Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

A work in progress with no end in sight

HERRING INDUSTRY BOARD

HERRING INDUSTRY BOARD

A child of Ramsay MacDonald’s National Government, the Herring Industry Board was shaped by his Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries the Scottish Unionist Walter Elliot, MP for Glasgow Kelvingrove. The Herring Industry Act that created it was passed on 24th May 1935. In failing health MacDonald resigned on 7th June and Elliot became Stanley Baldwin’s Secretary of State for Scotland, but retained a guiding interest in the Board.

Walter Elliot
Walter Elliot, who as Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries set up the Herring Industry Board

The Herring Industry Board had been established to rebuild a fishery which had caught and sold staggeringly large numbers in 1913, but which, by the 30s, was in serious decline. It tried hard.

The herring fishery was seen by the politicians as a largely Scottish concern. A 1937 parliamentary debate on the Board’s work was held in Scottish parliamentary time and Pierse Loftus, Conservative MP for Lowestoft prefaced his contribution, I feel that I ought to apologise, as the representative of an English constituency, for rising at all in a Scottish Debate, but Lowestoft is the largest herring port in Great Britain, and the Lowestoft boats land double the quantity of herring landed at any other port in Great Britain, and that is my reason for intervening.

It was not the size of the port, though, or the catch of the boats, but the size of the fleet and the scale of involvement in the curing trade. As the Scottish boats followed the herring, the Scottish curers followed the fleet, contracting the Scottish herring lasses to follow it with them.

Walter Elliot opened the debate, while his fellow Unionist Under-Secretary Henry Scrymgeour-Wedderburn (West Renfrewshire) closed it.  

The Problems

Focusing the mind of politicians, the industry and the newly established board, there were three major problems. The British annual herring catch had dramatically fallen from its pre-World War I high of 540,000 tons to just over 250,000 tons by the early 30s. Meanwhile, a collapse in exports meant that, even so, there were often unsold surpluses. To top things off, although the home market wasn’t on anything like the scale of exports, it too was decreasing.

Before the First World War, Russia and Germany had provided the great markets for British salt herring – the so-called Scotch Cure – taking 80% of exported production, which was most of the production. The beauties of salt herring almost entirely passed the English by, but it accounted for the bulk of the catch.

Between the wars, the Soviet Union and Germany were short on hard currency. The Soviets, in particular, played hardball on price, helped by the more competitive Norwegian and Icelandic herring fisheries, both of which were early adopters of purse seining. The Soviets and the Germans had also begun to increase their own herring fishing capacities.

Between jokey, constituent-facing claims as to where the best herrings come from, the positions in the 1937 debate are mostly gloomy, angry or defensive. Given the scale of the problem and the Board’s resources, the politicians were clearly expecting too much too soon, but the Board’s Annual Report gave little ground for optimism. It’s easy to imagine HIB representatives up in the gallery, head in hands.

Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern) offers a rare ray of hope in increasing exports to the USA and Palestine. These, however, mostly grew out of Poland’s encouraged Jewish emigration: schmaltz herring shifts rather than actual new markets.

Productivism

Despite general catch declines, herring could still be caught in abundance. Reduced salt herring production, however, also reduced temporary storage solutions for gluts and catches were sometimes thrown overboard. In the 20s and the 30s, with hunger an issue that had some political traction, the sense of this waste particularly exercised the Left in the debate.

Walter Elliot was a productivist: catch as many herrings as you can and create the markets to accommodate any resulting oversupply.

There are markets, though, and markets.

At MAFF, Elliot had been the man who introduced free school milk to address dairy industry gluts. He was urged, likewise, to distribute herring gluts to the poor, but he stood firm: You cannot feed necessitous children on raw salt herring. I can imagine nothing which would upset a child more. Not even hunger. And yet, there are plenty of cooked salt herring recipes. Tatties & (salt) Herring is a classic Scottish dish and was still widely eaten at the time – But maybe not in Glasgow Kelvingrove.

To be fair to Elliot, a free herring distribution schememight not have been the answer. The strange decline in Britain’s herring consumption has been linked aspirant social mobility and, very precisely, to the perception that it was food for the poor.

Elliot was a herring man, though. In the late 20s he’d worked with Financial Secretary to the Treasury AM Samuel – author of The Herring: Its Effect on the History of Britain (1918). Together, they had enabled the Empire Marketing Board’s support for the first documentary film, John Grierson’s Drifters (1929). Linked to the film’s release, before the EMB was wound up in 1933, it had mounted an advertising campaign, supporting British fishing, laying the ground for the HIB’s marketing work.

Eat More Fish poster
Empire Marketing Board poster, part of the campaign that accompanied the release of John Grierson’s Drifters

Eat more herrings!

In bringing the debate to its conclusion, Henry Scrymgeour-Wedderburn defended one strand of the Board’s work:

I do not know why herring are not more popular. I do not know enough about cooking, but I believe that cooking is one difficulty. They take a long time to cook, and also people do not think that they are good for children to eat because they have so many bones. If that is so, the best way of proceeding is to try to overcome that prejudice, and advertisement is one of the best ways of doing it.

Between 1935 and 1938, the Herring Industry Board produced at least four versions of what was essentially the same booklet: Herring Cookery, The Herring Book and The New Herring Book (two editions). Strangely, the first is attributedto Mrs Arthur Webb, the well-known B.B.C. Cookery Expert, the second to another cookery writer of the time, Mrs Stanley Wrench. Both editions of The New Herring Book are back with Mrs Webb. The fourth was published as a Souvenir of the Herring Cookery Demonstrations Held at Great Yarmouth, August 15 – 19, 1938.

Herring Industry Board recipe booklets
Herring Industry Board recipe booklets, 1935 – 38

Sweating their assets, in the late 30s they also produced another booklet, In Search of Silver Treasure, using the cover photograph from the cooking demo souvenir, rehashing some of the material and dropping both cookery writers from the credits.

In March 1938 the Board made a bid to enlist educators working in schools, colleges and community contexts such as the Women’s Institute and the Workers’ Educational Association. Lecture Notes on the Herring speaks to an imagined proselytising army of harengophiles:

The subjoined lecture notes on the herring and the herring industry have been furnished in a partially connected form with a view to assisting those desirous of giving instruction on this subject to either juveniles or adults.

The wording has been rendered as simple as possible and it has been left to the discretion of the lecturer or instructor to make such alterations in phraseology or such additions in respect of local colour as may be deemed necessary to make the discourse suitable to the mentality of the audience addressed.

Meanwhile, the celebrated Parisian fish restaurateur Madame Simone Prunier opened a London branch in 1935 and it seems likely that the HIB was involved at least in encouraging her response to the difficulties of the East Anglian herring fishery. The Prunier Trophy, sculpted by Charles Robinson Sykes, who had designed the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy, was awarded to the boat that made the largest single shot herring catch of the year. Winners also received £25 and an invitation Maison Prunier.

The first winner, in 1936, the Aberdeen steam drifter Boy Andrew (Skipper: J Mair) caught 231 crans of herring. The last, thirty years later, was the Fraserburgh motor drifter Tea Rose (Skipper: C Duthie) with only 128 crans.

Madame Prunier celebrated the award by getting her chef Maurice Cochois to create Filets de Harengs Trophy:

Fry fillets of herrings in clarified butter, and serve them in this way. Two fillets on each plate, roughly chopped tomatoes tossed in butter on top, then another fillet to make a sandwich. Cover with a light Sauce Thermidor, and brown lightly.

Prunier Trophy
The Prunier Trophy. 1936 – 1936, now held in Lowestoft Maritime Museum

Interlude with bombs

The Herring Industry Board took a break from its work during the Second World War. Much of the fishing fleet was commandeered by the Royal Navy and directed towards mine clearance – coincidentally noticing the effectiveness of ASDIC and SONAR equipment in identifying shoals of fish.

Meanwhile, Walter Elliot, having returned to the back benches, was passing the Houses of Parliament on the night of September 26th, when they were being fire-bombed. It was he who told the firemen to concentrate on saving Westminster Hall and its medieval hammerbeam roof and not to bother about the House of Commons, which was only Victorian Gothic.

Overfishing

With hindsight it’s easy to see signs of overfishing between the wars. Drift net herring fishers had identified the danger back in the mid C19th, when they fought against the rise of ring netting on Scotland’s West Coast.

They had played a key role in encouraging the development of scientific fishery studies in the late C19th. They’d wanted impact assessments of the greater and indiscriminate catch capacity of trawl-based methods (which included ring netting). Thomas Huxley, the big boy of late C19th fishery science, had, however, decided that to all intents and purposes, herring populations (and other fishing stocks) represented a limitless supply.

In 1943, the visionary fish scientist Michael Graham published The Fish Gate (named after one of the entrances to Jerusalem). At the heart of it is what he calls The Great Law of Fishing: Fisheries that are unlimited become unprofitable. He continues, Perhaps it is necessary to have a version for the socialist state of mind. If so, we might put it: Fisheries that are unlimited become inefficient, but I shall continue to use the word ‘profit’ here, having noted that in my argument it is only an index of efficiency.

A couple of pages earlier, he had written:

One of the strangest and most sardonic effects is on the position of the inventor. His invention is first hailed as just what is required, to remedy the fallen catch per ship with the old gear. The novelty produces excellent trips of fish at first. Those who use it say, ‘You must be up to date’. But soon everyone has it; and then, in a year or two, it reduces the stock to a new low level. The yield goes back to no more than before, perhaps less; but the fisherman must still use the new gear. He was better off without it; but, owing to the depleted stock, he could not manage without it now. He needs the additional fishing power that it gives, in order merely to stay where he was before it came in, so he has to accept the expense.

From 1945 to 1958, Graham was Director at the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries’ Lowestoft laboratory – running what later became CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science). Some at the HIB, at least, will have read the book. In 1975, 17 years after Graham had retired, they included it in The Herring Story’s suggested further reading list.

The Fish Gate provides a yardstick by which to measure the Board’s work from the mid-40s onwards. By 1975, of course, North Sea herring populations were collapsing.

Michael Graham's The Fish Gate

Modernising the British fleet

In a tragic opera of post-war UK herring fishing, the final act would come with those collapses. Initially led by Britain, in 1977 there was a European Community ban on herring fishing in the North Sea. The fishery on the West Coast of Scotland was closed the following year. In the Southern North Sea and on the West Coast, fisheries reopened in 1981, in the rest of the North Sea two years later. Populations have recovered variously, but the home market for herring never has, really.

It’s unusual to say this, but the British weren’t the prime culprits in the overfishing. Those honours go mainly to Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, who, between the wars, had invested in diesel, pelagic trawl and purse seining. Britain had come late to the party.

In the late 30s, the Board had invested in decommissioning, made loans for new equipment and unsuccessfully set up a scheme to encourage new boat purchase. In the 1940s, however, the British North Sea herring fleet was still mainly made up of steam drifters.

By the early 60s, the once great East Anglian herring fleet had more-or-less gone. Blaming trawlers for its ills, there had been a reluctance to accept the full logics of modernisation. The Scottish industry, on the other hand, enjoyed a short-lived, minor boom on the back of HIB-supported investment in new boats and equipment.

The mesh of a drift net is designed to catch mature herrings, juveniles swimmming through. Mid-water or pelagic trawl nets and purse seine nets are dragged through the shoal. With echo location technology and large enough nets, they can surround it. Either way, the weight of fish caught blocks escape, juveniles included. As Michael Graham argued, without limits placed on the catch, the efficiency generates inefficiency.

The Icelandic herring fisheries had collapsed in the 1960s, so there’d been plenty of warning. Interviewed in 2005, the retired Scottish West Coast fisherman Jim Muir wryly notes the way the HIB enabled British fishermen to buy Iceland’s decommissioned purse seiners: The Icelandics have a good herring fishery yet. We don’t.

There is a remarkable passage in the Herring Industry Board’s Twenty-seventh Annual Report (1961):

The herring fishermen of this country are not directly affected by what happens to the Scandinavian herring stocks, only the fringe of which they touch by chance on rare occasions. They are well aware, however, that a great increase in the amount of trawling around Norway has been accompanied by a fall in the yield from the principal Norwegian herring-fishery just as catastrophic as that which has taken place in the North Sea.

Having regard to these misgivings, it may seem strange that, in 1961, the Board sponsored and supported financially experimental herring-trawling voyages by British craft and that they aim to repeat the exercise – on a larger scale – in 1962. The policy stems from two considerations. If trawling has no harmful effects on the stocks, it is proper to engage in it because of the possibilities which are claimed to be inherent in the method, of thereby reducing costs of catching and increasing profitability. If on the other hand, trawling for herring is harmful, we, in this country, are likely to be no worse off by joining others who fish in this manner and taking all we can get while the going’s good. Indeed, so doing and thereby threatening to bring so much nearer the time when there won’t be enough herring left to make fishing for them worth while, is likely to make all concerned far more eager than they now appear to be to agree upon and introduce measures of conservation. As Dr Samuel Johnson so cogently observed: “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight’s time, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”.

If anybody happens to be in the market for a UK herring industry opera, this would be the basis for its big aria. Something in it speaks to Hamlet’s There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow soliloquy.

Reduction plants

British herring fishing had traditionally been focused on human consumption. To cope with their indiscriminate catches Norway, Denmark and Iceland had long since developed reduction plants for the production of herring oil and fishmeal.

Herring oil was used in manufacturing high explosives and had been key to the German war effort. With this in mind, in 1941, 570 British commandos had destroyed four Norwegian fish oil plants on the island of Måløy. Fishmeal is less exciting, mainly used agricultural feed (complaints of mass-produced Danish pork tasting of fish are not uncommon).

After the war, the HIB encouraged the development of the UK’s own fish processing plants, mostly in Scotland. The surplus herring was transported from port to plant by road and rail, but there were problems. After complaints about the smell, the board had to go to the unplanned expense of sealed steel containers. And then, after all the Board’s investment, in the late 50s Peru went and undercut European fishmeal.

The devastation of Peruvian anchoveta shoals led to a collapse in seabird populations and, consequently, guano production, but that’s another story. Well, all right, it’s the same story with different fish.

The Board did its best to keep going with its reduction plant strategy in the 1960s, but it became increasingly untenable.

