Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £43,000, 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, 1935, for the salaries and expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, including expenses of marine superintendence, and a Grant in Aid of Piers or Quays; also for loans for the purchase of herring drift nets and assistance in respect of expenditure on fitting-out herring drifters.
I am afraid that is not possible. This is a supplementary Estimate not for a service which is already in the main Estimates. It is a new Estimate for a new service, and we have had to have a special Motion of the House to enable it to be considered to-day in Committee of Supply. In the circumstances, I am afraid that this, like all other new services, must be dealt with by itself.
That will mean that the discussion will be limited to the services which are to be assisted by the supplementary Estimate. Hon. Members of the Liberal party in asking for this Vote to be put down for to-day were under the impression that they would be able to have a full discussion of the whole of the Fishery Estimates, which would cover many of the matters contained in the Annual Report of the Fishery Board for Scotland. I do not know what method you can suggest which would enable us to have a general discussion on the work of the Fishery Board as a whole, but I am certain that hon. Members below the Gangway were under the impression that on this Vote we could have a full discussion on the subject, not limited to any particular Estimate. I think also that the Government, if they had been under the impression that the discussion would be limited, would have taken steps to enable a full discussion to take place, which is what we al: desire.
I do not imagine that the Debate on this Estimate will take very long. If we can dispose of it, would it then be possible, on a discussion of the main Estimates of the Department, to enter into questions raised in this supplementary Estimate and refer to the scheme which the Government are undertaking this year for the assistance of the herring fishery, although a certain amount of money has been devoted to this purpose in the supplementary Estimate?
The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) is quite correct. If the Committee disposes of the Supplementary Estimate within a reasonable time, the main fishery Estimate comes up, and on that Vote all the questions will be open for discussion, although, of course, hon. Members must not go into detail on matters which have been raised on the Supplementary Estimate.
In view of the general desire of hon. Members to discuss the main Vote, my remarks on the Supplementary Estimate will be very brief. Before coming to the particular items in the Vote, may I remind the Committee that, before these schemes were brought forward, we had deputations and requests from the fishing industry for a grant of 10s. per cran. We thought that the money under a scheme of that kind would not go directly to the benefit of the fishermen, and that the scheme itself would stimulate over-production, and on behalf of the Government I had unfortunately to reject it. The schemes in the Supplementary Estimate are two. First, a scheme of loans to fishermen for nets for herring drifters. Similar loans have been granted in former days to assist the herring fleet in days of depression, and the present scheme is drafted on similar lines to those of former schemes. The response at the moment is not very satisfactory, but that is creditable to the fishermen as they do not want to incur further debts which will have to be repaid, in view of the sad plight of the industry. The original date by which applications for loans were to be received was the 30th June, but in view of the short time which elapsed between the announcement of the scheme and the 30th June we are considering whether it may not be possible to give a little more time to enable fishermen in distant parts to make application for the loan. The 'second scheme is new, and is to give assistance in respect of expenditure incurred in fitting out herring drifters.
About £8,600, but further applications are being received. With regard to the second scheme, it was represented to the Government that in view of the unfortunate experience of the herring-fishing industry during the last few years a large number of herring drifters, and fishermen who go to sea on these boats, would not be able to go this summer. So, with the direct object of assisting the fishermen to go to sea in their boats, the Government have given this undertaking, that if there is a loss on the fishing an amount up to £50 towards the fitting-out expenses will be borne by the Exchequer. That was a direct incentive to the boats to fit out, and it might well have been asked why the Government of the day, at a time when the fishing industry is being hardly hit through the loss of overseas markets, should give this undertaking. We therefore coupled with it a condition that it would operate only if not more than a thousand boats went to sea before a certain date. The number that went to sea last year was 1,168. If the Government had encouraged that full number to go to sea this year they would have been directly encouraging fishermen to go to sea, well knowing that a large number of the boats would have to meet a loss at the end of the year. So, because it is not a pleasant task at any time to restrict guarantees of this kind to a limited number the condition was inserted in the ultimate interest of the industry itself. I am glad to inform the Committee that up to the date given, 7th July, the number of boats that have gone to sea is 930, or 70 less than a thousand. The undertaking given by the Government will therefore be implemented and will apply to the 930 boats. I have explained that the undertaking was given to assist these boats to go to sea, and because of the information we have received that a great number of boats might be unable to do so, and I have stated why we restricted the number to a thousand. I hope that with this short explanation the money will be voted.
I am very sorry that it is not possible to discuss this Supplementary Estimate and the main Estimate at the same time. I can understand the reason why it is not possible to do so, but nevertheless I think it is a great pity, because the two questions are so mixed up with one another that it is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss the one without the other. I cannot accept the suggestion that this Estimate is less important than the main Estimate. 1 am not sure that this Supplementary Estimate does not raise an issue of even greater importance for the moment than the main issue, because the Supplementary Estimate embodies the measures which the Government saw fit to take to deal with the emergency this year, and if we look at it in that way it will be seen that it is not the sort of thing that can be dismissed in a few minutes. In my opinion it raises the crux of the question.
The right hon. Gentleman has given, as I readily realise, a great deal of attention to the fishing industry in the last month or two, and no one for a moment would suggest that he is not full of sympathy for the industry's great troubles. What he has proposed in this Supplementary Estimate is no doubt of some value to the fishing industry, which is very grateful for the assistance. But when I go down to my constituency and see my constituents they all ask me the same question—why is it so diffi- cult for them to get any assistance when the Government is so ready to hand out, with an almost lavish hand, assistance to other industries which are not so hard pressed as the herring fishing industry? There are a number of industries that have been very hard hit in the last few years, agriculture, iron and steel, and cotton among them, but I am prepared to say that not one of them has been so hardly hit as the fishing industry. To carry my argument any further in that direction would bring me off the Supplementary Estimate. I hope it may be possible to return to the subject later.
This Supplementary Estimate was brought in by the Government to help the fishermen to get a start this year and to give them some reasonable hope that they could carry on their work without a loss. The Secretary of State said that his object was to help the fishermen as being the most important section of the fishing industry. I quite agree that the fishermen ought to be put first and that their interest ought to be paramount. But I am not quite sure that that has been the result of what the right hon. Gentleman has done. If anyone examines the structure of the industry carefully he will very soon see that the really important part of it is the curing section and the question whether that section has a market either overseas or at home for the disposal of its products. It does not seem to me that the Government are going to do much good either to the fishermen or the industry as a whole by providing fishermen with gear to catch herring if there is no outlet provided for the curers to dispose of the herring. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that he had been asked to do something and that there had been put before him some other plan which would have had, the result of creating over-production. But it seems to me that that is a criticism which may with some substance be levelled against the particular proposals that the Government have adopted.
The scheme is giving the boat owners a guarantee that they will not lose but will make a slight profit at least, in respect of their ownership of boats. The right hon. Gentleman apparently argued that that deals with the boat owners, but the other part, providing for the nets, deals with and assists fishermen who are not owners. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows the peculiar method by which the fishermen divide up the proceeds of their industry. One-third of the profit goes to those who own the nets in proportion to the number of nets which they own. Of course it has always been believed that they got a little snore than they ought to get, and the result is that owners have insisted on a very large share in the nets and in some cases on having the whole of the nets. As a consequence, when you provide money for nets you are really not providing money for the fishermen who give their labour but have no share in the boat. You are really assisting in a second way men who own the nets and the boats as well. The fact that any proposal of that kind is liable to miss its mark is shown by the fact that there has been so little money given out in respect of loans for nets.
In the last year or so this industry has been changing very much. It is still changing to-day before our eyes. It is changing particularly in this respect—that the old share fishermen who have nothing to give but their labour are refusing to go oh as share fishermen any longer. They are saying it is no use to offer them nets because there is nothing in it and they are insisting that, if they go in boats at all, they are no longer going as share fishermen but on a stated wage just as fishermen in most cases do in the trawlers. That has made an enormous difference to the fishing industry, and before we are much older we shall find that the industry has been transformed. Incidentally, the industry is providing some very difficult problems for the Minister of Labour to solve.
It may be asked, if I do not think that the proposed method is the best method of helping the industry round this difficult corner, what other suggestion I have to make. I put before the right hon. Gentleman a plan which I think was much to be preferred to the plan adapted by him. I do not suggest that it was my own plan but I put it before him. As I say it is no use thinking that you can carry on this industry, unless there is some guarantee that there will be markets for the fish—that there will be some possibility of disposing of the fish when it has been caught. Last year was probably the worst year that the industry has experienced in modern times. Something had to be done to assist the industry or it would have crashed before now. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman's best course would have been to give some assistance to the industry by way of guarantee of markets. I do not think that it was an unreasonable demand for the industry to make that the Government should guarantee them at least that they would be able to sell this year as much as they sold last year. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to limit his liability he might have said that he would limit it to so much per barrel. Of course it will be asked, what would the Government do if they were left at the end of the year with a quantity of herring on their hands which the foreign markets would not absorb.
Of course, I had foreign markets particularly in mind, but it does not matter what markets. If before a certain date a certain quantity of herrings had not been disposed of, my suggestion is that the Government should come in and assist the industry in respect of what was left over. That seems to be quite simple, and is indeed a matter of detail. If it will clear my hon. Friend's mind on the subject, I will say foreign markets and leave it at that. I suggest that if the industry had not disposed of a given quantity of herring by a certain time—which they were entitled to expect they would be able to dispose of by that time—then the Government should assume responsibility for what was left over. That of course is asking the Government to do something in the nature of subsidy or guarantee or financial assistance to the industry. That may not commend itself to purists in financial or economic theory but this Government has long since passed the stage of boggling at little matters of that kind. The more the Government give assistance to one industry the more difficult it will be to refrain from giving assistance to another. Indeed, the Government is forcing those other industries to apply for such assistance, and I think I could make out a better case for assisting the herring fishing industry than it would be possible to make out for assisting any other industry.
As I have said, the question may be put to me, what is to happen if, after the Government and the industry have done everything they can to dispose of the herring, a quantity is left over? These are clays when it is no use attempting to decide these matters by the ordinary orthodox methods of the past. I see no reason why in such a case the Government should not next winter simply give the herring to the unemployed. I know such a thing has never been done before, but there is no reason why the Government should not do it now. I am certain there are thousands of poor people who would be very glad to have food of that kind if it were given to them. By doing so you would prevent the herring being wasted, and you would prevent the Government from losing the money which it had given to the industry. I still believe that a great opportunity was lost in connection with this industry and I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not adopt some policy of that kind. I hope that on the general question it will be possible to say something more later on. I hope, however, I have not said anything to suggest that I, or anybody else with constituents who fish for herring, do not appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has done. I also hope that the experience of this year and of the way in which the sum raised by the Supplementary Estimate has been taken advantage of will be of some assistance to him in the future, and that next year we may have some better scheme than this to help these sorely tried men.
I shall not detain the Committee for more than a moment on this Supplementary Estimate. I hope I may be fortunate enough to have an opportunity of making some remarks in the general discussion that will follow, but I feel that it would be ungracious for representatives of the English herring fishing industry not to express appreciation and gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for the immediate steps that he took, which, though not as big as some of us would like, have been of great assistance in getting fleets to sea and are greatly appreciated by the whole industry.
I too am very anxious to say a word or two on the general question, so I only want to reply to the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) in a few sentences. His proposal, as I understood it—though I have not quite understood it yet—was that he wanted a guarantee for foreign markets. But you cannot guarantee markets. Nobody has ever guaranteed a market since the world began. No Government has ever been able to do it, and short of going to war with Russia or Germany and—
I hope my hon. Friend will direct his attention to the industry and not to me. It is no use talking to me and saying that I have tried to get guaranteed markets. I made the position quite clear. I said that the Government should tell the fishermen that they should be able to dispose of a certain quantity of fish, and that, if not, the Government would assume responsibility for the remainder. How can it be possible to say that that is guaranteeing a market in the sense suggested by the hon. Member?
The hon. Member categorically stated on three occasions that he wished the Government to guarantee markets for the fish, and then, in order to make it quite plain to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), he said, "What I mean is that they should guarantee foreign markets." I f he looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, he will see that that is what he said. I reply that that is impossible for any Government to do. You cannot guarantee markets, and in the end, when pressed, the hon. Member had to come round to that view and to say that he really meant that the Government themselves should buy the whole of the surplus herring in any given year and distribute them. That is entirely different from guaranteeing foreign markets.
It is not guaranteeing foreign markets, but if the hon. Gentleman means that the Government themselves should buy up the whole of the surplus in any year, I can only say that I am very thankful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has adopted the plan of assistance that he has adopted and not the plan advocated by the hon. Member for Banff. If you start that game, there is no end to it whatsoever. What about potatoes? There is frequently a surplus of potatoes in this country. Does the hon. Gentleman advocate that the Government should buy up the whole of the potato surplus and distribute it too? I could go on through list after list of products, but I do not think that is the right way to assist any industry. I do not like the policy of subsidies at all. They may be necessary in times of crisis to help an industry which is in difficulty, but the Government have, in fact, come to the assistance of this particular industry in the best possible way. The hon. Member for Banff was so anxious to criticise the Government that he said or implied that they were ready to subsidise any and every other industry, practically, except the herring fishing industry, but I do not think that is the case. He mentioned iron and steel, coal, and cotton, but he knows that they have not been subsidised, and I do not think the policy of subsidising should be extended to all industries. The question of beef has been before us lately, but that seems to me to raise completely different considerations. As for the present situation, I am convinced that the policy which has been adopted is the best in the circumstances, and I think I am expressing the opinion of a great many in the herring fishing industry in thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the steps that he has taken.
I had not intended to speak on this Supplementary Estimate, but the remarks of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) have brought me to my feet. Nobody represents the fishing community more strongly, or more effectively, or with greater knowledge than does the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, unless indeed it be my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood), who speaks in this House with unquestioned authority on that subject, and it is a pity that they should have fallen out in this way. As for my hon. Friend being anxious to criticise the Government, the whole of his speech is an answer to that charge. Frequently in his speech he paid generous and right tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for the work which he had done on behalf of the industry, and my hon. Friend was careful to exclude from his speech altogether anything that could have been regarded as an expression of party spirit or unfair criticism of the Government, nor do I think it is worth while to spend so much time in quibbling over words like "guarantee." Indeed I must plead guilty, as I think most hon. Members would, to using words occasionally that might be described as careless. We cannot use exactly the right word on every occasion when we are trying to express our thoughts, but I venture to think that my hon. Friend made his meaning, which is the main thing, abundantly clear, and his suggestion was no impracticable visionary, or unprecedented suggestion.
