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Orders Of The Day

Volume 236: debated on Thursday 6 March 1930

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Supply

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. DUNNICO in the Chair.]

Civil Estimates And Estimates For Revenue Departments, Supplementary Estimates, 1929

Class Vi

Fishery Board For Scotland

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £3,050, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Fishery Board for Scotland, including Expenses of Marine Superintendence, and Grant-in-Aid of Piers or Quays, also for Loans to Herring Fishermen."

4.0 p.m.

When I visited the harbours used by the herring fishery industry in Scotland some six months ago, I had placed before me many difficulties that that industry was then under. The main difficulties to which my attention was drawn was the amount of debt that rested upon many harbours, the fact that many of them were silting up and were badly in need of dredging, the fact that these fishing communities could not undertake the cost of the dredging that was necessary, and the fact that many of the harbours, because of War conditions and conditions that followed the War, were in need of a considerable amount of re-conditioning and repairs if the industry was to have the necessary facilities for making the most of its opportunities.

In the course of the Debate which was initiated on 20th November last by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton), I outlined certain proposals that had been under consideration—proposals which the Government had in view for assisting the herring fishing industry in Scotland in the difficult times through which it is passing. The proposals which I then outlined, and which seemed to be generally welcomed by hon. Members, included the provision of an additional dredger, and the pro- vision of funds to enable free dredging services to be given wherever necessary. Of course, those harbour authorities who were able to pay for the use of the dredgers, either in full or in part, were expected to pay for them, but those who were unable to pay were to have dredging services free. The proposals also included assistance for works of re-conditioning and special repairs at fishery harbours, and the restoration of the Grant-in-aid of piers and quays to the full. As hon. Members representing fishing constituencies know, this Grant-in-aid for some years past had been reduced to £100, and it was restored to the original figure of £3,000, the annual amount allowed by the Fisheries Act, 1824.

In order that there should be as little delay as possible in making arrangements for carrying out the dredging and re-conditioning works, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed that Parliament should be asked to pass this Supplementary Estimate authorising these services. As regards the services I have already named, taking dredging first, the Fishery Board have already, with my approval, arranged for the purchase of a suitable vessel, and it is now in process of being refitted, and will be ready for service, I hope, in the course of a month or so. The cost of purchase and refitting; is estimated at £10,600, the figure shown, in the Estimate. This grab dredger wilt be very useful for work for which the existing bucket dredger is unsuitable, and I feel that the Committee will approve of what has been done in this direction.

I come to the question of the £20,000 grant which I intimated on 20th November would be used for dredging and reconditioning services rather than for its original purpose of reducing harbour dues. I think when I made that explanation it was generally approved, particularly by those representing the industry itself. The annual cost of maintaining and working the two dredgers, which is the first charge on that sum of; £20,000, is estimated at £7,500. In the current year a sum of £700 is being provided to meet the cost of the dredging service in supplement of the provision on the main Vote for 1929. The sum of £2,300 shown in the Estimate for reconditioning was the most that the Board could see any likelihood of spending before 31st March. It was impossible that a programme could be formulated and works carried through to any great extent before that date. This does not mean that the harbours will lose the balance of the £20,000, which might have been available in the current year since the Chancellor of the Exchequer was good enough to agree that what the Board could not see their way to doing before 31st March could be done during the next financial year. Therefore, in the special circumstances the House will be asked to vote to the Board in the main Estimate for the coming year an amount which, with the provision I am now asking, will make a total of £40,000 for the two years.

Already the Fishery Board are considering proposals for the application of considerable sums of money towards special reconditioning work at a number of harbours. Approval has already been given for grants-in-aid of works at Fraserburgh, Macduff, Girvan, and Lochboisdale, aggregating £17,500. Some of the proposals for assistance under this head are associated with improvement schemes which are being dealt with by the Development Commissioners from the Development Fund, which are outside the scope of the present Estimate. From this point of view it is a convenience—and this is the last thing I need say on this question—that the money for dredging and reconditioning services should come from the same source—namely, the Development Commissioners, but I must make it clear that this £20,000 is independent of and additional to the special fund of £500,000 which is to be placed at the disposal of the Commissioners for development purposes. I now come to grants-in-aid of piers and quays. As I have already stated, this sum is to be raised from £100, a figure at which it has stood for some time, to £3,000. There is not much for me to add. Although grants for piers and quays, which amount at the present time to £17,000, are subject to certain restrictions they have been found to serve a useful purpose in assisting fishery harbours and quays and the restoration of this annual grant-in-aid should be of considerable value. Then there is a small sum provided for in the Estimate to cover the cost for the current year of the additional staff which it has been found necessary to appoint in order to cope with the great increase of work which has fallen on the Board in connection with harbour schemes and other fishery matters, which are at the present time engaging the attention of the Government.

The other matter for which the Estimate makes provision is the Loans Scheme. As my Scottish colleagues are aware it was instituted on behalf of those fishermen who lost their nets and gear in the great storm off the East Anglian coast on the 11th November last. Let me recall the circumstances. As soon as the news of the losses suffered reached me I got into touch with the Lord Provosts of the Cities in Scotland and they responded with enthusiasm to the suggestion that a relief fund should be organised. I should be out of order if I dealt with that aspect of the matter in detail, but it became apparent at a very early date that the amount which could be raised by the generosity of the public would not of itself be sufficient to enable all those fishermen who suffered losses to replace their nets and gear. Again the Chancellor of the Exchequer was ready, in the special circumstances of the case, to help me, and he agreed to a proposal to supplement the relief fund by a loans scheme on easy terms, and to make a total provision of £50,000 for this purpose. It will be impossible for the Fishery Board to make payments by way of loans before the end of the present financial year, but in order that they may have authority to do so between the 31st March and the date when the 1930 Estimate is approved, it is necessary to obtain the authority of Parliament to the service, and, accordingly, the Supplementary Estimate provides for a token Vote of £10. The whole sum of £50,000 will appear in the Board's Estimate for the coming year. I hope that the assistance which is being offered to those who suffered losses in the exceptional disaster which occurred on Armistice Day will meet the situation.

I want to go over some of the work we have been able to do with a view of helping the herring fishing industry to overcome its difficulties, and I propose to deal with the assistance which we have been able to give for schemes of repair and renewal to the fishing harbours, to which I have already referred. Already, in answer to applications which have been put forward we have been able to agree to a development scheme for the follow- ing harbours and for the following amounts. At Fraserburgh the repairs are to cost £3,410, and the Development Fund has made a grant of £3,410. The reconstruction of the quay wall at Fraserburgh will cost £9,000, and the Development Fund has approved a grant of £9,000. The deepening of the harbour entrance is to cost £9,600, and a grant of £9,600 has been made. The extension of the slipway is to cost £2,380 and the Development Fund has made a grant of £2,380. At Whitehills, the improvements are to cost £12,500, and the Development Fund has made a grant of £6,750. At Banff the repairs will cost £1,250, and a grant of £800 has been made. At Anstruther the improvements are to cost £16,000, and the Commissioners have made a grant of £10,500. At Whitehall, Orkney, the improvements are estimated to cost £45,000, and the Development Commissioners have agreed to make a grant of £15,000. At Port Seton the improvements and repairs will cost £5,660, and a grant has been made of £3,000. The protection of the slipway at Macduff will cost £4,000, and the Board have agreed to a grant of £4,000. At Girvan the repairs to the harbour will cost £3,540, and the Commissioners have agreed to a grant of £3,540.

In addition to these schemes which have been agreed to a large number of applications for schemes of repair and improvement are under consideration, and include the following places—Peterhead, Buckie, St. Monance, Pittenweem, Boddam, Cairnbulg, Fraserburgh, Macduff, Portknockie, Findochty, Wick and Girvan. The total cost involved in these schemes is no less than £275,000. I must mention the question of remission of debt, which amounts to £126,000. I hope I have explained sufficiently clearly the total amount of assistance granted to these services, but it can be summarised in a few words. Under the head of harbour grants and loans approved, the total amount is £67,980; dredger services, £11,300, loans to fishermen, £50,000, and remission of harbour debts £126,000, making a total of £255,280. In addition, as a result of the efforts made during the last few months by the Lord Provosts, a fund amounting to £26,250 was raised, and in addition the cost of the schemes under consideration amounts to £275,000.

When I visited these harbours six months ago I had many difficulties put before me and many suggestions made for overcoming those difficulties. I was asked to pledge the Government that a certain number of the suggestions would be carried out. Obviously I could not pledge the Government, but when I discussed the difficulties with representatives of the industry I readily agreed to put their suggestions before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think the Committee will agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been very generous to the fishing industry. I see one of my hon. Friends opposite shaking his head. I am quite willing to compare what has been done for the fishing industry by the present Government in the course of the last few months, with what has been done by any previous Government within any period of nine months. I should have no difficulty, I think, in proving that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has enabled me to make very generous provision for the herring fishing industry. That by no means relieves the industry of all its difficulties, and by no means entirely relieves me or whoever may stand here in my place of the responsibility for doing all that is yet possible to assist the very worthy body of men in this important industry to make the best of that industry. I am by no means ashamed of what I have been able to do up to now, and I shall continue my efforts in future to enable the industry to overcome its difficulties and to give the fishermen every facility for pursuing their avocation successfully.

I have listened with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman's statement. Those of us who are interested in the harbours in Scotland will be glad of the opportunity of discussing a question which is of great importance and which we do not get many opportunities of discussing. The Secretary of State took some credit to himself for what he has done. Let me say, by way of preface, that nothing that we shall say will be directed against the right hon. Gentleman personally. There is no doubt that he has taken a very great personal interest in this matter, and has succeeded in doing something which will compare very favourably with what has been done by any of his predecessors. I would remind him, however, not to stress too strongly a point which he has made on previous occasions regarding what he has done compared with the achievements of previous Governments. I hope he will not forget that most of the money which he takes credit to himself for handing over to these authorities has been provided out of a fund which was set up some years ago, principally at the behest and as a result of the work of the Leader of the Liberal party. The money has all come from the Development Fund.

That is not the only thing to which we would lay claim. There is no doubt that all the harbours both in Scotland and England have to thank the Development Fund more than anything else for assistance, and that they would not be in the position that they are in to-day but for the setting up of that fund. We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for going up to Scotland and himself seeing the position of these harbours. He has told us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been very generous. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has certainly given something, but I am certain that if the Chancellor would do what the Secretary of State has done, that is, go and see these harbours for himself, he would be prepared to give much more liberally than he has done so far. Indeed, the question of the debts upon these harbours and of their further development is a very much larger question than the present Government have yet realised, and they must understand that these sums of which the right hon. Gentleman has talked with so much satisfaction are not nearly enough. It is a great mistake for the Government to hand out money by hundreds of thousands, and even by millions, for the re-conditioning of roads or the making of new roads, and yet forget that harbours are in practically the same position of need and are entitled, even more than the roads, to assistance in the development of the country.

With regard to the question of harbours and debts, the right hon. Gentleman urged the harbour authorities to put forward schemes for re-conditioning and improvement. They did so very hurriedly, and imagined that their claims and applications would be dealt with in time to enable these harbour works to be started by now. This is the time of the year when unemployment is greatest in these towns. But very few of the ap- placations have been dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned one or two to-day. He has mentioned those same harbours on several occasions. They have become a sort of stage army which crosses the Floor of this House every few weeks, led by the right hon. Gentleman, in proof of what he has done. We would like him to get some new works, not the old ones. I hope that he will expedite the handling of these applications so that the work at the harbours may continue. I am glad that at long last he has told us about Macduff. There was a case in which he took great risks by allowing the application to remain undealt with for so long. At any time the works might have been driven into the sea. We are very lucky to have escaped so long.

I would like to say a few words about the new dredger which the right hon. Gentleman is providing. Everyone, I am sure, realises that this new dredger will be of great assistance to the harbours, which have all been calling for something of the kind. How is the dredger to be let out? The right hon. Gentleman knows that all the harbours, in the north of Scotland particularly, are very eager to get the services of this new dredger, and that there will be applications for it from all over the country How is the right hon. Gentleman going to decide the order of precedence in those applications? He said that some of the harbours were to be asked to pay for the services of the dredger and that others that were in a bad pecuniary state were to get it free of charge. Are the needy ones to get it first, or the others? Is this dredger to be handed over to one harbour and to work there for a month or two while all the others wait? Is a job to be finished at one harbour before the dredger is taken to another? I can quite imagine that there will be very difficult questions of priority to be decided.

In his speech the right bon. Gentleman mentioned that the special grant to the Fishery Board had been raised from £100 to the old figure of £3,000. Every harbour authority will be very grateful to him for that. But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will impress upon his colleagues that the £3,000 is not nearly enough for the work which has to be done, and that in the near future it will have to be materially increased. There is a special reference to small harbours in this Vote. I do not know exactly what constitutes a small harbour, but I know instances of very small harbours which are in a very difficult position, and I invite the Government's attention to the specially hard cases of some of them. I have, for instance, in my constituency, a small harbour the fishermen of which had £650 of hard cash in the bank to be expended on improvements. But they cannot use it because there is no corporate body which owns the harbour.

It is a very small community and the men are not in a position, without assistance, to form themselves into a corporate body to manage the harbour; they are not a burgh or anything of that kind. The county council has not the power to take over and administer the harbour. It has been suggested by the Fishery Board that a certain kind of co-operative society should be formed to manage it. What I suggest is that the Fishery Board might be encouraged and empowered to take the initiative in putting these harbours on a proper footing, so that there will be someone able to deal with them, and able to use the £650 in this particular case for the purpose for which it was collected.

I come now to the question which, to me, is the most important one raised by this Estimate and that is the question of the relief fund. [HON. MEMBERS: "Loan!"] I refer to the relief fund, both loan and grant. It is of interest to me because in the great storm to which the Secretary of State referred, more than half the total damage was sustained by constituents of mine. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that that storm simply increased a problem which existed before, and to which attention had already been drawn particularly by us on these benches. I was a member of the committee which was set up some time ago, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Duncan Millar) to look into many of these questions and we pointed out, in our report, that the position of the herring fishing industry made it absolutely necessary that something should be done by way of providing credits for these herring fishermen to help them to get the gear necessary for their work.

To understand the position of these fishermen it is necessary to realise the method of organisation under which they work. Some hon. Members of the Committee may not be aware that the earnings of these herring drifters are divided under a scheme by which one-third goes to the crew, one-third to the owners of the nets, and one-third to the owner or owners of the boat. Any fisherman who merely gives his work as a member of the crew, and has no interest in the nets or the boat, gets a very poor share in lean seasons, and, since the War, the seasons have been very lean indeed. In other times, young men entering the industry have usually started as deck hands without any interest in the nets or the boats and have worked themselves up in the industry until they got a share in the nets or the boats. As a result of bad times there has been a gap and it has become difficult for men who have entered the industry without capital, to graduate, if I may put it in that way, to the position of having a share in the nets or the boats.

The herring fishing industry differs from the trawler fishing industry in that it is really a co-operative concern. In the main the boats are owned by the fishermen themselves and our fear is that, if something is not done, the herring fishing industry will become a capitalist industry in the same sense as the trawling industry. Since the War many of the fishermen who have had bad times have lost their nets and are now in the position of deck hands. Some people say, and there appears to be some reason for it, that the proportion of the earnings given to the owners of nets is too large. It seems so on the face of it, but there are considerations which have to be taken into account—

I am trying to find what bearing the hon. and gallant Member's remarks have on the question of compensation.

This matter has a very direct bearing indeed on the question of compensation as I hope to show, and it is impossible for me to make my point clear without explaining these points. I was about to explain that there is a risk of losing nets and, as a result of that risk, the very large proportion of one third of the earnings is allowed to the owners of nets. Even allowing for that consideration I feel that the share is very large, and it is highly desirable, if men are to get their proper share of the earnings of the boat, that they should have, within their power, the possibility of owning some of the nets. That is the connection between my remarks and the subject of this Vote. The Vote only provides for those men who lost their nets on one particular night. There are many people in the fishing industry in Scotland who are in a much worse position than the men who lost their nets that night. We raised this matter before the disaster in November and asked that something should be done for these men.

This Vote provides assistance for men who have been lucky enough, if I may put it in that way, to lose their nets on one particular night, but it leaves out all the others. It provides nothing for them although they are really in a worse position than those who lost their nets on 11th November. Those who lost their nets on 11th November were the aristocracy of the herring fishing industry. The fact that they were able to go to East Anglia with nets means that they were the best-off men. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman presents an Estimate to give assistance to the best-off people in the industry but, as far as we know, he proposes that nothing at all should be done for the others—at the moment at any rate. I fear that if he helps only the best-off men in the industry it will be more than ever difficult in the future to help those others who lost their nets before the 11th November, or even since that date, and also those young men who, as the result of had seasons since the War, have little hope of getting properly launched in the industry. If they have not the possibility of taking a real part in the industry, I am afraid they will drift away from it altogether. Once they go it will be difficult to get them back, and, if we once let down this industry, it will be difficult to put it on its feet again.