The home market

The 1961 Annual Report admits, herring and kippers are not, unfortunately, items which appear either regularly or, indeed frequently in every housewife’s shopping-list. There’s a feature in the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s Family Fare recipe book (1960), A Herring Dish for Every Month of the Year and eight of its recipes come from earlier HIB publications in my collection. Names are sometimes changed and CWS margarine, chutney and salad cream are substituted for some of the original ingredients, but the Board’s hand in encouraging change in the housewife’s shopping list is clear.

The 1961 Annual Report reveals experiments with packs of kippers suitable for dispensing from coin-operated machines. There’s a nice 50s/60s Sci Fi feel to the idea, but the Modern Age clearly wasn’t ready for Vend-O-Kippers.  

Driven by a tragic sense of the herring simply not swimming with Britain’s changing times, the Board was always focused on its bones and the British housewife’s relentless search for increased convenience. Where the 1930s booklets had diagrams of how to fillet them, the monthly recipe leaflets of Have Herrings (1940s or 50s)all included features on canned herring dishes.

Have Herrings leaflets montage
Have Herrings, a Herring Industry Board envelope with nine monthly recipe leaflets, plus one to cover Spring

The board developed several experiments in fish freezing technology. In the early 50s at their Great Yarmouth plant, Birds Eye Frozen Foods developed prototypes of a herring fish finger, but by 1955 sampling groups of the British housewife had shown a clear preference for the alternative offering of cod.

Sometimes the gods themselves are against you.

The end

Around the same time as the Herring Industry Board was repackaging and updating its interesting educational facts in The Story of the Herring, it brought out a new edition of The Herring Book with colour spreads and entirely new recipes. I was sent a copy by a kind woman at Caledonian Oysters, but, in trying to get an exact date for it, I haven’t yet found another copy online.

Maybe distribution was paused with the 1977 moratorium on herring fishing. In 1981 the Herring Industry Board was merged with the White Fish Authority to for the Sea Fish Authority. With no one to fight its corner anymore, even though herring fishing started up again, fewer and fewer found their way to the fishmongers’ slabs of Great Britain.

Acknowledgements

In writing this entry on the Herring Industry Board, I have drawn on two articles by the excellent Chris Reid of Portsmouth University, From Boom to Bust: The Herring Industry in the Twentieth Century (2000, included in England’s Sea Fisheries: The Commercial Sea Fisheries of England and Wales since 1300, ed Starkey, Reid & Ashcroft, Chatham Publishing) and Underutilization, Undersupply, and Overfishing in the Herring Industry 1930 – 1980: A Case Study in the Evolution of Britain’s Productivist Fisheries Policy (2020, included in Too Valuable to be Lost: Overfishing in the North Atlantic, ed Garrido & Starkey, De Gruyter Oldenbourg).

I’d also like to thank Leila Burrell-Davis and Ros Castell for the Great Yarmouth Cookery Demonstrations 1938 Souvenir edition of The New Herring Book, @Oyster_Lady of Caledonian Oysters for her mother’s 1970s Herring Book and Nod Knowles for the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s Family Fayre (1960) with its A Herring Dish for Each Month of the Year promotion.

Parliamentary Herring Industry Debate, 1937

A big thanks to Hansard for this transcript of the herring industry debate. I’ve reformatted it and clarified some of the MPs names and constituencies. It’s always a joy to sample the quality of our masters’ deliberations…

Parliamentary herring industry debate, 22 July 1937

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £35,000, 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, 1938, for Grants in Aid of the general administrative and other expenses of the Herring Industry Board and of the Herring Marketing Fund.” Note: £17,000 has been voted on account.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

I think it is of interest that this Debate, although it takes place on the Scottish Estimates day, is in fact a United Kingdom Debate. The Herring Industry Board is a United Kingdom body, and, as was pointed out when the scheme was going through the House, although the headquarters of the industry are in Scotland, the Board itself covers the United Kingdom, and, as its activities cover the United Kingdom, any of its functions can be raised today. That is specially necessary in connection with the herring industry, because, although we have two Ministries, the Scottish Fishery Board and the English Department of Fisheries, the herring fishing is, as we all know, one fishing, and its problems cannot be considered separately for Scotland and for England. Consequently, the Minister, that is, the joint Minister, as the spokesman of the Board, has to justify the Estimates laid before the House.

It appears that this will be the only occasion on which the great British industry of fishing can be discussed this Session. The herring and white fishing play an important part in the life of the nation. Last year the British Fisheries produced 1,000,000 tons of fish, valued at the ports of landing at £15,750,000. Of these herring were a small fraction. The weight was 278,000 tons and the value £2,405,000. The herring and white fishing industry are also closely bound up together and in discussing, as we shall do, the affairs of the herring industry we must not forget entirely that the white fishing industry is also going through a difficult time and is making very active efforts to reorganise itself, the result of which efforts will come before the House, I hope, next Session.

But the economic importance of the fisheries is even greater in Scotland than in England. It is specially so in the case of the herring industry. The Board, accordingly, shows a reasonable division between Scotsmen and Englishmen for a United Kingdom body – six Scotsmen and three Englishmen. The most remarkable thing about the report is that it has been signed unanimously. It is signed by the Chairman, Sir Thomas Whitson, of Edinburgh, Mr Adam Brown, of Fraserburgh, Mr Gordon Davidson, of Glasgow, Mr William Forman, of Peterhead, Mr Mitchell, a curer, and also by Mr Neil Mackay, who, though his activities are mostly in England, is interested in the large curing industry in Scotland also. It is all the more interesting since the report does not entirely flatter our Scottish pride, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Board and its members for the very frank way in which they have stated conclusions which are in many respects not flattering to those who come from North of the Tweed.

The great industry of the herring fishing is the following of the shoals down the coast. We are fortunately placed, in that the track of the great shoals runs parallel to our east coast and, consequently, the fishers continually have the shoals before them as they pass down from Lerwick past Peterhead, past the Northumberland ports, right down to Yarmouth and Lowestoft and in some cases right down into the English Channel. The herring is a perishable fish and it is that perishable quality that has led to the great and important industry of herring curing. It is also that perishable quality that has led to certain incidents in the industry which have, perhaps, attracted more attention than they deserve in comparison with the importance of the industry itself. I refer to the temporary gluts which take place from time to time and on which the House feels very keenly that, having been once caught, any portion of the catch should be surrendered. It appears to some Members to be a paradox, an anomaly and even a crime.

Let me explain how this glut arises. I have said that the essential feature of the herring industry is the track of the great shoals right down the east coast from the northern islands. It has another feature. As the shoals reach our coasts in the first instance, the fish are not of such good quality as they are later on, and the May and June herring are not of such good quality as those that are taken in the autumn catch. The early summer herring used to be caught in great numbers and were sold for the export trade. Our people, fastidious and well supplied with food, have always shown themselves very chary of anything in the way of cured herring taken from the earlier shoals.

Mr Robert Boothby, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

Is it not a fact that the July Scotch herring is the cream of the whole?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

I do not wish to go into detail. I am doing my best to keep to the 15 minutes to which Scottish Members desire that I should limit myself. I will not go into the particular quality of a particular catch taken off a particular constituency, but I think in general the summer herring are for the export trade and the difficulty has been that that portion of the trade has become more and more difficult in recent years. In the far distant ports, for instance Lerwick, and even ports relatively distant, such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh, which though very near important centres, such as Aberdeen, are at a greater distance from the more important centres of population in the South, these highly perishable fish are taken in great numbers. A glut arises and herring are rejected, not in the sense of being thrown away to preserve the price but simply because it is not physically possible to handle them and get them as fresh herring to any place where they can be eaten in time. In so far as the destruction of fish can be explained by merely physical reasons, that they could not be processed in time to be brought to a place where they could be eaten, I hope the Committee will accept that as a full explanation. What is resented is the case, if such cases exist, where fish fit for consumption, near a market, are destroyed wantonly, or merely for the purpose of keeping up the price.

In the summer the fishing from Peterhead, Fraserburgh and other ports, such as Lerwick and Stornoway, inevitably leads to a certain number of gluts. I hope I can convince the Committee, from the examination that I have been able to give to the question, that these gluts arise from physical causes and that it will never be possible entirely to avoid gluts of herring when a large catch is landed at a distant port. Later on, during the curing season, it is seldom that any dumping takes place. As far as I am advised, if it takes place it is due to the fact that the staff and the plant are physically incapable of dealing with the whole catch, or that the herring reach port in such poor condition that they are not worth curing. No organisation can ever be maintained at a point where it will deal with very rarely recurring peak conditions and, if you were to retain the overhead charges of an organisation which could deal with the whole catch when every boat has come home fully loaded, you would be maintaining an overhead which would be itself a heavy burden on the industry.

There are no doubt occasions upon which a dispute arises between the curers and the fishermen as to whether, when there is an exceptional catch, the curers can pay the price asked, for to deal with such a catch exceptionally expensive processing must be undertaken, and naturally at that point the curers want a reduction upon the price they have previously paid and the fishermen naturally object to that reduction. My information is that in such cases it is very seldom that a dispute arises, that in most cases the two get together, and by turning a blind eye to some regulation or other they come to an amicable arrangement. But I do not deny that there may be some cases in which an actual destruction of fish takes place under these conditions. They are, however, extremely rare. The whole of the dumping of fish, taken together, amounts to not 1 per cent of the catch in the year, and 99 per cent of the fish caught are, in fact, brought to shore and used as human food. That perhaps helps the Committee to put in better proportion an essential feature of fishing – the occasional dumping.

Mr David Kirkwood, Dumbarton District of Burghs

Is the statement authentic that 99 per cent of the catch is not destroyed and that only 1 per cent is lost by being put into the sea again?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

Yes, I took great care to work out the facts. I am giving the figures for the year 1936 and those are the exact facts for that year. It was a fairly average year as these things go. With a full sense of responsibility I say that the average consumption of these fish caught around our shores is 99 per cent of the fish caught; one fish out of 100 may be thrown away, but the remaining 99 are brought to shore and used for food.

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

That refers to herring?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

Yes, it refers to herring. The proportion of white fish is different, because white fish keep better. Let me give the House two figures. In 1913 the British catch was 588,000 tons and in 1936 278,000 tons. That is a measure of the enormous falling off in the take of this industry. I do not think that the falling off is due to a shortage of fish. The herring are there to be taken, but what I have already stated shows that what we are dealing with is not the fact that an odd fish, one out of 100, goes back to the sea, but the failure to take the 200,000 to 300,000 tons which could be taken if the industry was on the same scale as it was before the War. The difficulty, of course, arises very largely in the export market, and there again let us recall the difficulties of other sections of the fishing industry as well as those of the herring section. The herring is an export fish, the white fish industry is an import industry, and the interests of the two sections are divergent. At one moment our white fishermen come and say, “We wish you to cut down the German quota of fish landed in this country, for you are putting our people out of work;” and at the same moment the other fishermen say, “By hook or by crook you must succeed in getting our quota of fish into Germany extended, or we shall be out of work.” Those are the difficulties of the post-war world. But they are the difficulties with which the Herring Board has to grapple.

Let us remember these difficulties when we feel inclined, as some people or some Members of the Committee do, to raise our fists to high Heaven and call for the heads of nearly all those who sit on this side of the Committee. 

[Interruption.] 

If my Hon Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby) were in Russia today, he would be foremost in campaigns against wreckers. The problem before the Herring Board was a very difficult one. It called not only for energy and wise administration on the Board’s part, but for the co-operation and sympathetic understanding of the industry. No doubt the two sides have honestly tried to carry out the trust imposed upon them. I cannot claim, and I do not think they claim, that every step they have taken has been the very best that could have been taken, but I would also say that the industry itself has from time to time not been blameless in its attitude towards the Board. It has been a little apt to consider the Board as a committee of archangels sent to lift it out of its troubles, and not as a number of very human men, most themselves engaged in the industry, bending their energies to deal with the extraordinarily difficult problem which I have detailed to the Committee.

One of the main complaints made by the industry is that sufficient energy has not been displayed in recapturing the export markets. Take two of the great export markets, Soviet Russia and Germany. The characteristic of the purchases of Soviet Russia is that they are made by very hard-fisted buyers. In Russia you have the whole of that industry united in one single control of an ironclad character, and it is one of the hardest bargainers in the international trade. The quantities sold to Russia vary very much – from 12,000 barrels in 1930 to 105,000 barrels in 1935 and down to 20,000 barrels in 1936. The two last years, 1935 and 1936, exemplify the character of the Russian purchases, in that the 105,000 barrels were sold on contracts and for these the price was only 27s or rather less; and in the case of the 20,000 barrels the Board refused or failed to negotiate a contract, and these herring were sold at the market price. When Soviet Russia had to pay the market price it paid 35s a barrel for herring which the previous year it had bought at 27s. That explains the uneasiness of the Herring Board in coming into close bargaining with these extremely acute business men.

It is easier to deal with the comparatively mild and unbusinesslike purchasers of Nazi Germany. They purchase herring in enormous quantities and they buy them at the market price. As against the Russian purchases of 20,000 barrels and 105,000 barrels and 70,000 barrels the German purchase has run pretty steadily to such figures as 406,000 barrels in 1932; 375,000 in 1933; 258,000 in 1934; 438,000 in 1935; and 417,000 in 1936. It is true to say that the Central European market is proving more easy to sell in than the Eastern market of European Russia; the middle of the Baltic is easier than the far end, because in addition to the German purchases there are the Polish purchases, which are very important. We sold to Poland in 1932, 238,000 barrels; 213,000 barrels in 1933; 246,000 barrels in 1934; 269,000 in 1935; and 309,000 barrels in 1936. It is impossible, of course, to leave out of account altogether the influence of trade agreements in these matters, and the trade agreements have helped, I think. But let us not deceive ourselves. There are signs of a strong effort being made by Germany to develop her own fishing and to catch her fish for herself. We have to watch these developments of fishing fleets in other countries.

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Is it not the case, as stated in the Annual Report of the Fishery Board, on page 25, that all imports of fish to the German market are regulated by a committee just as the Russian market purchases are regulated, and that British exporters have the same difficulty with regard to price in Germany as in Russia?

Mr William Thorne, West Ham Plaistow

Are the German fishermen entitled to fish in the same waters as our people from Scotland and England?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

Yes, certainly; these are international waters and anyone can fish in them. They are outside the three-miles limit. The herring shoals are out of sight of land very often.

Mr Frederick Macquisten, Argyll

They are fishing in Loch Fyne sometimes.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

There are very few Germans who fish in Loch Fyne.