It was a suggestion which was carried out by the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he was Prime Minister. On that occasion a very large sum of money was spent in taking over the catch at a very difficult time, and, indeed, it did tide the industry over a tremendous crisis and enable them to face the years that then followed with good prospects of success, which, were in fact realised, and after that they had a series of years in which, if they did not attain to the heights of pre-war prosperity, they were at any rate on a very firm economic foundation, or rather on an economic foundation firm enough to carry the industry over a considerable period of years. I think the suggestion made by my hon. Friend is one which deserves the consideration of the Government.
As for the statement of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that no other industry is being helped, that iron and steel, coal, and cotton are not being subsidised, it is true that they are not being subsidised. I know the hon. Gentleman attaches great importance to actual words, and so his statement was literally true, but in fact, of course, they are receiving from the State what is far more important, namely, help in the form of tariffs and quotas, in accordance with an economic policy which is in fact the main thing responsible for the difficulties of the fishing industry at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman is in Order in affirming these things as a reason why there should or should not be assistance for the herring industry, but he cannot go into the merits of these policies now.
I am sure we' are ail delighted to see the hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden) maintaining the reputation which he won on the last occasion when the Scottish Estimates were under discussion, as being the only English Member who dares to intervene in our debates. I venture to hope that I may be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Captain Bourne, in the later stage of the discussion when we reach the main Estimates. I do not want to prolong the Debate on the Supplementary Estimate. I only rise to express my own opinion on the suggestion made in the admirable speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, which deserves more consideration than has been given to it, and I commend it to the Government.
I do not want to delay the discussion, but I thought it was necessary to rise at this stage, first, because judging from the concluding observations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), this seems to be the opportunity for booking your seat for the larger Debate that is to come and,. secondly, because I think that there should be at least one Scottish Member who did not hand out bouquets to the Minister. I do mot know whether it is. due to a Scottish clannishness, but, whenever Scottish Estimates come before the House, the Scottish Ministers get away with them very easily, more easily than any other Minister in the House. I do not think I have ever seen a Scottish Secretary yet—the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness need not shave his head—who was not anything but the stepchild of the Cabinet and has not referred to the strenuous fights he has had for Scotland. I remember Mr. Adamson once telling us of the terrible fight he had had for Scotland in the Cabinet. These fights usually result in ridiculous proposals. I recall that one Secretary of State after one of these tremendous fights, announced that he had been able to lend money to fishermen at one-quarter per cent. lower than the current rate of interest, or something of that kind. We rather like Secretaries of State for Scotland as a class, and we would not like to see them die prematurely. I would therefore advise the present Secretary of State not to put up too strenuous fights for the trivial results which are usually brought here.
The fishing industry has been steadily declining for a dozen years. The number of persons engaged in it has been reduced by 33¼ per cent. Some of that is no doubt to he attributed to the mechanisation and rationalisation of the industry. While it has been declining in that way, commissions have been inquiring for most of the time into one or the other aspect of it, and absolutely nothing has been done, or is being done to-day in this Supplementary Estimate, to stop the decline. It is very regrettable, and I do not think that when a trivial proposal such as is being placed before us now is brought to us it is the duty of the Scottish Members to express satisfaction. I think that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) was a little unfair to the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) in poking fun at his talk of guaranteed markets and in saying that no foreign markets had been guaranteed or could be guaranteed. That was a very sweeping generalisation. I think that probably he was right about the past and that he may be right about the future. If so, it was a wholesale fundamental criticism of the overriding policy of the Government in regard to foreign trade, because the whole operations of the President of the Board of Trade in the various trade agreements to which he has come with various nations were designed to secure guaranteed markets for periods of time for British goods in foreign countries.
If that be a complete impossibility for herring, which form a very small fraction of our national trade, it seems to me that the earlier the hon. Member can stop his Government trying to do it in bigger, more important and more fundamental things and making it their major trade policy to find guaranteed markets in foreign countries, the better. The Government presumably think it can be done. We know that we cannot guarantee markets over the centuries, but presumably, When the Government says, "We will take so much of this commodity from you on condition that you will take so much of that commodity from us for a period of time," it is an attempt to establish guaranteed foreign markets. I am certain that, if the President of the Board of Trade had kept the position of the fishing industry steadily before his eyes when he was concluding the various agreements and had insisted that they should have some small place in every agreement, the position to-day would have been infinitely better for our people than it is. These are the few words I wish to say on the Supplementary Estimate, and, like the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness, I hope I shall be fortunate enough to catch your eye when we get to the main Estimates.
I am sorry I was not here for the earlier part of the Debate, but I understand we are discussing the herring trade. [HoN. MEMBERS: "No!"] I gathered it from what I heard.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not lead the Committee to believe that he thinks the perfunctory remarks of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) constituted an answer to the case that I put. The hon. Member uses this House as if it were a. debating society, and is always so anxious to score off me that he forgets the fishing industry. He suggested that I was asking the Government to get guaranteed markets and to compel foreigners to eat all the herring they caught. That is nonsense. I said that last year was the minimum export year and that the Government might very well have said to the fishing industry that at least they might look forward to being able to dispose of that minimum, quantity, and, if they had been able to tell the fishing industry that, it might have done more than anything else to put it on its legs. That is a perfectly reasonable suggestion and very different from the caricature which was suggested by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. I think my right hon. Friend will be well advised to give us some sort of answer to what I have said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is pleased to show his sense of humour, but, having heard the last speaker, I gather that it is the herring trade which is being discussed, and I want to raise the question why the people of this country do not eat more herring, which is the best of all foods. A fresh herring is far better than a salmon or other expensive fish. Why is it that no action can be taken to revive the taste for herring which existed when I was a boy? Then it was a very common food, but now it is discarded. I think that the dishonest dyed kippers now sold to the public have had something to do with the falling away in the public demand. Instead of the kipper being honestly smoked—smoked with oak chips for a long time—it is smoked with any old wood and for only a short period, and then it is dyed a rich brown, so that it may look as though it were a thoroughly smoked kipper; but when people eat it they pull a face and say, "Oh, no. What has gone wrong?" That kind of thing is killing the trade. Such commercial dishonesty has done immense injury.
I have put this matter to the Ministry of Health, but their view is that unless they find any ptomaines in the dyed fish they cannot interfere. I should like to see the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health take power to put an end to this process of dyeing fish. Why should they be dyed a rich brown when they are not really that colour? People resent such an imposition. I have said before that if the population of these islands would eat only one or two more herring a week the whole industry would thrive and we could do without the Russian or the Polish or any other trade, much as we should like to have it. We lost that trade for some reason; I think on account of the poverty of the Russian people, who could not buy herring as they formerly used to do. But there is a huge market at home for this most delectable of all fish, which used to be called "the king of the sea," because there was no other like it for nourishment and tastiness. If only our population would eat less tinned food and more fresh herring we should rear a better race of people and we should re-establish our fishing industry.
I did not reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) solely because I thought that the overseas side of this industry could be dealt with better and more fully on the main Estimate. That is my only reason for not answering the several questions put to me. Perhaps, in view of the undertaking that I will deal with them on the main Estimate, the Committee will now allow the Motion to be withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £101,387, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, including Expenses of Marine Superintendence, and a Grant in Aid of Piers or Quays." [Note.—£28,500 has been voted on account.]
This Vote enables the Committee to discuss a large number of questions, and it may be for the general convenience if I direct my first remarks to the Russian contract. On several occasions during 'the last few weeks questions have been put to me on this point, and the Government have been pressed to grant loans to individual curers so that this contract might be carried through. This contract was entered into—or is about to be entered into —between the Russian Government and the Co-operative Wholesale Society, the Co-operative Wholesale Society then entering into a contract with the British Herring Trade Association, and in view of the corporate character of that contract it is the view of the Government that the individual curers should make such arrangements among themselves as would enable the association, on behalf of its members, to fulfil the terms of the contract with the Co-operative Wholesale Society. I took occasion to inform the members of the British Herring Trade Association of that view, and it was found that a particular bank in Scotland was willing to grant loans not to individual curers but to the British Herring Trade Association to enable the work to be carried through. In other words, the banking and business community took the same view of the matter as the Government. At a later stage I made it very clear, through the public Press, that no loan to individual curers would be entertained by any party either in the Government or otherwise.
I am sure the Committee will be glad to hear that this very morning in response to inquiry, a telephone message has reached the Scottish Office from the Secretary of the British Herring Trade Association in Aberdeen, stating that though the contract between the Cooperative Wholesale Society is not yet definitely adjusted, no difficulty was expected, and also that agreements between the Association and the individual curers had been received by the British Herring Trade Association from the great majority of the Fraserburgh and the Peterhead curers and that the two outstanding curers are both expected to come in. Information from the distant areas further north had not yet been received, but the secretary of the Herring Trade Association did not apprehend many refusals. I am sure the Committee will be glad to hear from that telephone message that this contract is on the point of being signed, and that the difficulties which have cropped up, real difficulties, though, to quote the exact words of the message, "not yet definitely adjusted" are expected to be overcome. That shows that this long drawn out controversy between the individual curers and the British Herring Trade Association and the Government is on the point of being adjusted and that this contract will shortly be signed. I know that some hon. Members have taken great exception to the attitude of the Government in this matter, but in view of the successful conclusion of this contract between the Cooperative Wholesale Society and the British Herring Trade Association I think they are to be congratulated on facing the realities of the situation in coming together and concluding a contract which will naturally be in the interests of the fishermen themselves.
We all know that at an early stage of these negotiations the Co-operative Wholesale Society dropped out largely because of the difficult conditions under which the contract was to be made. The herring were not going to be taken over until October or September. Have the Soviet Government relaxed those conditions, and is it that which has enabled the Co-operative Wholesale Society to come back into the negotiations and to conclude this agreement?
I am sorry, but I have not the information on that point. The telephone message to which I refer was only received this morning, and I thought it my duty to report it at the very earliest moment to the Committee. As I have already said, the concluding words of the telephone message were: "No difficulty expected." It is a fair assumption from that that all the difficulties of the Russian Government, the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the British Herring Trade Association have been overcome. I am not in a position to state that definitely, but I cannot imagine any body of business men such as the Co-operative Wholesale Society entering into a contract to purchase a vast quantity of herring from the British Herring Trade Association unless they had very good reason to believe that, having bought the herring from a particular quarter, they would be able to transfer them to the buyer and be satisfied as to the terms of payment. If I have any further information in the course of the day—I will get into touch again by telephone—I may be able, before the House rises this afternoon, to give a specific answer to the question put by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair).
The herring industry has been largely dependent on the overseas market. It has been stated here this afternoon, and it is also stated outside, that the loss of foreign markets to the herring industry is in some measure due to the tariff policy of His Majesty's Government. I give a flat denial to that statement. There is no justification for believing that the herring industry has suffered in the slightest degree as the result of the tariff policy; rather, as I will endeavour to show, not only has the industry not suffered, but, unless the Government of the day had taken into their hands the power to negotiate agreements with the various countries, the herring trade would indeed have suffered. Some foreign countries, owing to low economic conditions, have been unable to buy the "cheapest of all foods"—as the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) called it—
And the best. That change has taken place also because of the difficulties of exchange rates. Why have exchange difficulties arisen? Why have those countries been unable to buy our 'herring, as in the past, because of those exchange difficulties, and are not those exchange difficulties the outward and visible sign of bad internal economic conditions in those countries? The Governments of those countries have felt that, in view of their bad economic conditions, they must take power to stop their nationals from buying the cheapest of foods from Great Britain, and from buying other articles from other countries.
Unless the exchange be forthcoming, and unless payment be made in sterling to our curers in Aberdeen, it is of no use the curers receiving the depreciated currencies of other countries. Because of the conditions those overseas markets have been unable to buy herring from our people, but the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department have put the vital needs of the herring industry into the very forefront of their policy in regard to every one of those agreements, and have kept those needs ever before them. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is not in his place at the moment, but I remember that he tried to argue that the Government of the day had not succeeded in getting those countries to take a larger share of the products of our national industries. My reply to that is that in every one of the agreements, numerous in character and differing as they do one from another, have brought and are bringing to-day a direct benefit in many cases to our herring industry. Let me give the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) some exact figures to show that the Government of the day are very fully alive to, and have pressed with all the powers at their disposal, the claims of the herring industry.
I am very glad to have that assurance. Unless the Government of the day had taken power by their tariff policy to conclude these agreements, the agreements would not have been made, and the herring industry would not have benefited. The agreements with Latvia and Estonia, which in 1933 increased our export to those countries from 21,000 barrels to 57,000 barrels, have been renewed and extended, and I believe they will have the same good effect in 1934 and in subsequent years. The agreements with Finland and Lithuania, which were not in force last year, will undoubtedly bring some improvement to the trade with those countries. As for Poland, negotiations are proceeding, but into the details of which I cannot go. I will only say, on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, that the interests of the herring industry have been regarded as of first-class importance by our negotiators.
Passing from Poland, I turn to Germany. In the last few years Germany has taken more than half the export of Scottish cured herring, but in recent months the German Government have unfortunately imposed drastic restrictions on the amount of sterling exchange made available for imports of all kinds. Negotiations are at present in progress for the conclusion of an exchange agreement, and I can assure the committee that the representatives of the Board of Trade are fully aware of the importance of the herring industry. We cannot force those countries to take herring, neither can we make our people at home eat herring, but in all our steps and in every action we will bring anew all the powers which we possess to increase the purchases of herring. Would that these 'agreements could be more favourable, but it is not easy to make them, and, if they are not satisfactory to the hon. Member for Banff, I hope that he will believe me when I say that all sections of the House have a very soft side for the industry and are anxious to do their very utmost at all times to help our fishermen of whom Great Britain has been so proud in all ages. I cannot add anything further at this moment in regard to our trade agreements. As the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire has well pointed out, there is a vast potential untapped market at home. I can well understand those who are engaged in the herring industry, and who have all their lives depended upon those markets for the sale of their products, being slow to turn their attention to the home market. As every hon. Member knows, great developments have been effected in the marketing of various products by the arts of modern salesmanship. The development of the home market for herring at the present time is for the good of our people in many ways, and I have no doubt that in the shortest possible time those connected with the herring industry will turn all their attention to the development of the home market.
The Committee is aware that the Sea-fish Commission was asked by the Government as one of their first acts to consider the plight of the herring industry. I am informed that the Report of the Sea-fish Commission dealing with this subject will be received in August. I need hardly tell the Committee that it will receive our earnest consideration at the very earliest moment, and after the receipt of the Report, I will consider inviting all sections of the industry to meet us, so that we can sit down together with the experience and support of that Commission, and try, if possible, with Government assistance, if it is thought to be wise and right, to think out some new way to develop the trade of our people and help the plight of our fishermen in the North Sea. No doubt that will take time. Complaint, no doubt, will be made that in the present situation we have not done more. The interests of the herring fishery have occupied much of the time of the Department and given much work during the last few months. In our endeavour to establish a policy we have rejected certain schemes and accepted other schemes, but at all times we have endeavoured to further the ultimate interest—not the monetary interest —of the herring industry. I ask the Committee to take the assurance from me that all the attention and thought that can be given will be given to this industry when that Report is issued.