May I ask the hon. and gallant Member what has actually happened to those unfortunate constituents whom he has mentioned since 11th November, because none of this money has been given to them?

I do not wish to go very much into that matter. I have said that this is a time at which unemployment is greatest in these parts of the country. In the last few months there has been, as there always is at this time, a certain lull in the industry and the men are not doing very much. Some of them attempt cod net fishing, if the foreign trawlers allow them, and some of them go to the west coast. They have been there and have come home without much to show for their work.

On a point of Order. For the sake of clarity in this discussion, I should be glad to know whether we shall be allowed to discuss, later on, the special committee dealing with credit facilities which is at present sitting. If we are to be debarred from mentioning that matter later on, would it not be advisable that the hon. and gallant Member should confine his observations strictly to matters within the Supplementary Estimate.

The Secretary of State for Scotland in his opening remarks covered a very much wider field than that which is covered by the Estimate, and it is desirable, in the interests of the Committee and in the interests of the fishing industry, that a certain amount of latitude should be allowed.

Of course, if it is the desire of the Committee and the ruling of the Chair that the discussion should be so extended, neither my right hon. Friend nor I will offer the slightest objection, but the matter should be made perfectly clear at the outset. I only desire to be assured that the discussion will not be cramped at a later stage and that it is not broadening out now so as to include matters with which later on it may not be possible to deal.

The Secretary of State was specific on the question of relief and confined it to those who suffered as a result of the storm on Armistice Day. If a discussion as wide as the Atlantic is to be permitted on the whole question of reimbursing men for nets which have been lost on all sorts of occasions, then we are in for a very long Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not!"] My point is that the Secretary of State was specific in his statement that this sum was in relation to the storm in November, and I suggest that it is outside the Supplementary Estimate to discuss the whole question.

I respectfully submit that as considerable latitude was given, no doubt very properly, to the Secretary of State as the spokesman of the Government, it is only right and fair that similar latitude should be given to the spokesmen of both sections of His Majesty's Opposition.

In the course of my remarks I did not mention a word about credit facilities, nor did I go into any details about the Lord Provost's Fund. I confined myself to the matters in the Estimate.

5.0 p.m.

When the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with piers and harbours he gave us a long list of schemes under consideration which had no relevance whatever to this Estimate. Surely it is rather treating the Committee unfairly for the Under-Secretary, now that another topic is raised, to prevent us going a little wider in order to bring the whole thing into the picture.

May I point out that this Estimate itself, under Subhead E.E., "Loans to Herring Fishermen," says:

"The object of the token provision in this Estimate is to secure the approval of Parliament for the service."
That refers to the token Vote of £10, and I submit that it would be in order for any of my hon. Friends to move to reduce the Vote on the ground, not that they did not desire this service, but that they wished to show that this service should not be granted, but that another should be granted in its stead. I suggest it would be possible to propose that a service allowing loans only to those who lost their nets on one particular night should be replaced by a service allowing loans to those who lost their nets on other nights as well.

Further to that point of Order. I would like to have a ruling now, so that we shall know where we are, as to whether the discussion is to be confined to one specific matter. I do not go so far as the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) and say that these fishermen who lost their nets on the 11th November were lucky, but I want anyone who has lost their gear on any night, through storm or misadventure of any kind, to be considered.

It is always difficult to pull up a Minister, but I must confess that I saw that he was asking for trouble. The right hon. Gentleman did go far outside the Supplementary Estimate on the question of harbours, but not on the question of compensation to fishermen who have lost their gear and nets. I was, therefore, anxious to find out what the bearing of the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) was. We cannot go outside the terms of this Estimate, but the Minister having made certain statements about harbours, I think I must allow some latitude. I want to be fair to the Committee, and without developing their arguments, I think it would be proper to ask why compensation should not be given to other fishermen than those specified.

Further to that point of Order. May I remind hon. Members who have complained—

If the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) will keep his temper, we will get on with the business better.

I hope it will not appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT that my temper has not been kept under control.

Anyhow, Members were complaining, and all the appeals made across the Floor—and they were numerous—from Members who represent Scottish constituencies were in regard to the disaster on the 11th of November, but in putting this forward, I never went outside the 11th of November.

Do we under stand from your Ruling, Mr. Dunnico, that the discussion can deal only with herring fishing and no other fishing, under this Fishery Board Vote?

No; any question which is raised in this Estimate can be discussed, but so far as loans to herring fishermen are concerned, they are confined to certain people who met with disaster on a certain date, and we cannot go outside that.

May I point out that the right hon. Gentleman has been allowed, in regard to harbours, to give a list of things which he has done, but that his colleague objects to us putting forward things which he has not done?

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman's good nature overcame his customary discretion.

I thought the Ruling of the Chair indicated that as the Secretary of State had gone wide of the mark on harbours, he was willing to allow a little latitude.

I do not think I have abused your Ruling in any way. The right hon. Gentleman made a long statement to justify what he had done for harbours, which are quite outside the limits of this Supplementary Estimate. We did not object. On the contrary, we were very glad to hear it. The Under-Secretary said something about whether we were going to be able to discuss credit facilities, but this Vote is to provide credit facilities for fishermen, and that is what I was discussing. My point is that there are other people more needing assistance than those whom the right hon. Gentleman proposes to assist by this Vote, and I hope he will keep them in mind, because we are afraid that the provision of assistance to one class may make it far more difficult than it would otherwise be for the other class, who have been waiting to see what the Government would do for them and who now fear that nothing at all is to be done.

I have some criticism to make of the manner in which these relief schemes were set up. Until after this storm, we never suggested that the Government were under any obligation to make a grant to these fishermen. I said it was impossible to make such a demand because other industries would expect the same, but when the right hon. Gentleman set up a relief fund in the way that he did, the position was entirely changed, and it seems to me that it was quite right for us to ask that the right hon. Gentleman should commence by making a contribution to the fund himself, not in his personal capacity, of course, but as Secretary of State for Scotland. That is the case that we make against the Government in that matter. A great deal was said about it at the time, and it seems to me necessary that I should say that by way of justification of ourselves.

But after the fund was set up, the right hon. Gentleman did several things which I think it would have been better not to have done. For instance, he sent out a form in which he asked for applications both for loans and grants on the same form, and he explained afterwards that all that form did not apply to both loans and grants. He asked, for instance, that anyone filling up a form should state his bank balance, his debts, and the money that he has, and, of course, the fishermen at once fought shy of it.

I must again rise to a point of Order. What part of this Supplementary Estimate has anything to do with the relief fund, which was voluntarily contributed by the public in Scotland?

This token Vote is put down in advance of the actual grant of a sum to the loan fund, so that we may have an opportunity of debating the Government's action. Surely my hon. and gallant Friend is strictly in Order.

I understand that the hon. Member is dealing specifically with this token Vote at the moment.

There are two funds. There is the relief fund and the loan fund; that is to say, the fishermen may apply for grants from either or from both.

My point of Order is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has absolutely no right to discuss on this Estimate the question of grants from the relief fund. He is mixing up the two.

The hon. Member is confusing the whole issue. My hon. and gallant Friend is now dealing with the question of the loan fund, and not with the relief fund at all.

I want to get an explanation from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He is mixing up grants from the loan fund and grants from the relief fund.

If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I think he is confusing the issue. I am complaining that the two things were mixed up. Here is the form which was sent out by the right hon. Gentleman. It is headed, "Form of application for grant from Relief Fund and for loan from Government Loan Fund." When fishermen had these forms put before them, they found that they had to state their financial resources, and they had to give all the secrets of their bank balances, if they had any, their debts, and so on; and they objected. The right hon. Gentleman then sent out a notice to say that he did not want that particular part filled up by those who wanted only a relief fund grant. The result was that the administration of this fund was greatly delayed, and caused a great deal of confusion. That is surely a point which I am entitled to make, and it is quite relevant to the Debate.

Apart from that, on the question of the loan fund, the right hon. Gentleman invited applications for loans, and ho did not state at the time, and he has not stated yet, the terms upon which these loans were to be granted. It is most unreasonable to expect fishermen to fill up forms giving all the secrets of their financial position unless the terms upon which it is proposed to grant the loans are stated. No one would apply for a loan until he knew what the terms were. Under pressure in this House, the right hon. Gentleman said that the interest was to be 3 per cent., but beyond that, as far as I have seen, there has been nothing said.

It is stated in the circular issued broadcast from Edinburgh on 8th February that the rate of interest is to be 3 per cent., and that the loan is to be repayable in a period not exceeding three years.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I had not seen that last circular, and I tried to get it.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman might have the good sense to apologise.

I certainly apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if I have made a mistake, but the point which I made is still a good one, because what the Under-Secretary has said means that after setting up this fund, he did not give the terms upon which he proposed to grant the loans until a fortnight before the applications ceased. That was not fair to the fishermen, and I am not surprised, therefore, that the applications for loans were fewer than were expected at one time.

Was from the 8th February to 1st March a fortnight? The hon. Gentleman is wrong again.

That is three weeks. I say, however, that that is not enough, and it is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman, when he launched his scheme, did not explain it in full, so that the fishermen might have full knowledge of it, and be able to make up their minds whether they would apply for assistance from it or not. Many of these fishermen are spread over the whole of the west of Scotland at the present time; they only come to land for a few days, and are out of touch in many cases with the salesmen on whom they depend for information. Three weeks is not a very long time for them. I am sorry that I have taken up so much time. [Interruption.]

It has been very largely due to the interruptions, and I am surprised to hear that remark from the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown), because this question does not apply to his constituents at all.

This fund is only for fishermen who lost nets in East Anglia on that particular night, and I should be very surprised if any of the hon. Gentlemen's constituents were in East Anglia at that time, so that it does not to any extent affect him at all. Therefore, I am surprised that he should object to my taking up the time. We have tried very often to get an opportunity of discussing this matter and have been defeated partly by the right hon. Gentleman. I am bound to say that the money which is being provided now could have been used to much greater advantage. The Buckie Fishermen's Association sent to the right hon. Gentleman a letter in which they propounded a scheme by which they thought the money could be used.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is taking advantage of my Ruling. We must keep to the question whether this money should be devoted for this particular purpose. If we were to discuss alternative schemes, we should be here all day.

I was pointing out that a definite alternative scheme was put up to the right hon. Gentleman, and he turned it down, although the people who put it up were likely to lose by it. They would get a greater proportion by the scheme which he has put up. I am glad that he has done what he has done, and my criticism of the scheme does not alter the fact that the fishermen are indebted to him for his interest. I hope that that interest will continue, and that it will not be confined merely to the people who lost nets in that storm, but that it will extend to more needy cases.

I have a certain amount of pleasure in learning that so much of this Estimate has been given to my constituency, but the Government have touched only the fringe of what could be done in the harbours. I suppose, however, that we shall have to be thankful for small mercies—

I certainly expect more in future. I should like to enlarge upon the question of Eyemouth, which wants to come into the show with reference to the dredger. In Eyemouth we are using a dredger for something like 18 months at a time at a cost of somewhere in the region of £1,100. This has to be borne by the local harbour people. It is a burden, and I hope that, in giving out the use of this dredger, it will be allocated to those regions where the greatest expense is being borne. If, for instance, there are in the Moray Firth, or in any other part of the coast, places where it is costing £2,000 a year for dredging, those places deserve the use of the dredger more than any other place which is spending, say, only £1,000. I claim that Eyemouth should not be lost sight of in future. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having brought into his scheme the question of Port Seton. That is a small harbour, and is out of date. The mouth of the harbour was made when we had sailing boats and they had to have plenty of space to get in, when the wind would allow, but now the mouth is required to be very much narrower, and I believe that we are going to have sufficient allotted to us to get that scheme brought up to date.

We do not get very many opportunities in this House of discussing the herring fishing industry. We have not had a chance of discussing this loan fund yet, and therefore I was a little amazed by the strenuous efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly the Under-Secretary of State, to limit the discussion. As to the hon. Member for Partick (Mr. McKinlay), I do not know what he is up to at all, and I do not know what his constituents have to do-with herrings, except to eat them. If he can persuade them to eat more, he will do more good than by raising points of order in the Committee. I want to-say a word or two about some points raised by the Secretary of State, and I hope that he will not take it amiss if I tender to him my sincere thanks and congratulations on what he has been able to do for Fraserburgh Harbour, and some of the other harbours round the coast of Scotland. I know of the difficulty of getting any money out of the Treasury for any purpose connected with the-herring fishing industry, and he has been remarkably successful, particularly in regard to the new construction works in Fraserburgh Harbour.

He referred to the £20,000 allocation which was made for the purpose of reducing the harbour dues to the herring fishers. He might have given the credit for that to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the money was set aside in his Budget of 1929. That sum was definitely stated in the Budget as being about to be put aside for the purpose of reducing the herring dues to the fishermen. I do not complain that the right hon. Gentleman has now diverted that money from the original purpose to the purposes of dredging. That is just as useful, and perhaps more useful, from the point of view of the fishing industry, than the reduction of dues, and, if he has been advised by the Fishery Hoard to use the money for dredging purposes, I am satisfied. I would like to know from the Under-Secretary, however, how the services of these dredgers are to be apportioned or allocated. Who is to apply for them, and how will they be allocated as between the different harbours on the north-east coast of Scotland?

The right hon. Gentleman took the opportunity of pointing out exactly what he had been able to do, from the financial point of view, for each harbour round the coast of Scotland. I think that everything he said in that connection was out of order on this Estimate, but I am making no complaint. It is a good thing he did do that, but I complain that, when we begin to criticise the administration of the loan fund, he should call that out of order. He cannot have it all his own way, and confine the Debate to things which he has done well, and prevent discussion of things which has mishandled. He has ever-estimated some of his triumphs. He announced the apportionment of an annual grant of £3,000 for piers as if it were a grant of £3,000,000. It is likely to save a bit of one pier, and the scheme is not likely to save the fishing industry round the coast of Scotland.

I am afraid I have not done about Fraserburgh yet, because the right hon. Gentleman has not come down to the real point which, as he well knows, is the £100,000 of debt which is still hanging like a millstone round the neck of Fraserburgh, and which is owing to the Public Works Loan Board. The Board know they will never get that money back, if they have to wait 500 years.

Yes! I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary to make the strongest representations to the Treasury—from a, purely business point of view, quite apart from any question of charity for the fishermen—that if they would consolidate that, loan at a reasonable rate of interest they would be much more likely to get money out of Fraserburgh than they will be by dawdling along in the present way, charging Fraserburgh as much as it can pay. At an optimistic estimate., the revenue of Fraserburgh Harbour amounts to £20,000 a year, and the expenditure comes to about £10,000, so that they have a surplus of about £10,000 a year. If we could consolidate the loan from the Public Works Loan Board at a rate of interest of anything under £9,000 a year, it would give the Harbour Board a sporting chance of being able to meet their obligations and put them upon a sound basis once again Until and unless we do that, the position is bound to be unsatisfactory.

There are two other points which are rather important and which I wish to put to the Under-Secretary. The first concerns the Peterhead scheme, the new scheme for the deepening of Port Henry Dock and for other construction work. I introduced a deputation from the Peterhead Harbour Board to the right hon. Gentleman some weeks ago and he promised then to give consideration to the question. It is a very urgent matter, because Peterhead is the principal port during the summer fishing for the whole fishing fleet, not merely the Scottish fishing fleet, but the international herring fishing fleet, and until this dock is deepened the port cannot handle the fleet efficiently and safely during the summer fishing in July and August. The scheme would give a great deal of employment in Peterhead at a difficult time, and it is one of those public developments which ought to be sanctioned when we are dealing with unemployment. I beg the Under-Secretary to make some pronouncement on the question, if not to-day at any rate at a very early date. I do not know why the scheme is being held up. It is not like an ordinary harbour scheme. As the Under-Secretary knows quite well, Lerwick, Wick, Fraserburgh and Peterhead are the four ports which are required for the use of the international fishing fleet. It is different from the case of the ordinary lay-up ports for the drifters at other places round the coast.

The other question raised concerns Boddam Pier. The hon. Member said it was being considered by the Fishery Board. I know it is, and I believe the Board have sent down an officer to inquire into the position there. Briefly the situation is as follows. That pier has been gradually crumbling away for the last four or five years. About seven months ago it became clear that it was going to collapse, and three or four months ago it did collapse, and the entrance to the harbour is now extremely dangerous, so dangerous that the small fishermen hesitate to go in and out at all. The population of the village is very poor, and they cannot possibly put up the money for its repair. In the interests of safety it is essential that something should be done to restore this pier by building up the part of it which has collapsed. I again ask whether the Under-Secretary can make some statement about the Peterhead dock development scheme and the repair of Boddam Pier, and also say a few words on the subject of the loan to the fishing industry.

