I beg to move:
"That the Sea-Fishing Industry (Regulation of Landing) Order, 1936, dated the eighth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Board of Trade under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933, a copy of which was presented to this House on the ninth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved."
On a point of Order. May I ask for guidance as regards the scope of these Orders? I understand that the Statutory Rules and Orders are issued under the Sea Fishery Act, 1933. They concern the industry as a whole and the livelihood of those engaged in it. I would ask for your ruling, whether we can on this occasion discuss the administration of the Act of Parliament under which these Rules and Orders are made and also the condition of the workers engaged in the industry?
On that point of Order, may I say that the first Order is made under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, Section 1? Before an Order can be made under Section 1 of the Act certain pre-requisites are necessary, which may be summarised under three headings: (1) There must be three other Orders in force; (2) If the Orders, are not made by the 28th of this month the Minister must consider that Sea-Fish Commission's report; (3) Orders made before 28th July shall cease to have effect unless each House has passed a Resolution to continue them and, lastly, before this Order can be made the Minister must have had regard to the interests of the consumers of sea fish. In these circumstances, I submit that it is impossible to discuss this Order without discussing the organisation of the sea-fishing industry, and my contention is borne out by a statement to that effect in the report of the Sea-Fish Commission which says:
One of these Orders being now before us:"While we have no difficulty in recommending the continuance of the Statutory Regulations under the 1933 Act, subject to modification—"
This report, upon which the Minister is relying, goes on to explain that all these matters "are inextricably bound up with that." That is to say, the regularity and quality of fish supplies, which is the subject dealt with in the first Order, and the question of restoring trawling to a remunerative level, are inextricably bound up with the organisation of the fishing industry. In these circumstances, I submit that any attempt to discuss this Order without having the wider subject of the organisation of the industry open to us for examination would not be effective. Therefore, I would suggest that on the first Order you should allow an open discussion, including the matters referred to in the Sea-Fish Commission's report, and, if so, the discussion on the subsequent Orders might be confined to their precise terms."We are satisfied that these measures alone cannot solve entirely the problems of the regularity and quality of the fish supplies or restore trawling, particularly in the near and middle waters, to a reasonably remunerative level."
I am not certain what will be the effect of these Orders and what would happen if they are not passed. The hon. Member would be in order in arguing that they do not go far enough, but I do not think that we could have a general discussion on the question whether the Act of 1933 is sufficient or insufficient. I will, however, listen to the argument and see how far the hon. Member is in order.
I presume that it will be open to us to argue that these Orders will be ineffective or even injurious to the industry in whose interests they have been designed. Surely, it will be possible for us to have a discussion on the Sea-Fish Commission's report, arising out of which and in accordance with the recommendations of which, these Orders are now being made. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if we discussed the two Orders together. I think the Minister was beginning to do that.
In reply to the last point raised by the hon. Member, it would obviously be for the convenience of the House to have a discussion on both Orders at the same time, but I do not think that we can go into matters which cannot be dealt with under the Act itself.
On the Order Paper there are two Resolutions, but they relate to only one Order, that is to say, to this new Order which allows certain modifications of import restrictions and, therefore, the making of an amended Order, covered by Resolution No. 1, is necessary. The new Order is to be continued in force in subsequent years, and for that purpose Resolution No. 2 is necessary. Then there is a Northern Waters Order, but that does not require an affirmative Resolution. We are, therefore, dealing with one Order (A), an amended Landing Order, and (B) a Resolution extending that amended Order for subsequent years.
On a point of Order. The Minister has said, quite rightly, that we have two Orders in our hands dealing with the fishing industry. The effect of one Order is to regulate the foreign landings of fish. The effect of the other Order is to restrict the landing of fish by British vessels from distant waters. The first Order requires two Resolutions to give effect to it, and they are now before the House. The second Order does not require any formal Resolution of the House. Shall we be able to discuss the second Order, although it does not require a definite Resolution of the House? The Order arises also out of the Act of 1933, and I think that our discussion to-day will be seriously incomplete if we are not allowed to refer to it.
Naturally I desire that the discussion should cover the Northern Waters Order as well. It was for that purpose that we delayed the discussion until we were able to lay the terms of the Northern Waters Order before the House. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if we dealt with the first Resolution, which is a small point amending the existing Order to allow salt cod fish to come in, and then had a discussion on the Second Resolution to continue the Order in force after the appointed day.
The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) will realise that it is difficult for me to give a ruling on an Order the effect of which is by no means clear on the face of it, but I do not think we should be following our usual practice if we went into a detailed discussion on an Order which does not require the approval of the House. If my memory is right it is open to any hon. Member to move a Prayer.
I am sure it is not the desire of the House to go in detail into the Northern Waters Order, but I think it will be competent for hon. Members to refer to it as part of the general policy effected by the Landing Order. I suggest that we might now deal with the first Order, which amends the original Order and allows wet salt cod fish to be imported without restriction, and then afterwards have a discussion on the other Resolution.
With reference to the first point, I think it is obvious that some reference to the Northern Waters Order would be in order. All I meant was that we cannot go into the details of an Order which is not before the House and which no hon. Member has taken the necessary steps to bring before the House.
This Order is to amend a former Order which applies to fish fresh or cured which are found in the sea other than certain excepted categories. The amending Order introduces a new excepted category, wet salt cod fish. The purpose of the Order is to give British curers greater facilities to import from abroad wet salted split cod. This is salted immediately after catching or salted ashore under the same conditions so that the whiteness of the fish is preserved, and it produces a quality of dried article which is specially required for certain foreign markets which have recently been found for British salt fish. British salt fish merchants who dry this wet salt cod are unable to take 'advantage of these fresh markets unless they can get larger supplies from abroad, and wet salt cod of the same quality is not available in any quantities from British landings. This amendment, therefore, is for the purpose of allowing a further amount of raw material to be imported from foreign sources for the purpose of processing in this country for re-export.
