Herring Industry

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1946.

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12.41 p.m.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I am very disappointed that the Minister of Agriculture is not in his place for this Debate, although I understand that he is coming later. I should like to declare to the House, in accordance with the usual custom, that I have an interest in the fishing industry. I have been interested in the industry for a great number of years—years when losses were made year after year. I am, therefore, speaking from experience when I try to put my views to the House on this subject.

There has been real concern on the East coast this autumn regarding the way the herring industry has been managed, or perhaps I should say, mismanaged by the Herring Industry Board. It is well known, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) frequently tells us, that herrings are in abundance in the summer months—the two months about midsummer—and in October and November, off the East coast of England, and I should have thought that the Government and the Departments concerned, including the Control Commission, would have taken adequate steps to see that we were capable of handling them. It is well known in the industry that during the full moon in October, and again in November, there are frequently very heavy catches. There has been little fishing off the East coast during the war years, but this year there were very heavy catches, and no appropriate arrangements were made to deal with them. I put a Question to the Minister of Food on 16th October, and in a supplementary question I asked: In the event of exceptional heavy landings of catches this autumn, will the hon. Lady consider sending vessels direct to Hamburg, or other German ports, to land their herrings there? The reply was: We have been doing that to a great extent this year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th October, 1946; Vol. 427; c. 897.] I regret to say that the hon. Lady was misinformed; because I put a further Question, ten days later, asking how many vessels had gone direct from the fishing grounds to German ports, and the reply was ".None".

That was a matter which should have been considered because vessels could have gone to Hamburg or the Dutch port of Ijmuiden and landed their catches there, transporting them direct to Germany. The real trouble, in my view, this Autumn, lay with the Herring Industry Board. I know that the Minister will tell me that he has no direct control over that Board. That may be, but steps should have been taken to ensure that the Board were competent to deal with the situation The Herring Industry Board have shown themselves to be completely lacking in energy and initiative, and quite unworthy of the responsibility which they hold. It was only last May that the Herring Industry Board assumed full control. That was at a conference at Edinburgh, and it was agreed that area committees should be set up to deal with such a situation. They had full powers and authority to regulate the fishing at any of the ports, and to say which vessels were to stay in over night and not go to sea, or that the number of nets to be carried and used by these vessels were to be restricted, and probably halved in number.

When the area committees came to be appointed, the Scottish fishermen objected to the buyers being on these committees, and, consequently, section committees were set up. That was a display of weakness, in my view, on the part of the Board. If they had not given way on that point, they would have had more control over the situation some few weeks ago. The only way to assure cooperation between the producer and the buyer is to have them adequately represented on the committees. It is known that the section committees are merely advisory bodies with no authority, but, nevertheless, in July, in Scotland, these section committees did exercise some power, and actually prevented English vessels from going to sea. I do not know if the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with that, but the section committees did prevent English vessels from proceeding to sea. That was a great challenge to the Board's authority, and I should have thought that they would have clamped down hard, and said, "This is just not going to happen" and have exercised the authority which had been given to them.

I am told that some of the members of the Herring Board were previously members of the Scottish Milk Marketing Board. They may have done their work very well, because in carrying out such duties, one can approximately estimate how much milk a herd of cows will produce next week, but in dealing with fishing vessels, it is another story. I believe that members of the Herring Industry Board should be men of experience, who know their job, and have gone right through the industry; then we should have men who could visualise the situation.

On the 4th, 5th and 6th November there were exceptionally heavy landings of herrings at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft—heavier than usual, because the fishing grounds had not been working for a number of years. After Wednesday, the 6th, the Herring Industry Board said that no vessels were to proceed to sea. Some of the vessels had only had one night's fishing that week, and others, none at all. There was an obvious opportunity to send our vessels out to catch the food which we could send over to the half-starving Germans. If there had been intelligent planning and enough foresight given to the matter that would have been done, but for three days and three nights, 400 vessels were tied up to the quays of these two ports, doing nothing at all. After much arguing and difficulty, it was agreed that part of the fleet should go to sea on 10th November. Then it was too late. The shoals had moved, and the catches were very much smaller. It is my estimate that if those three nights had been utilised, that, with over 400 vessels, the catch would have produced some 60 million herrings. That is a tremendous lot of food these days. When we realise that 1lb. of herring contains 735 calories as against 739 for a lb. of eggs, the value of this food will be seen; particularly to a nation which is more short than we are.