I know the Secretary of State thought I was engaged in raising a party point against him when, immediately after that storm happened, we continually criticised his methods of handling the emergency situation created. We did not appeal to him entirely because of and on behalf of those who have suffered in that particular storm. We appealed to him to do something to help fishermen to replace their nets on account of the storm, which had created a special emergency, but neither I nor my hon. Friends below the Gangway ever contemplated that the proceeds of either the loan or the relief fund would be devoted solely to those fishermen who lost their gear upon that particular night. I have always held that they were by no means the hardest hit and as the hon. and gallant Member for Banffshire (Major Wood) has pointed out, the very fact that they were taking part in the southern fishing shows that they were more prosperous than some of their colleagues who were so poor and so lacking in nets that they were unable to leave for the south.

I always disliked the appeal to charity. I am a good enough Socialist for this, at any rate, that I deplore an appeal to private charity to help an industry out of a problem which is economic, first and last. It is a problem which has always existed in the industry and was only intensified by the storm. I have never concealed my dislike of that scheme, and always thought it would be insufficient, and so it has proved to be. I would like to join in what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banffshire has said about the mistake of mixing up a relief fund with a loan fund and sending out the same questionnaire. It was not a very wise questionnaire, and it caused a great deal of justifiable indignation amongst the fishermen. It asked them whether they wanted a grant from the relief fund or a loan from the Government. Although I am sure the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman were of the very best, I cannot help thinking that the whole problem of loans and credits for nets for the herring fishermen has not been very well handled. There ought not to have been an appeal to charity, and it ought never to have been mixed up with the question of a Government loan. The questionnaire was most ill-advised and the fishermen were justifiably indignant. The rate of interest on the loan was too high. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would say that although he would make a small grant in cases of necessity to those who have been hard hit, he would await the Report of the Committee which, I understand, is sitting under the chairmanship of an officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries considering the whole question of a permanent loan to the fishermen as a whole for the purpose of assisting them to replace their gear. That is the kind of expenditure which is productive expenditure; it helps an industry to carry on. That expenditure ought to come first—miles before any form of doles or pensions.

I do not know that there is anything more to be said about the loan fund. I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that he has said his last word and there is no question of persuading him to lower the rate of interest or to make it applicable to all fishermen. He still insists that it shall apply only to the fishermen who lost their gear upon that one night. It is something to the good if they are to get it, but I will stick to my point that they are not the fishermen who deserve it most, and I would like to make my protest against the allocation of this loan solely to those fishermen, who, as the hon. and gallant Member for Banffshire justifiably said, were lucky enough, as things turned out, to be at sea on that particular evening. As a point of Order I would like to ask whether I should be allowed to raise a question about research. The Fishery Board carry out a great deal of research work.

There is nothing in the Supplementary Estimate dealing with research.

The next time the Fishery Board Estimates comes up we will have a go at research. In the meantime, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be too indignant with the attitude some of us have taken up on the question of the loan. I would thank him most sincerely for what he has already done for Fraserburgh, and I wish more power to his elbow, particularly in his dealings with the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but it is our business on this side of the House to criticise and to express such criticisms as reach us from our constituents. If we are not to do that we had better pack up and go home. The right hon. Gentleman has been apt to attribute nothing but the most base and sordid motives to anybody who has ventured to disagree with his policy, but I would ask him to remember that while many of us cannot entirely agree with all his methods of administration, we have nothing but the highest regard for his character.

I understand that the last speaker is a Member for Aberdeen and an Aberdonian.

Then what I was going to say will have no point. I wish to deal with the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Banffshire (Major Wood), that I had no interest in the loan or reparations. He himself was pleading that the loan should not be confined to those who suffered in the storm on that particular night in November, because if it were confined to them I gather that his own constituents will not benefit very much. I am much in the same position.

The hon. Member has entirely misapprehended what I said. I said that if it was confined to that night over half the money would go to my constituency. I pointed out that my constituents put forward an alternative scheme, perhaps against their own interests.

I accept that, but I repeat that the hon. and gallant Member did say that I had no interest in the matter. He wondered why it should be confined to that particular night and I agree that it should not be so confined. I am not sure whether I am in order, but I want to talk about reparations also. I suppose it will not be in order, but if I were in order I should say that a fisherman who had lost his gear in the Firth of Forth because of an unlighted buoy should come under some scheme of reparations or compensation from the Fishery Board. I submit that point for the attention of my right hon. Friend. We have enterprising fishermen who do not confine themselves to the West of Scotland but take their skill and their energy into the East. Many hon. Members from the East and the North seem to think there are no fishermen in the West. That is what I am annoyed about. [Interruption.] Certainly. I am sure hon. Members will back me up in saying that there are fishermen in other parts of Scotland besides the East and the North. We in the West of Scotland do not try to levy blackmail on anyone. We do not threaten anyone that we will not pay our debts. If we have contracted debts, we endeavour honourably to pay them. We may be too poor to pay them for a long time but, as soon as we are in funds, we will pay our legitimate debts.

I also want to add my meed of praise to the right hon. Gentleman and the Fishery Board for what they have done. I am not alluding to the huge sum of £10 which was given to clear out rats. I am very thankful indeed that something has been done for the very important harbour of Girvan in my constituency, though not nearly as much as we should like. Still, it is more than our hon. Friends, although they are Scotsmen, did for us in their administration. It is always to the good that we are getting something done, and it amazes me always that Members twit a Labour Government, as soon as it comes into office, because it is not doing enough. It is almost impossible for any boat to come into this harbour. It must wait on the tide. That is because we have had no dredging for a very long time. The river silts very quickly and you can almost wade across the harbour at low water. In some parts you can go across dryshod. We should like it restored to its old place. Bigger vessels are now required, and they will not be able to use it unless we have this dredger in operation. It is the biggest harbour on our side, and it deserves attention. I am assured from the attitude of the Secretary of State that he will do something to wipe out the disgrace of all Governments who have refused to assist such an important harbour. There is another little harbour—

We cannot enter into a discussion of individual harbours. It is quite true that the Minister gave a long list of grants made to various harbours and I did not call him to order, because I thought the Committee would like to have the information, but it is obvious that we could not have a detailed discussion on the claims of individual harbours.

If I talk about illegal trawling I shall be out of order also, but to illegal trawling is due a great deal of the trouble and disaster which has overtaken our fishermen, and it should have the attention of the Government at the very earliest possible moment so that it may be abolished and, when we are attacked by illegal trawlers we shall have our Government boat which will be able to lay the others by the heels.

I think the hon. Member must seek some other opportunity to raise that grievance.

May we know whether these are British or foreign trawlers about which the hon. Member is complaining?

A great many of them come from Fleetwood, wherever that is. My geography is a little astray. I am informed it is in Lancashire.

Though I may have transgressed, I hope that the points will be taken into account, and that we shall have the attention of the Fishery Board while the Labour Government are in office, because I am afraid as soon as they go out a great many of these things will be lost sight of.

I want to deal with the question of the loan for the results of a specific disaster to the herring fleet. I agree with the hon. Member that we should not treat this question at all as a matter of levity and, further, there can be no question as to our right to discuss it when we remember that the whole livelihood of the country depends upon it being able to hold possession of the trade routes of the seas, to be able to put ships on the seas to carry our produce to and fro, and that that can only be done by having a mercantile marine and a Navy and auxiliaries such as are supplied by our fishermen. Then we realise that the great fishing industry apart from its immediate purpose of supplying food, is also a thing upon which the lifeblood of our people in peace and war depends. Then we realise that, however jocularly we may take some of the points in a Debate like this, we are dealing with one of the integral issues for the whole livelihood of our people. I want to assure the Government that they have made a very grave mistake in dealing with this question of the loan. I am not going to say they should have made it a loan for anything else than this specific disaster. I want to allude to alternative methods. You cannot be expected to justify your criticism if you are not prepared to show you think something better could have been done.

In the first place, I should have expected a Socialist Government to make a grant out of public funds to these people who, through no fault of their own, have suffered loss and not left it to private charity. If they began by countenancing a private charity fund, could not they at least have done what the late Government did in the case of distress in the coal fields and undertaken to give pound for pound to what was subscribed? The response from the great Cities was great, and I m proud to think that Edinburgh headed the list, but it was very discouraging, almost to the point of drying up the fount of benevolence, that the Socialist Government were doing nothing and were asking the private capitalist—for anyone who has savings is a capitalist—to come to their rescue. That was a mistake. Then what did they do when they came to the loan? They mixed it up with this matter of private benevolence and they issued a most shameful questionnaire without giving any indication, having opened up their souls, and revealed, what to Scotsmen comes next to their souls, the secret of their bank books, of the possibility of relief and on what terms these people were going to give. I know the Secretary of State to be a man of kindly heart and the best intentions, but I think he has been misled and has fallen into a most grievous error. He has insulted the fishermen and has done a great injustice to the possibility of doing them justice, either by private charity or by public service. For that reason I want to speak in the most condemnatory terms of the way in which the Government have mishandled this. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if he is to be many more years in office, will from this Debate have learnt one lesson—to treat the fishing industry with proper respect.

6.0 p.m.

I rise with great fear in my soul that I am not sufficiently expert on herrings, but there is one item in this Vote in which I am intensely interested—the question of the provision of a new dredger. While the tastes of my constituents in Partick may rise beyond the humble herring, and while they possibly will not be satisfied with anything less than the best of filleted sole, nevertheless we are in the main engaged in the shipbuilding industry, and I am disappointed that the Government have only made provision for one new dredger. The hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) desired to know whether it was going to commence operations one day at Banff, then proceed the next day to Buckie and, after picking a bagful of sand here and another there, proceed to meander round the North East coast. He wanted to know how the dredger was going to be used. Frankly, I believe that the fishing harbours of Scotland have been permitted to get into such a dilapidated condition that the only way to deal with them is to have a sufficient number of dredgers supplied. If there is one criticism which I wish to offer more than another it is that I believe there is ample scope for the use of one or two more dredgers in this particular work. I was very much amused when I heard the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford) suggest that a Socialist Govern- ment should have made a grab for State funds to enable the fishermen to replenish their gear. I wonder what sort of shouts we should have heard from hon. Members opposite if the Socialist Government had said that they were prepared to issue a loan to the fishing industry or to any other industry free of interest? The question of the pound-for-pound scheme in connection with the Miners' Fund is not on a par with the scheme for fishermen. I am a craftsman myself and I have tools, but I have yet to find that the public funds are available for those belonging to my craft to make good their losses through an act of God.

We have heard a good deal about co-operative enterprise among the fishermen. The hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood) said that their herrings were a three-part division. If the hon. and gallant Member for Banff was so much interested in this business, I think he ought to have placed his valuable services at the disposal of the fishermen, and he ought at least to have pointed out that it ought to be a standing charge against their results that they set aside a sum for the depreciation and renewal of their gear when necessary. Probably the hon. and gallant Member will say that these fishermen are too poor to make this provision for themselves. If that is so, why not be honest and say that this business cannot possibly exist as a private enterprise. This country always seems to be prepared to bolster up anything with public funds that is not economic, but why not be bold and say that the fishing industry should belong to the nation. I suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland that this is a question which he ought to explore, and find out where there are dredgers available of which he can make use in Scottish harbours. More dredging facilities ought to be placed at the disposal of the fishing industry in Scotland, because this work is absolutely necessary if our harbours are to be brought up to such a standard of efficiency as will enable them to maintain the fishing industry to get out of the condition in which it finds itself at the present moment.

I am sure the Committee has listened with great interest to the statement made to-day by the Secretary of State for Scotland in regard to the action which he has taken to give effect to the many representations which he has received from both inside and outside this House as to the urgency for dealing with the needs of our fishery harbours. The right hon. Gentleman has claimed credit for taking action in the matter, but I can only say that no Government which hesitated to deal with the extremely urgent case of the Scottish fishermen at the present moment would be deserving of the confidence of our people. I am certain that the work which has been done is only a very small contribution towards what is yet required, and what will be required to be done in the immediate future.

The Secretary of State for Scotland referred to the amounts which had been contributed towards the Harbour Improvement Schemes, and he has given us a long list. We all welcome the fact that various harbours in our own Divisions have participated in that advantage. I quote, as an illustration, one of the harbours in my Division, that of Anstruther. When a harbour authority came forward, as the Commissioners did there, and offered to pay one-third of the cost of what was required for the immediate work of putting their harbour in order at a time when giving employment to the unemployed was urgent; when the State was asked to supply the balance, the very least that could be done by the Government was to give effect to the proposals which were made to them, and I do not understand why there has been so much delay in the matter. We have been told again and again in this House that the Scottish authorities have not been sufficiently active in putting forward schemes with regard to unemployment, but, when we do so, we have to wait, and I can only say to my hon. Friend who represents the Scottish Office that we do not think that these harbour schemes should have been delayed as long as they have been.

I think it will relieve the hon. and learned Gentleman to know that the Anstruther Harbour Commissioners sent us a letter of thanks for what we did in the matter.

I am aware that the Harbour Commissioners are grateful for the assistance which has been given to them, and I am glad to know that assistance has been given in that direction. That work is urgently required to be done, and the Harbour Commissioners were prepared themselves to contribute a large amount. It seems to me therefore that the matter should have been dealt with immediately without any delay. The hon. Member for Partick (Mr. McKinlay) justified the position of the Labour Government in refusing to make grants towards fishermen. I can only say that, so far as I am aware, one of the first acts following out the recommendation of their Committee of Civil Research, instead of providing anything for the share fishermen or the herring fishermen of Scotland, was to provide no less than £250,000 towards the subsidising of a very wealthy industry, the trawling industry, in order to provide a new survey vessel. The cost of that vessel was £34,000 a year for a period of five years. That vessel was provided instead of spending more money on coming to the assistance of some of the Scottish fishermen who suffered so severely in the recent disaster.

I would like to say that I share the views which have been expressed by some of my hon. Friends, that the Government did not handle that situation as it ought to have been handled in relation to these funds. There is no doubt that there was an expectation that the Government were going to come into the field themselves in order to help the fishermen, but, instead of my right hon. Friend making a contribution from his own Government, they sent round the hat, and, when the sum contributed fell far short of what was required, it became necessary, in the view of the Government, to suggest another fund, a loan fund of £50,000, which we are dealing with in this Estimate. That fund was only proposed late in the day, and it came into operation under exceedingly unsatisfactory auspices. Forms were first issued suggesting that application should be made without any idea whatever being given to the fishermen themselves as to what the conditions of the loan were to be. I hold in my hand a later form which was issued officially on the 8th of February setting forth the conditions with regard to the loan, applications for which were to close on the 1st of March. The disaster occurred on the 11th November last, and the loan was only suggested several months after that. The conditions of the loan fund were only made available to the fishermen three weeks before the fund was closed. Surely, it is not suggested that that is a fair way of treating the fishermen or that they had adequate notice.

I appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland that he should not close this fund until every opportunity has been given to the fishermen who may not yet have put in their applications to share in this fund. As a result of what has taken place, it appears that some 278 applications have been received for a sum of £21,520. I feel quite satisfied that if fuller information and particulars had been given there would have been a much larger application made for this fund. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the manner in which the fund was instituted and the way in which the conditions were set forth has contributed largely to the fact that the fund has not been more fully utilised. In the circumstances, I suggest also that the balance of the fund should still be made available for helping those fishermen who lost their gear and nets on other occasions than the night of 11th November last, and that it should form the nucleus of a replacement fund which the right hon. Gentleman and the Fishery Board might institute for the purpose of meeting the needs of a great many fishermen who have suffered quite as much, and whose cases are quite as hard, as those who lost their gear on the 11th November last. It is not true, if I may say so with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that none of us on these benches urged the institution of a replacement fund. I remember myself putting question after question on the subject, and I think some of my hon. Friends put questions as well. We have always taken the view that in justice to the fishermen there ought to be a fund to meet the hard cases of men who were down and out, and who have lost their gear on other occasions than the night of the disaster of November last. I am satisfied that there will be no real satisfaction afforded to the fishermen of Scotland until such a fund has been instituted to enable them to replace their gear and also their fishing vessels which are now worn out and unseaworthy.

With regard to the reconditioning of the fishery harbours, we welcome the information that a fund is to be set aside to deal specially with the smaller harbours. The Fishery Board have had a fund for a period of years to provide specially for that purpose, but it is quite insufficient at the present moment. I understand from this Estimate that it is intended by the right hon. Gentleman to provide out of the £20,000 fund for reconditioning harbours a further sum for the Fishery Board for the purpose of enabling them, with the £3,000 grant to the Piers and Quays Fund, to provide for the smaller harbours. Let me say that there are many such harbours at the present moment which are in great need of repair. I will not go into the details with regard to the schemes for particular harbours, but in my own Division the harbour of St. Monance and Pittenweem have put in claims which are awaiting consideration, and these are of very considerable importance to our fishing industry. A great many of these small harbours have silted up and many of them expose seriously to danger the fishermen who come in and go out of them. Therefore, this is a matter of great urgency, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should have these harbours dealt with immediately. Will the right hon. Gentleman be able to give us an undertaking that these other cases which are receiving consideration now are likely to be dealt with at an early date? Let me remind him that with every month that goes by there is always an increasing difficulty and risk in regard to the use of these harbours.