There is one further alteration. In the Preamble to the original Order, there was a reference to the fact that it was the policy of the Government to restrict foreign landings to 90 per cent. of the average foreign landings for the years 1930, 1931, and 1932. That reference has been dropped out of the Preamble to this Order, and I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will explain whether there is any significance in this omission and if so what it is.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to explain what appears to me to be a flaw in the administration of this Order. I have given as close a study as I can to the Act of 1933 to find out how far it is within the power of the right hon. Gentleman to revoke an Order once it has been made. There is no time limit in the Order. Under Section 1, it is severed on 28th July. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at Section 8 of the Act of 1933, he will see:
That cannot mean that once the right hon. Gentleman has made an Order under the earlier Section that he has by this Section power to make new Orders free from all the restrictions which envelop his powers under the previous Section. The only meaning of Section 8 is that the Minister having made an Order can only vary or revoke it under the same restrictions as surround his power to make it in the first place. You cannot assume that the power to revoke an Order is outside the restrictions imposed upon the Minister in Section 1, which confers upon him powers to make the original Order. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain how he can revoke an Order once it is made, and if he cannot that he will put some time limit in the Order, otherwise he might find himself and the Order floating about in mid-air, only to be rescued by a fresh Act empowering him to make Orders without any restrictions."Where any of the provisions of this Act confers a power to make an Order, the power shall be construed as including a power, exercisable in the like manner, to vary or revoke the order by a subsequent Order."
The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) has said that there is no mention in the Preamble of the 90 per cent. limitation of imports. I hope that does not mean that the Government are departing in any way from the policy of restricting imports, because I personally would prefer to see, in the interests of fishermen, imports drastically curtailed. If, as I understand, the Order merely provides for what is in essence a re-export trade, that is taking in fish from abroad and subjecting them to certain processes for re-export, I can see no objection to it.
I think the points which have been put to me exemplify the procedure I suggested to the House a little earlier. The point which the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) put would more appropriately come up when we are discussing the second Resolution. This amended Order, unless continued by the House, can only run to the 28th day of this month. Therefore, it would be appropriate to consider its continuance after we have made the small technical Amendment which is desirable to allow an increased importation from foreign countries for the purposes referred to by the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick).
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer my point, which does affect the Order as it is?
The fixed percentage was dropped very largely because these matters are at present regulated by trade agreements, and may be regulated further in agreements to be made. Therefore, while those agreements are still in abeyance, it is obviously undesirable to put a fixed percentage in the Order.
May I say that I support the Amendment which is made in this Order? As my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) said, it is a very good thing that this measure of encouragement should be given to an important export industry, that of fish, which is very largely a Scottish industry. I regret only that it is confined to wet salted cod. A certain amount of ling is wet salted, although I agree that cod is the most important. I shall certainly vote for the Resolution.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the Sea-Fishing Industry (Regulation of Landing) Order, 1936, dated the eighth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Board of Trade under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933, a copy of which was presented to this House on the ninth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, be approved."
I beg to move,
The House will see that this Resolution raises a somewhat wider issue than that raised by the preceding one, and I hope to be able to show that this is a Resolution which the House should approve. It will be remembered that the regulation of landings was part of the policy of the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933. It was also part of the policy of that Act that the conditions of the sea-fishing industry should be inquired into by a Commission and the report thereon laid before the House. The Sea-Fish Commission, presided over by Sir Andrew Duncan, has been a model Commission in the energy with which it has worked. Shortly after the Commission was set up, the crisis in the herring industry became very acute, and the Commission was asked to devote itself, as a matter of urgency, to the working out of some policy for the herring industry. The Commission undertook its task with great vigour and thoroughness, and presented a report which led to legislation in the House. That delayed the proceedings of the Sea-Fish Commission in dealing with the second important subject, that of white fish, and it is for that reason that the report dealing with white fish was not presented earlier. When it was presented, however, it approved the policy of His Majesy's Government of regulation of landings, and indeed in some ways it suggested that that policy should go even further. In one particular instance it suggested that the policy should be relaxed, and that the Northern Waters Order should extend only for three months instead of four. The new Northern Waters Order does, in fact, carry out that important recommendation of the Sea-Fish Commission. In general the policy of the regulated market which His Majesty's Government had introduced for the fishing industry was approved by the Sea-Fish Commission, and it is on that account and on account of practical experience, that we ask the House to pass the Resolution continuing that policy for a further period. The dangers to the fishing industry of this country are known to hon. and right hon. Members, who have as close aquaintance as I have with the actual difficulties of the fishing industry, but I think none will deny that the examination of books and accounts has shown that even for the white fishing industry, its prosperity and indeed its survival is a matter of question in conditions even as they are. I think none will deny that if this limitation by quantity were taken off, some other limitation by tariff would have to be introduced in its place. There is no need for me to emphasise the importance of the maintenance of the white fishing industry in this country. The industry welcomed these proposals. It has worked them honestly and I think with general acceptance, and it asks unanimously for their maintenance. Therefore, the continuance of this policy is asked for by the industry, is approved by the Sea-Fish Commission, and is laid before the House in an affirmative Resolution by the Government. I think that is a very strong case, and I think we should be ill-advised if we were to reject that consensus of opinion."That the continuance in force after the twenty-seventh day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, of the Sea-Fishing Industry (Regulation of Landing) Order, 1936, dated the eighth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Board of Trade under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933, be approved."