It is obvious that the Board lacked initiative, and did not see this situation arising, because after the heavy catches were brought in, three German vessels were brought over from Hamburg to transport them in bulk If that could be done afterwards, it could quite well have been done before 5th November. I submit that that was not realised, although I am told that 12 vessels from Hamburg and other German ports were available to deal with the situation; but nothing was done about it.

I have here an extract from the "Eastern Daily News" of 26th November. They said: After waiting at Lowestoft for a week to load herrings the German vessel "Seahen" sailed for home yesterday empty. Two other vessels in Yarmouth may leave tomorrow. These last-mentioned vessels have since departed for Germany empty. If that is an example of Socialist planning, it is even worse than I thought it could be. It is a deplorable situation, because this was a simple problem to deal with, had the matter been taken in hand. I do not know whether the Minister has taken disciplinary action against the Herring Industry Board, but I hope that he will do so. If a farmer farms his land ineffi- ciently, he is deprived of his farm, and I suggest that these gentlemen should be deprived of their job—those who are responsible for this situation. I would suggest that the Herring Industry Board should set up a proper sales organisation; men of experience who would go to Europe and explore the market in great detail. I know that a certain amount has been done in that direction, but the scope is much more than what has been done hitherto.

I do not think the Board should be situated permanently in Edinburgh. It is remote control to have the Board in Scotland. It should be mobilised as far as possible and should work with the fishing industry, moving around the coast. In the summer it should be at, say, Fraserburgh, and in the autumn at Lowestoft. The Allied Control Commission in Germany must accept their share of the responsibility for the muddle. They ought to have seen the situation developing and they should have got every vessel on which they could lay hands to bring the fish to Germany. However, nothing was done, and this is only another indication of the inefficiency of the Control Commission. We could for three days have fed 20 million people, giving each person a square meal on each of those three days, which would have meant 60 million herrings. I think that the sooner we have a Minister resident in Germany to look after major problems and make the people in the Allied Control Commission realise their responsibilities the better it will be for everyone.

In conclusion, I want to refer to Command Paper 6957, which covers the Report of the Herring Industry Board for the past year. It reads like a fairy tale. It is the most lamentable document I have read. It talks about a target in 1951 of three million crans a year, but what are the immediate prospects of the industry in 1947? Perhaps that will be given consideration also. They talk about 1,000 vessels in 1951 which will be manned by some 12,000 men. Today, we have got some 400 vessels and there are insufficient men to man them. We have to face a labour problem now through insufficiency of men. Like the miners who prefer a job above ground, many fishermen prefer a job ashore. For the Board to talk about 1,000 vessels is absolute nonsense. Let us instead have a small fleet which can be managed efficiently. I criticise my own party for their attitude in the past as far as the herring industry is concerned, and I would ask the Minister if he will to give an assurance of some change in the Board, that more Englishmen will be appointed to the Board, and that they will be men who know their job completely.

12.53 P.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) has performed a useful service in drawing the attention of the House to the conditions operating in the East Anglian fishing fleet last season and with what he says I am largely in agreement. I cannot, however, accept the statement that the present situation is the result of Socialist planning. It is due to non-Socialist planning, and it will be the responsibility of the Minister concerned to see that an examination of a very urgent character is made of the Herring Board. At the beginning of the season there were great hopes in the industry that there would be a highly successful and profitable season, due to the increased facilities, the extension of the fishing ground and a greater number of personnel. Indeed, it was anticipated that the 1945 season would be a bumper fishing harvest. Unfortunately, these aspirations have not been fulfilled, and there is a considerable feeling of disappointment throughout the industry, though the catches in some cases were extraordinarily good. However, the control by the Herring Board was ill-directed and the arrangements made were ineffective. The fishing was not developed to anything like the extent to which it should have been developed; in fact, great shoals were left in the sea. Too many fish were left in the sea and not sufficient caught and distributed.

Disappointment has been felt that the needs of the home market suffered, and also that the exportable surplus, except on one or two occasions, was not sent for consumption on the Continent, particularly in Germany where the need is so great. I remember my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) saying on one occasion that, if only we could get a herring and a potato a day for the Germans, it would stave off starvation. I have heard the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) saying something similar. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has called attention to the food value of the herring, and it is a well known fact that of all the fish in the sea, with the exception of the cod, it is the most nutritious. The great tragedy is that so few people know how to cook a herring.