I am glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman himself is aware, from personal inspection, of the needs of these Fife harbours, and of harbours on other parts of the coast, and I would strongly urge upon him that there is a great deal of useful employment that might be given to our unemployed in reconditioning our harbours, and that it is the duty of the Government to take up the question immediately and to have the work proceeded with without delay. After the War, many of the harbours were suffering from being silted up with sand and débris. Many of the harbour authorities have been unable to meet the necessary expenditure, and the provision of an additional grab dredger was essential in order to enable the work to be completed. A great many of these harbours which have been dredged with bucket dredgers still have a great bank of mud right up to the edge of the quay wall, which could not be removed without the use of a grab dredger. We understand now that this new dredger is to be available within a month, and that an opportunity is to be given at once to the various harbour authorities to make their applications and to have the dredgers put into use continuously from this time onwards for the purpose of cleaning out the harbour basins. Perhaps we may get some information with regard to the programme that the right hon. Gentleman has in view, and also with regard to the terms, because, after all, there are a great many harbour authorities to-day—

I am afraid that we must not travel so wide of the Vote as that.

I would point out that part of this Estimate deals with the question of providing a new grab dredger and with the cost of maintaining the dredger. A sum is set aside for the maintenance of a grab dredger—

I understood that the hon. and learned Member was raising the question of the terms of the grant for making new harbours.

No; it was for the use of the dredger. I was asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he would give us an indication of what the terms would be, and on what footing he is going to discriminate with regard to the provision of the services of this dredger free, as distinguished from cases in which a charge is to be made. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, many harbour authorities today are not in a financial position to meet the claims which are made upon them, and I would suggest to him that it would be a fair basis to work upon that those harbours which are in need of dredging should be thoroughly cleaned out for the harbour authorities without cost, and that they should be put in a position to start again to endeavour under better conditions to secure a revenue which will enable them to meet these charges to a certain extent in the immediate future. In the meantime, the work requires to be done in many cases without any additional burden being thrown upon the harbour authorities.

I would like, in conclusion, to say, that, while we welcome very heartily the addi- tional provision that has been made for the harbours of Scotland, we are glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman is making use of the machinery of the Development Fund which was set up by a Liberal Government in 1909, and which has been extended by subsequent Governments. I am sorry to say that during the period of the last Government we did not get much advantage from that or from any other fund. The Road Fund, also, was very seriously deplenished. We expect, however, any Government having the interests of the country at heart to come forward with additional assistance out of the Development Fund for these purposes, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that those cases which come before the Development Commissioners and are dealt with, come back to the Treasury with the Commissioners' recommendations.

I submit very respectfully that, when the Development Commission have made up their minds that the work requires to be done, the Government of the day ought not to resist the claim, but ought rather in every way to support the applications. I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that during the period since the Development Fund was instituted, in 1909, down to last year, no less a sum than £427,000 has been spent by way of grants and loans for the harbour purposes for which that fund was instituted, and I am glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman is following in the footsteps of the Government which first instituted that fund. I congratulate him, personally, upon the interest that he has taken in this question of harbour development, and I am glad to know that the Government of the day recognise that the fishermen of Scotland deserve their sympathy and support. I regret very much that that sympathy was not shown in a more practical form at the time of the recent disaster, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to accept some of the suggestions which have been made in the course of this discussion, and that the fund will be made available as far as possible to meet claims in relation to those who have suffered loss of gear, although their applications have not been put in timeously; and that, so far as the balance is concerned, it will form the nucleus of a larger fund which is now very much needed to meet the claims of men who have suffered on other occasions

I am sure that I shall be regarded as a very plucky individutl in rising to speak on a Scottish Vote, and particularly a Vote connected with Scottish fishery matters, but I am not going to apologise for speaking in this discussion, because I want to assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are interested in this matter that I too am very much interested in fishermen, both inshore fishermen and herring fishermen. I want to point out that there is a bond of sympathy even between those who control the great trawling industry and the inshore fishermen. We realise that there is a place for all in this great industry, and we are always interested in and want to help and assist anything that affects the smaller men.

I have risen because I should like to make some observations on one or two points that have been raised in this Debate. In the first place, I should like to know in general terms what are the terms which have been issued by the right hon. Gentleman under which these loans to herring fishermen can be granted, because I have travelled a great deal among the coasts of Scotland in my researches into the fishing industry, in which, as hon. Members know, I take a big interest. I have talked with Scottish fishermen, and they have told me that the 1924 scheme, inaugurated during the time that the Socialist Government were in office before, was not by any means acceptable to the fishermen. I think the right hon. Gentleman will be able to bear me out in this, that the applications made were so small and meagre as to prove really that the scheme was not popular with the fishermen, and possibly that the terms offered were not acceptable to them. I hope that in this present matter the right hon. Gentleman has taken a lesson from that last experience, and has offered terms that will be acceptable to these men. I know many of these men intimately. I have been closely associated with them, and I know that they are a very honest body of men, anxious to do the best they can for themselves and their wives and families, and they ought to have reasonable assistance in this matter.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) remarked that people were in the habit of twitting this Government with having done very little during the short time that they have been in office, and he mentioned that the late Government did not do very much for the fishermen. If it were within the bounds of order, I should like to cross swords with the hon. Member on that point, because I am going to suggest that the late Government did many things on behalf of the fishermen of Scotland as well as of England. The list is a considerable one, and it is no argument to say, without giving facts and figures, that someone else did not do anything. There is, however, some justification for some of the criticism of this Government, because I have in my hand a leaflet, issued at the time of the General Election, telling the Scottish fishermen what this Government were going to do for them. I quite admit that the Government have not been in office for a very long time, but still they have not even begun to carry out some of the promises that they made then. Therefore, I suggest that it is fairly reasonable for hon. Members to criticise them on those lines. If a party makes promises, naturally Members of the House, and the people themselves to whom the promises were made, expect them to be carried out.

The hon. Member for Partick (Mr. McKinlay) seemed to be in a rather critical mood as regards what is being done for these inshore and herring fishermen. He talked about interfering with private enterprise and bolstering up private enterprise, and he wondered why it was that we had to do this. He asked, why not be honest and say that the whole system has broken down? It has not broken down. The hon. Member evidently does not understand much about the life of a fisherman, or he would know that it is a very speculative business. There are good seasons and bad seasons, and to talk about the whole system having failed is absurd and ridiculous. The hon. Member, also, does not appear to realise that the present position is that, with the great trawlers or steam drifters, you have the machine working against the hand methods of the inshore fishermen—

We cannot enter into a general discussion on inshore fishing and trawling.

I agree, but I was only replying to an observation made by the hon. Member for Partick.

I have said on more than one occasion that I do not know what an hon. Member has said until he has said it, but I can prevent other people from replying to it and developing it.

Then I will deal with the Estimate, on which, surely, I shall not be out of order. I want to point out, on the question of salaries, that, although we are asked to vote an, additional sum of £140, I, at any rate speaking as an English Member, do not begrudge it to the Scottish Fishery Board, because it is a Board which it functioning very well indeed, and the right hon. Gentleman is exceedingly fortunate in having at his disposal officials such as those who are in charge of the Fishery Board for Scotland. I only wish that we had a system in England somewhat on the lines of the Scottish system. We find that on that Board we have officials dealing with all sections of the industry in Scotland, including those who are responsible for protecting the territorial waters. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire mentioned something about that matter, but he was ruled out of order, and I am sure that I should be ruled out of order if I tried to state the case on behalf of the trawlermen; but might I say in passing that if I had the opportunity, and I hope it will come during the course of some of the Votes, I should be quite prepared to defend the British trawlermen at any rate in this matter, and to put up a good case on their behalf. As that question has been ruled out of order, I shall have to reserve my observations upon it for some future occasion.

The hon. and learned Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar), in regard to the question of the moneys provided in this Vote for certain matters which were likely to benefit Scottish fishermen, said that the Government had not been so generous to the Scottish fishermen as they had been to the trawling industry, inasmuch as the Government were providing a research vessel for the trawling industry and were only providing a small sum to assist the Scottish inshore fishermen and herring fishermen. I should like to point out to the hon. and learned Member that the Government, in making a grant for that purpose, have taken everything into consideration, including the fact that over 80 per cent. of the white fist landed in this country is landed by the steam fishing vessels.

I am trying to find out what connection the observations of the hon. Member have with this Supplementary Estimate, but the connection is not very clear.

I beg leave to point out that the complaint was made by the hon. and learned Member for East Fife that a smaller sum was being provided in this Vote for a certain service than has been provided for another service, and I submit that I am quite in order in pointing out why that smaller sum was voted as against the larger sum. In the Vote a sum is provided for the salaries of the staff, and the duties of the members of that staff are to deal with this very research vessel of which we have been speaking—

I would point out that the additional sum required, which is a mere matter of £140, does not justify a wide discussion.

I should not like in any way to dispute your Ruling, but I am going to submit that, at any rate, this question of salary has some bearing on this matter. Possibly if this new vessel had not been thought of this additional money would not have been included in this Estimate. I will leave the matter until we have the fishery Estimates before us, and then, perhaps, I shall be able to deal with it fully. I want to say to hon. Members from the Scottish areas that we who represent English fishery areas have every sympathy with their men in the terrible disaster that happened in November last, that we have not begrudged anything which the Government have done, and we should not have begrudged the action of the Government if they had voted the sum of money which was suggested by an hon. Member above the Gangway earlier in the Debate. I know the hopeless and helpless position in which fishermen find themselves when they lose their gear, unless they get assistance. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should be very careful in regard to the conditions imposed on the Scottish fishermen in this connection, and should allow them to replace their gear on fair terms. The point which they made to me was that they were compelled under the old terms to purchase their gear from certain firms. That is not good business. It is far better to leave it to the fishermen to make their own arrangements with approved firms. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that they have been able to give a little more freedom to fishermen to purchase gear after they have received help from this loan.

We Scottish Members are delighted to have the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) legally trawling into a Scottish Debate, but when he tells us that the great trawling industry has sympathy and kindly feeling for the inshore fishermen, well, all that I can say is, from the experiences of my fishermen constituents and in the words of the old Book, "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel," because they have suffered tremendously from them. I hope that they will not suffer so much in the future. There are many ports where they have been put to the gravest disadvantage, and where they axe not adequately and properly protected. With regard to the grants to fishermen who lost their gear, there is only one question which I should like to ask, and it is: Are those grants being paid? Have the people got the money? One always remembers the case of the Rye lifeboatmen for whose dependants a large sum of money was collected. Those who collected the money seemed to think that it was an Easter egg on which they should sit indefinitely, and there was a great deal of trouble until the Attorney-General, with great skill, showed how the "shell-out" should be done. That is always the danger of funds of that kind. There is a fund in Scotland relating to a colliery disaster which happened 100 years ago, and there is a brass plate over an accountant's office indicating that the fund is still being administered.

I want to know if these people are getting the money, or does it really mean that this eleemosynary fund is still being held up? I am sure that if there has been any delay, the present Secretary of State for Scotland and his assistant will see to it that that delay is speedily ended. I see here that there are grants under Appropriations-in-Aid, and that there is a dredging department, showing items for the maintenance of dredgers and a grant for the recondition- ing of small fishery harbours, the amount for the latter being £2,300. This sum was hardly worth printing. The reconditioning of our small fishery harbours on the West coast is urgently needed. Take the port of Campbelltown, which would come under the provisions in item C—

Appropriations-in-Aid are not part of this Estimate for the purposes of criticism.

May I call your attention to Sub-head C. You will there see, "Dredging Department…. Acquisition of a grab dredger. Maintenance of dredgers." This is the same sum of money as that included under Appropriations-in-Aid. Then there is, "Grant for reconditioning of small fishery harbours, £2,300." I think that this entitles me to make my comments.

There can be no discussion of policy under Appropriations-in-Aid. The hon. Member must deal with these amounts under Sub-head C.

I do not want to be long. There used to be a self-denying ordinance in Scottish Debates of limiting speeches to 10 minutes, and if an hon. Member could not express himself in that period of time, he was either purposely prolonging the Debate or he was not a Scotsman—there were doubts about his nationality. May I simply point out that that Vote is really being starved. The Fishery Board say that Campbelltown harbour is not a fishery harbour. It is one of the biggest in Western Scotland and used to be awarded the herring bounty 160 years ago, and when the herring trade was built up, Campbelltown was built up. The Fishery Board refused to dredge the harbour for the fishermen, who are being greatly inconvenienced, alleging that it was not a fishing harbour. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will see that the dredger goes there and dredges the harbour. There is the little harbour of Ardrishaig. That harbour has not been dredged for 60 years, almost contemporaneous with some of the steamboats which supply the district. Because they do not dredge the harbour, the fishing boats have to go into the Crinan Canal basin and have to pay what, perhaps to us may seem a small sum, but which is a considerable sum to the fishermen in these times. The fishermen believe, and I believe also, that the reason why they do not dredge the harbour is that they want to get tolls from the fishermen for entering the canal basin. They really coerce them or compel them to go into the Crinan Canal basin. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to get another dredger quickly or to give the small one which there is at Ardrossan in order that this harbour may be dredged.

The Duke of Montrose offered Loch Ranza Harbour, "free, gratis and for nothing." A few thousand pounds would pay for the cost of dredging that harbour, and you would get it for nothing. The Duke offered the harbour to the Fishery Board and to provide the harbour-master. I put the proposal strongly before the last Government, but I could not make them see it, I regret to say, but I feel that in appealing to the party opposite, perhaps I shall not appeal a second time in vain. If the Department will dredge that harbour, they will do great benefit. Nothing pleased me more than when the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary, and even the Postmaster-General, no doubt requiring education concerning the Highlands, went round and visited many places in the summer and saw the needs of those places. I hope that grants for piers and quays and harbours will be spent quickly and judiciously on these harbours. I believe that one of these gentlemen when he landed at a beautiful place called Strontian and inquired for the harbourmaster, was asked, "Do you mean the man who lays our goods out on the ground and the rain comes down on them and there is no shelter?" That is all the harbour there is. I hope that the matter of a harbour there is going to be put right. There has been no pier for over half a century, and they cannot get their produce away by the steamer which goes every 10 days, as there is no pier and they have to go 20 or 30 miles to another pier. That is where money is required to be spent. Similarly at Bunessan, in the Island of Mull, the pier requires reconditioning. You can see the effect of having no pier on the life of the crofters if you go to Tirêe, where they have a good pier.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will meet these urgent demands, because the difference in regard to this class of assistance to the community is that you are increasing people's economic statute. It is not like any other form of assistance. If you give the people good means of transport, good roads and decent piers, you encourage them to be diligent. You make them more zealous to get on with their job. I even say that I wish it could be practical and workable for transport to be practically free, so that the remotest parts of the country could get their produce to the central part as cheaply as it is done in the towns. In America and in Germany there are equalisation of rates tribunals which arrange that sort of thing. They arrange for long distances to be traversed practically at the same cost as the short distances. Something of that kind should be developed in Scotland. It is the only way in which you will be able to spread your population over the countryside, and the dispersal of population is the problem of this century, just as the congestion of population of past times was the principal evil of the rise of industrialism.

The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary may rest assured that on this side of the House, at all events, they will get every encouragement that we can give them to improve the piers and harbours by getting them dredged. By doing that, they will enable a very fine section of the population, some of our most vigorous men and women, people who in their daily life are always in contact with the works of the Creator, who always feel His influence in their daily work—and you cannot have a finer type of people, and the money will be well spent—to develop their lives.

I feel on this occasion some sympathy with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I felt, as he sat listening to the Scottish Members, with their mobility of argument, explaining why this, that or the other place should have special treatment, that I could sympathise with him in the difficulty he would find, and which we all would find, in saying that the state of the public purse did not allow them to meet all the demands which had been made upon them and that they were doing the best they could with the resources at their disposal. I am sure that we all sympathised with the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) when he was emphasising the desirability of the reduction of the transport charges in the remoter parts of Scotland. On that subject the Under-Secretary himself took a prominent interest in the last Parliament. It is true that in regard to the small unit for which some of these grants are being made, the pier and the harbour, there is difficulty in a comparatively large capital sum like that being raised by a small community or even being maintained by a small community. It is one of the difficulties in which our scattered settlements in Scotland frequently find themselves.