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

What about the reference that I have mentioned?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

Of course it is true that in both Russia and Germany the import trade is highly regulated, but I think that the figures I have given show that up to the present it has been possible to sell a very much larger number of herring to Germany, and, indeed, to Poland, than to Russia. The price has been much closer to the world price than the very closely negotiated price obtained for the relatively small number of herring which the Russian market was willing to take. If we can get an improvement of international conditions then no doubt a general improvement of this export trade can be expected. But the white fish industry and the herring industry are to some extent at loggerheads, and we must take both their difficulties into account when we call for the utmost efforts to be made to get our export trade going again and to get fish into these foreign markets. That does not leave out of account the question of the most efficient and the most economical production of the herring here at home.

Mr David Kirkwood, Dumbarton District of Burghs

Before the Right Hon Gentleman leaves the question of exports of herring, what about our trade with America? Is our export of herring to America increasing or decreasing?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

The Board has published a very interesting table showing figures which include America. The figures of the American trade have recently been declining. I think that that is partly due to a falling off in the catch. There were 24,000 barrels exported in 1935, but the figure had come down to 18,000 barrels in 1936. There was some difficulty with the catch; there was not the same amount of herring available last year, but leaving the catch on the market resulted in a much higher price being paid for the fish. I do not wish to go into details; they are given at great length on page 16 of the report of the Herring Industry Board.

Mr David Kirkwood, Dumbarton District of Burghs

The great majority of those interested will read the report of these proceedings during the weekend.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

I believe that the people engaged in this trade read anything that is connected with the prosperity of their industry very closely indeed.

Mr David Kirkwood, Dumbarton District of Burghs

There are hundreds of people who will never see this report.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

What I am now saying will be of value to them and will excuse the trespass which I am making upon the time of the Committee. On the question of the production or economic catching of herring, the report of the Herring Industry Board is really of very great value indeed. They have compared the results achieved by the Northern and the Southern half of this industry, and even the most vehement of us who come from the North must admit that it makes very strange reading. On page 9, after reviewing the catchings, they say: These figures show a difference in favour of the English vessels of 42 per cent in the amount of crans per landing and over 34 per cent in earnings per vessel. They go on to say: Even if full allowance is made for the greater knowledge of the English fishermen of their home grounds it seems that this difference must be attributed in the main to general inefficiency due to the effect of autumn weather upon vessels and gear which had become inefficient owing to long continued lack of repair and maintenance, but if these disabilities were removed and the vessels and gear put into good order there is no reason why the Scottish earnings from week-day fishings should not be on a scale comparable with those of the English. It is true that the facts seem to show that the English system is, for some reason or other, better fitted to existing conditions than the Scottish system, and I have been asked what the difference is. The general reason I have been given is that the English fishing is conducted by much larger units than the Scottish fishing. I do not mean in larger boats, but in larger aggregations of boats. It is done by companies, and these companies are able to give better service and also – and this is very important – to stand the loss which occasionally arises from accidents due to storm or to stress of weather. The companies are able to stand the expenditure upon an individual boat much better than an individual whose whole capital is invested in the undertaking. This is a further rather unpalatable fact. The English boats keep at sea longer than the Scottish boats. The Scotsman, with his whole capital invested in one boat, when a storm begins to rise and the sky becomes overcast, not only risks his life, but his gear, and, therefore, makes for home. The Englishman, with the very much greater resources of a company behind him, is willing to take the risk, and very often successfully takes the risk, and thereafter he is on the spot to begin fishing again, whereas his Scottish colleague has run for port and has to make his way out again to the fishing ground. He meets, on his way out to the fishing ground, his English competitor coming in fully loaded to meet a short market.

Sir James Henderson-Stewart, Fife Eastern

Is the Right Hon Gentleman satisfied that this is a fair general picture of the position between the two countries? It does not seem to me to be quite a fair representation of the Scottish fisherman’s job.

Mr George Garro-Jones, Aberdeen North

I do not wish to interrupt the Right Hon Gentleman’s very interesting survey, but is it not the fact that the value of this comparison is almost entirely set off by the fact that it does not take into account the comparative cost of running the two fleets, the English fleet being known to have larger overhead and other charges than the Scottish fleet.

Mr Frederick Macquisten, Argyll

Is not the fish caught by the Scottish fishermen much fresher than that caught by the English fishermen? Is not Loch Fyne-caught fish landed beautifully fresh; and it is not much better than fish sold in London?

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

Loch Fyne is nearer Glasgow than the Dogger Bank is to London. You cannot get away from that fact. The Lower Clyde is very near to a great centre of population, but I do not wish to go into that point. Fish is certainly fresher if a man has been on the Bank all night and has risked the weather and then comes in with a cargo of fish, than is the case of fish caught by someone who has been hanging about. The Hon Member for East Fife (Mr Henderson-Stewart) asked if that is a fair picture. It is just that danger which makes me unwilling to dogmatise. I think we should be rash in coming forthwith to a conclusion on this matter. I am only telling the House what has been told me. Moreover, a private individual who gives up his trade and independence to a large company will have the greatest difficulty in ever recovering it again. We must be sure, before we urge people into a collective system, that they will get benefit from it.

I would say in reply to the Hon Member for North Aberdeen (Mr Garro Jones) that I do not think it can entirely be said that the extra takings of English vessels are offset by the extra costs. The board have a paragraph on the point. In paragraph 45 they say: When statements on the above lines have appeared in the Press they have been met by the criticism that a comparison of gross earnings leads to fallacious conclusions and by the suggestion that the English owners of vessels and nets and the English crews are no better off in the long run for their longer and more intensive fishing because their extra earnings are all absorbed by –  I think that that was the Hon Member’s point –  additional expenses. They give figures to show that that is not entirely borne out, at least by arithmetic, since they show that: the English owner has more than two-and-a-half times as much money available to meet the costs of maintenance and repair of his vessel and nets, depreciation and overhead charges as had his Scottish competitor. I do not think that this discussion is yet settled, but in drawing attention to these comparative figures, the Board have performed a valuable service to the industry, and more particularly to those of us who are interested in the Scottish industry. Here is a point to which this House, the industry and the Herring Industry Board will need to devote attention. It is no use saying that we should get out of our difficulties by some grant, or subsidy or other. The difficulty lies far deeper. It has been suggested in a memorial put forward that a subsidy should be granted to the herring industry. That is a very curious remedy, and the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston), who has so often, and quite rightly, inveighed against selling milk to Czechoslovakia at a price lower than that at which we can get it over here, would also comment on the fact if, by reason of a subsidy, we were selling to Continental nations, either to Russia or to Germany, herring at prices below those at which the poorer people in this country could get them.

Mr Robert Boothby, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

There is this difference. The Germans and the Russians like raw salt herring and our people will not eat them.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

I would not like to be given the task of justifying to an unemployed man in Bridgeton the selling of herring to Russia at half the price at which I was willing to sell it to him. It has often been suggested that in some way or other we should deal with the question of gluts by picking out the poorer classes of the community and making the herring available to them at cheaper prices. But we might run into very considerable difficulty. That seems to be getting pretty close to the old theory of relief in kind. We have to sell herring to people because they like herring, and not because we have got a lot of herring and want to get rid of it. There is nothing that the unemployed would resent more than feeling that they were the dumping ground for some surplus food product.

Mr William Gallacher, Fife Western

You try it.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

I can imagine the Hon Member for West Fife (Mr Gallacher) making a very effective speech on the subject.

Mr William Thorne, West Ham Plaistow

That does not apply to feeding necessitous children.

Mr Walter Elliot, Glasgow Kelvingrove

You cannot feed necessitous children on raw salt herring. I can imagine nothing which would upset a child more.

We must make every effort to develop the export market, but also I do not take the view of the memorialists, that the home market is saturated and cannot absorb more herring. I think there is every reason to think that it can absorb more herring. We are more likely to find an outlet there than before especially now that times are more prosperous and there is more employment about and more purchasing power in the hands of the people. The northern half of the industry is taking less fish and less money than the southern half, and the northern half is less highly organised than the southern half. Would the northern half be willing to work under the mere highly organised conditions of the south and take more fish and more money? The Board do not come to a conclusion on that point and I am disinclined to come to a conclusion on that point myself. I shall consider very carefully the further investigations of the Board, and I shall especially value the opinions of Hon and Right Hon Members of this House.

The fact is that the industry is undoubtedly still in a very serious position. At the same time, the position is not without hope. The value of herring landed in Great Britain went up from £1,519,000 in 1934, to £1,960,000 in 1935, and to £2,406,000 in 1936. Between 1934 and 1936 the increase was over £800,000, or 33 per cent It is the same for the earnings of the average drifter, even for the Scottish drifter. In 1934 the average earnings were £915, and in 1936 they were £1,685. It, therefore, seems that the position, though difficult, has hopeful features in it, and it is clear that there is a living in the herring industry for many thousands of our own people. It is to the improvement of their position and to the extension of the industry that the Committee, Parliament and the Herring Board must bend all their efforts in the immediate future.

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.

I move the reduction with a view to calling attention to the perilous plight of the herring industry in Scotland and the extraordinary document which has been issued by the Herring Industry Board. I have never read a more depressing White Paper. It goes to the length of discussing whether our great herring industry may some day be lost to us. It is a document the writers of which spend most of their time in trying to prove that nothing can be done for the industry. Every proposal that is put to them for aiding the industry in the difficult times through which it is passing is politely pushed aside for one reason or another. That attitude the Right Hon Gentleman has endorsed this afternoon, with the exception of his closing sentences.

What is the position in which we find ourselves? I spent some time yesterday in the Library looking through the census figures, and I noticed that in the county of Aberdeen the fishing population has fallen by one-third in the last 10 years. I looked at the report of the Ministry of Fisheries for June of this year and I saw that 70 trawlers were laid up in Aberdeen Harbour. We have it officially stated that the Buckie herring fleet is only now at one-half its pre-War strength and that it is disappearing at such a rate that in five years it will have disappeared altogether. One drifter goes every 10 days. Steam drifters are disappearing at the rate of 12 per cent per annum, and the value of the fishing fleet is falling by £68,000 per annum. What is the remedy? What are we told this afternoon? There are 58,000 workers employed in the industry either at sea or on shore. I am not sure whether that figure includes the workers employed in curing, but leaving aside the question of whether or not the curers are included, it is a fact that the men, women and children depending upon the industry number somewhere about 250,000 persons. Yet the Herring Fishery Board in regard to herring, which are our greatest catch, have nothing positive to offer, nothing immediate, nothing really hopeful to put before us.

I want to devote myself this afternoon to constructive rather than destructive criticism. I have no reason to contradict what the Right Hon Gentleman said about the personnel of the Herring Board. I know nothing about them personally. The Hon Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby) has views on the personality of the Board and perhaps he will state them. It is not with the individuals that I am concerned. I want to see whether it is possible within what we call the capitalist method of production and distribution to find a better living for the people who are now engaged in this industry. If it is not possible to continue as we are doing, with competing sections operating for profit and all failing in the process, is it possible to suggest alternative methods?

I have been at some pains to go into this matter. There are two markets for our herring, the home market and the foreign market. The home market is, roughly, one-third of the total. Obviously, the remedy that must be applied or sought for must be different. In regard to the home market the Right Hon Gentleman has dismissed, with some rather injudicious phrases, the idea that we should supply any herring surplus to the normal quantities that the markets can take, cheaply to the needy and the poor who cannot purchase at present prices. He said it would be an insult to the poor – I did not take down his words exactly – to ask them to consume this food at lower prices. I dispute that entirely. It is no insult to the poor to consume cheaper milk either in schools or elsewhere. It is no insult to the poor to get reductions in house rents.

It is a vital necessity both to consumers and producers that there should be as few barriers as possible between the worker who produces good food and the empty stomachs in our industrial areas. I have heard all sorts of fancy objections put up against a scheme of that kind. I am told that we cannot maintain a permanent system of distribution to deal with occasional surpluses or exceptional gluts. That is true, and nobody has ever proposed anything of the sort. Last Friday I met a number of directors of the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, with their fishery buyers, and I have had a letter from them this morning confirming what was said to me last Friday. Here is the greatest trading organisation in Scotland – whether one likes co-operative societies or private traders does not matter – with agencies in every industrial town, and every industrial village in Scotland and the co-operative wholesale society directors – I can give the Right Hon Gentleman the secretary’s letter to me – declare that they are willing to place their great organisation at the disposal of the Secretary of State, to ask for no profit at all, in order to deal with this question of occasional surplus and to see to it that these surpluses reach the stomachs of the poor in the depressed areas at the minimum possible price. That is not an offer that can be derided. It is not an offer that the Secretary of State can turn aside with a joke about poor people, babies and toddlers eating salt herring.

Here are masses of our people not getting enough to eat, here is probably the most nutritious fish in the market, as the herring certainly is when it is fresh, and here are the hungry and distressed fishing population. It is our duty to organise production and distribution in such a way that production shall not be for profit but for use, and we have the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society saying that they are willing to work a scheme without profit. I suggest to the Secretary of State that without further ado he should get one or two of the very able young civil servants on his staff, than whom there are none abler in Whitehall – they are not a band of no-men such as they collect at the Treasury; they are men with open and agile minds, willing to break new ground – and send them to negotiate with the Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society and see what is in the proposal.

Mr Pierse Loftus, Lowestoft

Is the proposal to distribute fresh herring during periods of glut or to salt and distribute them?

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I am talking about fresh herring during periods of glut. I said that the herring when it is fresh is the most nutritious fish. The Secretary of State said that only 1 per cent of our herring catch was thrown back into the sea in 1936. That may be true, but it does not face up to the fact that you are deliberately restricting your market. That is the policy of the Herring Industry Board. You are buying up trawlers and vessels and destroying vessels. You are limiting the output in every possible way, and when the Right Hon Gentleman says that only 1 per cent of the fish caught are destroyed that does not meet the whole difficulty. The point is that the fishing population is steadily on the decline and that you are throwing more and more upon the Poor Law and public assistance at a time when the people ought to eat more fish.

I should like briefly to refer to the export market. I want to keep strictly to my time limit in order to set a good example to other Hon Members. The Right Hon Gentleman told us something about the Russian and German purchases. Here, again, he ought to send his ablest civil servants. I do beg of him not to accept these cast-iron, individualistic, nonsensical stories that are being handed out. I have been to the Russian buying organisation in London this week. I had a discussion with the officials, and I have the figures. I have the inside story of prices. I know what they are paying for their herring and I know what they are willing to negotiate upon. We sold to Russia last year 4,450 tons of fish. I cannot translate it into crans and barrels. They bought 10,330 tons from Holland and 6,280 tons from Norway. For the 6,280 tons from Norway they paid about 650,000 roubles less than they had to pay for our 4,450 tons. There is something to be looked into here, something to be examined. I have seen their papers and I am prepared to stand by these figures. You cannot develop a trade on those lines.