I will now pass from the herring industry to the white fish industry. The Committee will recollect that the Sea-Fishing Industry Act came into law in August, 1933. It is, naturally, too soon to come to any final decision as to the ultimate results of that Act, but experience has already shown that it is of direct advantage to the fishing industry. Since August, 1933, the prices have risen by 121 per cent., without a corresponding increase to the consumer. The object of that Act was to help the primary producer, to help the fishermen, to help the men who go to sea in our drifters arid trawlers in the North Sea and round about the coast, and although I admit that it is too soon to come to any final decision as to the ultimate results of the Act, the fact that prices have risen and thereby benefited the people for whom the Act was designed, without a corresponding increase in the price of fish to the consumer, is, I think, satisfactory, and the House must appreciate that their labours in passing that Act have been so far successful. The value of the white fish industry to Scotland is sometimes little realised. The value of the herring landed in 1933 was about £1,130,000. The value of the white fish landed for the same year was upwards of £2,400,000. While we have been directing our attention to the herring industry during the last few months, the Committee must be glad to know that the situation so far as the white fish industry is concerned has been improved.
Before I sit down, I am anxious to touch on one other subject, and that is the position of our line fishermen and illegal trawling. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that the Illegal Trawling Bill was passed into law a short time ago, but, from information which I have received from different quarters, I can give the Committee a very definite assurance that the Act has created a spirit of confidence among our line fishermen in Scotland. That confidence has been rudely shaken for many years, and confidence, as hon. Members know, is a plant of slow progress, and undoubtedly it will take time for new and increased confidence to come into the minds of our fishermen. But side by side with that Act the Committee will note that in our main Estimates there is a sum set aside for new patrol boats. We have on former occasions explained to the Committee the new designs which are in contemplation in the building of these boats, but, like all new ideas in new types of boats, it takes time for the designer, the builder and the sums required to fit together; but we are proceeding on the lines indicated in the Estimates and, in our opinion, these boats will be more effective for patrolling our shores than the present old boats of the Fishery Board.
Yes, side by side with the building of these boats, as the Committee knows, we have been hiring drifters and patrolling some of our coasts and ports with drifters so hired by the Fishery Board.
I mention that to show that we have endeavoured to safeguard the interests of the line fishermen not only by the passage into law of the Illegal Trawling Act but by patrol boats, and also, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, by mystery ships. Every member of this House of whatever party is anxious to assist not only the herring industry, but the line fishing industry round our coasts. I therefore suggest that we have taken very practical steps during the course of the last 12 months, but, as I said here on Wednesday on another subject, we are not satisfied with our efforts, and I hope hon. Members will not think there is any spirit of self-satisfaction in our attitude towards the steps we have taken, but I believe the Committee will realise that the interests of the fishing industry have been safeguarded, and therefore I have pleasure this afternoon in presenting this Estimate.
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The right hon. Gentleman said in the course of his speech that he anticipated that we might say that the Government had not done enough to help the fishing industry in the serious plight in which it finds itself at the present time. His anticipation is correct. We on these Benches, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) has said, fully recognise the hard work which the Secretary of State has put into his job since he assumed office; we realise his genuine sympathy with the plight of the fishermen; we know that he personally has done his best, and that he has, as he says, a soft side towards the industry; but the situation of the industry is serious, and, indeed, desperate, and in the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon we find no indication of any further activity on the part of the Government, except that they are going to consider, when it is presented, the Sea Fish Commission's interim report on the herring fishing industry. At the same time, we find that the Government are committed to an economic policy which we believe to be directly responsible for the evils with which the fishing industry is now contending, and we find that, far from recanting, or regretting the evil effects of that policy upon the industry, they strive to justify it, and that is why I feel it necessary to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I think it is a good thing that, when important issues of policy are raised, we should have a full and frank discussion upon them. I do not wish to import into this discussion any party spirit. I am not going to attack persons or parties; I am going to attack policies with which I disagree. I think that sometimes in our discussions on the Scottish Estimates we have a little too much of what the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) called the pleasant Wednesday afternoon atmosphere, and that it is better, when we have large questions of policy to discuss, that we should frankly have our differences out. We are told that our position in this country now is the envy of the world—that we are making such a great recovery that all the world is looking on in amazement; and yet we see that the position, not only in the fishing industry but in a number of others which it would be out of Order for me to mention this afternoon, is worse than it was three years ago when this policy was embarked upon.
I am referring to the fishing industry as a whole, but the herring industry is undoubtedly in the worst position. I am going to deal with the different parts of the industry one by one. My hon. Friend has intervened a little too soon. The other day, when I was dealing with the housing question, he intervened on slum clearance, but I was coming to slum clearance. To-day I am dealing with the fishing industry as a whole, and I shall come to the white fishing section in due course.
In introducing the Sea-Fishing Industry Bill a year ago, the Minister of Agriculture referred to the danger of widespread unemployment in the industry, and the danger that "an industry which," as he said, "is vital to the life of the country, will founder while we are talking about it." We must be ready, he said, to take immediate steps. The position a year afterwards is that that industry is in a worse position than when the right hon. Gentleman delivered himself of those eloquent words. The Sea-Fishing Industry Bill was, of course, primarily designed in the interests of the trawling industry—that was admitted by everyone in the Debate—a branch of the industry in which fewer than one-seventh of the fishermen of this country are employed, or fewer than one-fourteenth if all the ancillary trades are counted. Yet as a matter of fact the trawling industry has derived very little benefit from that Bill, which was designed to give it such help.
The Minister of Agriculture last week described the trawling industry as humming with activity. He said he had been to Hull, or Grimsby—I forget which—and had found trawler - owners building trawlers one against the other. So I asked for the figures, and I was amazed to find that there was not the slightest justification for that statement. The actual figures showed that, whereas in 1928, 1929 and 1930 we were building 50, 60 and nearly 70 trawlers a year, when the depression came replacements, as was the case in many other industries, were postponed, and the result, of course, was that in 1931 and 1932 they built very few—16 and 6 respectively. In 1933 they only built 30, or, after all this time, during which replacement was practically non-existent, only about half the number that they were building before. In the first part of this year they have only built 12, so that it looks as if the tendency now were again down. I am fortified in that idea by the report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, where I find it stated that the trawlers decreased by eight; in other words, they are not even carrying out replacements. So far from its being true that the Act.has given a great impetus to the trawling industry and the construction of trawlers throughout the country, they are not even replacing the fleet which they had in being before the Act was passed.
The right hon. Gentleman made a great point about prices, and tried to make out that they had been rising on account of the Act. But what has happened is that prices have fluctuated from month to month in this year, as they have done in every year. In some months they were higher than last year, and in other months they were lower. There is no general tendency; the line has gone up and down from month to month, as it has every year, mainly for climatic reasons. On the average this year it is a little higher than last year, but not as high as the year before. The line is merely fluctuating,. as will no doubt be appreciated by those who study the monthly reports circulated by the Fishery Board for Scotland. Taking the last three months, in April prices were up compared with April of last year, and the reason was stated quite frankly in the monthly report. It was that the fish were scarce and the catches were light. In May, again, prices were up, and the reason given was that the usual seasonal scarcity of white fish was experienced with exceptional intensity; it had nothing to do with the Sea-Fishing Industry Bill. Coming to June, we find that prices were down, due to the warm weather and heavy English supplies. These fluctuations, therefore, proceed from month to month.
Of course, the trawling industry is a mere fraction of the whole. The right hon. Gentleman dealt a good deal with the case of the inshore fishermen and referred to the spirit of confidence among them. I do not know where he has found its expression. I have not found it myself in going among them, and I do not find it in the Fishery Board report, which says that "the new legislation is approved by the trawling section of the industry, but some dissatisfaction has been expressed by fish merchants and export curers at the curtailment of supplies necessarily involved and the great damage to the important export trades in Aberdeen, and also by some of the inshore fishermen." We prophesied that it could only injure the inshore fishermen when the Bill was under discussion. One reason is that it will undoubtedly intensify the depredations of trawlers within the three-mile limit, and it is for that reason that I was very glad that we passed the Bill a few months ago for increasing the penalties upon illegal trawling, and I am glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has told us about the increase in fishery protection.
I should like to diverge for a moment from the main theme of my speech to deal with another point which is of great interest to inshore fishermen and white fishermen and which is dealt with in the report of the Fishery Board, I refer to gunfiring in the Moray Firth. The arrangements made by the Admiralty for gunfiring have caused great dissatisfaction among the fishermen. I have been assured that it is a real danger to them in the pursuit of their calling, and it is matter not merely of damage to their fishing prospects, but of actual risk to life and limb in some cases. I see that the Fishery Board, no doubt at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman, has been standing up to the Admiralty in this matter. The Admiralty persisted last year in making certain arrangements which the Fishery Board say were not satisfactory to the fishermen and I call upon the right hon. Gentleman now to stand firm. After all, the Admiralty have the whole of the wide seas to range over, and they ought really not to take this little piece of sea which is of such vital importance from the point of view of line land seine-net fishing. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to see that the Admiralty do not carry on their firing practice in the area which the fishermen use.
I come back to the situation of the fishing industry, and the way it has been affected by the legislation of the Government. I have dealt with the trawling industry and with the alleged rise in prices due to the operation of this Measure. The reason why it has not raised prices is that there is no effective restriction and the number of fish coming in is the same as a year ago. Prices have risen on the whole because climatic conditions and the supply of fish have been such as to cause them to rise for purely natural reasons. I have dealt with the injury done to the position of the inshore fishermen.
Now I come to the herring fishing industry which is, after all, the mainstay of the fishing industry as a whole. Here it is that the vast majority of the fishermen are employed. The herring fishing industry can, I am convinced, and ought to be saved if energetic measures are taken to reconcile divergent interests, to re-organise it and to improve the marketing of its produce and, above all, to regain and expand its markets. When I come to talk about this question of the expansion of markets, in case anyone suggests that I am animated by any party or personal spirit, I should like to make it clear that I know perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department have done everything they can to help the fishermen to expand their market and to make a success of these trading agreements, but they are working within the limitations of the policy of the Government as a whole, arid it is that policy which is fatal to the prosperity of the fishing industry.
The right hon. Gentleman asserted that tariffs were not to blame. Tariffs are, of course, to blame. We showed before they were introduced that the inevitable result of our putting on tariffs would be twofold: first to provoke counter tariffs in foreign countries—in fact, Germany has trebled her tariffs and other countries have put on increasing tariffs and quotas—and, secondly, of course, if we refuse to buy German, Polish and other goods, if we exclude them as a whole or partially, we reduce the purchasing power of those countries and make it impossible for them to buy the same quantity of herring that they did before. The right hon. Gentleman blames exchange restrictions. They are one very deadly form of this economic warfare, but they are a weapon which many countries have to use as the result of the tariff war that is going on in order to protect their currencies. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that positive advantages have been won for the herring fishing industry by the trade agreements. Of course, that suggestion only requires to be thought over dispassionately for a moment, and it will be seen to be without foundation. Actually, of course, a whole range of foreign markets has been closed to us since we adopted Protection. All that has happened as the result of these trade agreements is that a cranny or two has been opened here and there in this shut door.
Certainly. In the case of Germany the duties alone have been trebled and quota and import restrictions of various kinds have been imposed, and exchange restrictions in addition. They have been imposed partly as retaliation in the economic warfare and partly for the strictly economic reason that, if we do not buy their goods, they cannot afford to buy our herring. Those are the two things which have been going on all over the foreign markets of the herring-fishing industry. How are the Government trying to deal with the situation? They have, first of all, given these guarantees to the herring-fishing fleet and loans for the purchase of gear for the fishermen.
That was going to be my next sentence if, Captain Bourne, you had not interposed. I was going to say that that matter has been disposed of in the short discussion on the Supplementary Estimate. Then there was the deal with Russia. Here, again, the old Trading Agreement was broken, and, naturally, last year nothing could be done with the Russian Government at all. That was one source of the difficulties—I do not say that it was the principal factor—in the situation last year. The principal factor last year was the shortage of fish. But it was certainly one factor that there were no Russians in the market last year at all, because we had no trading relations with the Russian Government. Now we have the new Trading Agreement, and the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have done their best to make the most of it for the fishing industry. I cannot help thinking that a stiffer line should have been taken with the representatives of the Russian Government when that problem was being negotiated, so as to have made certain that we should have a larger purchase than 70,000 barrels of herring. In 1932 we arranged a purchase of 100,000 barrels under the old Commercial Agreement with Russia, but under the new Agreement we have only got a purchase of 70,000 barrels, which is hedged about by conditions which did not apply to the 1932 transaction. Those conditions are very onerous and will make it much more difficult to carry out the arrangement.
I urged, while these negotiations were going on, that the Government should come to a definite understanding with the Russian Government about herring. The Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade who, together with the President of the Board of Trade, was responsible for conducting the negotiations, said that he thought that it was unwise to come to a definite understanding about herring, and that on the whole he could get better terms by doing it the other way. That was his responsibility. All I can say—and I have not the slightest doubt, as I have said before, that he did his best—is, that the result is that instead of 100,000 barrels of herring, we have got only 70,000 barrels, with the addition of more onerous conditions, whereas I had hoped that, as a result of this tariff weapon and of a Government which was going to take foreigners by the throat and stand no nonsense from them, we would have done a great deal better in 1934 than we were able to do under the old Agreement with Russia in 1932. In fact, we have done worse. Let us hope that we may improve the position even now. If there be any prospect of our getting a further purchase of herring on better terms arranged this year, I am sure we shall all wish the Government well. I would say, as I have said before in this House, that if my voice could reach the Russians—and it sometimes reaches them in private—that we in this country will judge the effectiveness and usefulness to us of this Russian Agreement very largely by the inclination which they show to purchase herring in our markets.