It would have been thought that the Herring Board, knowing the likelihood of gluts during the November and October full moon, would have been prepared for any eventuality, and that adequate arrangements would have been made for dealing with any surplus. I can assure the House that the arrangements were not adequate, and that there was a great deal of confusion on account of the restrictions, resulting in a tragic loss of herring. All sides of the industry were extremely disappointed and alarmed. I am told that six ships were available for the shipment of exportable surplus abroad, and although I have made inquiries, I have found it difficult to discover exactly what those ships did. Certain it is that when they were wanted they were not there, and the herring which they should have taken away were turned into meal and processed. Yet, at the same time, there were facilities available in Holland for direct transmission into the British zone. There was really no necessity to send ships on the roundabout way to Hamburg. The fish could have been landed in Ijmuiden, where they would have been bought and transferred. I am not suggesting that the Government should not have bought this herring and given it to the Germans, but I am suggesting that facilities ought to be available for British exporters to do it. The Dutch were able to enter into a satisfactory arrangement for the supply of herrings which they caught. Naturally they are elated, for they have now contracts for the supply of two million kilos of herrings.

It has been claimed that in order to clear the glut shipping was not allowed out to fish for three days, but it was as late as Sunday, 10th November, and only after great pressure was brought to bear on the area controller, that permission was given to the fleet to put to sea. In the meantime, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, it was difficult to keep contact with the shoals. When the wind changes the herring shoals go in a different direction, and those vital three days in harbour made it difficult for the ships to maintain contact with the herring. The ships were kept in port in spite of the Lowestoft buyers guaranteeing to take 3,500 crans of herring, and only 600 crans were available on the Monday morning. These were sold to the home market and the exporters got none, yet 375 vessels should have been landing 40,000 crans, sufficient to load 20 steamers for Germany.

In the trade journal it has been stated that the herring fishermen refused to realise the possibilities for export. I will read the exact quotation: That the herring fishermen refuse to realise the possibilities for export and persist in refusing to catch fish immediately the price falls below the maximum, that they would sooner close the port than land a herring that would not fetch top price. This is very vigorously denied by the fishermen themselves, and I am very glad to make this denial on their behalf. They are only too anxious to take any kind of fish to the full capacity provided for them. During the last few weeks I have been consulting various branches of my constituency—catchers, buyers, the union and a large number of individuals—and one and all have expressed lack of confidence in the Board. They say that it remains out of touch with the day to day problems through sitting in Edinburgh and it is in insufficient contact with its own officers and advisers.

The main fault, as I see it, is that there is no coordination of any value between the different elements comprising the industry. I emphasise what has already been said, namely, that there should be strong area advisory committees of catchers and buyers. The Labour interest should not be neglected and a representative should be included. The present catchers and buyers, on different committees, have a considerable amount of jealousy. The Scottish representatives upon the catchers' committee are in a majority. We suffer from a certain amount of Scottish domination on the East coast, and naturally so, because the large majority of the people engaged in the industry are Scotsmen. The Scottish people refuse to sit with the buyers. I cannot accept the position that when the Scotsmen come to England they must impose their conditions upon the herring fleets and upon the people engaged in the trade.

There cannot possibly be coordination unless all the elements of the trade work together and develop the industry to its maximum capacity. That would result in the best advice being tendered to the area control officer who is responsible, under the Board, for the maximum production from the fishing industry. In my constituency it is not the area officer who is to blame so much. We are told that his hands are tied by the Herring Industry Board. Reconstruction of that Board is essential if the confidence of the industry in the Board is to be restored. The members of the Board should be alert. The Board should be mobile, and able to go from place to place as the position in the industry varies. They should take the advice of the herring committee, not only on the day to day conduct of the industry, but particularly in regard to its future development. The Minister has told us that he has no control over the Herring Industry Board. I suggest that he should secure powers to exercise some influence and some direction, when it is clear that there has been weakness in administration. I think the present case fully justifies the Minister taking very strong measures in regard to the Board.

I would now say a word about the future. Foreign markets have been mentioned. Are the present Board capable of exploring new markets and regaining lost ones? Have they a sound recruiting scheme? The hon. and gallant Member has referred to what he called the daydream, or the fairy book story, of having 1,000 drifters by 1951. Where are the men to man those vessels? What is the Board's scheme of recruitment, conditions of work, amenities and remuneration for the fishermen? What about skilled dockside workers? What about coopers, a great many of whom went, all during the war, from the coopering trade into that of the brewers? All the skilled industries are in a very low condition as regards their manpower and their prospects of attracting new men into the work. I am told that it becomes increasingly difficult to get gutters, because girls will not take up that part of the work.