I am always glad to find myself in the unaccustomed rôle of supporting the Government and welcoming its measures. Therefore, it was a great pleasure to me to be able to support the first Resolution on the Paper which, by freeing the import of wet salted fish from restriction, carried out a recommendation which my hon. Friends and I strongly urged when the 1933 Act was passing through the House. At that time our representations were resisted by the Government and by hon. Members opposite, but I am glad to see that in practice the advice which we gave to the House and the Government has been proved to be sound, and that this measure of freedom has been accorded to the wet salted fish industry for the import of its essential raw material.Now, I am very sorry to say, I have to revert to my more accustomed attitude of opposition to the proposals of the Government, because I believe that they are tackling this problem from the wrong end. Their policy is devised in the immediate and, as I think, short-sighted interests of the trawler-owning industry. I want to say frankly—because if I did not I might be thought to be sailing under false colours—that I am personally concerned very much to defend the interests of the inshore fishermen. I belong to a fishing town where the inshore fishing is the principal industry of the people. Inshore fishermen have fewer spokesmen, and those who do speak for the industry are in less powerful positions than those who are able to speak for the great and highly organised and wealthy trawling section of the industry. But I do not wish to adopt an attitude of hostility or antagonism, or any attitude other than one of most friendly co-operation with the trawling industry. I recognise that it is a most vital branch of the industry and that it provides a very large proportion of our fish. I think this point is overstated in the report of the Commission, but at any rate the trawling section does provide a very large proportion of the fish consumed in this country, and certainly its interests should be amply considered by the Government, but no policy can be satisfactory which does not embrace the interests of all sections of the industry, both trawling and inshore. It is also a matter of regret to me that I cannot join in the praise which the Minister accorded to the Sea-Fish Commission. I read their Report on white fishing with deep disappointment, particularly because there is practically no mention of the inshore fishing at all, and in so far as it is mentioned its importance in the scheme of things is overlooked, its social importance in the country, the fact that there are large areas containing towns and villages which depend upon inshore fishing, the fact that these men were, as Lord Balfour described them, "the shield and buckler of the Allied cause in the War," the fact also that they man the lifeboats in time of peace. All these facts give them a real claim upon the consideration of the Government and of public opinion, a claim which was very cavalierly treated by the Commission. I believe that the policy which I advocate, the basis of which would be the conservation of the stock of fish in the North Sea, is as essential to the prosperity of the trawling industry in the long run as it is to that of the inshore fishing industry. The particular Order which we are discussing is intended to regulate the landings of imported fish. When the 1933 Act was debated this quota regulation, under which the landings of foreign-caught fish were to be restricted to 90 per cent. of the average foreign landings of the years 1930, 1931 and 1932, I criticised as vicious in principle and likely to be inoperative in practice. So it has proved. Why was it likely to be inoperative in practice? Because landings of foreign imported fish had been in fact steadily falling off. I have here the figures. The landings in 1930 were 2,500,000 cwts.; in 1931 they were just over 2,000,000 cwt.; in 1932, they were 1,800,000 cwts. Therefore the average of those landings for those three years was 2,100,000 cwts. If you take off 10 per cent. the landings which were allowed under the quota restrictions were to be 1,941,000 cwts. as against 1,856,000 cwts. which had been landed in 1932. In short, more fish were allowed to be landed under the provisions of this Order than had in fact been landed in 1932. Therefore, I prophesied that the Order would be inoperative, and so it has proved. For hon. Members to say that it has been helpful to the industry is flying in the face of the facts. The Sea-Fish Commission give no reasons for saying that it has been helpful, but they do say quite frankly that the actual landings in 1934 fell no less than 500,000 cwts. below the quantity which was allowed to be imported under the Order, and in 1935 they fell 550,000 cwts. below the quantities allowed under the Order. Therefore I say that the Order has proved to be absolutely inoperative. The steady decline in imports which had been going on in 1930, 1931 and 1932 has continued, as it was bound to continue, and at an accelerated pace owing to German exchange difficulties. But the Order itself has never been within sight of being operative in this country. What effect will this new Order have? It will, of course, allow the import of the raw material of the white salted fish industry. That is to the good. But when I asked the Minister what significance attached to the omission from the preamble of any reference to the restriction of imports to 90 per cent. of the foreign landings in 1930, 1931 and 1932, he said that the amount of restriction would depend upon the result of trading negotiations now going on with foreign countries. Presumably this omission presages an effort by the Government to persuade the foreign governments to agree to a further measure of restriction. My submission is that restriction is the wrong road on which to travel in order to save this industry. It will force up prices and contract the market. Being inoperative, as in the case of the present Order, it merely plagues those engaged in the industry with irksome restrictions and brings benefit to no one. The other Order—the Northern Waters Order—is far more important from the point of view of the future of the industry and the general interest of all branches, trawling and inshore fishing, of the industry. I do not want to discuss it in detail. The only important detail in it is one which I welcome, the new Amendment which has been inserted as a result of the report of the Sea-Fish Commission and very likely owing in part to the strong speech which was made by the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) when we discussed the Order in this House a few months ago. I wish to refer to the Order from the point of view of the conservation of fish in the North Sea. Its effect has been to drive up prices and to limit the supplies of fish in the four months of the year during which it has operated—June, July, August and September. This new Order attempts to limit the mischief which was done by the old Order and raises the ban on fishing in these far distant Northern waters in the month of September. The effect of the closing of these distant Northern waters