There is another thing which is very important to the herring fishing industry, namely, the methods by which they catch the fish. I cannot help thinking that it was a great misfortune for the herring fishing industry when they deserted the sail for steam, and that the steam drifters have proved to be too expensive a method of catching this fish. A great friend of mine in Wick, Mr. Miller, who is a fisherman of great distinction, and who served on the Fishery Board at one time, had a sailing ship right up to 1914. That was his last season, but it was the best season he had ever had, although the port was full of steam drifters at the time. There is no question of going back to the sail now, but I cannot help thinking that the true solution will be found, and is in fact being found by the industry, in the increasing use of the motor boat. Of course, there are different kinds and sizes of motor boats, but I venture to emphasise a suggestion which I have often made before. I made it many years ago, and I have heard other Members make the same suggestion. It is, that the Government should conduct, in their naval establishments, experiments in tanks and on a larger scale at sea in order to decide the best type of boat for the various uses for which it is required in the herring fishing industry.
Then it would be well worth while to give some help to the industry in acquiring the boats that would be the most efficient for the job, cost the least, and enable the industry finally to be placed upon that economic footing to which it must eventually be raised. It cannot remain a pensioner of the State. None of us would suggest that that should he the case. It should be enabled to secure that economic footing upon which it would be able to remain a prosperous industry. Such a policy would involve loans to the fishermen. I often hear it said, when I suggest a proposal which would involve loans to fishermen, "What chance have you of ever getting all your money back? What fisherman would ever think of repaying a loan made to him in those circumstances? "The record of the fishermen as borrowers is one which I would commend to this Committee. Hon. Members will find in the Fishery Board Report a record of the loans, and what has happened in regard to the loans advanced to them in 1924 and 1925. The sum of £5,440 was ad- vanced to the fishermen for the purchase of drift nets, and by the end of 1933, in those days of depression, £5,150 had already been repaid. Again, in 1930 loans were advanced to fishermen to replace the nets lost in that terrific storm which took place in that year off the East Anglian coast, and out of £18,226 advanced to the fishermen £11,750 had been repaid by the end of last year, two-thirds of the sum, and this at a time when the fishing industry has been going through an experience of misfortune such as it has never had before and which, I am thankful to say, few industries in this country have suffered. Therefore, provided that we could be satisfied upon what is really the right boat, and provided that experiments could be carried out, on a small scale in tanks, and on a large scale at sea, which would satisfy the fishermen, it would be a good investment for the country to lend funds to the fishermen, which they would repay, and so enable the industry to be placed upon a far more secure foundation.
There are other very important questions. I only wish I had more time in order to deal with them, but I should not think of trespassing further on the patience of the Committee. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will deal with them. There is the question of the reorganisation of the industry, agreements on close times, and a number of other important matters, including marketing. It is my belief that the Government will have to give a firm lead in the direction of the reform of marketing, because in other countries abroad Governments have wider responsibility for the marketing of fish than is the case in this country.
The most vital question, however, is that of markets, and the chief Markets of the herring fishing industry must be the foreign markets. I have sat in this House for 12 years and on every occasion on which the fishing industry has been discussed I have heard of the importance of the home market. The home market is important. Everything ought to be tried in order to expand the home market, and I am glad that the Empire Marketing Board have given help and have advertised the herring industry a great deal. Certainly a great deal has been done to expand the home market for the fishing industry. It is not true to represent the curers and the other sections of the fish- ing industry as being reactionary and backward and having neglected to try new ideas. The curers have tried numerous methods such as smoking and tinning, they have produced "Bucklings" and "Rosslings" and other new kinds of cured or smoked herring, designed to make a fresh and more attractive appeal to the public taste and they have tried to push them on the market in every way they could. I will support the Government in anything that they can do to help to expand the home trade, but do not let hon. Members imagine that the expansion of the home market is a new idea and that there are great new possibilities that have not been explored. That is not true. The only real salvation for the industry in the long run must be in the revival of its foreign markets.
The exchange difficulties with Germany are very serious but we hope that as a result of the negotiations which are going forward some agreement will be reached by which we can overcome those difficulties. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the great contribution which has been made towards a solution of the difficulties of the fishing industry by the trade agreements, I must say frankly that it has not been a great but a small contribution. The report of the Fishing Board says:
The industry however benefited from the agreements which the Government succeeded during the year in negotiating, largely in the interests of the herring trade, with Latvia, Estonia and Finland.
For that fact we are grateful, but it is Germany and Russia which are our best markets. For the help that has been given by the trade agreements in respect of Latvia, Estonia and Finland we are grateful, but much as we wish to see those markets extended, it is in the German Agreement and in the Russian Agreement that there ought to have been specific guarantees of markets—although my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Banff was chided and upbraided for making that suggestion—for the Scottish fishing industry. In regard to Poland there is no agreement yet, but we hope that herrings will be mentioned there. It is in regard to Germany and Russia that we want an agreement which will be a guarantee for the Scottish herring industry.
I refuse to accept that dilemma for one moment. We have not been told that that was the dilemma, and I do not know on what authority the hon. Member suggests it. If the negotiators come before the House and tell us that it was a question of an agreement without herring or no agreement at all, that would be a new situation which I should have to consider, but nobody has suggested that, and I have not considered it. The Russian people want the herring, Russia was a great market for them, and I believe that if the Government had stood firm we could have had an agreement with regard to herring. We ought to have and we must have an agreement with Germany and Russia to safeguard the export of herrings to those countries. There are other countries with which we ought to have similar agreements, and I beg the Government to consider the possibility of extending our exports of herring to those countries. It has been suggested to me that India might be a likely market. We are told that salted food is an article of diet to which the Indian people, the natives in particular, are accustomed. It might well be that there is a possibility there. China is certainly a possibility, and I urge the Government to give some help to our exporters in regard to the possibility of opening further export markets in those countries.
Here is an industry which is more important to Scotland than to any other country in Europe. It is not a big industry but a little industry, run by people with no great interests behind them. There is not the same push and drive behind us when we face the difficulties of the fishing industry as when greater industries like agriculture are discussed. The fishing industry is one in respect of which a special responsibility rests upon (Scottish Members and upon this House. I understand that we are to vote £50,000,000 for an increase of the Air Force in the cause of national defence. A tiny fraction of that money, wisely spent, would put the vital resources of an important form of national defence upon a permanent and secure foundation. The Government are right as regards the herring fishing industry in the importance which they attach to the Sea Fish Commission, but so long as they will not realise the vicious effects of their own policy in undermining the prosperity of this industry I cannot feel confidence that they will take measures adequate to a solution of the problem. The future of hundreds of fishing communities are at stake and of thousands of poor people who work hard and face great risks and dangers in their calling, and who have rendered great service to the country in its hour of peril. The Government ought to announce a policy of greater energy and show that they realise more fully than they have shown in this Debate so far the urgency and vital importance of this question.
I know that there are hon. Members who represent fishing towns and villages who want to take part in the discussion and lay before the Committee their views of how the industry could be assisted so far as employed in fishing are concerned. It will be remembered that almost a year ago I took up the question of the marine superintendence of the fisheries. During the Second Reading of the Illegal Trawling Bill it was announced that the Government intended to replace some of the vessels that are on the marine superintendence patrol. The sum that is being allocated to the building of three new vessels is £44,000.
Last November I asked a question as to the ages of the various vessels under the control of the Fishery Board and their average speed. The reply must have been a revelation not only to myself but to every one in Scotland who considers the depredations caused by illegal trawling in prohibited waters. I want to know which of these vessels the right hon. Gentleman intends to scrap. I notice that one vessel has disappeared entirely from the list given in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not know whether it has sunk, has been sold, or whether some illegal trawler has run away with it, but it has disappeared out of the list of vessels under the control of the Board. This particular vessel, the "Norna," was built in 1924. She was said to be the speediest vessel of the fleet, as she was supposed to sail at '20 knots per hour. A subsequent question revealed the fact that she was most unsatisfactory and was laid up six months every year for repairs. I want to know the reasons why this vessel, the speediest in the fleet, 10 years old, and the only one which could overhaul any of the trawlers, should be so unsatisfactory as to be scrapped, and why for the last three years, she has spent practically half the year undergoing repairs? I am glad that the "Vigilant" is to be placed on the scrapheap. It is about time. She is 50 years old, and was 10 years old when the Government bought her second-hand.
After all, the Government have continued to use this vessel and must accept some responsibility. I agree that conditions in the country were such that the Government could not get rid of this heirloom, but I am glad to see that she is now going to be scrapped. She was one of the slowest, and also spent half the year undergoing repairs. I put a question to the Secretary of State as to the amount of time spent by these vessels in cruising, protecting fishing gear from being damaged by trawlers within the three mile limit and in protecting the fishing beds from devastation by illegal trawling in the evening. The answer I got was that so many days were spent at sea and so many days in the harbour undergoing repairs and refitting. There must be a lot of drifting going on, because on page 48 of the Report is given the actual sailings of the six vessels of the Fleet. The "Norna" was 272 days at sea, and steamed 21,509 knots. That means that she steamed 84 knots on the average per day, or six hours sailing.
I am only pointing out the average per day. I am certain that they not only cruise, but drift. The "Freya" seems to have steamed six hours per day on an average, the "Minna" six, the "Brenda" four, the "Vigilant", this heirloom, which ought to be laid up in some fishing harbour as a kind of relic, like the "Victory" at Portsmouth, four hours per day, and the "Vaila" three hours per day. These appear to be the actual times spent steaming at full speed: As none of these vessels possess a speed of more than 10A knots per hour there is no trawler which could not outstrip them. Some time ago H.M.S. "Doon" was sent to assist the fisheries control fleet and was evaded by a certain trawler, which not only ran away from her but arrived in harbour at Fleetwood before H.M.S. "Doon" could arrive there to arrest her. If that is the type of ship which the Admiralty are going to send it is about time that we asked them not to send any ship at all. If the three vessels which are to be built are going to have a speed of only 13¼ knots per hour, it will be sheer waste of money. The speed is much too low. If the "Norna" had been sats-factory she would have been a fine vessel for the work with her speed of 20 knots per hour, and there would also have been an earlier desire on the part of the Scottish Office to discard some of their old vessels and acquire new of the same speed as the "Norna". I hope, therefore, that when we are placing orders the Government will see that each of these vessels is very carefully inspected before acceptance from the builders. I do not say anything with regard to bad workmanship. There may have been flaws in the "Norna" that it was impossible for anyone to find out until after a period of sailing, but future vessels must be carefully examined before they are taken from the builders, so that the fishermen may have their season preserved and know that the Board has an adequate fleet to protect them.
I disagree with a great deal of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), the late Secretary of State, said in his speech. I agreed with some parts of his speech, but there were parts with which I profoundly disagreed. When I do feel strongly I sometimes get a bit vehement, and I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me, for I have a deep and abiding admiration for him. There were some parts of his speech which I think were a distortion of the true and fundamental facts of the present economic solution. The herring fishing industry, which some of us have followed for 8, 9 or 10 years, has been a very interesting study in contemporary industrial development. It was obvious to some of us even as long ago as 1923 that radical changes were necessary after the War to meet completely and fundamentally different, conditions. Prior to 1914 the herring industry, like many others, was called upon to supply a large and continually expanding Continental market.
My complaint, and it is a deep complaint against the Members of the Liberal party, is that they will still continue to think that the conditions which existed prior to the War, if they do not exist now, ought to exist again and will exist again some day. A great many of those in the industry take the same view. Consequently they have made no change in their ideas, outlook or practice, in line with other industries which have made tremendous changes. That is one of the principal reasons why the herring industry is in such a tragic and, indeed, desperate condition. It is because they have continuously thought and been led to suppose by politicians that they could ever get back to the economic conditions which prevailed before the War. From the very moment the War came to an end it was apparent that those markets could never be retained on anything like the pre-War scale. Since then the progress and development of the revolutionary movement on the Continent, and particularly in Russia and Germany, and the growth of economic nationalism, have made that more rather than less certain.
This is my point of difference with the right hon. Member for Caithness. He implied that the adoption by this country of the policy of protection was primarily responsible for the loss of our Continental markets. I do not believe it for a moment. We have been losing those markets steadily since 1918. We have watched this growth of economic nationalism develop steadily since 1918. We remember the almost frantic effort made by the late Mr. William Graham, at Geneva and elsewhere, to get the nations of Europe to come to any sort of tariff agreement, and how abortive the effort was. The right hon. Member for Caithness implied that the policy of protection is responsible for our loss of the Russian market and of the German market. But he knows that the Soviet system of Russia is 100 per cent. economic nationalism.
The loss of the German market, the additional restrictions in the German market, I attribute to the adoption by ourselves of a protectionist system. In the ease of Russia it was the rupture of the Agree- ment, the old Russian Trade Agreement, before there was a new one to replace it, to which I attributed the responsibility for the failure to make any deal with Russia last year.
I simply say that so far as the policy of past Governments towards Russia was concerned, my right hon. Friend and myself were in entire agreement. The relationship between this country and Russia has been continuously bungled and muddled for the last 10 years. But I doubt whether that has affected the sale of herring to Russia very much. I know something about the conditions in Russia and Germany. I have twice visited Russia recently, and have been to Germany several times in the last 10 years. It is much better to face up to the facts. The reason why Russia gave us that £70,000 herring order was to keep us in a good temper. I am not one of those who despair about the future of the Russian market. The Russians are very slow in improving the economic condition of the people and so increasing their consumption of goods, but if they do get to a certain standard they will increase their imports of herring. It must be remembered at the same time that they are developing a fishing industry of their own, and it is true to say that the Russian Government does not require British herring nearly so much as British machinery.
It is known that, rather than consent to the insertion of a categorical clause in the recent Trade Agreement covering herring, the Russians would never have signed the Trade Agreement. My source of information is not absolutely firsthand, but it is the impression I have gained from Russian sources, both here and in Moscow; not from the Government, which could not give away the details of confidential and secret negotiations. I am satisfied in my own mind that the British Government, having pressed to get herring put into the Agreement, gave up the idea only when they saw that the Soviet Government would not sign an Agreement at all if it contained such a Clause. Therefore, I think that the right hon. Member for Caithness is unfair to the Government in blaming them for not having included a Clause in the Agreement specifically covering herring.
The hon. Member may think my opinion less good than his, but all that he is giving us is his opinion as a result of talking to Russian negotiators. They would not tell him that they were going to make a concession to us, for they would know that he would at once inform the British Government. It is my opinion that if the British Government had taken a sufficiently firm line they might well have compelled the Russians to make suck an Agreement, but the hon. Member holds a different opinion.
It resolves itself into an argument as to the capacity of the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department as a negotiator. I think the Overseas Trade Secretary is a first rate negotiator, and that if anyone could have got that Clause inserted in the Agreement he would have succeeded. It is not true that in Germany the development of acute economic nationalism coincides with the introduction of protection by the National Government. Economic nationalism is the policy that Hitler has advocated ever since he started his political career 10 years ago. The main objective of Hitlerism is to make Germany economically self-supporting.