We were exploring the possibility in the last Government of putting forward suggestions to see whether in the larger local government units which had been created, the councils which took over the work of the old parish councils, whether it would not be possible for some scheme to be worked out between the central authority and the local authority by which these larger local government units might find it possible to embark upon a policy either of development, or, if not of development, of taking over the maintenance of harbours which are so essential and so vital to the life of the small unit, but which very frequently, being small, they find it impossible to maintain, and still less to repair them once they have been allowed to fall into disuse. I throw out the suggestion that the problem of who is to undertake and, still more, who is to maintain these capital works, might well be explored between the central and the local authorities. Maintenance wholly by the central authority is inadvisable in that it opens the central authority to all kinds of demands, some of which are not entirely justified, and may lead to demands such as were made in the old days of the Irish administration, when piers were constructed more or less as relief works, and it was said that if piers were put down at certain places it would not do any harm to fishing, because there were plenty of rocks there and no boats went there, anyhow. The right hon. Gentleman might consider this larger question of administration when he is dealing with the new grant which he has been able to obtain.

I should like to compliment him on the fact that in connection with the new grant he has been able to secure that a deposit account shall be opened into which unexpended balances shall be placed. I hope that that precedent is not merely for this year but that it will be maintained in subsequent years. Although the Treasury vigorously resist this principle, it is a principle which leads to economy in the long run in that it secures that money is not rushed out during the course of the financial year purely for the purpose of getting it spent, because any unexpended sum is swallowed up by the Treasury. It is better that it should be retained in the hands of the persons responsible, and that they should know that if they save a certain sum that money will go to their credit on a future occasion.

The grant which the right hon. Gentleman has obtained is of the same amount as the grant of which we were able to obtain a promise from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Government. We have heard disputes between the two Chancellors of the Exchequer as to whether that sum actually existed or not, but the disputes between the two Chancellors of the Exchequer have become so frequent and involve such enormously large sums compared with this small amount. We may take it this is a grant in respect of which we on this side obtained a pledge from our Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we leave the matter there, with every confidence that Scottish members, having once been promised money, will see to it that that money is forthcoming, whatever Government happens to be in power. We suggested dealing with this money along lines different from that which the Secretary of State now proposes. We were struck, as he must have been struck, and certainly as every Treasury officer has been struck, with the necessity for dealing with these harbour debts. While the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) was sitting beside me to-day, discussing the Estimate, he said that he remembered the question of these harbour debts being before him when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

These debts are ancient and hoary, and it is no longer a business proposition to keep them on the books. We put forward arguments of considerable strength which led to the promise of the £20,000 a year grant by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Roughly speaking, the report of the Fish- ery Board says, something like £57,700 has been forthcoming by way of grant from the Development Fund since 1909, and a sum of £423,925 has come by way of loan from the Development Fund. In addition, a considerable sum has been advanced by the Public Works Loans Board. These bodies are simply the taxpayer under one alias or another. Moreover, several of these harbour trusts have borrowed money from the banks. In looking over the matter, we found that nearly £1,000,000 were owing by these harbours in one way or another, either to the Public Works Loans Board, or for Development Fund advances, or for advances from the banks and the local authorities. It was obvious to us that the time had come to have a large consolidating operation and to write off not merely £100,000 as has been done by the right hon. Gentleman but something like £600,000; certainly a substantial sum. In that way we should be doing what every business firm has to do in drawing a pen through cyphers which do not represent any real value, and from which no real return can ever be obtained.

I trust that the Secretary of State will not be weary in well-doing but that he will approach the Treasury once more and point out that here is a large book debt which has no real meaning, and that it is not good business simply to keep clerks entering up these debts year after year whether they be Public Works Loan debts, or Development Fund debts. The Public Works Loan Board and the Development Fund are merely the taxpayer in another form, and £50,000 taken out of the taxpayers' pockets from the Development Fund is just as much a drain on the taxpayers of this country as £50,000 taken from the Public Works Loan Board. The close and meticulous division that is drawn by the accountants of the Treasury between these various funds is necessary and right for the purpose of accounting, but for the purpose of administration and high policy they should be disregarded, and a consolidating operation should be carried through once and for all. We should say to these harbour authorities: "You owe this money, but we have written off the irrecoverable debt which you never could pay."

My fear is that the right hon. Gentleman is now administering the £20,000 grant for new development and new advances of one kind and another which eventually will be added to the liability of these harbours, and that there will be no writing off of the liabilities of the harbours. We shall find that a harbour, nominally reconditioned, is still hopelessly insolvent, and that the harbour authorities will have a hopeless outlook, which does not lead to sound administration or development. They will not put any of their own money into the undertaking, because they realise that if they have cash in hand somebody will come along and demand their pound of flesh. We found in the case of the de-rating scheme that money saved in de-rating was in many oases simply passed on to the central authority, when a harbour town was nominally receiving advantage from de-rating. That was felt very much by the industries which we were doing our best to deal with.

In these matters we should realise, with the larger local authorities that have been brought into existence, the necessity for promoting schemes for the benefit of harbours. A road through a harbour is just as much a road as a road through the landward portion of a town. The prosperity of the country depends to a considerable extent on the prosperity of its component parts, and money spent in repairing a bridge in a harbour is just as much county development as money spent in repairing a bridge over a river in some other part of the county. I suggest the exploring of the possibility of using larger local authority units as partners in the development schemes, and the writing off by the Treasury of these long-standing debts.

I have not dealt with the question of loans to the herring fishermen, but in that matter I do consider that the Secretary of State is seriously to blame. One feels that a contribution pound for pound ought to have been made to that fund by the Government. The appeal, which was rightly made and well responded to by the people of Scotland, would have been better responded to if the people had felt that the Government were taking a part in repairing the disaster that had occurred. Although we were justified in making a grant to the Miners' Relief Fund, pound for pound, and a very substantial grant it was, the grant to the fishermen is more justifiable, because it was to restore capital and to enable people to become self-supporting, while the grant to the Miners' Relief Fund was merely to tide over distress and was not producing a self-supporting unit at the end of it. In spite of these criticisms, we welcome the Secretary of State for Scotland as a good Scotsman, and as having given proof of his sterling Scottish qualities. Whoever promised the £20,000 the Secretary of State has now secured it, and we wish him well in the matter.

We shall certainly not divide against this Estimate. Let the right hon. Gentleman come back with a better Estimate if he can, because we all feel that, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), the great trawling industry is now getting on to an economic basis, but the industry of the small harbours is not by any means on an economic basis, and will need fostering, managing and looking after for some time to come. It deserves well of the country and we should do our utmost to set that industry once more on its feet.

7.0 p.m.

I represent a constituency in which there is an enterprising fishing community. There are several harbours, at Stonehaven and other places, on the Kincardineshire coast, and I would like to extend an invitation to the Secretary of State to come to Kincardineshire at the earliest opportunity, as he has been going to other parts of Scotland, and to visit these harbours and see what they require. They require dredging, and I think that the new dredger might pay a visit to them. They also are interested in this question of remission of debt, and I should like to reinforce what has been said by the right hon. Member for Kelvin-grove (Major Elliot) with regard to the consolidation of debt. Stonehaven Harbour, for example, is fairly heavily in debt, and there ought to be established something like a Dawes Commission which would go into these questions of debt. If they decided that there was no chance of recovering it and that it was, as it has been described, a hoary statement of figures, then the sooner it is wiped off the slate the better.

There is one other matter to which I would like to refer. While we are all glad that a fund has been collected for the benefit of those unfortunate fisher- men who suffered on 11th November, I would press upon the attention of the Government the numerous cases that exist of fishermen who lost their boats and gear at other times than 11th November. It happens every year. I myself have quite recently put to the Secretary of State a case where a fisherman in my own constituency lost his boat and gear in a gale. There the Secretary of State had to intimate regretfully to me that there was no fund from which a loan could be given to the man to enable him to replace his means of livelihood. I hope the Secretary of State will press upon the Development Commission or the Chancellor of the Exchequer the need for providing a fund from which such cases can be suitably met.

I want to put one or two questions before the Debate closes. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) said with regard to the feelings entertained by the great trawling industry for those engaged in inshore fishing. After all, the great bulk of the fish landed in this country is caught by the trawlers, and they are the most essential part of the industry, but they have every desire to see the in-shore fishermen prosperous, and there is no doubt that from a national point of view the in-shore fishermen are of great importance. There is nothing in the criticism that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar) made of the Government on their expenditure on the fishery research question. It is absolutely essential that new fishing grounds should be sought out, and the money expended in that way is truly for the national advantage. As regards the loan to those fishermen who lost their nets, there is one point that ought to be kept in mind, and on which I asked a question yesterday. That is the time for application. It is quite certain that a great many of the fishermen are not yet home, and it is therefore very necessary that the time for application should be extended, especially when one sees the relatively small number of applications that have been made. I hope the Government will keep that point clearly in mind.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot complain in any way of the tone and temper of the discussion which has taken place this afternoon. There has been almost unanimous commendation of him and of his work. I can assure the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) that the fact that there has been criticism is not in the slightest degree resented. The kind of criticism we have had this afternoon has been, on the whole, very helpful, and will, I am sure, assist the right hon. Gentleman in his daily visits to the Treasury to ensure that still greater consideration will be given to the needs of a very harassed and very deserving class in Scotland. The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) spoke about the problem of transfer of capital works to the larger administrative units in Scotland now in operation under the Local Government Act of 1929. That point, of course, has already been considered by the Board and by my right hon. Friend, and in some places active steps have already been taken to that end. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and his friends that that point of view will be pushed in every possible way. The hon. Member who represents Kincardineshire (Mr. Scott) invited my right hon. Friend to visit Kincardineshire at an early date and see his harbour. My right hon. Friend assures me that it is his intention, if he lives politically long enough, to make a visit to all the harbours in Scotland and to see that the successful steps he has already taken to benefit a large number of them shall be extended to the others which he has not yet been able to assist. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) asked whether the relief fund could not be paid out. I am assured that arrangements made by the Committee are now all but complete, and it is hoped to begin the payment at a very early date. He will observe that we are being continually pressed to extend the period of the application. As it is obviously impossible to begin paying out and then to have applications afterwards, we are in somewhat of a dilemma on this subject, but the right hon. Gentleman has now decided that we cannot wait any longer, and he proposes as speedily as possible to begin payment. He asked, further, when the new dredger would be ready. The dredger, we hope, will be ready within a month's time, and it is hoped that it will begin operations on some of the smaller harbours on the Scottish coast in a month or six weeks time.

The hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Major Wood), who initiated the discussion, asked by what method priority of application for the services of a dredger would be secured. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the order of precedence, so far as he can settle, shall be on the ground of need. The greatest urgency and the greatest need will receive priority. There will be no charge whatever for the services of the dredger where the harbour authorities are unable to pay. It will be for the harbour authorities to make out a case on that matter, and of course harbour authorities who are in a position to pay—if there be any—will naturally be asked to make a contribution towards the services of the dredger. The hon. and gallant Member for Banff rather twitted my right hon. Friend on giving a list of harbour authorities who have been asking for assistance during his period of nine or 10 months of office and said that it was a stage army. It is rather unfortunate that he used those words, because we have received from these harbour authorities letters of effusive thanks for the way in which my right hon. Friend has been able to deal with their needs. For example, we have this morning received the following letter from the Anstruther Harbour Commissioners:
"The commissioners at their meeting yesterday expressed their gratification that their application for a grant had been attended by success, and instruct us to convey to you their sincere thanks for the assistance you have given in connection with the application and for the interest you have taken in their harbour."
Getting letters of that sort from the harbour authorities in areas represented by hon. Gentlemen who made their protest here this afternoon rather indicates that among their constituents there is a greater appreciation of the work done for them by my right hon. Friend than they have.

Yes, unsolicitated testimonials. Turning to another matter, I do not want to make party capital of it, but so much has been said about the attitude of the Government towards the fishing industry that I must refer to it. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford), with quite unwonted acerbity, which surprised us very much, criticised the Government for their lack of interest in the fishing community. What are the facts? It is interesting to get the facts. During the past four years of the Government represented by my hon. Friends opposite, the average amount given in each of the four years to the fishing community of Scotland in relief of debt and in assistance to their harbours was £9,382 per annum.

The average amount during those four years was £9,382 per annum to all the fishing authorities, but, during the nine months my right hon. Friend has been in office, there has been handed out £255,280. Now surely these things are facts, and we might have had appreciation of them.

Is the hon. Gentleman counting remission? He will agree that not a penny of interest was charged on those debts during the whole of those years, and I hope he will not make too much of a virtue of it.

I know the hon. Member's appreciation in this House is greater than his appreciation outside. I only wanted to make the point that, in fact, we have got more for the fishing industry in the past 10 months and that the Scottish Office have done all in their power. I do not say that we have done all that we could do, or that any Government does that. Of course, there are other interests to be considered as the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove knows. He was engaged daily in thankless appeals at the Treasury. Nevertheless, we have done more in nine or 10 months than I believe has been done by any previous Government in any 10 years.

On a point of personal explanation. I quite appreciate what has been done for harbours and so on, but I still maintain that they mismanaged this particular case, which was what the lawyers called "an act of God." I do not think they realised that the industry is more subject to such acts than any other. It was the lack of response to that I was referring to, and I withdraw any suggestion of acerbity apart from that.

I am coming to the act of God, and the question of relief, and I hope that, when I have finished, the hon. Member for North Edinburgh will be able to withdraw his tone of acerbity on that point also. As to the question of the relief fund and the loan, hon. Members know the difficulties we have to face. It is quite idle to pretend that there is any similarity between this and the Miners' Relief Fund. The Miners' Relief Fund was handed out by a committee. It was a fund for the relief of destitution and was handed out sometimes in clothes, sometimes in loans on grocers, in the colliery areas. That would never have been looked at in the case of the fishing areas at all, and we had to approach the problem, as the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford) would have been forced to, had he been in charge, from a different angle. The problem we had to face was the provision of fresh capital instruments, and if we had begun with nets there was no reason why we should not have been compelled to do the same thing all round the coast. And if with nets, why not with boats and stores? Once you start on that slope there is no reason why you should not provide fresh capital instruments of all kinds not only for the fishing industry but for the cotton proprietors. [Interruption.] It would have been difficult to decide where to stop. Other industries would declare that they have been heavily hit.

We will not quarrel over the cause, but the fact remains that there are other industries who are not able to help themselves, and if we had begun to provide capital instruments in one industry there is no saying where we should stop. We approached it from a different angle. It may be looking back that we might have made changes, but in addition to this grant of £26,250, generously subscribed by the people of Scotland, there was subsequently offered a £50,000 loan fund. It was a sum of money offered at 3 per cent. interest on a three years' repayment basis. The total of grant and loan was £76,250. Applica- tions for the loan up to now amount to £21,520, and in the case of the relief fund to £67,753. It is quite possible, indeed we believe, there are the same applicants in both funds, and it may be that the funds already provided will meet the total number of applications, although I cannot say definitely. We are asked, and quite reasonably, about applicants who have not known in time to send in their application forms. They may have been away at Stornoway or somewhere else fishing and have not known the terms of the loan offer. We are asked whether they will be barred out. My right hon. Friend authorises me to say, "Certainly not," and that any bona fide application for a loan by a fisherman in Scotland will be considered

I take it that only refers to those who suffered in the gale?

I am referring only to the question of the loan, where we have not received applications up to the £50,000. We have applications for £21,520. Up to the limit of £50,000 I am authorised to say that my right hon. Friend will not be harsh in refusing applications which may have been delayed for bona fide reasons. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen has said that he never attributed to my right hon. Friend or myself base or sordid motives in this matter. I should be out of order in making anything more than a passing reference to it, but I think that the orations of the hon. Member which I have read in the public Press, in which he has made attacks upon my right hon. Friend and myself, might have been made in this House where we could have met them. I am glad to know that at any rate what he and his friends may have said in the beginning of this year, when perhaps they may have been under some misunderstanding as to our attitude in regard to the relief and loan funds, as to base motives and bartering public money for political support have not been repeated.

I never made any such accusation against the Secretary of State for Scotland. I did make an accusation against the Under-Secretary of State. I said that the speech he made at Aberdeen, in which he told the fishing community that they could not expect to get much out of the Government unless they voted Labour, was a most improper speech to make. I still maintain that.

I have seen a reference of the hon. Member, in which he alluded to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as laughing at the miseries of the fishermen.

Never. I never made any such statement. The hon. Member has no right to make a statement of that kind. I have never made any such statement. If the Under-Secretary makes an accusation of that kind, he should substantiate it. I ask him to bring forward any proof that I have ever accused the Secretary of State of laughing at the miseries of the fishermen, or to withdraw it.

If the hon. Member says that personally he did not make the statement, then I withdraw it, so far as he is concerned, but that the statement has been made by hon. Members of this House is undeniable. I pass from that—

If the statement has been made, hon. Members of this House ought to know. I myself have never made any such statement, and I do not think any of my hon. Friends would make it either. I really think the Under-Secretary, who has withdrawn it in full as regards the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), might have left it at that and not repeated the accusation against certain unnamed Members of the House.