All those questions relating to the ancillary trades connected with fishing require alert minds and men abreast with the latest developments in the labour situation. Is the Minister satisfied that large—scale experimenting in freezing and processing, and particularly in transport, should be left to the present body? Is he satisfied with the quality of the fish put upon the market and masquerading under the name of "kipper"? Is it hoped to develop the export trade in that type of herring? What has happened to the bloater? These two kinds of delectable fish have been allowed to deteriorate until the housewife turns up her nose at them. All this is attributable to a lack of purpose on the part of the authorities, in seeing that the quality of the stuff put upon the market has some relation to the name it bears.

Are the Board making adequate arrangements to supply materials? We know that the rise in costs has effected all forms of gear, and has been one of the great difficulties that the industry has had to bear. I hope that the Board will go into this matter with great thoroughness and vigour. I can assure the Minister that there are grave doubts on these matters in the minds of those with whom I have been in contact. All these problems require at the top a strong, virile Board, if the industry is to prosper, and the Minister should see that the Board are able to meet their responsibilities. What is needed is an infusion of many qualities that are at the moment lacking.

1.6 p.m.

Photo of Squadron Leader Ernest Kinghorn Squadron Leader Ernest Kinghorn , Great Yarmouth

I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) was lucky in the Ballot and was able to initiate this Debate. I am happy to be able to say, on behalf of my constituents, that nobody can dispute that Great Yarmouth is the greatest herring port in the world. I am sure that hon. Members will be glad to know the record that has been put up in the last few weeks. Despite restrictions and bad weather, one of our boats, the "Romany Rose," under Skipper Rudd, went out, and managed to bring back 264¾ cran of herring, for one boat and one catch. It won the Prunier trophy and was a magnificent result. We have had the report of the Herring Industry Board, and we are all very much interested in it. I hope we shall see that it is considered here and is put into operation. I disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield in one respect. The present Government have made no real effort to tackle the industry on the lines of Socialist planning. We must face that fact.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

Will the hon. and gallant Member say why nothing has been done to plan this industry? The Government have been in power for 18 months.

Photo of Squadron Leader Ernest Kinghorn Squadron Leader Ernest Kinghorn , Great Yarmouth

That is what I am going to say. It is obvious that this industry is subject to postwar shortages such as of timber for barrels, and of ships. There is also a shortage of recruits. There must be quite a number of boys in the Forces. We want some temporary measure to carry us over this season and give us as much benefit as we can get from the shoals which have been lying off Yarmouth in the last few weeks. Under the constitution of the Board, that matter is left to the Herring Board. On this point we all agree but in the last few weeks the Herring Board has fallen down.

Not many people seem to be aware that the season now rapidly drawing to its close off the East Anglian coast is very short. When we talk about ships taking herring to the Germans as soon as it is caught, and the risk in waiting after the catch comes in, we are apt to forget that if one waited for the whole season they would not wait longer than seven weeks. For thousands of people, in big cities like Hamburg, surely it was worth while. Hon. Members will remember there was a slight amount of trouble this season, owing to the fact that fishermen were suffering from lack of sufficient food to do their job. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and I went to see the Minister of Food. We along with the fishermen put the case and we were successful in gaining our point for the fishermen. They immediately went off to sea on 10th October, which was a late start. That was followed by a strike of the girls, who thought that what the fishermen would get in one way, they could get in another. Finally the girls went to work and the season got started.

The last time I was there, on walking round the quays and talking to the fishermen, I found that the catches were not coming in very well. There was, therefore, a great deal of complaint from the herring dealers, especially from the exporters to the Mediterranean market, and there was some grumbling that the first call on the catches was for the klondyking of fish to be sent over to Germany. There was substance in their case. I put the inevitable Question in the House and received the inevitable answer, that there is no power to do anything. However, we had a certain amount of fair weather and there was a glut. We talked about gluts in this House on 21st March this year and we thought we had given enough warning to everybody involved that we did not Want to see any gluts this year, since there are not enough kippers to go round, you can never get a bloater, and there is this problem of near starvation in some countries.

Therefore we thought that after the Debate, once the herring season started on 10th October, some measures would have been taken to deal with any possible glut but immediately the herrings came, the Herring Board closed the port and, as if the Almighty wanted to teach them a lesson, bad weather came down, and the boats could not go out for that reason. All the time the herring were waiting outside in millions ready to feed ourselves and the Germans. Three German ships have left this week—empty—the only ships which the Control Commission could get over here for this part of the season, and they were here well over a week. If it is possible to get them over here within a fortnight from Germany, surely it was possible to have had them here on 1oth October and send them back fully loaded, instead of going back empty as some of them have this week, and perhaps they could have come back again for further supplies.