It is very largely the economic distress of Germany, to which we so greatly contributed by our protective system, that gave Hitler a chance of gaining power in Germany.
To say that Hitlerism and its economic results have been consequent upon Protection in this country is absolute nonsense. It is well-known that we are very anxious to engage in a trade agreement with Germany if the Germans were willing to meet us but the only possible basis on which to get agreement with regard to the purchase of herring by Germany would be the making of considerable loans and credits to the present German Government. Does the right bon. Genlteman advocate such a course? I, for my part, say that we have sunk enough money in Germany since 1924, precious little of which we shall ever get back again arid I should not be willing to advocate any great extension of loan facilities, guarantees or credits to the present regime in Germany in existing circumstances. The German policy, like the Russian policy in this matter, is to develop their own herring fishing industry. In Germany also they are constructing and subsidising a herring fleet.
Those are the hard facts with regard to Germany and Russia. How can those markets be increased? Only, as economic conditions on the Continent of Europe slowly improve and then only by negotiation of trade agreements. My right hon. Friend blames trade agreements and dislikes trade agreements but I say that trade agreements are becoming the foundation of foreign trade to-day and they are going to be the basis of practically all foreign trade in the future, and we could not negotiate satisfactory trade agreements had we not armed ourselves with the weapon of Protection. Anybody who thinks that we can go back to the old pre-War Free Trade system is living in sort of "cloud cuckoo land" from which it is impossible to expect any sense of reality to emerge. There are the facts. Economic nationalism is there. It has grown up; it is continuing and for many years to come the only way of dealing with that situation will be by the negotiation of trade agreements, which as I say would be impossible unless we possessed the weapon of Protection. I am not so sure that in the general profusion of world production that is not a good rather than a bad thing from the long point of view. It provides some check upon unrestrained production; it gives the various nations of the world a chance of regulating and controlling their production and ultimately organising distribution.
The point which I would make with reference to the herring fishing industry is this. The policy of economic nationalism in Europe, for which nobody can say that our Government has been responsible, has been accompanied by a slow but steady expansion of the internal trade of this country. There has been a switch-over to the home market, or at any rate a greater emphasis on the importance of the home market as against the Continental market. That is indicated by every economic factor of the past ten years. The industries which have grasped that fundamental truth and have seen that the thing to do is to get their heads down as it were, for the home market, in order to balance inevitable losses in the Continental markets, are the industries which are prospering to-day. It is the case that this country has experienced for two years a considerable internal industrial revival. Take the case of the iron and steel trade. The improvement in that trade is partly due to Protection but is not due to Protection alone; it is due to the increasing activity in every branch of industry at home. Take any figure you like. Take the ordinary share values which are a good rough test. Take the increased numbers employed in many industries and it is evident that we have enjoyed for eighteen months past a substantial and genuine industrial revival.
In those circumstances, any industry like the herring industry might have seen the necessity of devoting greater attention to the home market than they have in fact devoted to it. I think the Government too have been remiss in this matter. Successive Governments in the last ten years ought to have impressed the importance of the home market upon the leaders of industry. They ought to have said to industry, "Let us get together and see what we can do to develop the home market to the maximum extent." For that purpose a new technique is required. My right hon. Friend referred to the necessity for reorganisation. I wish he would develop that point. A new technique in industrial organisation and production is called for' by the circumstances of the time and, so far, the herring fishing industry would appear to be oblivious of that fact. That. new technique definitely involves control of production by the industry concerned and co-operation between the various producing elements and parts of the industry instead of violent internal competition. It also involves the creation of -a large selling organisation. That is a necessity to the herring fishing industry as it is to every successful industry to-day. Lastly, that new technique involves the intensive cultivation and development of the home market by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has described as modern methods of salesmanship.
Not one of these things has been attempted by the herring fishing industry. There has been no attempt to deal with over-production; there has been no cooperation between the various parts of the industry,,not even, as we have seen, among the curers themselves. There is no large-scale selling organisation and there has been no attempt at intensive development of the home market. No industry to-day can fly in the face of all modern experience and teaching and technique and expect to get away with it. I hope that the report of the Sea Fish Commission and also action by the Government, will bring home to the herring fishing industry the necessity for making itself efficient, in the modern sense before it can hope to recover prosperity.
Further, I would urge that it is essential not only on social but on economic and national grounds to keep our herring drifter fleet in being. It is as necessary in the interests of national safety as the Air Force. We know to what an extent in 1914 and 1915 the safety of the British Fleet at Scapa depended on the existence of the fishing fleet and the fine seamanship of those who manned it. Therefore it is a. national interest to keep the herring drifter fleet in being and anything that the Government can do in that direction ought to be done with vigour and determination. The hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) referred to the transformation which is going on in the fishing industry. I think we are seeing, throughout the industry, a movement such as he has described and I regard the change-over from the share basis to the wage-earning basis among the fishermen as a healthy sign. I think the share fishermen business is, on the whole, as obsolete as many of the other methods adopted in the industry and I do not view with any alarm the steady drift of fishermen from the share basis to the wages basis under modern conditions. Certainly in the future that will make it easier for Governments in this country to provide for these men during periods of unemployment. These men should be in an unemployment insurance scheme and the reason why they are not in such a scheme is that the share conditions under which they work make it impossible to devise a scheme which would be administratively workable. If they were all on a wage basis there would be no difficulty in bringing them into unemployment insurance and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give some attention to that aspect of the case.
What action then can the Government take, apart from the actions which we have discussed on the Supplementary Estimate, to help the fishing industry? I think that, in conjunction with the Sea Fish Commission, the Government can helpfully put pressure upon the industry to reorganise itself thoroughly along the lines which I have suggested and to get away from the conditions of chaos—for they are really nothing short of that—which exist at the present time. Then I think, as my right hon. Friend outlined in his speech, the negotiation of these trade agreements with the Continent of Europe may be extraordinarily valuable. We have now under way, either completed or in course of completion, trade agreements with every single herring-importing country on the Continent of Europe, with the exception of Germany. This is not guaranteeing foreign markets, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) seemed to point out that it was. No Government, as I still submit, can possibly guarantee, for any considerable length of time at any rate, any market for any industry in this country, but we can make markets available over a period of years by these reciprocal trade negotiations, and I think the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department has shown himself very sympathetic to the herring-fishing industry and very sensible of their difficulties. I am bound to say that I think he has conducted these negotiations with very great skill, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for what he has done and is still doing.
Lastly, there is the development of the home market, to which 1 was astonished to hear the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness did not attach very great importance. I still attach enormous importance to this big, rich market inside this country, and I wish the herring-fishing industry had directed its attention to that market years ago. It is true to say that you can create demand by modern skilled salesmanship. The market in this country is not only large; it is rich as well.
The hon. Member knows that when I was Member for Hartlepool I took a very keen interest in the herring question. The vital thing for that industry is that if the herring man is to have, say, only 10s. a, cran for his catch, he must buy his coal right. My hon. Friend has never mentioned the price of oil or of coal. If coal could be bought at, say, 8s., 9s., or 10s. a ton, the herring fisherman would have a chance. When the hon. Member is talking about the organisation of the home market, if he could do a deal with the Miners Federation or with the Minister of Mines in regard to the collier's dinner, he has there a market that would be most helpful. My hon. Friend has specialised on this question, and I should like him to deal with the question of coal, and with oil as well. We are going to deal with oil in this country, and there is a potential opening which should be most helpful if the State have a power of control therein.
The difficulty about coal is that I am not yet convinced that within another five or six years the Fleet may not turn over from the present fuelling system. The question of technical research and the future of the Diesel engine come into the picture. I am afraid the difficulty about markets in this country is not due to the price of coal or even to the cost of production, because there is no food produced with a corresponding nutritive value of anything like so low a price as herrings. The difficulty is that the people. of this country will not eat herring. Why, I have never been able to see.
There is a great deal in that, and it is part of my complaint against the herring industry itself, and the leaders of it, that they have never concentrated upon the home market. For that, I blame the Liberal party, because the Liberal politicians who have represented the herring constituencies so largely for all these years have continuously encouraged the leaders of that industry to think that there was not any real home market to supply, and that they must go on working for the export market. Indeed, it has been an obsession on the part of the herring industry that there was no hope unless they could get Russia to buy 500,000 barrels and Germany to buy another 500,000 barrels, whereas they should have been doing their best, to expand the foreign market, of course, but to concentrate every year more and more, with expert advice and technical research on the development of the home market.
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that even with the greatest expansion of the home market possible, that would in any degree take the place of the old export of herrings?
I would never go so far as to say that, but it would very largely have supplemented it at a very critical period, and ultimately, though I hope to see an expansion in the Continental market, while it might reach nothing like pre-war proportions, I do not see why the combined home and foreign markets should not reach the proportions that the foreign market alone held before the War. On this question of technical research, I would ask my right hon. Friend not to be behindhand in conducting Government negotiations into the best type of craft. There is a considerable difference of opinion inside the industry itself and among the technical experts as to whether a revised drifter, a new type of drifter, should be the craft of the future, or whether the whole fleet should be turned over to the Diesel engine. My own feeling is that the latter provides the more hopeful outlook, but if it be so, undoubtedly, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness said, loans will be necessary from the Government in order to provide what would amount to practically a new fleet.
With regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff, I did not, of course, mean anything personal against him in the exchange that we had in the earlier part of the Debate, but I was rather upset by his suggestion, because I disagree with him. I can understand the logic behind proposals for State ownership and control of industry, and I can understand and support the perfectly well recognised system of Protection and the use of the weapon of Protection for the purpose of negotiating trade agreements, without which I submit—I know my hon. Friends opposite disagree—we could not negotiate any satisfactory trade agreement; but I cannot understand anybody, especially from those benches, coming forward and advocating the State purchase of the surplus produce of a privately-owned industry. I think that, from any economic point of view, it is quite in- defensible to ask the Government to come forward and buy the surplus produce of a privately-owned industry, without, as far as I can see, attaching any conditions of any sort.
The hon. Member is misrepresenting me. I did not say the surplus produce of the industry. I said the surplus production up to the minimum of last year, which was the minimum production within recent times, and that is a very different thing from saying the surplus produce of the industry.
Well, the surplus over a figure then. My hon. Friend has been pointing out, however, and the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness did too, how the complete loss of the German market and of the moderate Russian market, together with the policy of the Government, are going to reduce the export market far below last year's level. I do not care what figure you take; I do not think it is a wise policy for any one to advocate the State purchase of the surplus produce of a privately-owned industry. Further, you are not going to be sure into whose pockets the taxpayers' money will go in these conditions. There was not any suggestion or any idea in my hon. Friend's proposition of ensuring that it would go to the fishermen as against the curers, for instance, and a great deal of controversy and difficulty would be bound to arise within the industry itself. I know he put it forward in all good faith, because he believes it is a good proposition, but I should be very sorry if it went forward with any official backing from the industry, because I do not believe that that suggestion will do the industry any good, and I am certain that it will never be adopted by the Government. I want to press on the Government schemes that are likely to be adopted and not those that I think they never would adopt. However that may be, I beg my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to press the Sea Fishing Commission to issue its report as soon as possible and to pay the greatest attention to what it says as quickly as possible, because the matter is urgent. I hope he will concentrate on the development of the home market first of all, and then, of course, through trade agreements, on the expansion of foreign markets, and last, but not least, on a radical re-organisation of the industry.
It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) in the very interesting suggestions he has made in connection with the herring industry. To a representative of a constituency which is not actually the base of a herring fleet, but which has herring curers and many who are interested in fish curing for export, it is a matter of vital interest; and it will be a great relief to many of my constituents to read the statement which the Secretary of State made to-day as to the likelihood of a contract being signed in a few days. It will mean a great deal to these herring curers who have been waiting so anxiously and have been in so many difficulties. The subject on which I want to speak is the yoke fellow in misery of the herring industry—at least so it is classified in the first paragraph of the Fishery Board's Report for last year. I refer to the white fishing industry which, the report says, with the herring fishing industry has given cause for anxiety during 1933. The catch has come down by something like four per cent. and the lowest postwar figure in value. It is a serious matter also to consider how long it is since we have had replacements. At the same time, we can look with expectation to see what the results are from the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, which was passed last year. It has not been in existence long enough for us really to be able to gauge what influence it will have in the restoring of the fishing industry. I try in going round the fish market week after week to get into conversation with as many people as I can on the subject, and I find many different opinions expressed according to the points of view from which the matter is regarded.
The object of the Sea-Fishing Industry Act was to secure restriction upon the supply so that small and inferior quality fish might not be landed. It is a little difficult to say what is the effect of the large mesh. I have heard many stories of huge quantities of small fish being shovelled overboard from the trawlers. I do not like the feeling of waste which one gets when hearing of that kind of thing. What we want to know is the number of small fish which are getting away and which will grow into big fish. We shall not be able to see the result of that for two or three years, when we shall hope to have increasing harvests of fish. I have heard skippers argue that the mesh is drawn out and that small fish cannot get through, while others say that the small fish are getting through. I do not like to step in where experts differ, and we can only leave it to time to show what will happen. I was interested with the account which the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries gave as to the result of the Sea-Fishing Industry Act in England. We have a feeling in the far north that we rather follow England. When the depression came unemployment was always a little less than it was in the south, arid when employment improved in the south it was some time before we really felt it in the north. It is going in the right direction now, but it was some time before employment began to improve.
We hope that the wonderful things we hear as happening in Hull will come to us in the north. We hear of the building of trawler after trawler, and I cannot agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that this building of 30 trawlers is a mere nothing. We would be only too glad if we could see 30 trawlers on our stocks at Aberdeen. We had some trawlers there during the past months, but unfortunately they were South African trawlers. We are glad they 'are South African, but we wish that they were an addition to the Aberdeen trawlers, which are so much needed. The average age of the Aberdeen trawlers last year was 19½ years. It will be 20½ years this year, because no new trawlers have been built. The Sea-Fishing Industry Act is moving things in the right direction, and while the amount of fish which has been caught and the landings in weight have gone down, the increase in price has really been substantial. We have not quite come up to the 2½d. a. lb. which is put down as the average which will really be remunerative and which will mean that building can go on, but we have been very near it, and possibly with the last month added to the half-year that has gone we may be just about on the average. We have gone through four colossally bad years. Obligations have been accumulating on the trawler owners, and they will have to throw those off before they can really get down to make the replacements which are so necessary from every point of view for the trawling fleet.