I am within the recollection of hon. Members in this House and the late Under-Secretary of State himself that this statement has been made. I do not want to dwell upon it.

I think the Under-Secretary must give us the name of the person or withdraw it.

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not desire this Debate to close on this note, and, therefore, so far as hon. Members of this House are concerned, I unreservedly withdraw it. The hon. Mem- ber for East Aberdeen, however, has repeated this afternoon the statement that I said at a public meeting that we were bartering public money for political support. That statement was never made by me; was never reported as being made by me by any newspaper; and I challenge the production of any such statement. I have challenged the statement, but it has never been produced.

The Under-Secretary of State has now accused me of saying that he said he proposed to barter public money for political support. In the speech I made at Fraserburgh I said that was the only implication which could possibly be placed on his speech at Aberdeen, when he told the fishermen that if they did not vote Labour they could not expect to get the same consideration they would otherwise have got. And I said it was a most improper thing for a Minister of the Crown to attempt to barter public money in return for political support.

I say it is not true. There was no justification for it; and I say so now. No question has ever been put to us in this House to give us an opportunity of denying it. Certainly my right hon. Friend denied it when it was put by way of a supplementary question to another question on another occasion.

Will the hon. Member permit me? I raised the issue with the Prime Minister as a matter of public policy in my question, and the only reason I did not put it to the hon. Member is that there is no doctrine of Cabinet responsibility as regards Under-Secretaries.

What I am saying is that there was no justification for the statement, and that no opportunity has ever been given us to meet the allegation of base and sordid motives until now. The decision of the Government as to whether or not they would give a loan or a grant of public money from the State, or put up a relief fund, was not settled upon any basis of political consideration whatever. It is simply hit ting below the belt for hon. Gentlemen opposite to go about the country and make statements of that kind without the slightest justification or authority. The hon. Member opposite asked, quite properly, whether any further consideration was being given to the further reduction of the debt liability of harbour authorities at Peterhead and Boddam. The answer is in the affirmative. The matter is engaging the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Fishery Board has been very active in getting together all the particulars that affect the matter and the Secretary of State has the question of Peterhead and Boddam and other harbour liabilities under his personal supervision, and it is hoped that within a very early date the remissions of debt that have already taken place and the assistance already given may be extended to other authorities.

I may not have met all the points that have been raised by hon. Members during the discussion. Those points relating to schemes in their own constituencies have been carefully noted, and the Fishery Board for Scotland and the Secretary for State will see to it that, so far as the Scottish Office is concerned, no delay will be allowed to prevent the Fishery Board for Scotland seeing that the fishery harbours of Scotland are placed on a proper financial footing, and that every possible encouragement and assistance is given to the fisherman class of Scotland to enable them to make an economic living and to get a better economic return for their very difficult, arduous and dangerous labour. As we have been assured that there is to be no Division on the Vote, and as the points raised have been very elaborately discussed, I appeal to the Committee to let us now have the Vote, and to proceed to other Votes which hon. Members are anxious to discuss.

I fall in with that suggestion, but I must say a word about the Under-Secretary's reference to an unfortunate speech which he made. I am the only Member who has raised this issue before in the House. I raised it on the morning on which the speech was reported in the Scottish newspapers. I am bound to say that had there been no correction from the Under-Secretary, and if the speech as reported was delivered in that way, then every word of the stricture of the hon. Member is justified. I understand from a letter which the Under-Secretary sent to the "Scotsman" that he does not deny using the words alleged, but states that there was another passage between the two parts of the speech as reported, and that this passage gave an entirely different interpretation to his words. We all know how carefully responsible journalists in Glasgow, Aberdeen or Edinburgh do their work, and really the Under-Secretary must not blame hon. Members here when they have the work of a responsible journalist of that kind before them and draw the only conclusion that can possibly be drawn from a reported speech.

Personally, I hope that nothing more will be heard about it, but I also hope that if the Under-Secretary feels that he must make statements of that kind in future—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary has had his say and he has referred with, some vehemence to Members on this side of the, Committee. I do not want to pursue the matter any further, but I hope that if he feels that he must make statements such as that, he will make them separately and apart from other portions of his speech. More than that I do not want to say. Naturally I accept the Under-Secretary's statement in his letters to the "Scotsman," that what he did say about the Labour movement was in reference to another subject, and not as reported in the papers that we, read.

On a point of personal explanation. May I say that the fullest report of what I did say appeared in the "Aberdeen Press and Journal"? The political remarks I made were not made at all during that part of the speech which dealt with the relief fund. The political references were made at the end of my speech, when I was appealing for support for my party, and I am properly reported in the newspaper I have mentioned. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to make out that I have criticised the Press reports—not at all. The Press report, the fullest report that I have seen, is perfectly correct, but a summarised report appeared elsewhere, with editorial comment which sought to make out that a part of my speech referred to another part altogether. I do not at all accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures that in future I must take care to keep the subject of my speeches in separate compartments.

The Under-Secretary has raised this point and has accused me—[Interruption.]

Is it not in order for my hon. Friend to speak more than once? We are in Committee.

The Under-Secretary raised this question; I did not. I merely ask to be allowed to reply, as he has made two speeches directed against me. I read a summarised report of his speech. In my speech I said there was only one inference that could possibly be drawn by a fair-minded reader from the report that I saw of the Under-Secretary's speech. I did not see the Under-Secretary's letter to the "Scotsman," but saw one that he wrote to the "Observer," which had commented very strongly indeed, along with the "Times," on the Under-Secretary's speech. I said in a subsequent speech that, so far as I was concerned, if what he claimed in the "Observer" was correct I entirely accepted what he said and would do what I could to put the matter right.

Then I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I did not see that, and I am very glad to have his statement now.

Question put, and agreed to.

Revenue Derpaktments

Post Office

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £995,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the salaries and expenses of the Post Office, including telegraphs and telephones."

I take it that hon. Members have availed themselves of the opportunity of perusing the Estimates. This supplementary sum has been necessitated by contingencies which could not have been foreseen. If hon. Members will turn to pages 13 and 14 of the Supplementary Estimates they will observe that the chief item to which this Estimate refers is fully explained, and there is no need for me to detain the Committee long in giving further explanations. The first item, salaries and wages, is for a sum of £619,000 and explains itself. A sum of £420,000 is required for the purpose of meeting the continuation of the cost-of-living bonus at the 70 per cent. level. Speaking personally I think that that concession has been much appreciated by all the employés of the Department.

It has already been ruled that the question of the bonus must not be discussed. It is a matter for the Treasury. That was the decision reached a few days ago.

The sum of £199,000 is required to meet extra charges in connection with the Post Office and postal telephones. That expenditure should be welcomed by the Committee, inasmuch as it is due in the main to an increase in circuits, or, to put it in another way, is due to an increase of business. Items under Subheads E1 and E2 are mainly due, again, to an increase of business, both by way of railway transit and road services. It means that we have to pay for railway transit a sum of £70,000 in excess of what was anticipated, and for road contracts an extra £25,000. Under Subhead K, purchase of engineering stores, extra expenditure amounted to £242,000, and in round figures £126,000 of that has been required for making purchases with a view to the expansion of the telephone service and as a result of helping in the relief of unemployment by increasing the underground or telephone ducts and such like in connection with the extension of the service. There was also a sum of £116,000 in reference to the purchase of stores which should have come into the previous year but which fell to be paid in April, and that of course has to be included in this Estimate.

The hon. Gentleman has given a figure of £126,000 which I understand covers two of the items under Subhead K. I should like to know the amount for each of the three items under that subhead?

The total sum in respect of Subhead K for engineering materials is £242,000 and as I have already explained that is made up of two sums of £126,000 and £116,000. I think the Noble Lord has misunderstood me.

My point is that under Subhead K there are three items labelled (a), (b) and (c), but the hon. Gentleman has only given us, so far, two sets of figures. I want him to tell us how much is required for each of these three items.

I will take steps to get those figures and let the Noble Lord have them later. The next important item is a sum of £52,000 which arises from compensation payable in connection with the explosion in High Holborn. The Committee will be interested to know that 200 claims are being paid, that about 100 have been rejected and that 50 are still on hand and the sum of £52,000 is an estimate of the maximum amount that will mature for payment under this head during the financial year. The next item is in respect of wireless broadcasting and the excess sum required is due to the fact that the number of licences in the year 1928–29 proved greater than was anticipated when the original Estimate was sanctioned. The Estimate was based on an anticipated issue of 2,590,000 licences but the actual number issued was 2,716,000, an excess over the Estimate of 126,000. That, I think, is a pleasing aspect of the Estimate and one which will be welcomed by the Committee. The issues during January, February and March were exceptionally heavy. All these various items which I have mentioned would bring the total Estimate up to £1,460,000 but we have Appropriations-in-Aid amounting to £51,000 for services rendered in connection with old age pensions and with widows' and orphans' pensions and other matters. The net amount of the Supplementary Estimate is, therefore, £995,000, and I have briefly outlined its main features.

I do not propose to wander into forbidden ground by seeking to debate the question of the 70 per cent. bonus. I quite understand the ruling of the Chairman on that matter and will obey it, but, as we wish to debate this Estimate, I think the hon. Gentleman ought to supplement his explanation by dissecting this figure of £225,000 which appears under Subhead A 2. The Estimate states that this additional provision is required (1) to meet the cost of retaining the Civil Service bonus at 70 and (2) for a heavier increase than was provided for in postal and telephone traffic and I think the hon. Gentleman ought to tell us how this amount is made up in respect of these two matters. It seems that something more than bonus must have brought this £225,000 into account. Does this mean a heavier increase in the bonus or a heavier increase in the amount of employment than was anticipated, or does it mean that nothing at all was provided for in anticipation of the bonus being retained at 70 for the full year. I think the hon. Gentleman ought also to tell us now what was the amount which came into credit as the result of increased revenue. We require these figures as we proceed with this Debate and I hope he will not defer giving them until the end of the Debate.

I really thought I had made myself clear in the first instance as to the amounts under Subheads A 2 and A 4.

I am referring only to the £225,000, and I wish to know how that sum is divided between these various items.

On a point of Order. May we have an opportunity of hearing what the Assistant Postmaster-General is saying?

I was saying that I think it would probably be better if the hon. Member would give us an opportunity to get those details for which he has asked. In respect of the £199,000, which relates to the increase in the volume of postal and telephone traffic, a sum of £70,000 is in reference to postal traffic and a sum of £129,000 is in reference to telephone traffic. I hope that is clear.

I only want an explanation about this total sum of £225,000 which comes under Subhead A 2. I leave aside altogether the sum of £394,000 under Subhead At I want to know to what extent is the requirement in respect of Civil Service bonus an ingredient in that figure of £225,000, and whether the amount of that ingredient is the difference between the normal 65 per cent. bonus and the 70 per cent. bonus which was granted, or was anything at all provided for in the original Estimate in respect of the bonus? Does this refer to an increase in the ratio of the bonus only, or to an increase in the number of men employed and the amount of wages? We are also told that the increase given as (2) under this Subhead is more than covered by increased revenue and we should like to know what is the amount which came into credit as the result of increased revenue.

I think the hon. Gentleman has not read the details of this item sufficiently fully. He will see that these two Sub-heads A 2 and A 4 are to be taken together, and the bonus relates only to the item (1) under Sub-head A 2, and to Sub-head A 4. The bonus for the London services and the provincial services together amounts to £420,000. The item (2) under Sub-head A 2 deals with an entirely different matter and has no connection with the bonus. It deals with the fact that there was an unexpected increase in postal and telephone traffic over the amount anticipated when the original Estimate was framed. That unexpected increase involved an expenditure of £199,000. The noble Lord, I think, asked how that was divided between telephone and postal expenses and the answer is that £70,000 relates to postal expenses and £129,000 to telephone expenses.

Can the Postmaster-General give me any information as to Sub-head K and as to how this sum of £242,000 is divided between items (a). (b) and (c)?

I cannot at the moment separate the items (a) and (b) of this Subhead but (a) and (b) together relate to the general policy of telephone development not anticipated when this Estimate was originally framed—both rural telephone development and trunk development. Items (a) and (b) together involved an expenditure of £126,000. The other item (c) relates to the carrying over of certain stores and involves an expenditure of £116,000 which makes the total of £242,000.

I should like to extend a cordial welcome to the Assistant Postmaster-General, as this is the first occasion on which he has made an oration here in that capacity. The Postmaster-General has told us more than once that he attaches great importance to House of Commons control over the Post Office, and, in fact, regards it as vital to Post Office efficiency. Therefore, I hope he will not resent it if we inquire closely into the items of this Estimate. I was sorry that he was unable to answer completely the questions which we asked him on the spur of the moment, but no doubt the complete information will be forthcoming before the close of the Debate. It is all the more important that we should take this opportunity of dealing with the Estimate because, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted, the occasions on which hon. Members can examine the Post Office accounts and question the Postmaster-General on his administration are exceedingly rare and though we all have the pleasure of putting down questions to the right hon. Gentleman it is seldom that those questions are reached at Question Time. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make the fullest use of this opportunity to give us the information which we require. I hope hon. Members opposite representing the Union of Post Office Workers will also take this opportunity of voicing the point of view of the staff on the various items of Post Office expenditure.

8.0 p.m.

I should like to draw attention to several items which are of an exceptionally varied nature, and to ask certain questions about them, and I am sure that not only the Committee but also the public outside would like to have some information upon them. The Assistant Postmaster-General, in his opening remarks, grouped Items A.2 and A.4 together, and I think, if I may say so, that that was a proper way to present the Estimates. The method, prescribed by Parliamentary procedure, in which Post Office accounts are presented is designed to make it as difficult as possible for any ordinary Member of the House of Commons, especially anyone who has not had inside knowledge of the Post Office, to understand exactly how the money is being spent. The hon. Member is quite right to take A.2 and A 4 together, because together they are a much better classification than they are separate. I asked him how much was for bonus and how much for postal and telephone traffic, and he has been kind enough to give me that information, which is that £70,000 is in respect of unforeseen increase in postal traffic, while £129,000 is in respect of unforeseen telephone traffic.

I notice that there is no mention of the telegraphs. That unhappy service continues to dwindle, and although my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson), whose illness, I am sure, everyone in the House regrets very much, was successful in his last year in reducing the loss on that service by half, it is still continuing to lose, and has not lost less than we anticipated. Again, there is no increase in the Savings Bank, and that is an index of—

The Noble Lord is criticising what is not in the Estimate, and, if that is allowed, we may be here till a very late hour discussing what is irrelevant.

I was not criticising it in the least; I was merely drawing attention to the fact that this sum under Subheads A 2 and A 4, which cover all these services, is merely required, apart from the bonus, on account of unforeseen growth in the postal and telephone traffic. In regard to the postal traffic, which shows an increase of £70,000, I should be grateful if the Postmaster-General could tell us how that is actually made up. I think I am right in saying that the Christmas postal traffic this year exceeded all previous records, and also exceeded anticipations. Therefore, I presume that part of this Vote is on account of the extra Christmas traffic.

The Committee must be well aware that in handling Christmas traffic it is necessary for the Post Office to take on a great number of temporary men, and one of the questions that I would like to ask the Postmaster-General is this: Were these men paid at the same rate as they have been paid in previous years, or was any measure of the concession in regard to bonus, which strictly only applies to the established staff, was any concession analogous to that given to the temporary staff taken on at Chris- tmas time? If the established staff of the Post Office have, at the taxpayers' expense, been given a little douceur of £420,000, I am sure we should all wish the temporary staff who come on at christmas time also to have some share of the largess that appears to be going about.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how much of this increased postal traffic was due to the expansion of the air mails. That is a line of postal development which, in my opinion, has the greatest possible opportunities for development in the future. During the administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon, the number of air mail services was doubled—it was raised from 20 to 40—and the traffic carried by aeroplanes, letters and parcels, increased over 100 per cent. I hope that part of the unforeseen expenditure has been due to a further extension of the air mail traffic, and I hope the Postmaster-General will be able to give the Committee an assurance that he will continue the policy of my right hon. Friend in furthering, by all means in his power, the development and extension of the air mail service.

None of these things can be seen from the accounts that are presented to the House of Commons. We can see them, of course, in the Commercial Accounts, which are published about 10 months late, and so are no good for the current year. It is, therefore, necessary to ask the right hon. Gentleman for details on these matters. I do not think I ought to leave the question of the mails without asking the right hon. Gentleman if he can tell us anything further about mail bag losses. He was able to make the other day what I certainly thought a very satisfactory statement on that matter, and I am merely asking if he has anything to add and whether he has any reason to believe that the steps that he has taken, I understand, in carrying out the recommendations of the Committee appointed by the right hon. Member for South Croydon are proving effective.