was a sharp rise in the price of fish during the four months that it was in operation—in the case of cod from 12s. 5d. in 1932 to 17s. 10d. in 1935—and that rise hit the fried fish shops very hard. The fried fish shops are not only places where a great number of the masses of the people go to eat fish, but they are the best customers of the white fishing industry, absorbing no less than 50 per cent. of the whole white fishing catch. The sharp rise in price during those months has, as I say, hit them hard and has prevented that expansion in the consumption of white fish which should have followed from the increased purchasing power of the people in recent years. An increased consumption of fish is the only sound foundation for a revival of the fishing industry, but instead of expanding their business the fried fish shops have been compelled to reduce their turnover. Then, at the end of the four months, in October, when the ban was removed, a large supply of fish was shot upon a market debilitated by four months of high prices and the result has been, as the hon. Member for North West Hull said a few months ago, an artificial slump in prices when the duration of the Order expired. The House will observe that this restriction upon landing from certain areas of sea in the far North applies not to foreign sources of supply, but only to British trawlers and merely to reduce the period of the exclusion of fish landed from British trawlers from distant Northern waters by one month, will do little to alleviate the bad effects of the Order. But there is in my opinion an even more deplorable effect of this Northern Waters Order than the effect on price and that is its effect on the livelihood of the inshore fishermen and on the stock of fish in the North Sea. I come back here to what I indicated at the beginning was, in my opinion, the central problem of the fishing industry in this country at present, inshore and trawling branches alike. That is the depletion of the stocks of fish in the North Sea. The Sea-Fish Commission drew attention to it in the following passage:
Again they say:"At the same time, the British harvest from the North Sea and the other near waters has been less plentiful in volume and less satisfactory in respect of the size of fish caught. The landings from the North Sea amounted to 5,490,000 cwts. in 1913. The almost total cessation of fishing during the War years allowed the stocks to recuperate and exceptional catches averaging 6,415,000 cwts. were obtained for the years 1920 to 1922. There followed a notable drop to an average of 4,812,000 cwts. for the years 1923 to 1925, and there has been a further decline to 3,789,000 cwts. in 1935. Moreover, the English statistics indicate that while the aggregate amount of time spent by steam trawlers in fishing on the North Sea ground dropped by 13 per cent. between 1925 and 1935 there was a drop of about 30 per cent. in the quantity, caught per hour of fishing."
That is the theme which runs through this report. The effect of this restriction on fishing in Northern waters is to increase the pressure upon the North Sea where the stock is being so rapidly depleted. The Sea-Fish Commission go on to say in reference to Orders under the Act of 1933 as to mesh of nets and the size limits of fish."The reputation of fish as a food was built up in this country on the rich variety of fresh and prime species taken from the near and middle waters. The fortunes of the main trawling ports, apart from Hull, are dependent upon those waters, and in recent years—due in part to diminishing returns by reason of depleted stocks and possibly even more to competition from very heavy landings of fish from distant waters—the financial results have been poor."
I believe that to be an illusion. People who have little knowledge of the industry greatly exaggerate the importance of the enlarged mesh. It sounds all right to say that if you make the mesh bigger the little fish will get out, but the action of the ship as it moves through the sea has the effect of closing the meshes of the net and even the larger mesh does not enable the smaller fish to escape. Month by month the Fishery Board in Scotland publish returns in which they refer to the scarcity of fish in the North Sea and the near waters. I have copies of those returns for April, May and June, and I find in them such references as:"In our opinion the Orders are useful and necessary measures of precaution and should be continued. In view of the widespread concern felt as to the impoverishment of the home grounds particularly for hake, plaice and haddock, the question of further possible protection requires consideration. The closure of areas for periods has been suggested, but would give rise to great practical difficulties and the most hopeful proceeding would appear to be a further enlargement of the minimum size of mesh of nets."
And again:"Short voyage trawlers had a very poor month particularly those vessels which usually work on the nearer home grounds."
And again:"Poor catches on the nearer grounds."
And again:"the North Sea grounds where fish appear to be very scarce."
These returns all tell the same story of the depletion of fish in the North Sea and in our home fishing grounds. It is not in the distant Northern waters that fishing ought to be stopped, but on the spawning grounds and in the shallow waters which are nurseries for fish in the North Sea and on the West Coast of Scotland. The policy of stopping fishing on the distant Northern Grounds is increasing the pressure upon the stocks of fish in the North Sea and is increasing the pressure on the inshore fishermen and provoking illegal depredations by the trawlers. I know what a temptation it must be for the master of a trawler, who has worked hard day after day, sometimes for a week at a time, who has come towards the end of his voyage, who has to go back to Aberdeen or to Fleetwood, and who has caught very few fish, and so he just goes inside the three miles limit, where perhaps in a night he can catch enough to make the difference between a prosperous and an unprofitable voyage. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that the Fishery Board for Scotland, in their annual report, say:"The earnings of short voyage trawlers showed variations. On the grounds frequented by these vessels fish were generally reported scarce."
Thus inshore fishing has to bear the brunt of the Government's policy which we are discussing to-day. It is the stocks of fish in the home waters that need conservation, and it is this failure of the inshore fishing in recent years that has been responsible more than any other single factor for the de-population of the Highlands of Scotland. The continuance of this policy will ruin the fishing villages on the North-East of Scotland, and if an emergency comes, the country will need these men in another war just as they needed them in the last War. Indeed the President of the Board of Trade warned us the other day that we are already suffering from a lack of recruiting for the Mercantile Marine. The right hon. Gentleman said:"Other methods of white fishing did not, generally speaking, enjoy the same measure of prosperity as trawling."