I have little doubt that if prices continue to improve we shall be able to have these replacements. A good sign which I have heard mentioned is that the small boats which are fishing from Aberdeen are doing better and have really had substantially good year. It is not enough to have a decrease of landings and an increase of price. We want more than that. We want to have an increase of landings and an increase in price. We can only secure that if we have increased consumption. We want a better marketing which will take fish over the country better. There are many measures which we can take to increase consumption. I suggested a year ago the possibility of more fish for the Army, Navy and Air Force. I was told that already in the Navy fish appears a good deal on the daily menu. In the Army, on the other hand, it is said that the men would not care for it in substitution for meat. That is regrettable, especially considering that it is foreign meat, while the fish would be home caught, and a greater consumption in the Army would be a big help to the industry. Possibly something may be done in that direction. Then there are the hospitals and institutions, particularly at places by the sea and at fishing ports. I read in the papers published two or three days ago that the Inverness District Asylums Board was meeting and that there was a recommendation from the Control Board that more fish should be eaten. The chairman pointed out that in the institution at Inverness 55 lbs. of fish per patient was eaten in the year, whereas at Aberdeen it was 11.2 lbs., and at Banff 38 lbs. There is room for improvement. A good deal of leeway has to be made up. Heavy landings mean a good deal.
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness spoke of the importance to the fish trade of increased landings. No doubt trawler owners welcome the increased prices they have had, but we also want an increase in the landings, from the point of view of the amount of work which it brings to the ports. Anyone would realise that who had seen the great fish market at Aberdeen, about three-quarters of a mile long, on one of those mornings, rather rare, perhaps, now, when 1,000 tons or more of fish is laid out on the floor. It is an absolute hive of industry. Morning after morning the lumpers leave their beds at about 2 o'clock to go down to the fish market. They may find only some 200 tons of fish there, and for many of them that means there is no employment and they have to go back to bed. On a busy morning, however, there is work for the lumpers in sorting the fish and removing fish unfit for human consumption; there is work later for the fish salesman, for the fish porters in carrying the fish to the carts. The fish curers and those connected with all the other industries grouped round the harbour are busily occupied. If all those people are to be prosperous there must be big landings as well as big prices.
Among other points which have been mentioned to me is the difficulty which arises from the heavy railway freights on fish from Aberdeen. That difficulty is not confined to the fishing industry; it arose in connection with jute and with paper. Fish sent from Aberdeen to English markets has to pay, perhaps, 11d. per stone freight, and it is difficult for that fish to compete in the market with fish which has paid only ld. per stone in freight. On many days the price obtained for fish sent down to the English markets has not even covered the cost of the carriage. If the railways could cut down their freights it would be a great relief to the fish trade. The need for closer working between fishermen and buyers in order to avoid periods of glut and scarcity has also been mentioned. Landings from the Farces on a Monday may amount to 10 and on a Tuesday to three and on a Wednesday to seven. There are no means of knowing on what days the marekt will be glutted and on what days there will be a scarcity. If there could be a better arrangement between buyers and fishermen in this respect it would be a step in the right direction.
The Secretary of State mentioned the importance of the white fishing industry. He said the capital value of that industry was something like £2,400,000, while that of the herring fishing industry was £1,130,000. I should like to see the trawling industry have such representation on the Fishery Board of Scotland as is commensurate with its predominant position. A certain proportion of prac- tical fishermen ought to be on the Board. There is a trawling representative there who, I understand, has been a director of trawling companies, but now that trawling has become so very important there ought to be men of practical experience to study the problems and put forward the remedies which they consider best. That brings me to the question of the legislation during the last year to which the Secretary of State referred and which is mentioned in the Report of the Fishery Board, who state that the encroachments on the grounds of the inshore fishermen have caused much concern and that the Board had found it necessary to submit proposals for the strengthening of the patrol. Speaking some time after the strengthening of that patrol, which took place, I think, in December, when the "Q" boats were put on duty, the Under Secretary, I think it was, said that piracy had ceased, and from all the accounts we have had since I think that may be taken to be the case. Vindictive penalties have been imposed upon the trawlers—
—and they have not only kept outside the three-mile limit but have even from fear of error kept outside the five-mile limit which I think has meant a considerable reduction in catches, because it is between the three and the five-mile limits that they could get their richest harvest of fish. We were told that a trawler would come into a west coast loch and in one haul sweep out all the fish which were teeming in that loch. Also, that a trawler would come down from the north, sweep all along the coast of Aberdeenshire within the three-mile limit, and regardless of the possible destruction of its nets, leave not a fish there. Now all that is over, and all the teeming fish of which we heard are there to be caught. Therefore, I looked with interest to see what the reports on that subject during the last few months had to say, because now that the fish are teeming there one would expect the line fishermen to be catching them all. I suppose that it would be in February that the effect of the "Q" boats would first be felt, that the fish would be back by that time. The report states—
February—The results obtained by small hand-line fishermen on the East Coast
grounds were seldom entirely satisfactory. Haddocks were scarce.
March.—The earnings of small and hand-line fishermen were disappointing, fish being scarce, and the weather frequently unfavourable for operations on the inshore grounds frequented.
April.—The earnings of small and hand-line fishermen were poor, fish being scarce and weather conditions, especially during the earlier part of the month, unfavourable.
May.—Although the fish were not plentiful on the grounds frequented by small and hand-line fishermen the results obtained during May were more satisfactory than in recent months.
June.—Fair prices were obtained for fish taken by small and hand-lines, but landings were light and earnings only moderate.
How about all the fish which were teeming there and which, so we were told, the trawlers were taking away? The trawlers have gone, but the in-line fishermen do not seem to be able to get the fish. We were told previously that the trawlers were the cause; now it is the weather. The weather often has to stand for a good deal. What the trawler men said was that those waters were not being properly fished. Possibly the time may come when we shall get huge catches of the teeming masses of fish in those waters, but the day has not come yet.
From time to time Members have risen in their places in this House to prophesy "Go on and prosper" while I Nave stood, like Micaiah, raising a solitary voice, but I think we must realise that in this age of machinery, of steam and the internal-combustion engine, the future of fishing lies in seine-net fishing and in trawling. Round Aberdeen some years ago, the hand-line fishermen, seeing that trawlers were doing so well, decided to go out on the decks of the trawlers. They discovered this too in the Moray Firth, where they have been acquiring trawlers and starting motor boats such as have been mentioned. I should like to see a real push, so that more seine-net boats could be supplied along -the west coast, in order that the rich fisheries could be properly used. I should like to see trawling centres growing up all over there. I am convinced that there would be markets if the Government would take the matter in hand. When the converted drifters come down to fish near Oban, buyers come to Oban and send the fish round to the markets. We would like to have such centres along the west coast and to have the markets arranged so that the fish could be sold. There would then be an increase in consumption and an increased demand as a result of improved marketing.
I have the feeling that the Fishery Board of Scotland can do much towards modernising fishing, that that much more will be done in this way than by Acts such as the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, however good they may be within their limits. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to encourage the trawling industry and to help it on, now that it is coming out of its difficulties. We are grateful to the Government for taking greater interest in fishing than any Government has taken before. We look to them to help to pull the trawling industry through this difficult time. I am certain that the efforts now being made will have good results.
Tempting as it would he to follow the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) in a discussion of the effects of economic nationalism upon the fishing industry, or to enter into a controversy with the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) on the effects of Protection, I will restrain myself, because I wish to occupy as little time as possible and to devote my remarks entirely to the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland, especially in regard to what he said about the herring industry. I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen that we cannot expect a vast overseas trade such as we had before the War, but we must, on the other hand, rely to an immense extent on the export markets. Up till now, 80 per cent. of the herring caught in our waters have been sold in foreign markets. I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the Russian agreement is practically completed. From another source, and almost by accident, I received information amply confirming that all difficulties have been removed and that the contract of 70,000 barrels will go forward on the terms of the original agreement.
I am afraid I am one of those who have occasionally worried the right hon. Gentleman with questions about the financing of this Agreement. It is only fair, therefore, to say, after hearing all the details and after the interview which lie was good enough to grant to hon. Members interested in the herring industry, that, on the question of financing the scheme, he has adopted a right and proper course, and one to which no hon. Member can possibly take any exception. Before leaving the question of Russia, I would add that I immensely appreciate the statement made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland who, speaking with a sense of responsibility, made a strong appeal to Russia, which he hoped would be reproduced in that country, that the 70,000 barrels should not be the only order this year. Many hon. Members connected with the herring industry believe that that will he the only order, but I am not so pessimistic. I believe there is a possibility of another Russian order in the Autumn, and it would have an immense influence on the herring industry. hope that the words of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will help to obtain that order.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Germany and said that the bad economic conditions of Germany were preventing her from buying herring. I realise that Germany's economic conditions are bad, and that the Germans have to import foodstuffs because their harvest has not been particularly good. If the restriction on foreign currency to pay for imported herring applied to all articles equally, I could accept it, but I would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that three days ago a letter was received by the herring catchers' association from a very prominent firm of German merchants who desired to buy, and always have bought, immense quantities of our cured herring. The firm, indeed, are buying herring, but they wrote and said:
We can get unlimited quantities of Norwegian herring and the Government allows us to find currency to pay for unlimited quantities of imported Norwegian herring; but our Government does not allow us any currency to pay for imported English herring.
I apologise to the Scottish Members for using the word "English"; I ought to have said British. That letter shows that it is not merely a case of Germany being unable to find foreign currency to pay for imported herring, but that it
appears as though the German Government are imposing a discrimination upon German merchants who want to buy large quantities of English herring. There is no currency for those merchants, but the same merchants can buy vast quantities of Norwegian herring with currency.
I believe that a copy of it is being forwarded to the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department and to the President of the Board of Trade. I would draw the attention of the Committee to two further points, the first of which is that Poland has purchased 20, I think, Dutch drifters. She kept the Dutch officers and a portion of the crew, put up the Polish flag and sent the boats up to the new Iceland fisheries, where they fished for herring. The catch was then cured, and the herring were brought back on the ship and imported free. That is an example, I think we can justly say, of almost extreme economic nationalism. The second point, about which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, although the Committee may not, illustrates the difficulty of the most-favoured-nation clauses and the way in which they may be used by foreign countries. Poland puts a duty of about one gold pound—at any rate, it is a pound—upon English imported herring, but Norwegian herring go in almost duty free. I raised the point with the President of the Board of Trade, or the Parliamentary Secretary, and the answer was that it is not an infringement of the most-favoured-nation clause, because English herring are treated exactly like others. Herring above a certain length come in at a very low duty but while British herring have to pay £1 a barrel, Norwegian herring above that length pay no duty. That is an example of how the most-favoured-nation clause can be whittled away by heavy discrimination against us.
As there is a treaty now being negotiated with Poland, I would ask whether it is not possible in that Treaty to treat herring the same as we treat coal in our treaties with Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In those treaties we can go to the Scandinavian countries and say, "Will you take 70 per cent. of your total coal requirements from us in return for a concession?" Why cannot we say to Poland, "Will you take 70 per cent, of your total imports of herring from us in return for certain concessions that we will give?" The Polish market is a very good one; it imports an enormous number of herring, and I would press my right hon. Friend to be good enough to deal specifically with that point, because it is a point about which the ordinary fisherman, the man in the crew, keeps wondering why our fish should not receive equal treatment from Poland.
I will not enter into that issue, as I have already said that I do not want to occupy much time. My right hon. Friend did not mention one market —Holland. Now Holland is a very important market for our herring. In one port alone, Ymuiden, last year, we landed herring to the amount of over £100,000. There were rumours among the Dutch importers that the Dutch Government was going to stop the imports, but those rumours, I believe, have been denied. There is, however, this point. The Dutch Government, I understand, to-day forbid the import of herring which are not to be cured and salted there, and that interferes with our trade. Let me mention other foreign markets. A suggestion was made in the Debate that the market in China might be developed. I suggest, also, that the South African market might be developed. I remember in South Africa, 30 years ago, buying herrings by the barrel, and cooking them myself for breakfast. But there is one immense market which, I feel sure, would pay for attention, and that is the United States. I was surprised that that had not been mentioned. I know that in the United States to-day they are buying fish from small Irish ports. Surely, therefore, our herrings, which are so much more easy to preserve, might be exported in much larger quantities to the United States.
As regards the home market, I absolutely agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) about dyed kippers. They look nice, but many friends of mine have given up kippers since dyeing came in, and I must say that I myself will not eat them. The question sounds trivial, but I feel that it is really important, and is deserving of attention. There. is another factor which affects the home market, both in England and Scotland, and that is that hawking has been stopped in many centres. The hawkers used to buy fresh herring very cheaply and bring them to the door of the purchaser, selling them at a very cheap price, and at so much a pair. The workman's wife who paid 2d. or 3d. a pair for herring at her front door, now has to walk a mile, perhaps, to a fishmongers, where she has to buy by the weight, and what before cost her 2d. a pair now costs her 7d., 8d. or 9d. The result is that now that the hawkers are abolished, she goes to the provision shop and buys bacon. I feel that if we cannot re-establish the hawker in his old form, it is absolutely essential to the herring industry to reestablish the hawker in some new controlled form to bring the fish to the front door as it used to be brought.
May I refer for a moment to the question of trawl fishing? I know the import quotas have been good, bat there is a feeling among fishermen, which I think, it is only right I should express, that quotas have been fixed at too high a rate, and the fishermen themselves rather feel that the trawl fishing trade has been sacrificed by having quotas too big for the sake of our coal export. There is the feeling, rightly or wrongly, among the fishermen, that in order to help that trade, we have made the quotas rather larger than is desirable from their point of view.
I represent a town in England which has quite the largest fishing fleet of any port in England connected with the herring industry. That fleet is now in Scotland. The constituency I represent is still literally a distressed area. In neighbouring towns in the same county there is a marked recovery, but Lowestoft, which is dependent largely on the herring trade, has not recovered, and its position to-day, economically and socially, is far worse than it was two or three years ago. I have put forward certain suggestions, and I thank the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department for what they have done, but I feel that it is essential, when the Report of the Sea Fish Commission comes out in the autumn, that something should be implemented, no matter what it costs.
I should like to say one final word. I know that it is an impertinence, but I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I suggest that, if he wants financial or other assistance, either for the herring industry or for the trawling industry, and if he feels that he cannot persuade the Cabinet, busy as they are with other matters, he will get full and vigorous support from the Admiralty. I know that the Admiralty feel that the maintenance of the fishing fleet, whether trawling or herring, is an essential part of our national defence. It would provide us with a reserve of fishermen should we ever have the misfortune to be involved in another war. You cannot improvise a reserve naval man. You can improvise a soldier in six months, or possibly, with forced training, in three months, but you cannot improvise a reserve naval rating in less than from six to 10 years. Therefore, it is immensely important that the fishing fleet should be maintained in full efficiency and size. I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for putting that point of view before him.