What are the Russians prepared to do? If the Right Hon Gentleman can organise something in the nature of a co-operative organisation among the fishermen and curers in Scotland, the Russians are willing to deal with them on this basis, that they will take at the normal market price whatever it is, a bigger proportion of the catch at that price than they bought last year. The Right Hon Gentleman hardly did justice to the Russian market. It is true that they bought 20,000 barrels last year, but there have been years when they have bought 700,000 barrels, and 750,000 barrels.

Mr Frederick Macquisten, Argyll

How long ago?

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I think that was in 1911. This is a great market, an almost unlimited market. They are willing to take salted fish, the peasants like it, and they are willing to pay for it. In 1931 I was set the task in the Labour Government of trying to get trade going quickly, and I induced the Russian Government to give us £6,000,000 of orders for the engineering firms in this country, and I got credits extended to Russian trade. They are willing to take more barrels of any alleged surplus at a lower rate, which can be agreed upon. We have sold herring to Russia at 22s 6d a barrel, the price last year was 26s. It is always fluctuating. Why not give a firm deal to these people. They are not fools. If they can buy herring cheaper in Norway and Holland they will do so; but they are friendly disposed to us. Credits have been extended; and all the credits granted by the Government have not been eaten up. I hope the Right Hon Gentleman will send one or two of his staff to discuss the matter with Mr Bogomoloff, Mr Pickman and Dr Segal of the Russian delegation, and the appalling state of affairs on our Scottish coasts can be tackled. It can only be tackled by co-operation at both ends. Individualism must go. Waste within the industry must disappear. If the Government will examine the problem on these lines then the expectation printed in a Government document that the day may come when we shall see the last of our herring industry, need no longer be printed in a Government publication.

Sir Archibald Sinclair, Caithness and Sutherland

I join with the Right Hon Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston) in protesting against the pessimism in regard to the future which marks the report of the Herring Board, and also in emphasising the present depression in the industry. There is the formidable paragraph on page 6 of the report where they point out that: When the proper deductions from the total revenue realised by the catchers are made for the value of herrings caught by trawlers, ring-netters and inshore fishermen the amount remaining is not sufficient for the maintenance of the main drifting fleet and their crews. It is from that that all the ills of the herring fishery flow. The unemployment figures in these ports are tremendous. In Wick it is 28 per cent, Peterhead 21 per cent, Buckie 20 per cent, Lerwick 20 per cent and Stornoway 43·8 per cent These percentages were for the period when the herring fishing season was getting into its stride – the end of June. A few months before they were much worse. At the beginning of July there was a total collapse of the industry in some places, and in Wick, one of the principal fishing ports in Scotland, there was one day when only three arrivals of herring fishing boats took place. What are the causes? The report points out a number of them. There is first the lack of resilience in the home market. I have always doubted whether the home market would fulfil the expectations which many Hon Members have expressed, and actually, in spite of all the efforts made by the Board, the consumption at home declined last year from 491,000 cran to 473,000 cran. Nevertheless, the Board point out that you cannot judge by one year’s efforts, and it is reasonable to suppose that these efforts will show greater fruits in later years. They mean to continue them, and I wish them luck, but at the same time I hope they will consider new ideas such as that of working with the Co-operative Wholesale Society as suggested for by the Right Hon Member for West Stirling. It was impossible for the Right Hon Gentleman in a speech of a quarter of an hour to develop the ideas he has, but I hope the Secretary of State will go carefully into the prospect of developing the home market on the lines suggested by him.

I was not convinced by what the Secretary of State said that the poor would regard it as an insult to have herring at a cheap price. We have a milk scheme to give people, who cannot afford to pay the ordinary prices of milk, cheap milk, and a potato scheme was tried in one depressed area. Why cannot we have a herring scheme? I do not suggest that the Government should rush into a great scheme embracing the whole country next week, but, at any rate, let us have an experimental scheme and it may be that something may come out of the proposal put forward by the Right Hon Gentleman. Why cannot we have an experimental scheme on these lines in some great centre of population for the sale of herring at cheap prices to the unemployed, and to those who cannot afford to buy them at the ordinary market price? At any rate, I am sure that it is only on lines such as these that you will be able to develop the home market. I doubt very much whether it is capable of much development on normal lines. But far more important is the need for developing the foreign market. The Board point out in paragraph 83 that: It is impossible to increase trade with certain countries because of the existence of import duties which when added to the cost of production, processing and transport make the price almost prohibitive to the local population. That, of course, is another illustration of the fact that the tariff as a bargaining weapon has completely failed to make room for our exports in foreign countries. The Board also point out the need for lower catching and curing costs. That is a fundamental question, whether you are going to sell in the home market or in the foreign market. High prices, the Board point out in paragraphs scattered all over their report, have proved an obstacle to them in developing the home and foreign markets. The Secretary of State referred to the development of fishing fleets by Germany. That, of course, is part of their policy of autarchy upon which they have embarked. Dr Schacht declares that they have done so unwillingly and that they would much prefer to enter into a policy for the general lowering of trade barriers and a revival of overseas trade. In short, the main lesson to be drawn from the Herring Board’s report is that no industry stands to gain more – both by a reduction of its costs and by entry into foreign markets – from a policy of economic disarmament and freer trade than the herring fishing industry, and I wish I could believe that there was any prospect of the Government throwing itself into this policy, to which they constantly pay lip-service, with that energy and resolution and even that measure of ruthlessness which it requires for success.

Of course, of the foreign markets, Russia is the most important. The Right Hon Gentleman referred to the fact that the Russians were able to buy Dutch and Norwegian herring cheaper than Scottish herring. So can anybody else. They are not so valuable an article. Their price on the world market is lower than the price of Scottish herring. I agree with the Right Hon Gentleman that we should reorganise our fishing industry and assist in the development of its marketing organisation, but if he means that we are to recast our system in order to meet the views and convenience of the Russians I do not see why we should do that. It is only if he means that we should impart into our marketing arrangements the maximum degree of efficiency and deal with the Russians on level terms that I entirely agree.

As a matter of fact, one of the difficulties of dealing with Russia has been that they drive too hard a bargain. It has more than once happened that when the Board has tried to make a bargain at a certain price the Russians have refused it and afterwards they have come back and bought herring at the very price at which they were first offered them by the Board some months earlier. I agree with the Right Hon Gentleman in saying that we must put our own house in order, make ourselves as efficient as we can, but I would also say to the trading representatives of Russia to whose courtesy I should like to pay a tribute, or perhaps to say to their masters, that really in these troublous times in which we are living, when it is of vital importance that there should be friendship between the great Russian people and the people of these islands in the defence of great interests which we hold in common, it would be good policy if they would abandon their efforts to cut down the price of herring to the last shilling, and show their willingness to co-operate with us in restoring this industry which means so much to us in Scotland and to our people generally. They would be doing a good stroke of policy for Russia and for a better understanding between the two peoples.

In their report the Herring Board also draw attention to another problem, and that is the recruitment of women workers. It is getting more difficult to get women workers into the industry. Much has been done to improve the conditions of their work and I hope more will be done in the future. One of the difficulties is the difficulty about the unemployment insurance regulations. The women workers feel that the regulations are not fair. I do not intend to speak further on that matter, because it is not really a matter for which the Secretary of State is responsible; but as it greatly affects the interests of the fishing industry, for whose welfare the Right Hon Gentleman is so largely responsible, I ask him to consult his colleague the Minister of Labour on that point, which is brought to our attention in the report of the Board.

Time does not permit me to follow the Secretary of State in detail into his analysis of the Board’s statement about the comparative earnings of Scottish and English boats, but there are one or two remarks I would like to make on that, and I will do as the Right Hon Gentleman so prudently did, and refrain from dogmatism. The Board’s comments, and the comments made in certain letters and articles which appeared in the Daily Mail newspaper two or three weeks ago, seem to me to be unfair to the Scottish drifters and to show too little regard for the peculiarity of their circumstances. Scottish fishermen hold firmly to the system of individual and family ownership of their boats, or ownership by partners belonging to the local community. They would regard the prospects of company ownership with repugnance, for reasons connected with circumstances and traditions with which I fully sympathise. I would add that I do not believe that these English boats, which are supposed to be so successful, are all run by big companies.

Mr Pierse Loftus , Lowestoft

Hear, hear.

Sir Archibald Sinclair, Caithness and Sutherland

The Hon Member for Lowestoft (Mr Loftus) supports me. Many of them are owned by families and by quite small partnerships. It would be interesting to know whether the big companies in England are any more successful than these small partnerships. Moreover, in paragraph 38 it is pointed out that when the Scottish fishing boats meet the English boats on level terms, they get as good earnings as the English do; there is a difference of only £100 less for the Scottish – and their season was shorter. Another point to be remembered about the English boats is that their debts are much higher than the debts of Scottish boats. The English communities are much more deeply in debt. Therefore, we ought to approach the subject with care, and I was delighted that the Secretary of State refused to dogmatise about it and that he is keeping an open mind; but I would certainly lay it down that an alteration in the Scottish system of boat ownership ought not to be a condition of help from the State in the re-organisation of the fishing fleet.

What of future policy? First of all, it is vitally necessary to have new boats. As the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for West Stirling pointed out, the boats are now rapidly going out of use. There must be help in renewing the fleet. Moreover, the continual contraction of the fishing fleet is very dangerous from the standpoint of National Defence, a subject on which I have spoken before and which I will not elaborate now. Nevertheless I suggest to the Secretary of State that he might tell us whether there is any prospect of a retaining fee being paid to the owners of drifters who are prepared to hold them at the service of the State in the event of war. The mere re-conditioning of old drifters will not help. New boats are necessary. They cost about £6,000 each, and substantial help is required.

Secondly, a new sort of drifter is required. I have argued that for some years past, and I am glad to see that at last the Board are taking steps on these lines. Motor power will increasingly take the place of steam power, unless this new kind of steam drifter can be evolved. I hope that money will be available for experiments, and that a certain amount of priority will be given to them, even in these difficult times when so much of the Government’s resources is being devoted to Defence expenditure. Thirdly, I venture to say that too many restrictions are being issued by the Herring Board. Pages of this report are devoted to a list of all the restrictions which have been put on the work of the industry. We need to increase production and thus ease the burden of overhead charges. I hope that some such scheme as working with the Co-operative Society, if it will indeed help to get rid of surpluses and expand the home market, will assist towards that end.

In conclusion, I notice that the Board is to visit Scottish parts. I am sorry that Wick does not appear to be included in the itinerary, but I hope that that omission will yet be repaired. In my opinion, the Board ought not to return from Scotland, but ought to stay there, for that is its right place. One of the worst things in the report is to be found on page 2 where the address of the Board is given – 184, Strand, London. The Board ought to be in Edinburgh, for this herring fishing industry is much more a Scottish interest than it is an English interest. The powers of the Board should be extended, for it can do little at the present time except restrict. In England, with all its great industries – in London, the hub of the world’s commerce – the herring fishing industry may well seem insignificant and almost a superfluity, but it is indispensable to the economic life of Scotland. Let the Board throw off its pessimism and have faith in the future of the industry, and resolution to promote its revival.

Sir Arthur Harbord, Great Yarmouth

Hon Members are aware of the serious plight of the great herring industry. As is pointed out by the Board, that industry was placed in difficulties after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, but those difficulties were overcome largely because of a greater demand from the Continent. Of recent years, however, a lesser demand has adversely affected the industry. The Right Hon Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr T Johnston) said that Russia would be our good friend in the matter of buying herring, but my experience has been that the Russians try to cut down to the lowest possible figure the price they pay for our herring, which are of superior quality to the Norwegian herring. Incidentally, it must be remembered that the Norwegian fishermen catch the herring in the Fjords, which are quite near, and that they catch them in great volume, so that their catching costs are not as heavy as those which face our fishermen in the North Sea and elsewhere.

I ask the Government to give extended powers to the Board. I do not complain of the Board, for I believe that its chairman and members, faced with a difficult task, have conscientiously tried to better the conditions of all classes who are engaged in the herring industry. In my opinion, the Scottish boats are not kept in such good state as English boats; the English boats are better preserved than the Scottish boats. While I do not say that a complete reconditioning scheme could be adopted in the case of the fishing boats, there are certain classes of boats which have been well kept and well maintained and which, by wise expenditure, could be fitted to continue fishing.

I feel that the Government are unmindful of their obligations to the fishing industry. They have been most generous to the agricultural industry, giving it subsidies on meat, beet, wheat and beef, and excusal in the matter of rates, but when the suggestion is made that some subsidy should be given to the fishing community for purchasing new boats or reconditioning existing boats, every obstacle is placed in the way. During the Great War the fishing industry did great service to the country by minesweeping and mine-laying in all kinds of seas, in all conditions of rough weather, and with great loss of life. The work which those brave fellows did placed the Government under a great obligation to them. They helped to prevent the country from being starved into submission to its enemies. We need these fishermen as an auxiliary of our Navy.

The Right Hon Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) suggested that Germany would welcome arrangements which would promote freer trade, but I am doubtful whether that is so. By increased taxation of our imports they made it more difficult. Why are the Germans building their fishing fleet with such rapidity? It is because it will be an auxiliary of their navy and increase their armed strength. Russia is also building a fishing fleet. The difficulties which face our fishing industry are greater and harder than any which it has ever experienced before. The Government have not risen to the occasion. They have not sufficient faith in their own child, the Herring Industry Board. I urge them to give extended powers to that Board. The Government have such facilities of borrowing money at their disposal that they could scrap all the obsolete vessels at once and replace them by a smaller type of Diesel vessel, which as has been proved by recent experience, is more likely to be profitable and useful to the community. Such boats could be worked much more economically, thus puting the industry in a better condition to meet its competitors in foreign markets.