Then we come to the £129,000 required on account of heavier telephone traffic than was anticipated. The Assistant Postmaster-General did not give us any details at all about that; he merely said it was on account of heavier traffic. We are very glad to hear that the traffic has been heavier, but what sort of increased business does it mean? Does it mean that more exchanges have been opened, that the service has developed more quickly than was anticipated?

We opened a great many more exchanges than were opened by any previous Government, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman has done his best to expedite the opening of exchanges. Or does it mean that he has been employing more operators per exchange? I hope he is not employing fewer operators per exchange. My recent public remarks on the subject of the Post Office, I need hardly say, have brought me a very voluminous correspondence, and it strikes me that almost everybody who gets a wrong telephone number has felt it his duty to write to me about it. But I have got the impression, in my personal experience, that the service in London during the last few months has not been quite as good as it used to be, and I should like to have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that fewer operators have not been employed in relation to the number of calls than used to be employed, and that there has been no false economy in that respect.

Has the increase of £129,000 been spent at all in giving increased mechanical supervision to the automatic exchanges? As the Committee knows, engineers have to be in constant attendance in the automatic exchanges to deal with any fault that may arise or occur. Has the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to increase the number of engineers in the automatic exchanges? Certainly, we have had far more complaints in regard to the automatic exchanges than we hoped would be the case when they were introduced. I am connected with an automatic exchange in my house, and the only time I really wanted it it has gone wrong. I am bound to say that it generally works right, but I have heard of hon. Friends who have chronic trouble with the automatic exchanges, and I should like to know whether the Postmaster-General is spending any part of this £129,000 in employing more engineers to supervise, maintain and keep in order the automatic exchanges throughout the country.

That leads me to this important point: If any part of this money is being spent in engineers, if the maintenance cost of the automatic exchanges is being raised, of course it may alter the whole question as to whether the automatic exchanges are a profitable proposition. The Post Office, when they instituted the system, hoped that it would be an economy, and I should very much like to know whether that view is still held. There is also another item on which I should like information from the right hon. Gentleman under this subhead, and that is in regard to the foreign trunk traffic. Has any important share of this £129,000 been due to the foreign trunk telephone traffic? Again, that is one of the directions in which some of the biggest telephone developments will lie. Hon. Members opposite are sometimes fond of asking what we did when we were in office. Practically the whole of the present foreign telephone developments took place under the administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon. When he came into office, in 1924, only four countries could be communicated with by telephone. When he left office there were over 20.

We then come to item E 1: "Conveyance of mails by rail, £70,000." This, I understand, is mainly on account of parcel mails. There is a remark in the details which I do not quite understand. It says that the increased provision is more than covered by increased revenue, but I expect that the Committee knows that the parcel post is run at a very heavy loss. When I was at the Post Office, I was told that there was a loss of over 2d. on every parcel that was carried through the post. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will explain how he hopes to get the £70,000 back on an increased traffic, if the traffic is so unremunerative that it is possible to say that the heavier the traffic the greater the loss, and that there is a net loss of over 2d. on every parcel? One part of the parcels post which is not run at a loss is the cash-on delivery service, which was another reform instituted by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon. How much of this £70,000 has been spent in the development of the cash-on-delivery postal service? That service was started in 1926, and there was a great deal of doubt at the time in regard to its inauguration. One of my hon. Friends—I think the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley)—was doubtful of the wisdom of the step, but it worked without a hitch from the beginning, and, by the time we left office, over 2,000,000 parcels a year were being carried by the service. Has there been any expansion of that service since then, and does any part of the £70,000 represent an increased growth of the service? There was a further extension of the service, which we called the railway cash-on-delivery service, dealing with parcels which were too heavy to go by the ordinary parcels post. That was started about 18 months after the other, and, when I left the Post Office, it was still in a fairly small way, not more than 50,000 or 60,000 parcels a year being carried, but, of course, the individual parcels were bigger and more important than the ordinary parcels that went through the parcels post. I should be grateful if the Postmaster-General could tell us anything about the extension of that service. A third development in regard to parcels which was started by the late Postmaster-General, was the raising of the weight of parcels from 11 lbs. to 22 lbs. The way that reform was carried out was that in the first instance—

The right hon. Gentleman is now dealing with Post Office policy. He must keep to the Estimate, and I do not think that it is necessary to go into questions of policy.

Surely I am entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman who gave few details in his speech, how much of this money is being spent on these various services. The Estimate says that it is being spent on parcel services going by rail, and I am asking him whether any of it is being spent on the cash-on-delivery services. Surely the Committee are entitled to information on that point.

I agree with the Noble Lord, but I think he was going further than that.

I think I am entitled to ask questions on these points of detail. I hope that you will remember Mr. Young, how very rare are the occasions which we get for asking the Postmaster-General anything. Therefore, we must take full opportunity of these very rare intervals, if only to establish the principle of House of Commons control.

The opportunities for asking for information may be rare, but surely the questions which have been asked have been answered.

My questions are all confined to these Estimates. Now we are on the subject of parcel mails carried by rail, I would point out that there was one part of the statement which the hon. Gentleman made to the House the other day, in regard to mail robberies, which he did not deal with fully. Has he taken any steps for the further safeguarding of parcels that go by train? Probably every Member of the Committee has had experience of walking down a corridor train, and, in passing through the guard's van, finding the mail bags left there unattended. If we were not all extremely honest people, we should be tempted to carry them away. That is one of the matters to inquire into which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon appointed a Committee, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to give us some special information in regard to the robberies that occur on trains. I believe that a great deal of the dishonesty which has been attributed to the postal service relates to thefts that have occurred on railways, and not in the Post Office, but still, the Postmaster-General's responsibility does not cease when the bags are on the train.

That is a matter which the Chair will not allow me to discuss, but which I shall be delighted to discuss with the hon. Gentleman when it is in order. Passing to Item K, "Engineering Materials £242,000," I must say that the Committee have a complaint here. This Estimate covers three items—(a) the policy of extending telephone call office service, (b) acceleration of main underground telephone work, and (c) meeting a larger volume of stores, which is practically a re-vote. When I asked the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General to tell us, they were unable to say how this sum is divided between these three items.

I had better intervene to explain that the sum of £126,000 covers (a) and (b) together, and that £116,000 covers (c). I told the Noble Lord that I cannot separate the £126,000 between (a) and (b), because they cannot be physically separated It is a common volume of stock, which can be used for one purpose or the other as required.

Then this leads one to a number of rather important points. The first point I should like to make is that the policy of extending telephone call office services to many villages and rural railway stations is not a policy for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible, but, again, was one of the reforms carried out by the late Government. When we came into office not 16 per cent. of the railway stations had a telephone office, but if that work is properly carried out I hope nearly every one of the 1,400 railway stations in the country will have a telephone attached to it. If I remember rightly, the estimate for that work was considerably over £100,000. Can the Postmaster-General tell us whether the work of carrying telephones to every railway station is yet completed, and, if not, how much still remains to be done? That work ought to be nearly completed, because the orders for it were given last April; and if it is, then very little of the £126,000 can be for the acceleration of main underground telephone works in connection with the relief of unemployment. I have something to say to hon. Members opposite about that. As far as I am aware, this is the only reference in the whole of the Estimates to the relief of unemployment; and there is one extraordinary discrepancy which I think I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain. We have followed closely the efforts the Lord Privy Seal has been making to cure unemployment. On more than one occasion he has told us that within this financial year the Post Office was going to do something to help him. May I read a passage from a speech made by the Lord Privy Seal on 3rd July last year?

The Noble Lord is only entitled to deal with the amount of money for that purpose in the Estimates.

Am I not entitled to ask whether this description is accurate, in view of the announcement made by the Lord Privy Seal from the Treasury Bench last July?

That is a question which ought to be put to the Lord Privy Seal when he is here. The Postmaster-General is dealing with his own Supplementary Estimates for a specific purpose.

All I can say is, this shows how difficult it is to secure any effective control of the Post Office by this House. I am not allowed by the Chair, no doubt perfectly rightly, to go into that matter, and therefore I am unable to refer to the promises the Lord Privy Seal made in regard to steel telegraph posts. I should have liked to go into that question, but I cannot. I understand from this Estimate—because I can see no reference to it in this Estimate—that nothing has been done to further the use of steel telegraph posts as a means of helping the steel industry. I think that is not provided for in this Estimate, and therefore that part of the Lord Privy Seal's programme has gone by the board. I have another quotation from the Lord Privy Seal which is absolutely germane, and I do not think the Chair can say it is out of order. This is what he said on the 4th November last:

"We have no right to say to a private employer 'You speed up' without making a similar appeal to Government departments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1929; col. 666, Vol. 231.]

The Noble Lord would be quite in order if we were discussing what the Lord Privy Seal had accomplished through Government Departments, but surely the Noble Lord, having himself been responsible in his day for Supplementary Estimates, must know that in discussing these Estimates we are confined to the purpose of the Estimates. These Estimates are for certain telephone services which have been provided, and we are not entitled to find fault with all the things that have not been done.

On a point of Order. The point is this. By cross-examining the Postmaster-General I tried to find out how the £242,000 is split up between (a) (b) and (c). He cannot tell me that. He only knows that £126,000 is divided somehow or other, but he cannot say how, between (a) and (b). I point out to him that item (a) must necessarily absorb a great deal of that £126,000, and, therefore, there is very little left for item (b), which contains the only reference to unemployment in the whole of the programme. Surely I am entitled to draw attention to the fact that as recently as last November the Lord Privy Seal said the Government were going to spend £750,000 on telephone extensions?

That may be true, for all I know, but I presume that he did not say he was going to spend it by the 31st of March.

Even if he did, that is not the Postmaster-General's fault. The Postmaster-General has to deal with what has been done in his own Department, and in regard to this £126,000, while he says it cannot be broken up into (a) and (b), we know that it is for the purpose of extending the telephone service to villages and railway stations and the acceleration of main underground telephone works in connection with the relief of unemployment.

Surely I am entitled to ascertain how much of this money has been spent on relief of unemployment and to ask the Government for an explanation of this discrepancy between their expenditure and the statement of the Lord Privy Seal as to what they were going to spend.

The Noble Lord is entitled to ask how much of this money has been spent in the direction of providing work for the unemployed, but he is not entitled to enter into a discussion of what has not been spent in that direction.

There are so many omissions of what might have been done to help unemployment that the opportunities for discussion are a great deal curtailed, and, therefore, I will put my question to the right hon. Gentleman in this specific form. He says the £126,000 has been spent on (a) and (b). I say the whole of that money has been spent as a result of the programme of the late Government announced last Parliament, and not a penny of this Estimate is going towards the relief of unemployment, and that the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal on 4th November was a fraud and a sham; and there I leave the matter. Then we come to item (c). There we have the very large figure of £116,000 for stores which were ordered by the previous Government but were not paid for before 31st March, and therefore fall into the Estimate this year. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a specific question on a point which has recently been brought to my notice. The late Government introduced a new type of telephone instrument. I forget its technical name, but it is an instrument which a subscriber can speak into and hear with without having to use both hands. The late Government ordered 100,000 of those instruments, and they should have been ready early this summer. I am informed that those instruments have not been issued—that they are lying in the works, but have not been issued to the public. Even those subscribers who are willing to pay the extra rent of 10s. a year which is charged are finding the greatest difficulty in obtaining those instruments, and yet they are clogging up the works because they have not been issued. Is that information correct? It comes to me from a responsible source although I cannot vouch for it, but I am asking for information. I hope this matter will be looked into because, if it is true, it is a very bad case.

I now come to item E 2, the conveyance of mails by road (contract work). For this contract work an additional sum of £25,000 is required. I think that is a most extraordinary item to find in the Supplementary Estimates of the Socialist Government. The note to item E 2, says that this is
"Provision for certain contract road services which it was anticipated would have been replaced during the year by departmental motor mail van."
What does that mean? Whereas the late Government was willing and anxious to extend the mail van service of the Post Office the Postmaster-General has been clinging to private enterprise, and, instead of employing Post Office vans, he has spent on these contracts £25,000 in order to pay private enterprise for doing this work. I am a strong believer in private enterprise, and it may be that the Postmaster-General was right, and that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon may have been too precipitate. I would like to ask what is the explanation of this item. May I draw the attention of the Committee to the enormous possibilities of the Post Office in regard to this motor mail van business. The late Government installed over 2,000 motor mail vans and cycles, but the present Postmaster-General does not appear to be carrying out that policy. I think the Lord Privy Seal would be grateful if the Postmaster-General would increase the number of motor mail vans, because that would do something to employ more men in the motor car industry, which needs it very badly at the present time.

Now I come to Item L 7, the Holborn explosion, and the amount required for compensation is £52,000. I do not wish be go into that matter in detail, but I should like to ask if the right hon. Gentleman is taking any steps, and, if so, what steps, to try and prevent as far as possible a repetition of that disaster. The danger of gas explosions underneath the streets by electrical contact with Post Office telephones is, of course, getting greater every year, and, in view of this fact, I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to be able to tell us what is being done to prevent a recurrence of these accidents.

The next item I wish to mention is the sum of £38,000 for wireless broadcasting. The Assistant Postmaster-General told us that there are at the present moment 2,700,000 wireless licences, and I am sure every Member of this Committee is glad that wireless still continues to go ahead at the great rate that it has done during the last two or three years. The whole broadcasting service is, of course, a very great experiment. During its earliest years it was in charge of a purely private company, but during the last two years it has been in charge of a public utility corporation. I am not quite sure that the public is satisfied that the service provided by this corporation is better than the service that was provided by the company, but that is a big question, and I think the example of the British Broadcasting Corporation is very interesting but one that ought to be very carefully watched. Although we are voting the British Broadcasting Corporation £38,000 in this Estimate, we are really only voting them their own money. The commercial accounts show that the revenue of the British Broadcasting Corporation is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £800,000, and this Vote will bring it up to nearly £850,000 a year. Of course, the State takes a very large share as well. The Postmaster-General charges 1s. 3d. for collecting every 10s. licence, and he charges a further sum by way of Entertainments Duty. I think I am correct in saying that he takes more than 2s. 6d. out of every licence, including the 1s. 3d. for collecting. I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman in this matter is only the agent for the Treasury. I think this is the only opportunity we get for saying anything in regard to broadcasting—

This is not the opportunity for debating that question. The rules on this question are definitely laid down, and any discussion upon broadcasting would be out of order and must be raised only upon the main Estimate or by other methods open to hon. Members.

As we are asked to pay £38,000 to the British Broadcasting Corporation for services rendered, are we not entitled to discuss those services?

No, not on this Estimate, because this is only the conclusion of the matters dealt with in the original Estimate, and no new principle is involved.

On a point of Order. I am not sure whether you are aware, Sir, that the Noble Lord has already been called to order seven times by Mr. Young, and I want to ask, if I may with great respect, how many times an hon. Member requires to be called to order before you ask him to resume his seat?

You mentioned, Sir, that we cannot now deal with the services covered by this sum of £38,000. May I ask what would happen if the Committee did not approve of this Vote?

I cannot answer that question, it ought not to be addressed to me.

I am sorry to have transgressed beyond the Ruling of the Chair, but, having been invited more than once by the Postmaster-General to exercise every opportunity of Parliamentary control and investigation, I have endeavoured to do so, and I apologise if I have got out of order in so doing. It is not easy to keep within the rules of order and at the same time to get all the information which I am sure the House and the country outside desires to have about the work of the Post Office and the great services which are attached to it.

I share the opinion of the Noble Lord that the Postmaster-General has insufficient opportunities for developing the case of the Post Office in this House, and I would suggest to the Noble Lord that he would help me considerably to have questions answered by the Postmaster-General if he could persuade his colleagues on the other side of the House to ask other Ministers fewer questions or fewer supplementary questions.

I do not mind doing that, because it would bring revenue to the Post Office.

I do not know what this has to do with the Supplementary Estimate.

I want to submit, with great respect, that it has a good deal to do with it, because, if you send a 1½d. letter by post, you make the Post Office pay, whereas, if you send postcards, you do not. I thought that the Noble Lord rather challenged me to intervene in this Debate, but that he felt very safe in doing so because he knew perfectly well that there were so many limitations on the Debate that it was not possible for me to enter into an argument with him. I suggest that the Noble Lord, in asking so many questions, has attempted a criticism of the Post Office because it is now administered by a Socialist Minister, but, in doing so, I think he must have forgotten that many of the things for which the Post Office is now responsible were due partly to his administration and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson), as well as to the administration of Ministers who preceded him.

