermen's service. As the boats belonging to these men were not available the Admiralty took the opportunity of securing these boats on behalf of these particular ex-service men at that time, and this enabled them to take part in the big autumn herring fishery of 1919. The scheme was continued for about a year and a half. Then, owing to a general slump in prices, we found that we were losing money, and we thought that we ought not to continue competition on the part of the State with private enterprise. Therefore it is closed down. The scheme did not lose a lot of money. The total gross expenditure was £245,000. The receipts were £190,000, and the loss, therefore, was £55,000, but the actual loss in the trading was only £15,000, and the other £40,000 is accounted for as follows: £20,000 for reconditioning the ships, that is, converting them back from war purposes to fishing purposes That had to be done in any case. The other item was £20,000. One vessel was totally wrecked. As the House knows, the Government does not insure, because its business is on so big a scale that the premiums paid would exceed any benefits received, but as this particular vessel happened to be lost, and it was being used under the orders of my Ministry, I had to debit my Vote with that £20,000.

This was a purely temporary scheme, and though I sympathise very much with the grievances of the fishermen, I do not think that that subject arises on this particular Vote. This arrangement was made to meet a special emergency, namely, fishermen being out of work when they returned from the Service and had not received their vessels back from the Admiralty. As to the grievance of men fishing outside the three-mile limit being wrongly accused of going within the three-mile limit and receiving alleged bad treatment, if my hon. Friend will send me details I will have them looked into fully. It has been said that unemployment has been caused amongst fishermen because Dutch trawlers come into Hull and other ports and sell their fish. That may be so, but, after all, we are still a Free Trade country, and I do not know that in this particular instance we can depart from that policy. Certainly we cannot do so without a decision on the part of the House which would be of a largo and very grave character.

Colonel L. WARD:

Not under the Safeguarding of Industries Act?

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

No, because that Act does not apply to articles of food and drink. I am sorry I cannot answer my hon. Friend who raised a question about lobster pots. If he will let me know more about the lobster pots I will have full inquiry made. I was asked a question about foot-and-mouth disease. What I said the other day was this: Although we have taken very strong measures to stamp it out, we are not satisfied with the present condition of our knowledge, and we wish, therefore, to take every opportunity of research into the history of the whole subject, with a view of preventing such an outbreak in future. I said, therefore, that I proposed three things. First, a departmental inquiry to go into all the circumstances of this outbreak, that is, largely from the administrative and legislative point of view. Secondly, there was the research side. A previous Research Committee, appointed by my predecessor, had failed to make good. I said that to carry on research in this country alone would not be a very wise procedure. I pointed out that on the Continent, unfortunately, they always have the disease, and I proposed, therefore, to approach one or two foreign Governments in Europe and to ask them whether we could not carry out on the Continent some kind of international research. I cannot specify further what we should do. It depends very much on the reply that I get in the first instance from the French Government. The United States Government had a most serious outbreak a little while ago, and stamped it out. If we could only put our experiences together, and make common use of them, we might be able to make discoveries which would be impossible in this country alone and have been impossible up to date.

Therefore, I am seeking with the Foreign Office to start some kind of international inquiry into the origin of foot-and-mouth disease and the methods by which the disease is spread, with a view, as I hope, of preventing the recurrence of such an outbreak as we have just had. I further said that on the question of animal diseases generally there was much more to be learned, and I hoped that part of the money which was voted in connection with the repeal of the Corn Production Act might be devoted to starting the research on a much bigger scale and on a permanent basis into animal diseases generally in this country. I cannot give any details, for this reason: A Committee of the Development Commissioners has just been sitting to consider this particular question, and has made its report. I received the Report only yesterday, and so far have had no time to read it. I would like to consider that Report and to consult my advisers about it. I agree entirely that it is no good starting new institutions when you already have some foundation on which to build. Therefore, before we take any definite step in the way of starting any fresh institution, we shall certainly take stock of all the institutions now existing in the country and shall see in what way we can proceed best.

Amendment negatived.

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]