It is from these little fishing villages round our coasts and from these small harbours and piers that the finest seamen in our Mercantile Marine have been recruited in the past. The difficulty of these fishermen is not prices. They make no complaint about low prices. What they complain about is the lack of fish, the scarcity, and the increasing scarcity year by year, of fish, due to the increased trawling in the North Sea; and by this policy of closing the distant Northern fishing grounds the Government are increasing the trouble and making the position of these men worse. These complaints, too, are not confined to this country. Iceland, Norway, and other other countries are reacting to this increased pressure caused by the Northern Waters Order on their nearer grounds by prohibiting trawling in their home waters. I beg the Government to abandon this ill-fated and ill-conceived policy, to agree that it is in the North Sea and not in distant waters that the stock of fish should be conserved, and to enter into negotiations with the signatories of the North Sea Convention with a view to negotiating an agreement which would prevent trawling and, I would add, seine-netting too, at certain periods of the year, in the Moray Firth, the Minch, and the other shallow waters both off our coasts and off the coasts of the other countries bordering on the North Sea; and thus not only give new hope to the Scottish line fishermen and a new and more secure basis for the economic life of the Highlands, but also ensure the preservation and increase of the stocks of fish in the North Sea, on which the prosperity of the trawling, as of all other branches of the British fishing industry, depends."Already I find that in many directions there is a shortage of British seamen. There are several United Kingdom ports where it is almost impossible to make sure of getting British seamen when they are wanted."
I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) for the very kindly and generous reference which he made to me in his speech, and I hope he will not think I am lacking in gratitude if I venture to pass some criticism on the rest of his speech, which I did not think was quite so sound. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to me, at the beginning of his speech, to take a somewhat curious line in his objection to trawling. He told us, first of all, that he objected to the original Order because it was inoperative, and then he said he objected to the new one because it might be operative. It seems to me that there is a certain inconsistency in that, although I must add that he also said that an Order which was inoperative was not only just negligible, but had certain definite disadvantages inasmuch as it hindered the ordinary trader who would have to go through a number of meaningless forms. I do not think that is really quite what the situation was. Even though the Order may have been inoperative, it did have a very great and, as I believe, beneficial effect on the fortunes of the fishermen. It had this effect, that it gave at any rate one basis of certainty to an industry which of its nature is very uncertain. It did tell the industry that whatever difficulties they might have, whatever fluctuations there might be, at any rate there was some certainty in regard to the importation of foreign-caught fish; and because the industry had that certainty, it was able to embark upon a great programme of development, which I believe would not have taken place if it had not been for this Order which we have had in past years.The right hon. Gentleman went on to discuss the effect of the Northern Waters Order, and he said that he was opposed to it in the interests of the inshore fishermen. I would not for a moment detract from anything which he said so eloquently about these men and about the services which they have performed for the community, but I am not nearly so sure as the right hon. Gentleman is that the Northern Waters Order has been detrimental to the interests of the inshore fishermen. In fact, I feel fairly sure that if there had been no Northern Waters Order, the inshore fishermen would by now have been very nearly wiped out of existence. Speaking entirely for the moment from the point of view of my own constituency, the absence of that Order would not have been so very terrible, because it would have meant in effect more fish in the Northern waters in which these vast fishing machines which go out from my own constituency would have had complete freedom to trawl, and they might well have put the inshore fishermen out of business, so I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is justified in saying that this Order has been harmful to the inshore fishermen. There is a further point. He implied that because of the operation of this Order, all the vessels which had fished in Northern waters were now fishing in the North Sea. I do not think that is true. These vessels are not fitted for fishing in the North Sea. They are much too expensive for that purpose, and I do not think there has been any very great increased fishing of the North Sea as a result of the Northern Waters Order.
Surely my hon. Friend realises that the effect of denying to these big vessels access to their distant grounds in certain months is to cause them, or a great many of them, to fish nearer home. I do not suggest that these big vessels go from Hull to fish on the Dogger Bank, but they go to grounds somewhere south of the prohibited area, pushing other trawlers further south on to nearer grounds. I quoted a great deal of evidence which tends to show that much more fishing is going on in the North Sea as a result of that Order.
There is no doubt that there is that tendency which the right hon. Gentleman has described, but I do not believe that it is very considerable, and I do not believe that the disadvantage to the inshore fishermen which arises from that tendency can be compared with the greater disadvantage which would have come to them if there had been no restriction in northern waters at all. I have in the past been opposed to the Northern Waters Order because of its drastic form of operation, but the Minister has now seen fit to amend the Order on the lines of the recommendations of the Sea-Fish Commission. That has satisfied me to a great extent, and it has satisfied the right hon. Gentleman to some extent, too, so that there is no dispute on that.There is one other point I would like to put to the Minister. It is perfectly true that the producer has to be given a chance. He is given a chance by this Order and by the Northern Waters Order, but it is equally true that the fishermen must be given a fair deal, too. As the industry as a whole benefits from the Orders, the fishermen will benefit because of the manner in which they receive their payments. Under the Act as it stands the Minister can only renew this Order if it appears to him that there have been or are being taken such steps as are possible to reorganise the industry. It is fair to say that at the present time it is not possible to take very drastic steps because the Sea-Fish Commission reported only a short time ago. It is fantastic to assume that it would have been possible for the Government to have considered the report and for the industry to have done so and given their opinion on the Report to the Minister. I hope that some reorganisation will take place and that the Minister will in a special degree pay attention to the recommendations which the Commission make with regard to settlages. I ask him to do that because it is of extreme importance, although it may seem of little importance. I do not believe that the trawler owners make any abuse of the existing practice of settlages. I do not believe that in my own constituency they do abuse it. They may in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), but I am cetrain that in Hull there is no abuse. At the same time, there is a strong suspicion in the minds of the men that there is some trickery going on, and it would be in the best interests of the industry as a whole that that suspicion should be removed. I hope that when the Minister comes to the question of the reorganisation of the industry he will bear that point, among others, in mind. I hope that the success of the new Order will equal the success of that which it will replace.