That help is due to that brave class of men whose bravery, heroism and sacrifice in the service of their country during the Great War earned such praise from Earl Beatty and Viscount Jellicoe. I am one of those who have not lost faith in the home market. I think it could be better exploited, and that there could be a greater consumption of British herring in this country. I do not think a sufficiently long time has passed for us to be able to judge the value of the publicity campaign. I believe that that campaign will have good results, and will lead to a greater consumption of herring by our people. I do not know whether the question of selling herring to Canada has been given sufficient attention. I should have thought that by the establishment of agencies there and by the use of various types of refrigerating craft it would be possible to send herring to Canada at a time when they would be very acceptable there. It is on those lines that assistance can be given to the industry. I thank the Fishing Industry Board for what they have done. I think they ought to receive encouragement rather than blame and that they ought to be backed up with greater financial assistance.

Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

I sometimes wonder to myself whether a rigid time-limit in these Debates is a good thing. This is the first occasion on which the herring fishing industry, which is vital to my constituency, has been discussed for a long time; and probably it will be the last for a long time to come. I could not help being impressed by the effect of the time limit on the speech of the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). All the way through, it seemed to me, he was on the brink of making an interesting speech; but just when he was coming to the point he would look at the clock and say, “I have not time to develop that point now.”

Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

Does the Hon Member mean to say that the Right Hon Gentleman did not make an interesting speech?

Mr Robert Boothby, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

At all events I am going to make an interesting speech. It took me 18 minutes to make it in my bedroom this morning, and it will probably take me 22 minutes here; but I ask the indulgence of the Committee, because of the importance of this subject to my constituents.

Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Will the Hon Member permit me to say that while he and every other Hon Member of the Committee has of course the right to speak, it should be recognised that the only possible way of allowing all those who wish to take part in the Debate to do so, is by agreement among Hon Members themselves? I would beg the Hon Member, who will have other opportunities of raising this matter, not to upset the arrangement.

Mr Robert Boothby, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

As far as I am concerned there never was an arrangement. I do not know of any arrangement. I only say this, that the herring fishing industry is discussed here once a year at the most; and to limit Hon Members who represent herring fishing constituencies to a quarter of an hour is not a very good plan. This time-limit is bad all round from the Scottish point of view, because Hon Members speak with their eyes on the clock and are in consequence unable to develop coherent arguments. However, as I have never signed anything on the dotted line as regards any agreement of the kind, I am going to make my speech or die in the attempt.

The first question for the Government to decide is whether or not this industry is worth preserving in the national interest. Germany, Holland and Norway have all subsidised their herring fishing fleets; and this is a matter to which the Government ought to give very serious consideration. I do not think that this or any other Government in this country can contemplate with equanimity the possible destruction of our herring fishing fleet. It was vital to our defence in the War. Like the Right Hon Gentleman opposite I have already said so much on this subject that I need not repeat it, and tributes have been paid by high naval authorities to the usefulness of the fishing fleet in preserving the safety of the battle fleet while it was in harbour. It is not so much the craft as the personnel of the fishing fleet that is of vital importance. The men are, as is generally admitted, magnificent seamen; and on any ground on which the matter may be considered, their services will be vital to the national safety should war ever come upon us again. The first request which I make to my Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State is that he should direct the attention of the Minister of Defence to this aspect of the question, and I am sure that if the Minister of Defence consults the Admiralty he will come to the conclusion that the preservation of the personnel of the fishing fleet, at least, is essential to the national safety.

Now I come to the report. It has not been very well received. Disappointing is scarcely the word for it. It really is nothing more than a despairing wail, and contains no constructive suggestion of any kind. I have in my constituency an admirable local paper which is entirely non-political and takes no party view, the Buchan Observer published in Peterhead; and in a leading article in that paper this week I find these words: Discouragement is writ all over the second Annual Report of the Board for which nobody in the industry or out of it appears to have a kind word to say. The Board has failed and the sooner this sad fact is acknowledged officially and acted upon, the better it will be for the industry and for the pocket of the taxpayers, because the simple truth is that the Board is not earning its keep. That is a comment by an impartial local newspaper representative of a town which is greatly interested in the conduct of the herring industry. I think it no exaggeration to say that the report has been a bitter disappointment to all those who entertained great hopes of the Board when it was first set up.

The Right Hon Gentleman, in reply to a question which I put to him on Tuesday, said that the whole of this year’s cure had been sold and appeared to derive great satisfaction from that fact. But, as he knows, to anyone who is not conversant with the facts of the industry that was a rather misleading reply. Of course, the cure up to date has been sold. It amounts to 194,762 barrels as against 268,873 barrels last year – an unusually poor fishing to date. As I said just now, in an interjection, the June and July herring which are caught off the coast of Scotland are regarded on the Continent as the cream of the year’s catch. And as neither the Dutch nor the Icelandic fishings have then begun to come on the market, it is always easy to get rid of this early part of the year’s catch. The difficulty comes later when the other big fishings come into the market and the autumn fishing cure has to be disposed of. I must also point out that there are 160 fewer drifters engaged in the Scottish fishing this year; and that Stronsay and Wick have practically been eliminated from the summer fishing. I do not think, therefore, we can take any satisfaction out of the fact that these 190,000 odd barrels have been disposed of, at prices which are not particularly remunerative to the curers, if we take the average of the whole lot. It is to the difficulties which lie ahead that I would direct attention. The report states: If our trade in pickled herring is to be developed and increased, the price of herring must be lower and in order that this may be achieved a reduction in the costs of production is essential. How are we to achieve that reduction? In pre-War days, we sold £1,000,000 worth of herring to Russia alone every year. We have now to deal with a very different, and a very difficult, situation. We are dealing with autarchic countries, with Germany and Russia, and with Poland which is also more or less an autarchic country. I think the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland went rather far when he tried to persuade us that there was a throbbing urge among the leaders of Nazi Germany towards economic cooperation and a revival of Free Trade. I think Dr Schacht holds very different views from those who are his masters at the present time, which makes his position doubly difficult. There is only one way of dealing with these countries as far as international trade is concerned, and that is by the establishment of strong centralised selling organisations on this side. To some extent, old-fashioned individualism has to give way when it come to trading with these autarchic countries overseas, where there is absolute Government control over all imports. “Single control of an ironclad character,” was the phrase used by the Secretary of State in referring to these countries; and I suggest we require something of the kind upon this side if we are to sell our herring to them successfully.

There should be established a central selling organisation with wide powers to buy and sell under the general direction of the Herring Industry Board, especially at the end of the season, after the million barrel cure has been reached, and when things become really difficult. I support what has been said to the effect that the Government will have to back up the Board in dealing with both Russia and Germany. I do not think that even the Board is powerful enough to deal with these great importing organisations in Germany and Russia which have behind them the whole weight and power of their Governments. It is necessary to bring political pressure to bear. If the speech of the Right Hon Gentleman opposite meant anything as far as Russia is concerned, he really suggested in polite language that we ought to put a political squeeze on the Russians to make them buy our herring, and I must say that I support him in that. After all, we have lent them £10,000,000 and some of that might well be spent on our herring, and we might suggest to them quite politely that unless they do spend some of it on herring we might be less solicitous in the future about the Ukraine than we would be in other circumstances. I think that is what the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for Caithness was really driving at although he did not quite like to go so far.

There is another point. I know that the Secretary of State is naturally a little touchy on the subject of bacon quotas. I have never been crazy about them myself, and I am informed by people of responsibility and knowledge in the herring trade, that the bacon quotas at present imposed upon Poland and Denmark and some of the Scandinavian and Baltic States are operating against our herring industry, and that if some modification of these quotas could be achieved, it would be very advantageous to the industry. I would, therefore, ask my Right Hon Friend to look into this matter very carefully, and see if something cannot be done.

And while we are dealing with the international aspect of the industry I would again point out that the Fishery Board itself has urged that the cost of production should be reduced as far as possible. We are not coming here to ask for subsidies right, left and centre; but there is one subsidy which would be of immense value, and would not be costly. A subsidy on coal. That is a practical matter which the Herring Board might take into consideration. The price of fuel has risen very sharply in the last six months, and it affects the price of herring. It enters directly into the cost of production. The Government have a precedent in that connection. They have given a rebate on the oil fuel tax to all fishing fleets. Would it not be possible for them, in conjunction with the Herring Board to examine the proposition of a Government subsidy on coal supplied directly to the drifters of the fishing fleet? I know of no other method which would so quickly reduce the cost of production.

I notice that the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for West Stirling seems to be growing a little uneasy, but I think that, even under his arrangement, I have still a few minutes left; and I would like to refer to the home market. Here again the question of price is important and so is the question of transport. I wish to ask why the Herring Board has not got into touch with three organisations, namely, the railway companies, the cooperative societies – and in that connection I am in complete agreement with the Right Hon Gentleman opposite – and, last but not least, the organisation of the Commissioner for the Special Areas. When the Secretary of State says that you cannot give herring to necessitous children, I want to know why. There is no more nutritious food in the world. The Right Hon Gentleman is a doctor and he ought to know that, apart from milk, it would do these children more good than any other food. I think it extraordinary that there is no mention in the report of any effort by the Board to get into touch with the three organisations which could help most effectively in the distribution of herring in this country. They do not seem to have made any attempt to reduce transport charges. They have never tackled the railways, or the co-operative societies, or the Commissioner for the Special Areas. As I say, it is a sideline by comparison with the foreign market; but it is nevertheless important.

To come back to the main issue, the consumption of raw salt herring is what the herring industry, in Scotland at any rate, is going in the end to stand or fall by; and that is, unfortunately perhaps, confined to a single area in Europe. It is most noticeable and interesting that the only valuable extensions of the market for raw salt herring during recent years have taken place in the United States of America and in Palestine, which are the two places to which these Northern and Central European populations have migrated on a large scale. Unless you tackle these markets, I do not think you will make a great extension of the market for salt herring elsewhere.

With regard to the fleet itself, the Duncan Committee, upon the recommendation of which the Herring Board was set up, wrote: To allow the fleet to continue to adjust itself by a process of attrition would be, in our judgment, a cruel and wasteful policy. … Orderly contraction of the fleet is imperative. I do not think the Board have quite carried out that recommendation. They have been too prone to allow the process of attrition to operate, in the cruellest possible way. They should be given powers, I submit to the Right Hon Gentleman, to purchase obsolete drifters at a reasonable price, and to make reconditioning grants for a limited number of good drifters. I think the Treasury control over the Board at the present moment is too tight. It is indeed the only excuse for this miserable report that I can see; but there is no doubt that the Treasury did insist upon the last levy on the industry, which I understand the Herring Board were reluctant to impose, and they insisted also that any grants should be a first mortgage on the boats, taking priority even of the banks. That is too hard. My Right Hon Friend had a tremendous success with the Treasury when he was Minister of Agriculture. He clawed millions and millions out of them then, and he has not been too bad since, so far as oats are concerned. Let him concentrate, so far as the Treasury is concerned, on herring for the next six months; and if he cannot get a direct subsidy, at any rate get them to ease up a hit; because the one excuse that the Board has got to offer for its present doleful report, is that the Treasury has been pretty stiff.

Some Hon Members have made a good deal of the disparity – and the report also makes a good deal of it – between the earnings of the Scottish and the English drifters, amounting to over £1,000 per boat in the autumn season. The report says that the English crews on an average earned £47 7s for 13 weeks’ work in the autumn fishing last year, as against £21 6s that the Scottish fisherman earned for his period of 8 weeks. Whatever anyone may say, that disparity is much too great, and there must be some cause for it. I think it is due to some extent to Sunday fishing, but if the Scottish fishermen are determined not to fish on Sundays, that is their look-out. You cannot force people to fish on Sundays, and they must be prepared to accept the sacrifice involved. But there is something more than Sunday fishing in this. What is it? Is it that the whole system of share-ownership has failed? Is it, as the Right Hon Member for West Stirling said, that individualism in this industry has got to go? It may be – I do not know – but the report says: It would clearly be futile to put the vessels into good order and provide efficient nets and gear without at the same time making provision for maintaining them in that condition So far as co-operation is concerned there can be little doubt that the cause of some at least of the troubles of the Scottish steam drifting industry lies in the fact that the individuals or small groups of individuals who own the vessels and nets possess as a rule slender financial resources and are liable to become embarrassed by comparatively minor accidents and misfortunes, which would hardly affect organisations of greater magnitude and financial resources. There seems to be no reason for doubting that appreciable advantage would be gained by the adoption of some form of pooling of resources or co-operation. I agree with every word of that, but the incredible thing is that there is not one single constructive suggestion in the report as to what form of pooling or cooperation should be carried out. For my part, I think, quite frankly, that the time has come when some form of cooperative company-ownership will have to be tried in Scotland. I have here a draft scheme, which I propose to submit to my Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State. Had it not been for the Right Hon Member for West Stirling, I had proposed to give the Committee a brief outline of the proposals which it contains, but I shall spare Hon Members that. I do ask my Right Hon Friend to consider these proposals as a constructive effort to solve the problem. It is, roughly speaking, a scheme by which the Herring Board and the fishermen should join together in the co-operative ownership of a company to construct new vessels and to purchase supplies of fuel, nets, and other supplies through one central source, and thus derive the advantages which a large organisation must have as against small individual owners, so far as financial accommodation and all the rest of it are concerned. There is no element of compulsion about the scheme, and there is no obligation on fishermen to enter into it. There is no question of a fisherman who does not enter it being deprived of any of the advantages of Government policy. But it is a constructive effort to solve the problem presented by the present system of share-ownership in Scotland, and, as such, I suggest that it deserves the serious attention of my Right Hon Friend.

In conclusion, while I have nothing to say against the individual members of the Herring Board, I think that on the whole it is a mistake to have so many members of a Board with a direct trade bias. The present members of the Herring Board have too many axes to grind, not their own axes, but the axes of the interests which they represent. There are too many sectional interests in the industry to be conciliated; and, in the nature of things in this particular industry, those different sections of the industry are often opposed to one other. I think it is time for plain speaking, and I propose to speak quite plainly in these last few sentences. This difficulty might be overcome if there were really strong direction and control at the top; but there is no such direction at present, and the result is a kind of tug-of-war on the Board between the conflicting interests which the members represent, and which ends too often in paralysis and in failure to make constructive recommendations of any kind, lest they should offend or upset one particular section of the industry.