From some of the replies we have received to Questions in this House one would think that Germany was in the Antartic and that it was a very great project to ship herrings to Germany. Yet the nearest point from Yarmouth to Holland is only 90 miles, and the distance to London is 10 miles longer. It would have been simple to show a little more imagination and have these ships waiting before the glut arrived. There was, however, apparently a perfect lack of initiative and imagination, and the responsibility for that must be placed on the Herring Board. The answer we get to our Questions in the House is, "We have no responsibility. We cannot give orders to the Herring Board either through the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, or the Board of Trade." So the responsibility must rest with the people who can make decisions. If it were a military operation, such as many of us saw during the war, if we had wanted millions of herrings, we would have got them, even by the most temporary measures, and that spirit ought to have been shown before 10th October. For instance, Yarmouth was heavily bombed during the war, especially in the quayside area, and there are acres and acres of land on which the buildings are either in a state of disrepair, or have been obliterated completely. There is plenty of space there where temporary tanks could have been erected such as we put up to hold water in case of incendiaries. Any extra catches could have been kept in those tanks in brine in the same way in which, in my own constituency, herrings are kept up to six months before they are processed. The Herring Board could have done that many weeks ago.

Besides this lack of initiative and imagination there seems to be a lack of coordination. For instance, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries about a week ago answered a Question on East Anglia. HE said: I presume, that the Minister has no power to issue directions to the Herring Industry Board."—[18th November 1946, Vol. 430, col. 516.] By a curious coincidence just as I finished reading that copy of HANSARD, I picked up "Tam o' Shanter" and found these very well-known and appropriate lines: Oh Tam, oh Tam, thou'll get thy fairin'!In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin'. The Minister of Agriculture said he had no power to give orders to the Board. It has taken days and days to find out where the Minister of Agriculture comes in and where the Minister of Food comes in, and who gives the overall order to these people, acting like dictators, saying what catches shall go where and what prices shall be given. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, answering a Question the other day, said that all steps practicable had been taken to get these gluts of herrings to Germany. Do "practical steps" mean that after the glut had arrived, it was impossible to get ships from Germany beforehand and that, when the ships arrived and the glut did not occur, the ships have gone back empty to Germany? I should have thought something more practicable than that could have been done, and that it was for the Chancellor and his Department to see that ships were waiting in Germany on 9th October to come over at once.

A very important part of our local trade, in that it helps the sterling position, is the smoked herring trade with the Mediterranean, which has been carried on for many years in my own constituency. We expected this year to get started in building up this trade with Italy and Greece, but what happened? One of our customers had a ship lying in a port in Italy, I think Genoa. There was another boat on its way over fully loaded with smoked herrings. Then he found out that the Italian Government would not allow them in, and was making a barter agreement with the Dutch and Norwegians who were not very much concerned in this trade before the war. That is a country which we are taking part in ruling at the moment, an ex-enemy. We had to act quickly. The Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade happened to be in Rome. He received my telegram and the matter was put right. However it may not be right next season, and such things ought to be looked into before next season since we are trying to put this business on its feet.

I had another telegram saying that the Greek Government had put an absolute embargo on the import of smoked herrings from Yarmouth, which is a very important part of our trade. I had to take action on that. The wires to Athens began buzzing and, eventually, the Greek Government rescinded the order and our smoked herrings are now going over. But such things should not arise, and presumably we have the Herring Board to see that they do not arise. It should organise this business properly. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade are all involved. We ought to get some coordination worked out before the herrings disappear. Indeed they are actually disappearing at the moment, for the catches are no longer as good as they were. Scottish boats are leaving Yarmouth now, making the long trek back North, so to all intents and purposes the season of 1946 will soon be over. Are we going to repeat that in 1946 and 1947? The Herring Industry Board has in view not the trees in front of us, but the wood ahead in the season of 1951. We should see that as many herrings as possible are brought out of the North Sea, and I have no doubt that our Scottish friends want to get a maximum catch from their activities off the West Coast of Scotland.

We want more kippering to be done. Instead of allowing the extra catches to be made into manure, let us make them into kippers so that they can be used for feeding Germans in Germany. If we provided for every man, woman and child in Germany one slice of bread, one potato and one herring a day they would be getting the calorie value which we fixed for them at S.H.A.E.F. before the war ended, and this ration they have never had yet. I think that should be borne in mind in 1947. We want the Mediterranean trade, especially for Yarmouth and particularly the trade with Greece. If we do not secure that trade, it will go to the Dutch and Norwegians who will have great advantages, including the fact that they can buy our nets which are exported and which our own people cannot buy. Finally, I hope that present negotiations proceeding with our Russian Allies and friends will lead to a very big export trade with the Soviet Union from next year onwards.