References have been made to matters dealt with by the report of the Sea-Fish Commission which cannot receive adequate discussion in the time at our disposal to-day. There are several other matters into which we cannot go in detail, and I hope that the fact that they have been referred to to-day will not be used as an excuse for declining to supply an adequate opportunity at some future time for the discussion of the wide range of important matters which one finds in the second report on the white fish industry of the Sea-Fish Commission. These are important matters connected with an important industry and ought not to be disposed of in a casual discussion such as can only take place this afternoon. I propose to con fine myself to one matter which has reference to the operation of the Northern Waters Order. I do not know how the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir. A. Sinclair) arrived at the conclusion that this Order had been seriously ineffective—
I was referring to the restriction of landings. Foreign landings fell 500,000 cwts. in 1934 and 550,000 in 1935 below the level at which the quota would have come into operation. Therefore it was wholly inoperative. I never suggested that the Northern Waters Order was inoperative. On the contrary I complained of its operation.
I accept the correction of the right hon. Gentleman. The report shows that, contrary to the opinion of the hon. Member for West Hull (Mr. Law), the operation of the Order has not only been very effective, but, to some extent, has been used to the advantage of the trawler owners, very much to the detriment of the merchants, and, through the merchants, to the detriment of the consumers. On page 65 of the report reference is made to it in this way:
From the point of view of the merchants, and particularly of the consumers, I should say that the position is exceedingly unhealthy. I endorse what appears on page 64 of the report, where we are told by the Commission:"There may well have been a shortage of supplies during the restricted months when landings were barely maintained at the 1932 level. A steep rise in price has resulted, and although a moderate rise was one of the objects of the Regulations, the present position appears to be unhealthy."
By "appropriate supplies" I take it that what is meant is such supplies as will, while maintaining a remunerative price to the trawler owners, not result in such a steep rise in price as will justify the Commission in describing it as unhealthy."We do feel that a responsibility rests with the trawler owners, in return for the protection granted to them under the Order, to make every endeavour to furnish the appropriate supplies."
Did the Commission ascribe what they describe as a steep rise in price to the Northern Waters Order?
Yes, the heading to the paragraph is "Restriction of fishing in Northern waters," and it is to that and to no other cause that they ascribe the steep rise in price. As a consequence of that, I understand that representations have been made to the Minister. Here I would like to pay a compliment to the hon. Member for Grimsby (Sir W. Womersley) where I have been in the business for the last 26 years, for the large amount of work I know that he has done behind the scenes in trying to provide material wherewith the Minister could come to a decision and enable the industry in all its branches to derive the advantages that have been denied in the past. I hope he will accept that compliment from one who is politically opposed to him but who recognises his industry in seeking to promote the welfare of the town which he represents. My only regret is that I did not succeed in taking that representation from him in 1929. I think all sections of the trade will be grateful to the Minister for the fact that he has reduced the restrictions placed on British trawlers fishing in Northern waters by shortening to three months the four months period during which they were not permitted to fish there, but while that may satisfy the trawler owners I think experience will show that still further reductions in the prohibition period will have to be effected in the interests of the merchants, and particularly in the interest of fish fryers, who not only take some 50 per cent. of the whole product of the trawling industry, but provide an opportunity for the poorest sections of the community to obtain a cheap and nourishing variety of food.Whilst thanking him for the small mercy of the reduction of the restriction period, I hope that a matter which has come to my knowledge informally, shall I say, will be kept constantly in his mind, in order that some of the difficulties 'arising out of this situation may be removed. I understand the Minister has interviewed all sections of the trade and has secured some measure of agreement between them, but also, I am informed, and he will correct me if I am misinformed, that that measure of agreement was reached on an understanding—I cannot go so far as to say a firm agreement—between the Minister and the trawling section of the trade, that no undue restriction shall be placed by themselves upon trawling in Northern waters other than those imposed by the Order itself. If there is that agreement or understanding I hope it will be honoured in the spirit as well as in the letter, and that the trawler owners will discharge their responsibilities, referred to in the Commission's Report, to see that supplies are adequately maintained. If so, there will be no complaint from the merchant side of the trade, and prices may be maintained at that reasonable level which was remunerative to producers and not prohibitive to consumers. My concern is very largely, I will not say exclusively, with the protection of the interests of the distributors and the consumers, but I am not so blind as not to recognise that producers must also be prosperous if distributors and consumers are to receive the advantages of so large and useful an industry. If the Minister keeps a close and watchful eye on the trawler owners themselves to see that they do not step outside the provisions of the Order and themselves impose additional and voluntary restrictions on supplies, and keeps in view the object of maintaining prices at the healthy level which the report of the Commission speaks of, he will not only have done a service to the trade in all its branches, but will have shown some disposition to protect the interests of consumers.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Marklew) put up a case more for the fish fryers than for anybody else, but I am not convinced by his arguments concerning the effect of the Northern Waters Order. He drew attention to the fact that the second report of the Sea-Fish Commission did say that a steep rise in prices had resulted, although a moderate rise was one of the objects of the Regulations; but I do not take it from reading the entire passage that they ascribe that rise only to the regulations with regard to Northern Waters, because they say at the top of page 64:
It may be that the effective demand has gone a bit further than the supplies and has led to an increase in the prices during those months in Hull or Grimsby. I entirely disagree with the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that the inshore fishermen are not dissatisfied with the prices they receive but are dissatisfied only because they cannot get any fish. I believe that to be an utter and complete fallacy, because I have talked not only to inshore fishermen but to others, and I know that they welcome the efforts of the Government during the last two or three years to raise the wholesale prices of fish, knowing that it was impossible for the fishing industry to remain in being at all with the price of fish as it was in 1932. The hon. Member for Colne Valley gave vent to the complaints of the fish fryers, who seem to claim that their business is being prejudiced. I am not convinced that that is the case. There are seasonal changes in demand and people eat other forms of food, and it is extremely difficult to pin things down to any particular cause; but it is to be noted that whenever fish fryers are putting forward complaints about the shocking prices they have had to pay for potatoes or fish they quote the prices of 1932, although no trade can expect to go on getting its raw materials at those bankrupt prices. I do not wish to discuss the Northern Waters Order because I am extremely doubtful, from what the Deputy-Speaker said, whether I should be in order, but I have a few remarks to make on the wider Order as to the regulation of the landings of foreign fish and the observations of the right hon. Member for Caithness. It is a mystery to me how he gets away with it with his own fishermen. He made a sort of Free Trade Gladstonian speech advocating, in effect, the unrestricted import of foreign fish and allowing the fishermen to take care of themselves. The only positive measure that he advocated was that the fishermen, including the trawlers, should be prevented from fishing certain areas in the North Sea in order to conserve supplies, so that far from getting more fish they will be worse off still."Although there is evidence to show that the market has been somewhat overloaded, it is apparent that, since the date of the Order, that there has been a distinct increase in the effective demand for cod."
Surely the hon. Member knows that nobody would suggest that the inshore fishermen should not fish where they like. Nobody has ever suggested that inshore fishermen should not go in the Moray Firth, where British trawlers are not allowed to go. They do not do any harm to the stocks of fish or the young fish which swarm into those shallow waters, but the trawl nets kill the young fish by millions. That is what depletes the stock of fish in the sea.
I had no intention of misrepresenting the right hon. Gentlemen. I agree with him that inshore fishermen should be allowed to fish pretty well where they like, but it is difficult from time to time to establish exactly what an inshore fisherman is, and it may be difficult to apply restrictions to a trawler which in certain cases you should apply equally to an inshore fisherman.
Within the whole of the three-mile limit.
I agree that a case can be made out for protection in certain waters, but by putting a prohibition on in certain smaller areas you will not solve the problem; nor will you solve it by regulating foreign landings. That is merely one of the methods of approach. The right hon. Gentleman said that previous Orders were not operative be cause prices were falling all the time—
Because foreign landings were falling.
Because foreign landings were falling. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, if it had not been for these Regulations, we should have had further foreign imports. We know that every country in the world is doing everything possible, in respect of fish and any other product, to get rid of them and to get currency, and to improve their foreign trade. I believe that, during these difficult times, you will find, not a falling off in foreign imports, but a very sharp rise. I never heard of any of these fishermen who did not welcome regulation of foreign imports and who would not like, if he had his way, to increase and strengthen the regulation and prevention of further foreign landings.It seems to me a matter of extreme importance that, in the negotiations which the Government have in progress with foreign countries, nothing should be given away, so far as fishing interests are concerned, and that the quota of imports from foreign countries which sell their fish to this country should by no means be raised; if anything, the quota should be somewhat drastically reduced. I would mention one small case which I think should receive attention during the negotiations with Norway. It has come to my notice that, within the last fortnight—I believe this is not the only case of the kind—there have been shipments or sales of Norwegian fish in the London market, and that the fish has been sent here to be sold at 6d. per stone under the lowest cost of similar English fish. I refer to boxed fish. It is most important not only that that practice should be ended in the trade agreement with Norway, but that the quota should be, not for boxed fish and for fresh fish, but that the two different forms of fish imports should be treated differently. I would ask the Minister whether there will be an opportunity of discussing the second Report of the Sea-Fish Commission. I did not agree very much with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal benches, but I agreed that the Commission ignored very largely the claims of the inshore fishermen and devoted nearly all their attention to the trawling industry. I do not minimise in any degree the tributes which the Minister paid to that Commission for the energy and ability with which it carried out its work, but I think that in many respects its Report was one of the most deplorable Reports that I have ever seen. I do not wish to go in detail into it now, but it is essential, before the Minister and the Government give further effect such as in the case of the Herring Fisheries Act, to this Sea-Fish Commission's report, that the report should be discussed most fully in all its aspects by the House of Commons. In conclusion, I would add my plea to that of other Members that in these trade agreements with foreign countries the claims of the fishing industry should not be disregarded. At this present crisis of the world's affairs, it is more essential than ever to remember that it may happen—let us hope it will not—that at some future time this country may be engaged in war, and if in the meantime we allow our fishing industry to lapse into desuetude and drive the men away from the ports of our country into other trades, we shall have the greatest difficulty in getting man-power for our Navy, upon which, in another war, we shall depend as much as, and perhaps more than, in the last.
I am rather disquieted by the warnings which are being given to the Minister from his own side against taking action on this report. I was particularly concerned with what was said by the hon. Member for West Hull (Mr. Law), who answered any criticism in advance by saying that he hoped the Minister would not take action for some time to come, as he had not had the Report before him for a sufficient length of time.
I did not say that. I said that he could not take action now, but that I hoped he would take action, particularly on the question of inshore fishing.