The Estimate that we are discussing covers a very wide field, and it is impossible for any one speaker to cover all, or nearly all, of it. I am not going to attempt to do GO. I wish to nay, however, that I agree with practically all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), and particularly I would like to stress the question of the sterling exchange with Germany, which, of all the questions immediately confronting the herring fishing industry, is the most important at the present moment; indeed, it is vital. If something cannot be done to meet the question of the provision of sterling exchange for herrings sold in Germany, nothing but black disaster will confront the fishing industry, and I hope that the efforts which I know the Government are devoting to the solution of this question will have some success.
My hon. Friend also referred to Poland, which seems to me to afford the best illustration of the position of the foreign markets at the present time. Poland was, and ought to be to-day, one of the largest markets open to the herring fishing in- dustry, but it has been more disappointing even than Russia. That has been due to the fact that, as my hon. Friend has said, Poland and Norway have been trying to negotiate agreements for the benefit of the herring fishing industry on behalf of Norway and of the coal industry on behalf of Poland, and that has worked out disastrously for both those industries in this country. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Government ought to pay more attention to this artifice, as I think it may properly be described, which is being used by the Polish Government for the purpose of getting over tariff restrictions and allowing Norwegian herring to come into Poland with an advantage over our herring from this country. I cannot believe that that is really observing the strict letter of the law, and I believe that, if our Government would make vigorous representations to the Polish Government, they would be able to find a remedy for this long-standing grievance.
Very little has been said, since the Secretary of State for Scotland spoke earlier in the Debate, about the Russian loan, although it has been, perhaps, the subject most discussed at Question Time during the last few weeks. We have been told that the finance with regard to that deal has now been adjusted, and we are asked to believe that we need not have any more fear about it, and that it need riot be discussed any more. I wish it could be dismissed as easily as that. I thought that the information which the right hon. Gentleman gave us was a little hazy. It came by telephone. I hope it was more accurate than the telegraphic information which he received from Lerwick a few days ago. But even if it be true that this question has now been settled, that does not by any means end the matter.
I hope it is understood that there never was any real doubt that the finance for this transaction could have been found in some way by the trade, and particularly by a few members of the trade. That was not the difficulty at all. I hope the Committee will understand why it was that the herring trade asked for a small financial accommodation. They had entered into a contract to sell herring to Russia. These herring are being caught now, or have been caught; they are the early herring; but Russia is not taking delivery of them until Octo- ber, and the Russians have said, quite rightly, that, if they were not going to take delivery of them until October, they could not be expected to pay for them until then. That is quite reasonable. The trade, however, say that they have been hit year after year, each year worse than the last, and have been reduced to such a position that a large number of the curers, particularly, have not the available capital—that, if they were to participate in this deal, it would mean that their capital would be frozen for some months, and, if it were frozen in that way, the fishermen would suffer, because the money would not be available to give the fishermen a fair deal after the contract was completed.
Am I to understand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman now says that in his view, so far as the completion of the Russian deal is concerned, Government financial assistance was never essential?
I have certainly thought it was possible for a few curers to have carried out the deal off their own bat. The hon. Gentleman expresses some surprise, but I think he was informed of that. It is my suspicion that there are in the industry a few curers who would welcome such a result, because they feel that it would mean that their smaller competitors would fall out, and they would have the industry to themselves. A number of the curers, however, have not been able to participate in the deal, though it would have been in the interests of the industry if they had taken part in it, because it meant locking up their capital and having it frozen for a number of months, and they would not have been able to carry on their work effectively if their money had been locked up in that way. Therefore, I cannot say that the position is very satisfactory even now. The Government's attitude has always been that they were prepared to do something if the curers would give what they called joint and several liability in respect of the whole transaction. I have gone through this matter carefully and have consulted a number of curers. I think that they were, on the whole, justified in saying that they would not be responsible for anything more than their own debts. They are not in a happy position. They have great difficulties in financing their own business, and for the Government to come forward and ask them to take upon themselves an additional and indefinite liability of that kind was asking for too inch. Although it might have helped matters, I cannot say that the great majority of them are open to criticism for saying that they could not enter into any agreement of that kind.
There is practically no profit for the curers out of this deal. They only entered into it to assist the industry, and particularly to assist the fishermen, who are most likely to get anything out of it. You ask them to guarantee one another's solvency, for that is what it comes to. You say to them, "We know you are going to get no profit, but we want you to undertake a liability which may mean that you will lose." Apart altogether from that, I think we are entitled to say that this question has not been handled properly. Whether the Government were going to give a guarantee or not, or whether the industry was going to get the finance it wanted or not, the matter ought not to have dragged on for six weeks or more. Someone undoubtedly was at fault, and I think the Scottish Office had the power and ought to have used it to insist that the matter was settled one way or another a great deal earlier than it was settled. If it had been adjusted in that way, at least those in the fishing industry would have known where they were. Instead of that, they were kept in a position of uncertainty by this policy of drift which has not assisted the industry in the end.
I want to say a little about the home market. We never get a Debate on the fishing industry without a, great deal being said about the home market, and those who speak most about the home market are those whose constituencies are not mostly involved in the fishing industry. The hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that my friends and I do not attach importance to that aspect of the problem, but he is rather obsessed by matters of that kind so I am not going to deal with it. I myself in the last few years have done a great deal to impress upon those actively engaged in the industry to consider in what way they could develop the home market, and I am satisfied that a very great deal could be done to develop it. I hope it will be understood, in the first place, that the selling of herring in the home market is not the fishermen's job. It is not even the curers' job. It is not even the job of the buyer who buys herring at the piers in the different ports. The job of selling herring in the home market is largely the duty of -Billingsgate, the large wholesale markets, the salesmen throughout the country, the shopkeepers, and so on, and it is they who can do most to help in that way.
it seems to me you might as fell say that the job of selling Kruschen salts is the chemists' job, and that the people who have built up the business have nothing to do with it.
The hon. Member will misrepresent me. He is so obsessed. He knows that his position with the fishermen in his constituency is so bad that he tries to make up for it here. I did not say that it was not the job of the fishing industry. I do not know where the fishing industry begins and where it stops. It is not the job of the fishermen. It is hardly the job of the curers. It is a little more the job of the men who buy herring and sell them fresh, but it is largely a question for Billingsgate and the wholesale markets, though not entirely. You will not be able to increase the home market for fish unless you tackle the whole question of marketing, which means tackling Billingsgate and wholesale markets of that kind. If you do that, you will be able to sell a great deal more than you are doing at present.
I introduced a Bill a few months ago which is awaiting its Committee stage. That would have gone some way. It shows how we who are trying to get fish sold in the home market are met by the innate conservatism of the present situation. The people of my constituency in the north of Scotland who buy fish and sell it to the wholesale market have to sell it largely on commission. They send it down here to get whatever it will fetch. They have no control over it at all. The fish come down here, and the next day a statement is received to say that it has fetched so much. Sometimes there is a debit balance, and they have to send money to make up for it and to pay the freight. A great number of people do not believe that these sales are always quite fair, and all that my Bill provided was that the salesmen in the wholesale markets should be asked to keep a record of the people to whom they sold the fish, not for the purpose of showing it to my constituents or to their rivals in business, but if a question arose as to whether there were a real sale or not, to make it possible for the matter to be examined by a chartered accountant.
In view of his knowledge of this subject may I ask the hon. Gentleman if he would maintain that that reform would be sufficient to popularise the herring in the home market?
No, of course, I would never suggest that. I said that it was one thing, and I am giving it as an illustration to show the difficulties we are up against when we try to reform the present custom. I should think that every one here would agree that that would be a very reasonable reform. It has been recommended over and over again by responsible bodies. The Food Council recommended it, as did also the Committee which investigated the fishing industry two years ago, but when we try to do something on those lines we are met by the opposition of Billingsgate. Their opposition has convinced me of the real necessity of some reform along those lines. The Government would have been well advised if they had assisted me to get such a Bill through. It would have assisted us to sell fish in the home market. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) talks a great deal about the dyed kippers. I agree with him that thus far I dislike the idea of dyed kippers. I think that the industry as a whole would be well advised to stop the practice altogether, but I am certain that he is wrong in what he says about the results of that practice, and the way in which it is done. We all eat cheese which is of a rich red colour, and I am informed that it is dyed with exactly the same thing with which they dye kippers.
The hon. Gentleman will know more about that than I do. I am informed that the chief reason for the modern custom of dyeing kippers is that in the old days they dried them very hard in the process of smoking and giving them this high colour, with the result that they were not very easily digested. They found that they were more easily digested and were more juicy if they were not smoked as much. The result of not smoking them so much is that they are a very light colour. If you were to put kippers on the market so light in colour, the public would not buy them, because they would think that there was something wrong with them. The chief reason for the dyeing is in order to get over that prejudice on the part of the public. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider it from that point of view, and will not go about always saying that they are dyed with bad wood.
I will send samples to them if he likes, but I have sent so many samples already that there must be a limit to the number that I can send. I have sent a great number of people whom I am sure would never realise that there was any dye on them. The hon. and learned Gentleman who talks a great deal about dyed kippers has often eaten fish which were dyed without knowing it. I hope that he realises that dyeing is not only confined to kippers. Fillets are very often dyed. One of the real difficulties in getting the fish shops to sell herring is that they are so cheap. The man who keeps a shop in a country town has to consider his profit. If he sells a pound of salmon at 4s., he probably gets a shilling profit, but, if he sells a pound of herring at 2d. or 3d., even if he gets 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. profit, he will only receive about 3d. That is one of the difficulties to be encountered in endeavouring to sell herring in the home market.
I am certain that the industry will have to adopt other methods, and that is why that it is beyond the control of the fishermen. The Government can, and ought, to assist, I hope and believe that they will, and that the report of Sir Andrew Duncan's Commission, which we are awaiting so expectantly, will suggest something on these lines. I agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) that we ought to go back to the hawker, though not the same type of hawker as we had in the old days. The unemployed man to-day, who could get hold of an old motor car and start running round the country would do very well indeed if he was certain that he always had good fish to sell. If I were in the fish business and were selling fish, I would, particularly with regard to kippers and fish of that kind, put a date on them, and a notice saying "This fish, in order to get the best out of it, ought to be consumed not later than so and so," and with my name of the label it would ensure that nobody would ever obtain fish which was bad.
In the winter I would give a longer time than in summer. I agree that these things have to be taken into account. I apologise for taking up so much of the time of the Committee, but this question means a great deal to me. There is the question of the replacing of boats. The future prosperity of the industry will largely be a question of cost. We are always told that we must get rid of the old drifter which is too expensive, and must fall back upon the motor boat. But the advisability of this course has not yet been proved. We have not only to take into account the relative cost of a steam drifter and a motor boat. We know that a steam drifter will last for 25 or 30 years, but no one yet knows how long he will be able to use a motor boat before the engine has to be entirely scrapped and a new engine installed. Until we are able to say what is the life of the engine it is impossible to compare the relative costs of the one form of boat and the other. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a question for the Government to experiment on, and I hope that we shall be able to get some assistance from them very soon.
One last point, and that is the question of the seine net fishermen. The Government will have to make up their mind in the very near future what their policy is to be with regard to the restriction of seine net fishing. In the Moray Firth the number of seine net fishermen has multiplied very greatly. They are not allowed to fish within the three miles limit, for reasons which the Government have given. They cannot understand why it should be wrong or bad for them to fish within that area when other seine net fishermen are allowed to fish in other parts of the sea within the three miles limit. There seems to be a little conflict between the practice in the one case and in the other. I wish the Government would try to face that question and give the fishermen some guidance and do something which would allay the feeling that exists.
Like the previous speakers I will limit myself to the subject of herrings, but unlike them I do not propose to limit myself to the question of markets, first, because that subject has already been fully dealt with and, secondly, with all respect to those who have dealt with it, I do not think that it is the fundamental question that we have to consider when we are considering the future of the herring industry. Before I proceed to deal with that matter, I should like to make one comment on a remark made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). He said that if the tendency which we observe to-day of men who have been share fishermen to become wage earners was to continue, it was a healthy sign. I confess that I was surprised at that statement, because I cannot conceive any tendency more indicative of the decay of the industry as we know it to-day. Two inevitable results must follow such a course. First, we shall find that the boats are becoming more and more concentrated in the big harbours like Peter-head and Fraserburgh, and that would be the ruination of the smaller ports.
In the second place, the herring drifter industry is peculiar in two respects—the cost of the gear is very high and it is very easily damaged. For these two reasons I do not believe that it can be satisfactorily carried on by people who have no other interest in the preservation of the gear or the catching of the fish than the fact that they receive so many shillings a week in wages. It is for that reason that the herring fisherman has for so long carried on on an individualistic and profit sharing basis. I demur to the suggestion that by some form of re-organisation you can get a better form of the industry, than that which has been worked up to the present time. For fishing with drift nets—that is the root of the question, do we want to preserve a herring drifting fleet or do we merely want to catch a certain quantity of herring as cheaply as possible? It is because those are the two vital issues that I said that I did not think the question of markets was fundamental.
We expect to get back part of our continental market and to improve our home market, and there is no reason why we should not do both, but probably at a lower price than was the position before the war. Let me take a. fancy low price? Suppose we could get 15s. a cran? That is not a price which it is possible for herring drifters to accept, with their expensive gear and the cost of landing the herrings. They could not supply the market at a price of that kind. But we could equip trawlers and use them for part of the year to go out to grounds which are becoming more and more known, as a result of scientific research, where there are large masses of herrings, lying near the bottom which, while they are not accessible to the drifter, could be caught by the trawl. Only where you are able to land great quantities of herrings could you do it at the low price of 15s. a cran. If that is what we want, let us realise that it means the ruination of the industry as we know it to-day and the unemployment of nine-tenths of the people who are in it. Therefore, I would beg that we should concentrate our efforts on whatever may appear necessary to preserve the industry as we know it.
I do not think that there is any difference in any part of the Committee as to the value to this country, not only the social and economic value but the national value, of having a fishing fleet. We all wish to preserve that fleet. That being so, two questions are involved. One is the comparatively temporary one of what is to be done to tide over what we hope is a temporary period of disturbance in the markets abroad, and for that I suggest the proposals of the Government are certainly suitable. Whether they are adequate or not remains to be seen. With regard to the more lengthy period, if we wish to preserve the drifter industry we must certainly devote attention to the question of the design of boats. If we set out with an absolutely free hand to design the most economical way of catching herrings we may find that the best way is to employ the trawler at certain periods, and to catch herrings in large quantities. The quality would not be so good but the tonnage would be there, and you could supply a cheap market, but I do not think that is what we want. We want to evolve a boat which may in a limited sphere entail a certain amount of make believe, in the fact that you are not actually designing the most economical method of getting the product which you wish, but I believe that we should be well justified in the national interest. I hope that in the future all the efforts of the Government and everybody else connected with the industry will be devoted to whatever means may be necessary to preserve the drifter industry as we know it to-day. I hope we shall realise the danger that if we talk only of markets and so on the industry may slip away from us and while we may succeed in fin-ding and supplying the market we shall not succeed in maintaining the fishing population around our coasts.