1.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Usborne Mr Henry Usborne , Birmingham Acock's Green

I know very little about herring, except that, when cooked and fresh, they make a very good meal. The House is greatly indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) and other hon. Members for raising this very important matter. It is right to show that there is resentment also among people who know nothing about this industry and are not experts on the job but who feel that the Debate should not be allowed to pass without expressing their resentment. We ordinary people who know so little about this, know that in the past there have been gluts which were caused by mismanagement. But we feel now we have at last a Government which ought to be able to manage this industry. Nevertheless, I think, we have to admit that they have fallen down on the job, and that something has gone wrong. We could all foresee that this position might arise: that it was not, therefore, a question of not knowing what was going to happen, but a question of some simple inability to cope with the situation which was foreseen.

The tragedy is the greater because not only are there people in this country who would need herring, kippers and bloaters but there are also people all over the world, particularly in Germany, who urgently need them as food. I have never been able to find out the difference between a bloater and a kipper—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—beyond the fact that a bloater is made into paste, and kipper is not. Perhaps I come from an area that has never seen a bloater and would not recognise it. But let that pass. The point is that here we have a Government of international Socialists, and it appears they have failed, for some reason or other, to deliver that food to the people who needed it.

1.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Robertson Mr John Robertson , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

I rise to add my voice to those of hon. Members who have urged upon the Government the necessity of avoiding in future what has happened in East Anglia during this fishing season. I do so, because I feel that unless the Government take steps very shortly to organise this industry we are going to be in the same position in which we found ourselves in the years between the wars. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) charges the Government with neglect during the last 18 months in regard to this matter. I hope he will remember that for 18 years the party to which he belongs were in power.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I did not excuse my own party any more than the present Government.

Photo of Mr John Robertson Mr John Robertson , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

We accept that, but I would mention that 18 years of power gives a Government the larger opportunity to organise an industry than does 18 months. The Government in power in this country today have nothing to be charged with so far as that is concerned. Time has been too short to organise this very complex industry. It has been quite impossible to do it. There has, of course, been a toning down in the capacity to catch the fish, but I remember the days between the wars when large quantities of fish were caught and dumped back into the sea. The plain fact is that this indus- try has never been organised, and will be required to be thoroughly organised from now on. It has been left in the hands of private enterprise so long that haphazard sporadic attempts have been made to deal with the harvest of the sea and they are not the way in which the Government should proceed. That belongs to the past.

I agree with hon. Members who have advocated that the Government should go forward and organise the industry. I feel that the Herring Board is not adequate nor has it the necessary powers to tackle this problem, and I hope the Government will consider reorganising the Board in order to, give that greater power and to make it more flexible. It is not only the herring industry which requires the attention of the Government, but the white fish industry as well. I hope that powers may be given to the Board to enable it to deal with the whole question of the fishing industry comprehensively as a fishing Board dealing not only with the herring industry but with white fish as well. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has done a good thing in raising this matter. I hope the Government will from now on be able to reorganise the machinery of distribution in such a way that we shall never have a repetition of the former tragic waste at a time when Europe could be supplied with this very sustaining and excellent food.

1.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

The House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for taking the opportunity of this Adjournment Debate, to raise the several matters of very great interest in regard to herring fishing. He and other hon. Members have made strictures, not all well deserved, on the way in which the herring industry Board have carried out their job. I was a little relieved when the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield made a point of saying that his own party were not completely free of responsibility in this matter because I think the House should understand that the present Government were not responsible for the legislation which brought the Herring Industry Board into being. Whatever may be its shortcomings in so far as its powers are concerned, these are matters wrapped up in legislation, for which this Government are in no way responsible.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

In the Gracious Speech last year the fishing industry was mentioned. Surely, in the intervening period, steps could have been taken to get efficient members on the Board?

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

I was dealing with the question of powers rather than the personnel. Whatever might be said as to whether the powers are adequate or inadequate, legislation would be ultimately involved. It will be no part of the case of hon. Members opposite that this Government have not kept the House fairly busy with legislation.