It is quite true that these Estimates do not help us very considerably in get- ting to know precisely all the details which the Postmaster-General places before the House, or the totals which those details involve. I have been in the House but a very short time, but I have studied a good many of these Estimates from time to time, and I have never yet found that the Estimates of any Department give you precisely the thing that you want to know. For that a Socialist Government is not necessarily responsible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nationalisation!"]. Nationalisation, as controlling the War Office, the Admiralty, and so on, can be brought into the picture, but I should very much like to see these Estimates given in more detail. The question asked by the Noble Lord with regard to the bonus related in some measure to whether the rates paid for casual workers at Christmas time had in them an element of the increased bonus, or the concession in regard to bonus which was made to the established classes. The answer, I suggest, is that, by maintaining for last Christmas the same rate—

The hon. Member, I think, is quite aware that, by the desire of the Committee, a full discussion was allowed on this subject a few days ago, but there was a clear understanding that it should not be raised again on any of these subsequent Estimates.

The Christmas work, which I think is what the hon. Member was discussing, does not affect the established staff, to whom the bonus applies, but chiefly temporary men, and temporary men are not covered by the bonus. Is not that the point?

The point put by the Noble Lord was as to whether the rates paid for temporary Christmas work had in them an element of bonus as a recognition of the concession made to the established staff. In so far as they were the same rates as were paid previously at Christmas, I presume that they had, but that does not enter into this case at all. The fact is that temporary rates are very low. They are higher than they were, as a result of representations made by my organisation to the administration presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon and by the Noble Lord. The rates, however, are still very low—too low—and I had hoped, therefore, that the Noble Lord, in dealing with these Estimates, would have made a suggestion as to where those rates could have been improved. He also referred to telephone operators, and asked whether more or fewer were employed now as covered by these Estimates. The answer must be that the number of telephone operators cannot be more, but must be less owing to the extension of automatic telephones. In so far as the automatic telephone services are covered by these Estimates, I was in sympathy with the Noble Lord when be said that he found himself in a difficulty in regard to the operation of the automatic telephone, but I think he made the dangerous admission that every time he went to it it went wrong.

No. The only time that it went wrong in my house was when there was a fire.

I do not want to repeat what I said the other day. The point that I am making is that I do not see how it was possible for the Noble Lord to make very much out of the development of the automatic telephone, seeing that he, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon, claimed responsibility for its introduction. The Noble Lord asked whether it was profitable or not, but, surely, that is a matter which does not arise on these Estimates at all. The Noble Lord is very fond of quoting New York against London with regard to the telephone system, but I read in this evening's paper that:

"New York is rapidly being placed upon the automatic system, and the system works well. It is hoped that the whole of the exchanges throughout the city will be automatic in a few years."
I am afraid, unless the Noble Lord wakes up, that he will find that a good deal of his case against the Post Office will have dwindled away. He chided us who are members of the Union of Post Office Workers as to whether, with regard to these Estimates, we were going to raise questions with which he was familiar. I rather thought he would have, borne in mind that there is not very much scope in this one page for raising staff questions. I will do my best, but I shall have to keep my eye on the Chair. When the occasion serves, I shall be very willing to point to defects of the Post Office which are largely the creation of bad administration by Conservative Ministers in the past, but this is not the time for that. The Noble Lord congratulated him-self upon the success of the cash-on-de-livery system. I congratulate him, too. He congratulated himself upon the extension of rural telephones. I congratulate him too, because he and his right hon. Friend accepted the advice of the Union of Post Office Workers when he put that proposition to the Post Office. There are a number of other constructive propositions that we put to them which we are still waiting to see effect given to. I am glad to find the Noble Lord has not charged the Socialist Government with the Holborn explosion, nor did he say very much about the British Broadcasting Corporation, because, if he did, he would find that there would be a good many answers to a good many of the criticisms against the Post Office on the success of that undertaking.

The questions I would like to address to my right hon. Friend relate particularly to the conveyance of mails by road contract work. There is provision for certain contract road services which it was anticipated would have been replaced by Departmental motor mail vans. I do not expect my hon. Friend to give me a concise answer, but I would ask him to make an inquiry as to whether the policy laid down by the late Postmaster-General and Assistant Postmaster-General is working satisfactorily, whether he is continuing the policy which requires that before a contractor is displaced by a Post Office owned motor van there shall be shown a saving of expense, whether he is satisfied that such provisions in regard to the retention of any other contractors or in regard to any proposals that may be in mind for the opening up or sealing up of other contracts have taken into account the requirements of the fair wages Clause, and whether the Post Office insists that these contractors competing with the Post Office motor mail vans pay their employés a proper wage. That has a very substantial bearing upon the question of unemployment, about which the Noble Lord chided the Postmaster-General.

9.0 p.m.

I should also like to ask something in regard to Item K (b), where reference is made to works in connection with the relief of unemployment. Is it possible, by developing this telephone work, to restore to the service some of those thousands of labourers who were displaced as the result of the late Postmaster-General's policy? Can he bring some of them back? There are thousands of them. If the Post Office can now expand or accelerate its work in dealing with telephone operations and the laying of cables, these men should be given a reasonable opportunity. These points will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity of making such inquiries as, I am sure, will lead to results indicating that it will be necessary for him, if progress is to be made in these things, to reverse part of the policy of the late Postmaster-General which led to the displacement of labour. If, in these Estimates dealing with engineering materials and the conveyance of mails by road, he can find work for these people who have been displaced and, at the same time, give an opportunity for the thousands of men who are engaged on part-time labour at very low rates of pay, he will have given the service a good deal to be satisfied with, and he will be able to show that the Post Office can substantially contribute to the difficulties of unemployment if it is given the opportunity.

There are two points about which I wish to ask for information. I do so with the greater confidence because I remember that recently the Postmaster-General said that discussions about the Post Office did not imply that it was inefficient and that, as it was the property of the public, we had a right to expect from it a higher standard than from other concerns. The first point to which I want to draw attention is the item for £52,000 paid in connection with the Holborn explosion. The Assistant Postmaster-General indicated that this would be the maximum sum payable. I want to ask, further, what proportion is that sum of the total amount of damage that was done. As far as I remember, there was not very much blame attaching to the Post Office in connection with it and far more damage than £52,000 was done. I should very much like to know what proportion of that was paid by the Post Office and, further, whether any gas, electric light or public utility company contributed.

The second point I want to ask about is under the heading of Appropriations-in-Aid. There is an item of £51,000, and I should like to know how that exact sum was arrived at and the sources from which it comes. For instance, I should like to know whether the Post Office has had to convey more mails from place to place than it originally contracted to do, and whether it has done any more work for railways than it has done in the past. I should also like to know whether any sites have been sold and whether they have received any further rent for Post Office premises which have been sub-let. I hope we shall be told that, if this sum has been arrived at in any of these ways, there are further ways in which money can be raised.

I understand that, in respect to the damage done by the Holborn explosion, an arrangement was come to between the Post Office and the Gas Light and Coke Company under which, without prejudice, liability for the damage caused by the explosion was admitted, and admitted upon the terms that the Post Office and the gas company would contribute in equal shares to reimbursing the sufferers from the explosion the loss which they had incurred. That arrangement which followed upon the Home Office inquiry, which was a very prolonged and exhaustive one, was very creditable both to the Post Office and to the gas company. It was made some 12 months ago, it may be 10 months ago, and, though it was quickly brought about, the carrying into effect of that arrangement to which both the Post Office and the gas company pledged themselves, has been lamentably slow. We have now arrived at a date 15 months after the explosion, and I understand that many of the claims are outstanding, claims which have been lodged and have been under the consideration of the Post Office, which in the matter of this settlement appeared to be taking the leading part, though, no doubt, it has to confer with the legal representatives of the gas company. At this late date many of the sufferers, some of them quite small people who have suffered in their business, stand without compensation at all. I should like to ask the Postmaster-General, and I hope he will be able to give me the information, how much of the estimated sum of £52,000 has at this date been paid? In the arrangement that was made that sum, whatever it amounts to, must be doubled, because I understand that the arrangement carried with it the liability of the gas company to contribute an equal amount, but from the information which I received—and I am in very close touch with the claimants in respect of the damage sustained in connection with this explosion—the sum which to date has been received amounts to nothing like £104,000. If the Postmaster-General would be good enough to give me the figure, I should be very glad to have it.

There is one further matter upon which I should welcome an assurance from the Postmaster-General. It is said that the course of litigation is slow. Be it so, I am not prepared to deal with that topic to-night. All I can say is, be the course of litigation as slow as it may be, it is nothing like as slow as the course of settlement upon an admitted liability. I ask the Postmaster-General to instruct those who are responsible for this settlement to proceed to settle without further delay and not to raise inconsistent and captious objections to claims. I realise full well that it is public money which is being applied to this settlement and due and full regard must be had to that fact, but when I find, as I find day after day, one claim put forward on certain grounds accepted and another claim put forward on almost identical grounds rejected or queried, I do ask the Postmaster-General to bring to bear his influence and his authority on those who are interested in this settlement to deal with it on broad and proper lines with due regard to public economy, but with equal regard to the just claims of those who admittedly have suffered from this explosion which took place as long as 15 months ago and who to-day stand without that compensation which has been promised to them.

I rise with some diffidence to speak in this Debate, because I am an unpractised speaker, and I am not used to the Rules of the House. Bearing in mind the great difficulty which the Noble Lord had in keeping within the Rules of Order, I feel even more diffident about it, especially as I hope to touch upon a few of the points which he made. The Noble Lord spoke about the question of stolen mail bags, a matter in which all of us have a great deal of interest, and he ventured the opinion that many mail bags were left unattended in course of transmission. He said that that was the responsibility of the Postmaster-General. However that may be in theory, we know that in practice a very large number of mail bags are left unattended. I do not think that we should add weight to the responsibility of the Postmaster-General in circumstances which he cannot avoid. I suppose the Noble Lord would not make a suggestion that a post office servant should be despatched always with a single bag.

With regard to the additional provision in Item "E 1" in which the sum set down is £70,000, the Noble Lord invited the Postmaster-General to give us some explanation of this Supplementary Estimate. I wish to add my voice to that of the Noble Lord in asking the Postmaster-General to give us some explanation unless there may be some difficulty of policy about it. I would suggest that one of the main features, perhaps the main cause of the increased expenditure on this particular postal service, is the very heavy fees which the Post Office has to pay for carriage. I suggest to the Noble Lord—he will know of course and will be able to correct me if I am wrong—that under the present system 50 per cent. of the postage on postal packages has to be devoted to cost of carriage which goes to the railway companies. I think that that is a matter which has a distinct bearing upon the item which has been mentioned. I should like, at any rate, to have some definite information about it if it is possible for such information to be given. I notice that in two classes A 2 and A 4 no great complaints were made about the postal section proper. That is a section which, year in and year out, has paid handsomely to the Post Office and the public, yet there is no special merit to be attached to that Department over the other Departments which have been mentioned and complained about by the Noble Lord. The Noble Lord spoke about the Savings Bank. I am not sure whether that was one of the points about which he was in difficulty. The hon. Mem- ber for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) referred to certain action by the trade union which had led to an improvement in the service in other directions. The same group of people made recommendations or suggestions to the Post Office more than 20 years ago about the Savings Bank. It was not a Labour Postmaster-General who refused to accept those suggestions, or other suggestions put forward. He would not allow the people who were making the suggestions—

I have re trained from interrupting the hon. Member because I thought that he was making a maiden speech, but I understand that that is not so. I cannot allow him to proceed further with that line of argument.

I am sorry. I am innocent in all other directions. I was interested in the criticism which the Noble Lord made regarding the telegraph section. A good deal of criticism has been made against the telegraph section of the British Post Office, but I have never yet heard a reference to the extraordinary difficulties under which the telegraph section started, right from the time when it was taken over from the old company. It started with difficulties, and difficulties have been piled upon it year in and year out. I have never yet heard a reference to the subsidy which the British telegraphs—

The hon. Member must keep to the items in the Supplementary Estimate. He must not go outside those items.

I understood the Chair man to rule that such a reference came in in connection with these Estimates, because it was concealed in items A 2 and A4. I was glad to hear the Noble Lord's criticisms. He has had a very wide experience of Post Office administration, and I hope that the Postmaster General will deal with all his criticisms.

The amount that we are asked to vote is a very considerable one, £995,000, but, considering that it relates to the Post Office and the telephone department, I do not think that it is such a large amount, seeing that the Post Office is making a very considerable profit. We ought to go carefully into some of the items. With regard to the conveyance of mails, I should like to know whether any of the extra expenditure is to be spent in giving added protection to the mails. Scarcely a day passes that we do not see some reference to the loss or robbery of mails. Is some of the extra money that it being spent on the conveyance of mails to provide more adequate protection? With regard to the policy of extending telephone call offices in villages and rural areas generally, nothing is wanted more. I put questions to the late Postmaster-General the right hon. Member for Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) when he was carrying out a system for the county of Essex, part of which I represent, greatly increasing the number of rural telephones and installing telephones at rural railway stations.

I hope that some of the extra expenditure in this Department—I believe that £126,000 is particularly devoted to extending the telephones—will provide a larger number of rural telephones, and that every rural railway station in the kingdom will be provided with a telephone. It is important for the farmers and for all of us. We are almost the most backward country in the extension of our telephone system. Any money that is spent in extending our telephone system is well spent, because it brings back a return in increased trade. I would ask the Postmaster-General to devote a larger amount of money for the providing of rural telephones. There have been large numbers of complaints especially with regard to toll calls in districts not very far from London, many of them rural exchanges and many of them out-of-date exchanges. The complaint has been as to inaudibility which is due, I suppose, either to the lack of current or to the fact that they have an antiquated machine at the exchange. I would ask the Postmaster-General to go into the question of these rural telephone exchanges, for they are becoming worse and worse. Very often you can hardly hear what the person is saying; no matter how clear or distinct he tries to be, it is almost impossible to hear.

The laying of underground telephone lines is most vital. I would draw attention to a case where wires went over a garage and the garage caught fire, and now the unfortunate man is being sued. The other day the Postmaster-General refused to accept a majority verdict, and again the unfortunate man is to be put to the expense of the case being brought forward. The wires might well have been laid underground in front of the garage, and not over it. The man tried to insure the other day against further damage, but he was told that that was impossible because the garage did not belong to him and he could not insure somebody else's property. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, wherever possible, in order to avoid cases like this, will have the telephone wires laid underground, so as to avoid damage by fire or storm or by trees being blown down. Any expenditure on these lines is reproductive, giving employment to the unemployed and doing a vast amount of good.

In regard to the Holborn explosion, I should like to know whether the Postmaster-General is taking any steps to prevent similar occurrences. The reason for such an explosion is that the telephone lines are laid close to gas mains and electric light cables. In former days if there was a leakage in the gas main under an ordinary macadam road, the gas was able gradually to escape, but nowadays our roads are made of material that is imperviable to wet or gas, and the gas cannot escape and lies in pockets. When you have an electric cable close to the gas main and you have the telephone wires there, you run very great risk of an explosion similar to that at Holborn. I hope that the Postmaster-General will take due precautions against a repetition of such an explosion.

With regard to the last item, wireless broadcasting, that is becoming more and more popular. No less than 2,716,000 people have got listening sets, and it is becoming more and more important. The Postmaster-General should look to the direction of this service and see that broadcasting is run on absolutely nonpolitical lines, for we have had already serious objection raised to some of the things that have been spoken lately, such as those by Mr. Nicholson, to which great exception has been taken by many people in this country. I do hope that as there are so many people paying for licences, the right hon. Gentleman will see that this very important service is run on absolutely and strictly impartial lines.

I had hoped to speak on the question of the Post Office on a larger scale one evening last week, but the inordinate eloquence of certain Members of the House, including the Postmaster-General and his votaries prevented me from making a speech that night. It was "roses, roses all the way," to the tune of "Great is the Postmaster-General, and the Secretary of the Union of Postal Workers is his prophet." It is a rather more gloomy matter to-night with all this criticism afloat. I put down a Motion to reduce this Vote by £100. I am perfectly prepared to withdraw that Motion if I am permitted to make a few remarks, and these are the remarks. I am speaking technically on the sum to be voted as Supplementary Estimate, and therefore I think I am in order. The point I wish to raise is the injustice of the treatment of the provincial towns and the rural districts as compared with London. You will see in this additional sum required that London is getting £225,000, while £394,000 goes to the provinces, but, comparing that with the total sum, the proportion is very different, and is something like 11 to 20. That is only an example which I have gathered from the statistics of the way in which everything has been sacrificed by the Post Office to the interests of the Metropolitan area. The whole countryside is being scamped in its services and generally ill-treated. The Londoner has his late post, and he is going to have a post office open all night—

The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss the details of the postal system on the Supplementary Vote.

On that point of Order. Is not the hon. Gentleman entitled to urge that this £70,000 would be better spent in Oxford than in London?

I think it is possible he might, but the £70,000 is not detailed here, and the hon. Gentleman was raising the question of later posts.

It is only an illustration of the way in which the countryside is being wronged compared with the excellent service given in London. In regard to salaries, the arrangements are of a similar sort. My suggestion has reference—

With regard to the point of Order raised by the Noble Lord, I do not see the £70,000 here.