You want somebody – and I really do believe this – who is prepared to cut through all the vested interests – and they are many and great – who can see the industry and visualise its problems as a whole, and who is not afraid, if necessary, to be ruthless. You want somebody like the Right Hon Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr Lloyd George); and I wonder whether my Right Hon Friend would not consider asking him to render a last and supreme service to his country by accepting the chairmanship of this Board. I used to think, in the old days, when my Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland first went to the Ministry of Agriculture that he himself had some of these characteristics, that he was prepared to drive forward ruthlessly, and cleave his way through all vested interests. I have not altogether abandoned that hope; but I must say that recently, and especially in view of his apparent defence of this report – which he knows as well as I do is quite indefensible – that that hope has been fading a little. I believe, and apparently the present members of the Board do not, that this industry can be saved. It is capable of being saved, but it wants vigorous action, direction, drive, and courage, to do it. I beg the Right Hon Gentleman to get a move on one way or another before it is too late; for the sands are running out.

I hope the Right Hon Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland will keep an open mind towards the suggestions which have been made to him. We who represent fishing constituencies have always been very much concerned that there is no Minister of Fisheries in Scotland. Why, I do not know, but the Right Hon Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr Lloyd George) might be prepared to undertake the task. I hope the Secretary of State will recognise his prime and almost sole responsibility to this House for the fishing industry in Scotland. Indeed, it is in a most parlous plight. It is true that, so far as the constituency which I represent is concerned, the herring fishery plays only a small part in it, but almost the same problems which are bringing ruin on the herring industry are bringing ruin on the white fish industry at the same time. Costs are rising up to about 50 per cent, prices are falling, and railway rates are rising. I wonder whether the Right Hon Gentleman has kept the one simple fact in his mind that the price received for fish on the wholesale market last March was 25 per cent below, and the retail price on the fishmonger’s slab was 100 per cent above, the corresponding pre-war price. That is the absolute root and centre of the problem. It is in the costs arising between the time when the fish leaves the ship and the time when it is sold to the public, and unless the Right Hon Gentleman is prepared to tackle that problem, I venture to predict that we shall remain saddled with this serious fishery problem.

I said that I hoped he would maintain an open mind, but I must say that I was not convinced that the Right Hon Gentleman has shed all his prejudices. In years gone by he made very bold efforts to get away from party and political prejudice, but on this subject I am not so sure that he is not weary of well doing, because when my Right Hon Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston) suggested that Russia should be supplied with herring at a cheap price, he was afraid to make himself responsible for that, lest the people of this country should complain that herring were being sold in Russia at a cheaper price than that at which they were being sold to them. Then, when my Right Hon Friend made a converse suggestion to the effect that herring should be distributed at a low price to the working people of this country, who cannot afford to pay the full price, the Right Hon Gentleman thought it might affront them as being offered fish at too cheap a price. We know that in the law there is a form called the alternative and inconsistent defence, the simplest form of which is, I did not hit the man, but if I did, he deserved it. That will not really go down, and I hope the Right Hon Gentleman will take with great seriousness the suggestions which have been made, even if they cut across the principle that private profit is to be the dominating factor in the distribution of fish. We have had a suggestion made from the Front Bench here, which was supported very ably by the Right Hon Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) and by the Hon Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby). Why, therefore, cannot the Right Hon Gentleman tackle this question of the distribution of herring and white fish at the same time? I am convinced that if he does that, he will put his finger upon the root cause of the difficulties of the fishing industry.

Now I want to say a word or two about the relationship between the herring industry and the white fish industry. I was rather sorry to hear the Right Hon Gentleman saying they were at loggerheads. It is true that there is some small disagreement on details between the herring and the white fish industries, but there is no reason why there should be any serious rivalry between them. The quantity of herring caught by trawlers is small, and there is some good reason to think that the habits of herring caught by trawlers are of a distinctly different character. I myself have caught spawning herring on the bottom of an estuary or harbour 10 miles from the open sea, and there are places on the Welsh coast where you can catch herring in that way. I say therefore there is no reason for ill-feeling between the herring fishermen and the trawl fishermen, and I hope that the Right Hon Gentleman will not do anything to foster such a disagreement. He ought to try to foster harmony between them, but if he takes measures, in endeavouring to solve the problems of one, which irritate the other, such as prohibiting trawling for herring by British trawlers and allowing foreign trawlers to dominate the herring industry, it will only make for as between the two classes of fishermen.

I must say a word on behalf of my own constituency. The position in Aberdeen, one of the largest fishing ports in the country, is deplorable. The decline in the income in the first six months of this year was at the rate of £180,000 per annum – a sum comparable to five or ten million pounds being lost in the City of London. What a howl there would be in the City of London, even from the Hon Member for East Aberdeen if there were such a loss. I venture to say that the wrath of the Hon Member would be equal to his wrath at the losses in the herring industry. Unless the Secretary of State is prepared to go to the root of this question, namely, marketing and distribution, preferably along the lines we have advocated, I am convinced that we shall never solve the problem.

Mr Frederick Macquisten, Argyll

I am inclined to agree that this is a colourless and broken-winded report. We do not think much of the Herring Board on the Clyde. I have a letter from the Clyde Fishermen’s Association in which they say: Our association feels strongly that the Board completely ignores us in all our representations and that they only pay attention to the representations of the Clyde Herring Merchants’ Association, whose Secretary is also Secretary of the Clyde Area Committee of the Herring Industry Board. Except in regard to nets, the Board have absolutely ignored the interests of the Clyde fishermen. All their schemes have been to the exclusion of the fishing interests on the Clyde. Their schemes do not apply to any boats under 60 feet, and of course all the fishing skiffs on the Clyde are under 60 feet. The only representative for the West of Scotland on the Board is Mr Gordon N. Davidson. He is a member of the Clyde Herring Merchants’ Association. One would expect him to represent the fishermen on the Clyde, but at a conference at Edinburgh last year he made a statement that the herring caught by the ring net was inferior to the herring caught by the drifting net. All the Clyde fishermen are ring net fishermen, and it is the view of most people that ring net herring are of a better quality than the drift net herring. The Clyde fishermen feel very strongly that they have not been getting a square deal and the Executive Committee of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association is very worried as to the position. That is their view, and, after all, these are the men on the spot; and I know that there are no finer fishermen and no finer herring caught than at Campbeltown. I can never understand why this delusion has got into the brains of both Front Benches that you can solve any real difficulties by appointing boards. You may have a number of very respectable and eminent citizens sitting thereon, but the real work is done by the officials whom they appoint; and whenever a new board, be it a marketing board or a herring board, begins, it does not get any of those clever young men that the Right Hon Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston) spoke about. It takes in the failures and throw-outs of the commercial world to do the job for them. What good it is to take a number of these people to parasite on the industry is beyond me; but the theory that they can do good has spread over both parties and has fastened like a form of infantile paralysis on their imaginations. The Board themselves are a very respectable body of bourgeois citizens, but they are not full-time men. It is the permanent ones who really matter, and if they were men of real capacity and not in need of their salaries, they would tell the Board that really there was very little purpose to be served by its existence.

I find the Board speaking in their report of the attempts they have made to improve kippers by having a close time for kippering; and they say they failed to achieve their object of preventing the sale of inferior kippers such as tend to prejudice the public taste. But the fish have been so bad since the War that the public taste for fish is dying back. I have a letter from a woman calling on God to bless me for taking up the matter of dyed kippers. She said she loved a good kipper or a good haddock, and she could not get them now. They were only fit to be tasted and then thrown out on to the dust heap, and her children said, Don’t buy any more fish, mother; it is no good. Fish is not good nowadays when it comes to be offered to the public. I do not know whether it is because of cold storage, or why it is. The Hon Member for North Aberdeen (Mr Garro Jones) said that although the price to the fishermen had not gone up, the retail price had gone up 100 per cent The cost of distributing fish is phenomenal – all due to the various channels and hands through which it passes. It is losing its freshness the longer it takes to reach the customer. The suggestion that the fish might be distributed through the co-operatives societies might be worth trying if it will secure fresh fish at diminished distributive costs to the people. They might even get surplus fish for distribution at nominal prices to those on the unemployed register. Better do that than throw it back into the sea. I never blame the fishermen for doing so. They are like the captain of a ship who jettisons part of the cargo to save the ship and the rest of the cargo. If they were to land the surplus the whole market would be glutted and their living would be taken away.

Why cannot these fish be pickled? The Minister for Defence should pickle an enormous stock of herring. During the War the people would have been very glad to get salt herring. Now, of course, they will not eat them. Why is there nothing in the report about the foul practice of dyeing kippers? I have been snowed under with letters since I introduced my Bill last Wednesday. All the writers pray that I may be successful. Some say they love a good kipper or Aberdeen haddock, but that the dyed variety gives them indigestion. Of course it does. The dye is a preservative. One man writes to me this horrible story: Some time since, interested in my fellow man, I went through a factory where such wickedness was perpetrated. Amongst other things, I discovered that a consignment which had been deferred for a period, owing to the market being slow, that such herring being packed in wooden boxes after treatment, but in order to make sure that all was well, as a suspicion existed, on opening such boxes it was discovered the contents were providing food for maggots. The whole consignment had to be de-maggoted, redecorated with dye, and immediately sent to buyers for instant disposal. Is not that a horrible story? And no one knows how often it is happening. A Member of the House told me that after only a mouthful of dyed kipper in a British railway train he had indigestion. The dye serves to preserve it and the very thing that preserves it makes it indigestible. Here is a really constructive idea. It is not a red herring drawn across the trail; it is a real constructive proposal. The Board should take up the business of seeing that first-class kippering is engaged in. Several Members of the House have asked me where they can get a decent smoked kipper. They cannot find them. There are only a few people doing it now. A dyed kipper of course looks better than an honest kipper. Just as, according to Gresham’s law, bad money drives out good, so bad kippers drive out good kippers. The dyed kipper is like the painted lady who may look better than the one who is not painted, but in my young days, before they all did, it was not considered so respectable. A young American friend of mine said to me the other day that if we liked to kipper in the way that the herring had been kippered which she had had for breakfast, the whole American people would be clamouring for our kippers. It is not everybody who will eat a salted herring like the Poles, but everybody will eat good kippers. They will keep for four or five days in ordinary temperature, and if kept in cold store for longer and shipped across the Atlantic, the whole American continent would leap for them. The kipperers that I know in Argyle are men who put their consciences into their jobs. They only kipper the best type of herring.

I suggest to the Secretary of State that he should take this matter up and get the proposal that is in my Bill made law as soon as possible. Let him and the Herring Board have the kudos and the glory of putting an end to this miscreant’s practice. Nobody defends it except the Hon Member for South-West Hull (Mr Law), and of course he has to, because Hull is the place where this wicked practice began. Let the Secretary of State put this matter right and he will have a colossal sale for herring – so great that the shopkeepers will be able to sell them much cheaper. There is the opening of the market for smoked herring lying at his feet, and it is the great remedy for much of the difficulty of the herring industry. I would not object to the surplus herring being given for distribution at the Employment Exchanges at nominal prices and at the public expense, though I was told in Campbeltown that they had sent boxes up to the unemployed in Glasgow and that the people did not even call for them. It was so long since they had tasted herring because the prices of the fishmongers were prohibitive. The Campbeltown fishermen are very generous, and any unemployed man who likes to go to the boats as they come in will get a string of herring as a gift.

The Minister of Health has been very slack in this matter. I put it before him long ago, and just because the people apparently did not die when they eat a dyed kipper, he would not interfere. Popular prejudice, too, has to be overcome. I am not so sure that the Right Hon Member for West Stirling is right when he holds that poor people would not resent herring being given to them. I know that the Hon Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr Kirkwood) once mentioned oatmeal, which is one of the best of foods. In fact, you could bring a whole population up on herring and oatmeal, as they used to do in the Highlands, and a splendid population it was before they took to tinned foods and white bread. The phrase “brought up on a herring” was often used of a man who had raised himself from poor circumstances, and it was thought to be a taunt instead of a compliment, as it really was. The harvest of the sea is infinite, and if it was properly reaped there are ample food supplies for all the people in this country. It should be the Minister’s duty to see that they can access to it in spite of any vested interest in the distributive trades.

Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Edinburgh East

I am sorry that I was unable to be present to hear the opening speech of the Secretary of State, but there are one or two points to which I wish to draw attention. I want to add my word to those which have already expressed the disappointment which is felt among the fisherfolk with this report. When the Board was first proposed a rosy picture was painted of its prospective usefulness, with references to the necessity for creating new markets and extending others, advertising, and the rest of it, all expressed in such a fashion that the fisher-folk thought that at last there was hope of their industry gaining real advantage. They invested capital in boats and took such action as they thought would enable them to take advantage of the new facilities being offered. I have it direct from my constituency that they are thoroughly disappointed with what the Board have been able to do, and they ask that unless the Board can do something better than hitherto the Secretary of State will take other action to achieve the purpose we have in view.

I want to support my Right Hon Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston) in his plea that the Government should organise a selling agency. It is quite possible as a course of action, and might bring valuable results. I would remind the Under-Secretary that the Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society were very successful not long ago in negotiating with Russia a trade agreement which enabled a very considerable quantity of herring to be sold to that country. If the Government would take a hand in this matter they might find that they would achieve far greater success than would appear from the action of the Herring Board. The Hon Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby) suggested a subsidy on coal, and I think the suggestion ought to be considered by the Secretary of State, but some of the boats are run on oil. The Government make a very large profit out of the duty on oil. I understand there is already some small rebate given on the oil used by the boats engaged in the herring fishery, and I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would state precisely what is the position in that matter. The cost of fuel is so large an item, particularly where a considerable voyage has to be undertaken, that if the Scottish Office could secure greater concessions in respect of coal and oil it would be of the very greatest value in enabling the herring fishing industry in Scotland to make progress. I do not propose to add anything to what I have said, because I do not want to take up more time.

Mr Pierse Loftus, Lowestoft

I gather that there is very great pressure of time, and I shall compress my remarks into the shortest possible space. I feel that I ought to apologise, as the representative of an English constituency, for rising at all in a Scottish Debate, but Lowestoft is the largest herring port in Great Britain, and the Lowestoft boats land double the quantity of herring landed at any other port in Great Britain, and that is my reason for intervening. Various remarks have been made about the discrepancy in the takings of the English and Scottish boats. That is a serious question and I should like to have had the time to go into it, but I would point out that in the case of the Scottish boats the fact that individual fishermen in the crew often own a certain number of the nets may possibly have some small effect on the position. Where individual members of a crew own some of the nets there may not be the same readiness to risk the nets in rough weather as there is where one owner or skipper owns all the nets. But there is a more important factor. In April, 1936, there were fishing from Lowestoft and Yarmouth 335 drifters the ownership of which was divided among 142 companies, but out of that number of drifters 117 owners or part owners had actually started going to sea as boys, and 51 skippers were actual owners or part owners of the boats they went out in. The strength of the organisation there lies in this: That behind these companies, whether they own two or three boats or more, there is a shore organisation. There is a general merchant who, possibly, finances a group of boats, perhaps two or three firms with a total of 40 or 50 boats. When it is known that the boats are coming back heavily laden with fish the shore organisation gets ready, and the moment the boat is at the dock the fish are unloaded and the boat gets out to sea again the same afternoon before the flag goes down. I think Scots boats fishing from Lowestoft or Yarmouth have not the advantage of such an organisation. They do not unload so quickly and the flag is down before they are ready to sail and they are prevented from going to sea that night.