The point of this criticism arises largely out of certain circumstances that have occurred in regard to the East Anglian fishing season this year. I suppose the two points upon which everybody who knows anything at all about herrings will agree are, first, the great variability about the herring catch from time to time—it has been the most difficult thing to handle in the past and to regulate the scheme of things; secondly, the fact that the fresh herring has little keeping quality. In fact, if a fresh herring is not consumed within about 36 hours of being landed, it goes out of condition. In considering this matter of herring and all the things that have been said, it is important to keep these two important facts in mind when one tends to criticise the Herring Industry Board. I think I should also make the point that anybody who is familiar with the reports of the Herring Industry Board must at least give the Board this credit: I am not at all sure that its members themselves are at all satisfied with their existing powers.

What happened in the circumstances complained of was that in the first four weeks of the East Anglian season, landings at Lowestoft and Yarmouth were not heavy; in fact, it was not necessary to regulate the catch, which is, of course, the function of the Herring Board. But in the first four days of the following week, 4th to 7th November, from the Monday to the Thursday, more herring was landed in both those ports than in the whole of the previous week. The House will better appreciate that when I put it in this fashion, that for those four days the average landing per boat went up to as high as 109 crans compared with only 60 crans in the previous week. The result of that phenomenally heavy catch was completely to block the ports up for a day or two, and just because of that the Herring Industry Board, in the exercise of its powers, regulated the actual going to sea of the herring fleet.

Let us bear in mind that one of the objects of the Board in regulating fishing is to even out the landings, and to equate the quantity of herrings wanted to the facilities provided for the disposal of catches to the home market and export. That is one of their jobs. I venture to suggest that with all the skill in the world, however clever the personnel on the Herring Industry Board may be, a situation of that kind is not the easiest thing to handle. It should be said in defence of the Herring Industry Board that even when it was faced with that position—that awful paradox which I have always found myself objecting to strongly—of having fish dumped back into the sea, that did not occur. I speak with my own division in mind. I remember the terrible interwar years when, in a great industrial division such as I represent, the people never had the money to buy the herrings available in this country, with the facilities for transport, etc., then available. At least we are one stage better than that, because there are certainly remarkably few people in this country today who have not the means of buying the herrings which are available.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

They have always been very cheap.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

Very cheap, but when one has not the means of buying them they still cannot be bought. I was delighted to find the hon. and gallant Member out rivalling the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who, quite rightly, acclaims in the House the virtues of the herring.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

Herrings are cheap to the fisherman, but not to the housewife. The fisherman gets a small return; the housewife pays a high price.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

I was making the point that that was the position, with all the facilities of transport, barrelage, etc., which were available in normal peace time in this country. Herrings were dumped back into the sea again and again.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

They were this summer.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

The remarkable thing this season has been that there has been very little—practically none. In the East Anglian fishing season the Board have done their job in such a way as to avoid that sort of situation, and they should at least be given some little credit for doing that.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

It is quite obvious that herrings would have been dumped but the fact that the vessels were tied in the ports, whereas there could have been a bigger catch if we had had German vessels over to collect a certain quantity to take back to Germany.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

I am coming to that point in a moment. The point I was making was that the catch in these four days was so heavy, 109 crans per boat as against 60 crans in the previous week, that the result was to overload the facilities of the ports for disposing of the catch. Despite those difficulties the Herring Board managed to handle that situation. Let us give them some credit for what they did in that great difficulty.

The point is made: Why were not facilities given so that these herrings might have been exported to the Continent? The Ministry of Food, who were concerned about this matter, sought to do two things.. They were concerned in the first place to push up the home market supplies of herrings to the utmost of the market's capacity; secondly, to do what they could, in conjunction with the Control Office for Germany and Austria, in seeing to it that the export side was covered. In that regard the Ministry of Food were responsible for placing a contract on behalf of the Control Office for Germany for the supply, in the first place, on contract, of 10,000 tons of herring to Germany during 1946. The criticism was made that this is the result of Socialist planning. I am bound to tell the hon. and gallant Member that that is the last case which should be put from the other side of the House on this point, because these contracts were placed with the United Fresh Herring Exporters Limited, a private company. It was the job of that private company, having received the contract. The contract imposed upon them the responsibility of procuring the boats for that purpose. If there is any case for criticism the case would he not against Socialist planning but against the private company who were responsible for completing that contract.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

The Control Commissioners had the boats.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

No, Sir. The contract was made for the supply of 10,000 tons of herring. It was placed with the United Fresh Herring Exporters Ltd., and under the terms of the contract it was their job to see that the boats were available to handle them. I am only making a perfectly valid point that if criticism there be, and if it be deserved, it does not lie on any issue of Socialist planning but on the exporters responsible for handling that contract.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