During the last 12 years I have listened, I think, to all the Debates on the fishing industry that have taken place in this House, and I have had the honour to take part in some of them. I have listened to no Debate which has impressed me so much as the Debate to-day, because underlying all that has been said with regard to the present state of the fishing industry is the feeling that unless something is done, and done soon, the industry will collapse. I agree very largely with much that was said by the hon. Member who has just spoken. What we have to put before us is the question whether we wish to continue in being our fleet of herring drifters. If so, what are the steps that we must take in order to achieve that end. Earlier in the Debate, my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) spoke, as he always does, with a fresh outlook on these matters. He perhaps rather more than other Members of the Committee has realised the serious steps which will have to be taken if the industry is to be preserved.
I do not propose to refer to the many interesting points which have been raised during the Debate, some of them raised many times before and some of them new; I want to stress more particularly the importance of markets, the importance of the home market, the importance of retaining such markets as we have and securing such new markets as can be obtained. One new market is Palestine, where I believe there are great opportunities. There is no doubt that some rationalisation of the industry must take place. The old big markets of the past are not likely to come back in present economic conditions. We shall have to see that the catching power of the industry is brought into accord with the demands of the market it has to supply. I look forward to possibilities of expansion. I do not take an absolutely hopeless view of the future, but we have to proceed with the greatest caution. It is a little curious that at a time when the fleet, which is now at sea, can catch enormously larger quantities of herring than can be disposed of that anything should be done to increase its catching power. These are questions which will have to be considered immediately. We are waiting for the interim report of the Committee which has been considering the position of the herring fishery. I want to ask the Government, as soon as that Report is received, to give it the greatest publicity. They will, of course, give it publicity throughout the industry, but I hope it will have far wider publicity than that, because the future of the herring industry means far more to the nation than the mere catching of the fish.
When this publicity has been given the industry itself should be called together and made to face up to the facts. That is a real practical thing which the Government can do this Autumn. We are in the middle of the fishing season and we do not know what difficulties may be ahead. We have had difficulties with Germany and difficulties with Russia, and I urge the Government to call the industry together in the Autumn and place all the facts before it, to have a national inquest into this serious problem and then we may be able not only to keep the fleet in being but to see some ray of light in the future. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) drew attention to the serious effect which economic nationalism in Europe has had upon this industry. That cannot be denied. It has contracted our markets. Brit why has this economic nationalism arisen? It has arisen largely in Europe through the fear of war, the desire of each nation to make itself self-contained so that in the case of war it shall not have to go outside its own borders. It was with, shall I say, the greatest terror that I heard the statement of the Lord President of the Council yesterday that we are going to enter upon a large re-armament policy. If that be the case, I am afraid that there will be no decrease in economic nationalism. I fear that there will be an increase in economic nationalism. I refer to it now only to bring home to the Committee how important to the industry is the peace and security that may be obtained on the continent of Europe.
I heard the statement of the Lord President of the Council. It is a very serious matter, but I think the view of the Lord President of the Council is that it is no good being bombed and you are more likely to be bombed if you have nothing with which to reply. I agree with him and am astonished that anyone differs. Reference has been made to the question of marketing, which is fundamental to the industry. The hon. Member for Eastern Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said we must have modern marketing. I say that if we went back to some of our former methods, such as the trawling which the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) described, you would have bigger and better sales. In the old days as soon as the herring boats came in the pack horses and light carts were waiting for them and took the herring right inland. You will see paths over the moors and will be told that they are the herring roads. The result was that the landward people got the herring fresh, not soft and pappy, as an hon. Member described them as now being offered in inland towns and villages.
The present method is that after landing the herring are put on board a train and away they go to Billingsgate. There they are purchased and sent long railway journeys to distant places and, of course they are not in perfect condition. What happens in Billingsgate? Something of the same kind happens in some of the Glasgow markets where a man instead of getting a price only gets a debit note, when he has sent in a large consignment of rabbits. The brokers or dealers sell the fish first thing in the morning to one another and charge 10 per cent. commission, and after that they proceed to sell the fish as their own and make a profit for themselves. Billingsgate is full of that sort of thing. The Secretary of one of the large London clubs told me that he remonstrated about the cost of salmon as paid by him, and the price in the Billingsgate Gazette, or whatever their publication is called. The official said "That is the price we put in to enable us to deal with the fisherman." That is going on in Billingsgate, and the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) is perfectly right that that Augean stable should be cleansed from top to bottom.
As to the old basket women or fish hawkers, they were a hardy race and went from door to door with the fresh fish. I do not know that they made more than a bare living. Probably they would now get more drawing unemployment benefit. But they brought fish to the consumer's door and it was fresh "new drawn frae the boats." The hon. Member for Eastern Aberdeen expressed a Great deal of scorn at the beneficent trawling Act, and said the line fishermen were catching no more fish. Surely he is in a terrible hurry. The damage the trawlers have done is not made good in a year or two, let alone a month or two. I mentioned in the trawling Debate how Lochindaal in Islay had its five flounders restored in the four war years and then all trawled away by three trawlers in a day or two. It will be time enough for the hon. Member to say that that Act has been a failure four or five years hence. Meantime his trawling friends should seek consolation by trawling off the Coast of Norway. I was surprised at the statements of the hon. Member for Banff in reference to the dyeing of kippers. I do not think that he can eat herring often.
Then the hon. Member must have one of these pelican-like digestions. There is nothing more certain to cause indigestion than a dyed kipper. The hon. Member may have some peculiar organic machinery of his own, and that is why a dyed kipper does him no harm. People who eat these things suffer from acidosis and indigestion. The dyed kipper is not only indigestible but tasteless. The objection to this practice is that it is an imposture. The dyer is a liar. He pretends that what he sells is proper smoked kipper whereas it is not properly smoked at all. I do not say that it involves any serious mortal risk to public health but it is the sale of an article of inferior quality under false pretences and it is a practice which ought to be sternly suppressed under the Merchandise Marks Act or some other Measure of that kind. Another hon. Member in this debate has raised the question of prices and profits. We know that the fisherman gets an almost infinitesimal sum for the herring and that they cost about ten times that sum when you go to buy them in the fish shop. Furthermore, the average fishmonger does not know how to sell them. If you go in to buy half-a-dozen herring the first thing the fishmonger does it to split the fish and allow water to run over them and thus you get them with most of the flavour gone from them. Instead of being treated that way they should be wiped with a cloth so as to preserve the flavour and the oil. Many fishmongers, and many housewives too, do not know anything about the handling of the fish.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Banff that marketing is not the fisherman's job. It is every man's job to market his own wares. When the hon. Member takes up a cause in which his constituents are interested, what is he doing but marketing his own politics? Why should not the fishermen market their own fish? The whole industry is concerned in seeing that its produce reaches the people of the country in a fresher and better condition than at present. They have the best article of its kind in the world and, if they get an opportunity of selling it to the public in proper condition, the home market will soon repay them for their efforts and they will quickly make good.
This debate has shown an underlying unaniminity of opinion. Occasionally dialectical differences have ruffled the surface but underneath there has been a desire to help the industry and a concensus of opinion with regard to how the industry can be helped. Everybody knows the efforts which the Government are making by commercial treaties and trade agreements to counteract the movement described by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) which has been going on since the days immediately following the war. Everybody welcomes such success as we have attained and desires to attain more success in that respect, but practically all speakers in the debate have emphasised the necessity for developing the home market. I am not going into that question in detail nor shall I attempt to analyse the exact proportions in which various branches of the industry are responsible for the final marketing of the fish. But I believe it to be a fundamental truth that the herring industry as a whole ought to recollect what the firm of Jones did in the popularisation of the banana. The banana was practically an unknown fruit to the great mass of the people in this country until this firm, by methods of modern salesmanship, by organisation, by drive, by a clear sight of the objective and a determination to use the correct means, made it one of the most popular and most largely consumed fruits in this country. My message to the industry with regard to the home market is "Do for the herring what has been done for the banana." To assume that that is impossible, is to show that one has not studied the capacity of the home market or the economics of the industry. I have mentioned this as one of the most remarkable cases of a valuable foodstuff having been brought into the homes of the people.
I pass with only a word, but not without full appreciation of its importance, to the question raised with regard to the proper type of fishing vessels. It is the fact that for some time there have been signs that Scottish herring fishermen are beginning where possible to have built for them a smaller type of motor boat, the advantage of which is, broadly speaking, that it is better capable of changing from herring to white fishing as the season and the opportunity demand. I am not going to pursue the controversial topics of the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) with regard to the cause of the decline of the foreign market in herring, which was aptly dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen, but I would like to say a word on his observations on the results of the Sea Fishing Industry Act. Even at this late hour, I do not wish this point to pass unchecked.
My right hon. and gallant Friend made two points. The first was that there was no real increase of value and price to the fishermen, and the second was that there was no real restriction of production. Neither of these aspersions is in the least borne out by the facts and figures of the last six months, which are perfectly clear. With regard to the first three months of this year, January, February and March, the value of British landings in Scotland was £768,000; in the previous year it was £668,000; and in the year before, namely, 1932, with which my right hon. and gallant Friend said the comparison this year was unsatisfactory, it was again only £686,000, so that the first three months do not help him, nor do the second three months, because there the figure of value for this year was £594,000; in 1933 the equivalent figure was £550,000; and in the year before it was £560,000. In fact, there is only one month in the past six in which the value of the home landings in Scotland was less and not greater than the landings in the equivalent months of the last two years.
I think my right hon. and gallant Friend was pointing out that there were great variations and fluctuations, due to a great variety of causes, and if the hon. Gentleman will take individual classes of fish, he will find that although there has been an increase in the average monthly value of the fish in some cases, in others there has been a decrease, and as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, it is very unsafe at present to draw any general deduction.
I am obliged for the intervention, but my right hon. and gallant Friend was dealing with totals. Certainly the figure he gave for April was a total figure, and the totals I have given and bothered the Committee with, merely for the sake of recording them in the OFFICIAL REPORT, are to the effect that I have stated. The same proposition is true with regard to his second contention, that there was no real restriction as a result of the Sea Fishing Act. The foreign landings where restriction is, of course, of the greatest importance, do not show that proposition to be true at all, for again taking the first six months of 1934, the foreign landings were 219,000 cwts., in 1933 they were 408,000 cwt., and in 1932 406,000 cwt. If my right hon. Friend says that a decline from 406,000 and 408,000 to 219,000 is not a material restriction, I can only say that I regard it as being very material indeed.
There is no restriction. The only sign of restriction is that imports have fallen owing to natural causes. Foreign countries have been told what they can import for 12 months, and in fact they have been told they can import more this 12 months than last year, so that there is no restriction.
It is also true that a restriction of British landings, which is part and parcel of the Sea-Fishing Act, has also occurred. An hon. Member on the Liberal benches also suggested that we were wrong in thinking that the result of our trawling legislation and of our better policing had not restored confidence to the inshore fisherman of Scotland. My right hon. Friend did not say, nor do I say, that complete confidence has been restored. How could it be restored after only one winter of better trawling and only two months of improved legislation I We do detect in the greater amount of fishing that is going on inshore in the west—and we are told on the spot that our view is correct—an increased confidence. If indeed our better patrolling and our trawling legislation do not produce that increased confidence, the efforts of Parliament will have been in vain. It is upon the increase of confidence that the increase of in-shore fishing depends, for men will not spend money on lines or on any gear for in-shore fishing if they see that there is a real risk of those lines being destroyed by trawlers. It has been asked that early action should follow upon the herring report of the Sea-Fish Commission. My right hon. Friend said in his opening speech that he expected the report in August and that he would consider the early calling together of all those who are interested in the industry. I can do no more than reiterate that pledge. The Government are fully aware of the importance of analysing, considering and discussing the interim report on herring fishing.
I will finally deal with topics which were raised by my hon. Friend opposite in connection with the fishery fleet. The first vessel which will be removed from the list is the "Vigilant," which is no longer a very serviceable craft. The "Rona," whose speed was very high, has ceased to be of any practical use. She was a coastal motor boat; her hull has become bad, her motor-boat appliances have become waterlogged, and she is unseaworthy and useless. It was because she was useless last year that we substituted for her three drifters to keep a constant eye, as "Q" boats, over the area of water in which she was supposed to move swiftly about. It was the experience gained by the use of those drifters that, apart from certain observations and advice given us by certain Members of Parliament, first directed our attention to the "Q" boat method, and it is that method which we have been working out. With regard to the number of days at sea and the hours of steaming, I can only say that those calculations of my hon. Friend are perfectly right if we assume that every patrol boat steams all the time at full speed, but if we take into account, that these ships do their cruising at economical speeds then, except for the time necessary for recoaling and, in some cases, rather lengthy repairs and overhauls due to their age, it is the fact that these somewhat ancient boats are at sea as much as possible. But that does not militate against our policy of replacing them by a more suitable type of boat as soon as possible.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether, when recoaling has to be done, the boats are brought from the North Sea to Leith, or from the North-West of Scotland to Greenock, and whether it would not be better for them to recoal on the fishing grounds, so that the areas which they are patrolling would not be left open to illegal trawling during their absence?
My hon. Friends and I have dealt with that subject by question and answer. The relative factor is that if they coal in the north the cost is greater.
That may well be. It is true that if they coal as near as possible to their patrol grounds they are either not absent at all or only for a very short time, and that if they have to go further South they are away longer; but there is the economic consideration that the cost of coaling becomes heavier the farther North you go. Secondly, it has to be borne in mind that the passage from, let us say, the Minch to Greenock does not take the ship out of the district where illegal trawling may be found, and that on these trips, both coming and going, she is, in fact, doing patrolling work. But when we get our new ships, as they will be oil-burning, the whole question of refuelling can be reconsidered.
But there are one or two other matters, one of which is very important, dealing with the experiments on the type of boats and the encouragement of the use of the most efficient boats, which are not within the purview of the Sea Fishing Commission. There is the question of gunfiring in the Moray Firth; and then there was the promise which the Secretary of State made earlier in the Debate that he would give us any further information there might be about the arrangement over the Russian guarantee, and the question of whether the curers have agreed to joint and several liability.
Dealing first with the right hon. Gentleman's third question, I have to say that there is no further information at present as a result of the telephone message. In regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I thought I had already covered the ground, but the