I would say a word about restrictions, because there have been very few restrictions on actual catches this year. The Right Hon Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston) talked about gluts, but let us distinguish between two kinds of glut. There is the glut such as we had in October, 1934, when the finest quality fish were being thrown back into the sea at Lowestoft and Yarmouth. In that case, I think, some organisation ought to have been and could have been introduced to deal with it. There was a different kind of glut a month or two ago. There we had the boats coming in to the Orkneys on a Friday night, in hot weather, with a glut of fish, and it was emptied back. I do not see how that fish could have been dealt with at the moment. It was a 200 miles run to the mainland. The boat would not reach the mainland until some time on Sunday, the weather was hot, and the fish could not be disposed of fresh. As to salting them, there simply was not the labour to deal with them. We must distinguish between a glut at a place like Lerwick and a glut where there are railway facilities such as there are at Yarmouth and Lowestoft. I suggest that the proper way to get fresh herring to the poorer classes is by a system which will deliver them at the door in ice. It was tried once in Cambridge and led to largely increased sales.

The report of the Board is, to my mind pitched in far too pessimistic and gloomy a tone. Reading that report no Hon Member would get the impression that 1936 was the best fishing year since 1929. The report conveys the impression that those engaged in the industry just covered their expenses. In 1934 the takings of the English boats averaged £1,866, in 1935 £2,150, and in 1936 £2,824, an increase of £1,000 per boat in two years. I regret that the report presents things in much too pessimistic a tone.

I have the time only to deal with one or two other points. I have heard complaints that the Herring Board fix the prices of the fish. It is right that they should do so. One of the objects of creating the Board was to safeguard the fishermen, and if that is to be done there must be minimum prices for the herring. As regards advertising, it is too early to say whether what has been done has been justified. I myself believe there is still a great possibility of development in the home market. Last year there were strikes at the two highest peaks of fishing, and fish were taken off the market at the main time when they were required. We must wait another year, at any rate, before we despair of increasing the home market.

The Right Hon Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) said the market above all others that is most valuable is the Russian market. That is an echo of the past. Before the War Russia used to take more than 1,000,000 barrels. Russia as it exists to-day – in area – used to take 800,000 barrels. Since the War Russia has never bought more than 105,000 barrels in one year. Last year Russia bought 20,000 barrels, Germany 417,000 barrels – as well as vast quantities of fresh herring – and Poland bought 300,000 barrels. Poland and Germany between them bought more than 700,000 barrels and Russia 20,000 barrels. With great markets like Germany, Poland and the Baltic States taking 700,000 or 800,000 barrels we cannot sacrifice everything for the Russian market. We should develop it and try to get it, but we must not try to get it by subsidising or lowering prices, because if we do that Germany and Poland will obviously insist upon having their herring at the same price. If there is any subsidising to be done, the proper person to subsidise is the home consumer. We should subsidise our own people first. We buy from Russia £1,000,000 of fish every year, tinned fish, partly from Japanese concessions worked by Russian labour. Last year, Russia bought from us about £30,000 of fish. Surely we can use the tariff weapon. Surely we can approach Russia and say that unless she buys more of our fish, we must put up rates against this flood of imports. It is a legitimate bargaining counter, and I hope that the Government will use it.

The herring fleet to-day is not working at full capacity, but, looking at the figures of the last two or three years, I still believe there will be an increase in sales, and that in a very short time our people will be working at full capacity. Then will come the time when we want to replace defective vessels. A drifter to-day costs £7,500 new. The depreciation is too heavy for the small owner to bear, and I suggest that, when the time comes for replacement, the Board should have extended power and increased finance to give a grant of one-third, that is, £2,500, and let the owner of the boat which is to be scrapped replace the remaining two-thirds. That is an arrangement which may have to be considered in a year or two. I have spoken for 12 minutes. I promised that I would not take more than 12 minutes, although there is much more that I could say and that would occupy 15 or 20 minutes more. In view of the arrangement, I will sit down.

Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

The Secretary of State for Scotland stated that the number of herring thrown back into the sea amounted to only 1 per cent He knows that this matter has been pursued for years in this House, in season and out of season. On his own statement, the figure of the catch for 1936 was 285,000 tons; that means, again on his own statement that there were 2,850 tons thrown back into the sea. That means a tremendous loss of fish meals to the people. Reckoning at two herring to the pound, the number of herring destroyed in 1936 was 12,768,000. I want the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to say a word on this matter when he replies.

Sir John Findlay, Banffshire

I am surprised that this Board can continue for another year with the task it was given, after the report it has made. It says that it was entrusted with the duty of restoring the industry, which was passing through a great crisis. It has done nothing whatsoever. This report states that it will do nothing to put the industry in a better position. In the Debate which we have had this afternoon I suggest we should have had the advantage of the presence of either the First Lord of the Admiralty or of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, because Hon Members know that, during the late War, 2,000 drifters were necessary for the Fleet. After the War, those drifters were eventually chartered. What will happen in the future? Do the Admiralty need drifters or do they not? Some Member of the Government ought to be in his place tonight to listen to the Debate, and to let us know whether they wish fishermen or whether they do not. It is a scandal that these men should have been led, to use a vulgarism, up the garden path for 10 years. They saved their country; they swept the seas of mines and they did all the Cinderella jobs which the Navy needed; and now nobody cares what happens to them. That is a point on which I would not like to divide the Committee, but it would be reasonable to ask for the adjournment of the Debate in order that a Member of the Government connected with Defence might be present to listen to it.

Coming to the report, I will refer to a question asked by my Hon Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby) a few days ago as to whether the fishermen had lost confidence in the Board. The Minister replied that that was a matter of opinion, but he could give no answer. Every line in this report shows that the Board have lost confidence in the Scottish fishermen. A very serious alteration should be made. Hon Members have only to read paragraph 25 which says: Consequently an increase of output per unit of production is the one and only method from which material improvement can be expected. What was the action of the Board last year? To reduce the number of nets per boat. Does not that affect the catching power per boat? I ask the Government to come out into the open and admit that the steam drifter cannot possibly be an economic success unless it is allowed to fish with the maximum number of nets it can run. It is childish to suggest that you should decrease that number. The Government will not give public assistance or unemployment insurance, and yet they restrict the fishing power of the boats. Let the Government come out into the open and say that our markets are whatever they may be, that we can sell 10,000,000 cran of herring at such a price and can provide so many men with a decent living at that price, but do not let them put, as they have done before, restrictive boards in each port saying: Cut your nets short so as to increase the price of herring. Let us catch as much herring as we can, and catch them with the fewest number of men so that each man in the industry can get a decent livelihood.

The Government have had to admit, in regard to public assistance, when the girls who were gutting herring were not allowed unemployment insurance unless they got so many days’ alternative employment, that employment does not exist. The Government have not admitted that herring fishing is a full-time employment, although no secondary employment exists. I strongly advise this Committee not to accept the report which, from first to last, suggests that the methods of our Scottish men must be changed. I can give a further quotation from paragraph 107: The advantage taken of this scheme –  the reconditioning scheme –  was very small, probably because the English owners found themselves able to finance their repairs from their own resources. On the other hand: The Scottish were, at the time, trying to persuade Ministers that financial assistance for the purpose should be provided by grants instead of by loans. This is the key note which shows me proof positive that the Herring Board are not interested in Scottish fishermen: By the time a decision on this claim had been given, the season was too far advanced to enable repairs to be executed before the commencement of the fishing. Has the Minister ever suggested or given us any idea why the Herring Board were able to say that? I do not think he can do it, and I believe the Committee would be justified in dividing against the amount required to forward the interests of the Herring Board. I do not believe it is in the interests of the fishermen. I will not discuss the suggestion for pensions, because I may be considered biased, but they spent £55,000 on advertising. They say that their advertising will not be any good unless they increase that amount this year. I have seen no advertisement this year, and we are now at the end of July. I think the Minister might well explain this matter.

Before the Vote is finally passed, let me remind Hon Members that one of the most difficult things with which the fishing industry in the North East of Scotland has to compete is the enormous rates they have to pay to keep their harbours going. Successive Governments have lent them money – I say, and I mean it, at exorbitant rates – to keep the harbours going, and the authorities are squeezing rates of 3s 6d or 3s in the pound to repay those debts. If one of the Defence Ministers would tell me that the fishing industry is not of the least interest to the defence of this country, I would not mind going North and telling those people that they can never hope to get a further grant for their harbours. I hope we shall have an answer from the Minister putting some of these things right.

Mr Richard Law, Kingston upon Hull South West

I should not have ventured to intervene in this Debate but for the somewhat strong criticism which was made by my Hon and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr Macquisten) of some of my worthy constituents. I hope very much that the Secretary of State will not pay too much attention to what was said by my Hon and learned Friend. He gave the Committee the idea that there was a widespread practice of adulterating a certain article of food –  that the people in Hull and other ports were accustomed to dye herring instead of smoking them, in order to give the public the impression that they were ordinary smoked kippers. That, of course, is not the case at all. The dipping of herring is not an alternative to smoking. These herring are smoked as well as dipped. The reason why they are dipped is that, if they were smoked sufficiently long to give them the colour which the public demands, the richness and taste would be entirely dried out, and they would in fact be uneatable. My Hon and learned Friend is mistaken when he says that this dipping destroys the taste. If these herring were not dipped, but only smoked, they would in fact be entirely tasteless.

Mr Robert Boothby, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

Why does my Hon Friend think that the public demand a particular colour? There is no reason to suppose that that is the case.

Mr Pierse Loftus, Lowestoft

Is not the smoking period considerably shorter in the case of the dipped herring?

Mr Richard Law, Kingston upon Hull South West

My Hon Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby) asks me why I think the public demand herring of a certain colour. I do not profess to have an expert knowledge of what is in the public mind, but they certainly demand white bread, and this is pretty much on the same lines. My Hon Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr Loftus) suggests that, if the herring are dipped, they need not be smoked as long as they otherwise would be. That is just the point that I was trying to put to the Committee. If these herring were smoked sufficiently long to give them that colour, they would become perfectly tasteless and all the nourishment would go out of them. If my Hon Friend doubts that, I would refer him to the first report of the Sea Fish Commission, in which this subject was dealt with. The only alternative would be to prohibit not the colouring of these herring, but the kippering of this particular kind of herring, and that would create such a shortage that the price would go rocketing up so high that the demand would be killed, and probably it would never be possible to revive it. I hope that my Right Hon Friend will be very careful not to listen to the optimistic blandishments of the Hon Member for Camlachlie (Mr Stephen), and that he will not pay too much attention to the violent attack made by my Hon and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire.

There is one other point that I should like to put before the Committee. This afternoon there has been a great deal of criticism of the Herring Board, but, when one looks at the actual results which have been achieved since the Herring Board was set up, it does seem as though there has been a very distinct improvement. Looking at the figures for 1934 as compared with those for 1936, one sees a tremendous improvement. I only wish that there had been a similar improvement in the white fish industry. In the herring industry, which has such a Board, conditions have improved, though they may not have improved very far. The white fish industry has not had the advantage of the supervision of the Herring Board, and the position of the white fish industry today is very much worse than it was in 1936. That shows that there may be some advantages in control as compared with anarchy.

Sir Douglas Thomson, Aberdeen South

A great deal of sympathy with the fishing industry has been expressed from all quarters of the House, and I would like to emphasise what has been said by many Hon Members with regard to the position, not only of the herring industry, but of the white fish industry. The white fish industry is absolutely destitute. These two branches of the industry hang together. I know that my Right Hon Friend is in negotiation at the present time with regard to the steps to be taken in the case of the white fish industry, the position of which will be very serious if those steps are not taken rapidly. As the Hon Member for North Aberdeen (Mr Garro Jones) has said, in Aberdeen they lost £180,000 in 1936, and they cannot continue to bear a loss of that kind for more than a very short further period. Unless some statement is made – it cannot be made now until October – the industry will practically cease. The whole fishing industry is under a cloud – a financial cloud and also a cloud in the minds of the people. I am afraid that my Hon Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr Law) made rather a lame defence of the process of dyeing. 1 hope that some of his friends will come to Scotland and find out how it should be done. The whole of the white fishing fleet is in a very bad position. Large quantities of fish arrive from Bear Island. Whether they merit the description –

Mr Gordon Macdonald, Ince

I am afraid that on this Vote the white fish industry cannot be discussed.

Sir Douglas Thomson , Aberdeen South

What is needed very urgently is a statement of policy from the Government, not only in regard to herring, but in regard to white fish, and my only point is that the two must go together. The Right Hon Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) suggested that it would be a great advantage to recondition and renew a lot of the herring boats, but I cannot see that there is really much in that at the present time, because, unless money can be made out of the boats, there is no inducement to anyone to recondition or renew them. As my Hon Friend the Member for Banff (Sir E. Findlay) has pointed out, the position is a very serious one for the men in the industry. What inducement have they to go to sea at the present time, when masters, mates and senior people can only earn £2 10s a week, out of which they have to buy their food? There is no possible inducement to either owners or men.

The fishermen are in a far worse position than the oat growers. I am glad that the oat growers are receiving assistance, and I only wish that some of my Hon Friends here would turn their attention to the fishing industry as successfully as they have done in the case of oats. The suggestion made by the Hon Member for North Aberdeen that there should be a separate Minister of Fisheries is one which I would ask the Committee to consider very seriously. The Minister of Agriculture has so much to do with agriculture that fishing comes a long way behind, while my Right Hon Friend at the Scottish Office has also a multitude of claims upon his attention. If the Hon Member’s suggestion were carried out, the fishermen and the fishing industry would feel that their interests were receiving attention. I am certain that the Secretary of State is doing everything that he can, but this industry, which in a time of prosperity is facing bankruptcy, surely merits special treatment.