But the situation should never have arisen.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

Apart from that contract for 10,000 tons, it was made abundantly clear that if that contract was fulfilled there would be a second contract for another 10,000 tons. I am making this point only to show that, so far as the Ministry of Food were concerned, acting on behalf of the Control Office for Germany, they had done their bit in the placing of these contracts. I now come to the point about home supplies. The suggestion that there were not sufficient supplies available for the home market has no foundation in fact. The position in the home market is that, largely because of the interest which the Ministry of Food have given to the matter of developing the market, the home market this year has taken 80 per cent, more herring during the East Anglian season than were consumed in the same period of 1945. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen is not here. I am sure he would have been most interested to know that the Ministry of Food were so concerned. In the first place, by a slight reduction in price and, second, by other facilities, they have been able to arrange things in such a way that the supply of herring for the home market has increased by over 80 per cent., which means in tonnage that in this period 17,440 tons were sold in the home market compared with 9,583 tons in the corresponding period of last year.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I think the Minister will agree that last year a great number of these vessels were employed on Admiralty duties and could not possibly subscribe to our food supplies. It is only now that the vessels have been released that they are producing the food.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

I am glad the hon. and Gallant Gentleman made that point. I agree with him entirely that this increase is because the Herring Industry Board virtually started from scratch. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman points out, the fishing fleet were engaged on Admiralty duties and it is only since then that this development has been possible. I say that the interest of the Government has been such, through the Ministry of Food, that the supply to the home market has increased by 80 per cent. and I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that that is a not inconsiderable increase. I am not going to trouble the House with many figures.

I think it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) who mentioned the point that in the desire to develop the export trade, which we all want to see re-established in harmony with general export policy, negotiations have now been entered into with the authorities representing the U.S.S.R. Government in order to see whether we can develop that side of the export trade. We have had criticisms about contracts placed with the Dutch. To my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn), who raised that point, I would say that the total amount of these contracts was so small, relative to our own position as in the nature of things, almost to be negligible.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

I would like to explain that I am not complaining about the contracts, but about the fact that we did not have facilities.

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

I have no desire to do the hon. Member an injustice. I was merely making the point that the volume of the contracts placed with the Dutch on behalf of the Control Office is negligible and, in any case, they will not adversely affect us, because the Control Office are anxious to get all the supplies available. I was invited to offer some views as to the future. I was asked what it was likely that the Government would do in connection with the Herring Industry Board. I invite hon. Gentlemen to make themselves familiar with the nth Annual Report of the Herring Industry Board which has recently been published. There it will be found that the Herring Industry Board have postulated certain proposals for development and we have made one or two criticisms of their proposals. The Herring Industry Board, in putting forward these proposals, have taken the next step of putting them to the industry. In turn, it will be for the industry to comment on the proposals and, when they have said what they want to say, the Herring Industry Board will make submissions to the Government. The Government will consider the suggestions and make their own decision. It is not for me at this stage to anticipate what the position of the Government in this matter may be. I assure the House—certainly my hon. Friends on this side of the House who represent so many fishing constituencies—that the Government will pay the most earnest attention to any suggestions or recommendations. Having received them the Government will be charged with the job of making up their own minds with regard to what is to be done in this situation.

I want to make it clear, though I do not know whether I need to say this—it should have been self-evident—that no complaint can be laid at the door of the Government that we have not done this already. All Government Departments are faced with the same problem at present. All Ministers are anxious to introduce legislation and to get their own proposals before the House and we cannot all stand at this Box at the same time; but in due course, the Government will give their considered opinion and make proposals

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

Will the Minister give an assurance that something will be done to have a wider representation on the Herring Industry Board? Men who know more about the job should be consulted. Will he give an assurance that he will investigate the whole matter and do something about it?

Photo of Mr Percy Collick Mr Percy Collick , Birkenhead West

I cannot accept the suggestion that the personnel of the Board is unsatisfactory. That is much too much to ask me to accept. If I may say so with respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I should want far more evidence than has been available in this Debate to prove that the personnel is unsatisfactory. However. I can assure him that this Government are only too ready to examine any evidence they get on matters of this kind, and that we in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries are concerned and interested in everything we receive from hon. Members by way of evidence on any matter. We should naturally give the most detailed consideration to such submissions. I want to make it quite plain that, so far as the Ministry are concerned, I do not accept the imputations that have been made about the personnel.