Sir James Henderson-Stewart, Fife Eastern

I think the whole Committee, and particularly those Members who represent fishing constituencies, are indebted to the Opposition for giving them the opportunity of discussing this Vote. I would like to express certain views which have been borne in upon me by my own experiences among the fishermen in East Fife, and, while we are all anxious to get on to the next subject, I trust that the Committee will give me their indulgence in intervening at this late hour. The Hon Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby), in a very interesting and somewhat challenging speech, urged the creation of a selling agency and the stiffening of the personnel of the Herring Board. He will agree that neither of these proposals is altogether original. He and I together – I remember my own contribution to that effort – were urging these very measures during the discussions on the formation of the Herring Board some years ago, and it was a considerable disappointment to me then that there was not incorporated in the charter of the Board the proposal of the Duncan Committee for an Export Selling Department. I would urge the Government, even at this late stage, to reconsider that proposal. It is largely owing to the lack of that centralised selling organisation that we have so many troubles with overseas markets. With regard to the Board itself, one of the first speeches that I made in the House was a plea that the industry could only recover if it had at its centre men of first-class business ability. If they are impartial, so much the better. I am satisfied that such men are available and ready to serve as additional independent members of the Board, men of wide experience who would be an incalculable assistance to the industry.

I do not suppose that many reports from an important Department of State have been received with such general indifference as this particular document has been, and I am bound to say that I agree very largely with the criticisms that have been made against it. It is one of the most dismal documents I have ever read. It is not only dismal; it is hopeless and, indeed misleading. I do not accept the conclusion which it draws about the future or even about the present; I reject utterly the underlying conception that there is no effective remedy for the troubles which afflict the industry at the present time: and I regard with great scepticism the comparison made of the returns of English and Scottish vessels. I could not help feeling, when I read the report, that whoever wrote it must have been badly in need of a holiday. Perhaps he was suffering from a fit of the blues. Whatever it is, I would urge him to go North, where the invigorating air will do him good. But I would advise him to travel incognito at the beginning, because I have an idea that his reception, not only at Peterhead but elsewhere too, might possibly be somewhat boisterous.

He would discover a lot of interesting things. He would find certainly that the bulk of the herring boats are old, and many of them for practical purposes done. He would find, too, the extraordinary fact that something like half the herring fishermen in Scotland operate their vessels for less than six months of the year – a relic of pre-War prosperity which to me has always seemed quite incomprehensible, and which I believe accounts in very large measure for the depression in the industry there to-day. On the other hand, he would find more cheerful aspects. For instance, he would discover that, despite all the trouble, the love of independence is not yet dead among these fishermen. Individual enterprise is by no means at an end, and faith in the future is not at all dissipated. He would find that individual skippers and crews are still prosecuting a profitable trade; they certainly are on my part of the coast; others are busily engaged in building new vessels, and others again are venturing into new fields of catching and so on. In particular, I think the visitor would see proof positive that, as compared with the English boats, the Scottish drifters are not, as a class, the inefficient, ill-managed, stupidly run vessels that this report seems to suggest. The tables showing the respective catches and landings of the two types of boat are quite misleading. You cannot compare the net returns of the two types by trotting out only these statistics. For example, my information is that the English boats use more nets per boat. That immediately increases their catch. There is no mention of that in the report. What, too, about Sunday landings? There is mention of weekend fishing, but I am not sure whether actual Sunday landings are taken into account. And there are other factors such as those mentioned by the Right Hon Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). When they are all taken into account, you still have not got the real test. The only effective test is that of net profit, and on that score the Scottish boats are not doing so very much worse than the English boats on the whole. I remember very well the Duncan Committee report on enormous debts and great financial difficulties among the English companies’ boats. At one port the debt was £1,800 per vessel, and I know that was not a Scottish port. If the purpose of the comparison made in the present report has been to discredit the individualist character of the Scottish organisation, I think it has failed.

I do not close my mind to the necessity for closer co-operation among herring fishermen – indeed I recognise its need in many directions – but I am not persuaded that any case has been made up for abandoning the independent personal character of the trade in our country. Different considerations arise when you pass from the production side to the disposal of the product, and I agree with a great deal that has been said on that matter today. Incidentally, I think some Hon Members have been a little hard on the Board with regard to the Russian contract. I do not think it is fair to lay the whole blame, or even the major part of it, at their door, for we know that the Board encountered great difficulties in obtaining agreement among the trade. Remember it has no power to sell over their heads. It has to get their consent for every contract, and they were exceedingly obstinate last year. The fact is that it was they, not the Board, who turned down the offer of purchase of 100,000 barrels from Russia. The Board failed to bring off the deal because of lack of unity and combined sense on the part of the trade itself, on the crucial matter of price.

I am afraid that we are forgetting in this new age the first criterion of a prosperous herring industry, which is that the product must necessarily be sold cheap. It is quite hopeless to imagine that herring can be disposed of as a luxury product at a luxury price. That is nonsense. They can sell only as a very cheap article. The prices in my opinion are too high yet. They have got to be cut, and there is nowhere that I can see to cut them except in the cost of production. The most important element in the machine of production, or catching, is the vessel. It is stated in the Report that the vessels are old fashioned and out of date, and therefore over costly to run. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Herring Industry Board is so reluctant to recognise the obvious advantages of the motor type of vessel. There are some of these vessels in my constituency, and they are to be found in other ports. The owners of these new boats have figures to show which prove conclusively that the diesel engine boat, at about half or one-third of the cost of a steam drifter, is able to provide much more money for the individual members of the crew. Why does not the Board adopt that system? Why cannot they make a big, bold advance, as an experiment if you like, in the building of diesel engine boats? If that were done, you might cut down the cost of production and be able to sell herring at as low as 20s, or 15s, a cran, and we should win these foreign contracts, which are so desirable. Every other section of the shipping industry is doing it. Lloyds Register yesterday announced the building last year of 1,500,000 tons of oil engine vessels. I beg my Right Hon Friend to press that constructive suggestion upon the Board. It is essential to sell more herring, and it can only be done at a reduced price.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, West Renfrewshire):

My Right Hon Friend has given an exhaustive analysis of the present position, and I think I should best meet the wishes of the Committee if I restricted myself closely to a few comments on the points that have been raised. I think the Committee would also wish me, in view of the important business that still lies before us, to be exceedingly short. I hope Hon Members will forgive me if I do not enter into detailed replies to individual Members who have spoken.

Mr Robert Boothby, Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

I hope we are not going to carry this 10-minute rule too far. It is becoming absolutely farcical. No one is able to make a case from any part of the Committee, and now the Minister is making a reply. The whole thing should be brought to an end, but I think he should make a decent reply to the Debate.

Mr Thomas Johnston, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Two Votes were put down to give all sorts of Members from Scotland an opportunity of stating their case. Hon Members who desire to speak about housing yielded to the desire of the few Members who represent the herring fishery that herring should get a show on condition that the herring representatives would play the game.

Sir James Henderson-Stewart, Fife Eastern

I entirely agree with the Right Hon Gentleman, but I am sure he would not press it so far as to curtail, or to permit the Minister to curtail, the full reply to which we are entitled.

Mr J J Davidson, Glasgow Maryhill

The Minister certainly has to reply to a variety of points which have been put from all sides of the Committee. I agree with the Hon Member opposite that he ought to be given some latitude. We want a full reply. Further, I believe the Leader of the Opposition on this question should also receive a certain amount of latitude. It is folly to tie down those interested in this question to 10 or 15 minutes, because we want the case of Scotland stated as fully as that of any other part of the country.

Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, West Renfrewshire):

I am entirely in the hands of the Committee, and am anxious to do what will meet the convenience of most Members. There are a great many who wanted to have a Debate on housing, and we do not want to curtail that. Perhaps I shall be able to effect a compromise if I condense my answer into the shortest possible compass. Most Hon Members who have spoken have pointed out that the report does not produce a very great number of final conclusions. Practically all the speeches that have been made have been directed towards three lines of action, first, steps that can be taken to develop the home market, next, steps that may be taken to develop foreign markets, and, thirdly, what measures are necessary for assisting the re-organisation of the machinery of the herring industry itself. We are very grateful to the Right Hon Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr Johnston) for the instructive character of his speech. He made one specific proposal about the home market, that the Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society should, as he said it was prepared to do, purchase surpluses of herring catches so that, instead of the fish being dumped into the sea, they could distribute them at a cheap price, without any profit, to purchasers in the industrial districts. We are very grateful for any suggestion of this kind and the Board will most certainly be glad to avail themselves, if it should prove practicable, of the services of this or any other concern that can dispose of these surplus catches. I was asked by the Hon Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr Kirkwood) about figures. The figure that he gave, 285,000 tons, is the total of the United Kingdom catch, and that means about 5,800,000 cwts The figure that my Right Hon Friend gave was based on the total catch for Scotland, 2,700,000 cwts, of which 23,000 cwts during 1936 had been returned to the sea. That is rather less than 1 per cent of the total Scottish catch. Apart from that, elsewhere in Great Britain there was practically no herring thrown back into the sea. If you take the Great Britain catch as a whole the proportion is less than 0.5 per cent

Let me say a word about the general question of home consumption. The Right Hon Gentleman opposite urged that we ought to try to find some means of bringing a greater quantity of herring to people in the industrial districts who need more food. I entirely agree with the Right Hon Gentleman about the nutritional value of herring.

Sir John Findlay, Banffshire

Has the Hon Gentleman made any suggestions to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence with regard to the food value of herring?

Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Scrymgeour-Wedderburn, West Renfrewshire):

No, Sir, I do not think that the food value of herring is particularly a matter for the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I was saying that I agree about the nutritional value of herring and the desirability on that and other grounds of increasing our home consumption, and I am naturally very reluctant to say anything which might be interpreted as not wishing to encourage their consumption. But I am sure that the Right Hon Gentleman would agree that there is no useful purpose to be served by glossing over any difficulty or any fact which we do not like. On the contrary, the more readily we face these facts the more likely we are to discover how to overcome them. It is an undoubted fact that the herring among large sections of people in the industrial districts is not a popular article of diet. I remember rather more than a year ago that when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Godfrey Collins I had to take his place at a large educational conference and I took the opportunity of humbly suggesting that more should be done to encourage the cooking and eating of herring. I tried to give an eloquent account of the splendid quality of the men of our fishing fleet who were going through a very bad time. It was not a political meeting and there was no question of political controversy, but my remarks were received, I am sorry to say, with audible signs of dissent, and every speaker who followed severely criticised my suggestion that people should eat more herring.

I do not know why herring are not more popular. I do not know enough about cooking, but I believe that cooking is one difficulty. They take a long time to cook, and also people do not think that they are good for children to eat because they have so many bones. If that is so, the best way of proceeding is to try to overcome that prejudice, and advertisement is one of the best ways of doing it. The Right Hon Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) acknowledged the plea which is contained in the report, that although there was a slight decrease of home consumption last year compared with the year before, you cannot expect the effect of an advertising campaign to show itself and produce results in so short a period of time. The Board are to continue the advertising campaign for the current 12 months. They also point out with justice in their report that when supplies were short on account of the strikes which took place last year there were a great many complaints from fishmongers that they could not get the supplies they needed to satisfy their customers, and the Board seem inclined to think that the decline in consumption was largely accounted for by the fact that these two strikes occurred when herring were being caught in large quantities and fetching a good price. I hope that we shall all do our best to assist in removing any prejudice there is against the consumption of this fish, and in making to the Board any suggestion we can of attractive methods of advertisement.

With regard to the foreign market, the Right Hon Gentleman was also good enough to make constructive suggestions. He himself has been in touch with Russian trade representatives here, and I have no doubt that the Board will be very grateful for any assistance he can give them as intermediary or in any other way in enabling larger and more rapid contracts to be fixed. I am not sure he was right in thinking that the main thing was to do away with individualism and have a single selling organisation, because at the time when we sold most herring to Russia in 1911 – something like 1,000,000 barrels; 10 times as much as in the best year since the War – there was no kind of collective organisation in Russia or Great Britain. We did not even have the Herring Board.

On the subject of the reorganisation of the industry, the Right Hon Member for East Edinburgh (Mr Pethick-Lawrence) and the Hon Member for East Aberdeen (Mr Boothby) both asked that some assistance should be given for coal, and the Right Hon Member for East Edinburgh asked also about oil. In the case of oil the position is exactly the same as with ocean-going ships. A vessel using oil is entitled to claim a rebate amounting to the whole of the tax. A good deal has been said on the question of reorganisation, whether you should proceed on the principle of leaving the industry in Scotland in the hands of large numbers of small owners or small groups of owners, or whether you should try to work out some amalgamation, either in the selling or the fishing side of the business, or both, and whether we in Scotland should approximate to the larger companies which prevail in England. My Right Hon Friend began by saying that we had completely open minds on that particular point and that he would welcome any arguments which were put forward by Hon Members.

My Hon Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr Henderson Stewart) said, quite rightly, that we ought not to conclude from the comparative figures given in the report about the earnings of the Scottish and English boats that Scottish fishermen are all that much worse off. There are a great many countervailing factors. Scotsmen do not fish for such long periods or on Sundays and their expenses and overheads are smaller. Still, if we look at the net earnings alone we shall find on page 9 of the report that the average results for the East Anglian fishing in 1936 were for Scottish boats £447 and for English boats £1,272. The share of the crews in the Scottish boats was only £149 as against £477. I do not suggest that that represents a true picture, but I think that it is true on the whole to say that, while most of the English fishermen contrive to earn a reasonable wage, probably nearly half of the Scottish fishermen are not able to earn what anybody would regard as a living wage. There are undoubtedly great advantages in larger amalgamations which have greater financial resources behind them.

My Hon Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr Loftus), in a very interesting and useful speech, pointed out that the small amount of earnings in the Scottish boats was largely on account of the fact that fishermen who own their own tackle do not like to risk it when the weather is bad, whereas if the tackle is owned by somebody else and the loss does not fall on the fishermen, they will stay out and continue to fish in bad weather and save an enormous amount of time in going backwards and forwards so that their net earnings will be much greater. On the one hand, we shall all recognise that there are certain advantages in having larger organisations, while, on the other hand, I hope we shall all sympathise with the desire for independence which, I think, exists very strongly among the Scottish fishermen. If any plan is in future worked out for reorganising the industry on these lines, we shall all hope that it will be one which will preserve as much as possible the personal independence of the Scottish fishermen.