I understood the hon. Member to be giving to the Minister something which the Minister himself used to give to his patients, and which I believe is called a placebo—indeed, more than that, a bromide, in order to dissuade him from taking any action. I am delighted to hear that he is in favour of action being taken on the Report.
Action in the direction of re-organisation.
I should like to deal with another matter to which the hon. Member referred, namely, that of settling sheets. I understood him to say that he did not believe there were any serious grievances in connection with settling sheets. I should not be in order in pursuing the subject in detail, but, as I have been at some pains to bring this matter to the notice of the President of the Board of Trade, who has promised to take definite and explicit action upon it, I should be sorry to allow to pass in the House a statement that there is not in this regard a serious evil calling for immediate and drastic action. Apparently the hon. Member does not regard that matter with sufficient seriousness, but in the Report proof is furnished that men are being swindled by their settling sheets, and action should be taken to stop that. After referring to the method of settling sheets, the Report says:
If the hon. Member will turn to pages 87–89, and pages 104–105, he will find a list of the amounts which have been put on to the commodities supplied to the trawler, and which have purported to have been put in at cost, but which have had various amounts added to them when they are entered on the men's settling sheets. I hope he will join his voice with ours in insisting that, whatever is done, that form of chicanery must be promptly abolished. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Member the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) appealing for greater consideration to be given to this industry. It is true that in size it is not a very large one, but it provides an amount of fish value approximately of £50,000,000 by retail, and, quite apart from that, it has vital aspects of importance which we often tend to overlook. We have heard, for example, the question of defence mentioned, but what is vitally important, the industry consumes 3,500,000 tons of coal per annum and, if it is allowed to fall into decline, that will have a serious repercussion in industrial districts. I will not make a sentimental appeal for these men but I am familiar with their work. I know the arduous lives that are lead by trawl fishermen, far more arduous even than 20 or 30 years ago because, whereas a trawl used to be down for six hours, that period has gradually diminished and it is only about three hours. In all weathers, cold and hot, shooting and hauling the trawl, mending it and gutting the fish. It is no uncommon thing for these men to be 15, 18 or even 20 and more hours on their feet out of the 24. I hope, apart from the ground of the economic importance of the industry, the Minister will look upon it as one requiring his urgent attention. It is true that two or three years ago the industry was thought to be in a decline and many serious factors were reducing it to a state of grave depression, so the Government was undoubtedly confronted with a very difficult problem in dealing with it. This was in 1933. When a Government is confronted with a difficult problem there is one thing that it can always do. It can set up a commission of inquiry. Unfortunately in the case of the fishing industry that most convenient of evasions had already been tried three times and at least three times since 1927 it has braced itself to resist some great lurch forward. The Minister set up another commission of inquiry. It has reported, and now we find that the industry, both through some of its spokesmen in the House, the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth and others, is again bracing itself to resist any method of re-organisation whatever. This Order ought never to have been put forward in the face of a letter from the British Trawlers' Federation. I was in the House the other night when the hon. Member for West Hull raised some point in connection with sea fishing conditions and I was greatly interested in what the Minister had to say about the Report and its connection with the Order. He said:"Unfortunately, in practice, these provisions are often disregarded. Deductions from the amount realised by the catch are made in respect of commodities and services not clearly specified at the time of engagement; accounts and settlements are rendered in a variety of forms, many of which have never been approved by the Board of Trade and cannot easily be checked; and the rights of access to an owner's accounts and books and of appeal to the local superintendent are rendered nugatory by the apprehension which undoubtedly exists, whether there are good grounds for it or not, that the exercise of such rights would prejudice a man's employment."
Later on he said:"It may well be that some further organisation will need to be envisaged by the white fish industry. I am not either recommending that or refusing it. I am saying that this most interesting and valuable report is now before the industry."
Finally he said:"This shows that the Government are interested, sympathetic and vigorous in their reactions to the problems of the trawling industry."
That was on 27th May, but on the 3rd April, that is, more than six weeks previously, he had received a letter from the British Trawlers' Federation firmly refusing to have anything to do with the Sea-Fish Commission's Report. How, therefore can he come and tell the House that the industry were taking this Report seriously, and how can he propose to the House to-day to give the Trawler Owners' Federation their Regulation of Landing Order, which was only given to them in 1933 on the understaning that they would take prompt steps to reorganise their industry and set their house in order. I hope that the Minister will tell us something to justify that apparent inconsistency. I do not want to say anything unduly critical of Sir Andrew Duncan and the Sea-Fish Commission's Report. We all know that Sir Andrew Duncan is a gentleman of great capacity and experience, but sometimes I feel that he makes it his job to reconcile the aversion of the Government to any form of re-organisation involving State control—he reconciles the aversion of the Government to that necessity with the imperative and dire need of the industry for re-organisation. If he were allowed to give his frank and unfettered opinion to the Government about these various industries, he would not, I believe, recommend any partial reorganisation, but complete State control. A question which will arise and be of great relevance to us is whether the trawl owners, that is to say, the producers, are suffering so severely from the excessive landings of foreign fish that we ought to give them this measure of protection. I am not speaking of this order as a palliative measure, which it may well be, but there are other factors which are far more important than the excessive supplies and gluts of fish which trouble the trawl industry. You will merely be skimming the surface of the problem if you attempt to deal with it by this Order alone. As I am very anxious to establish the point that this Order is a mere bagatelle in the reorganisation of the industry, I want to say what the Sea-Fish Commission said about it. At the top of page 67 of the Report will be found the Statement that these Orders alone will have little or no effect upon the problems of the industry. On page 68 it is clearly stated that any re-organisation involving only the producers will be of no avail, and that it is essential to bring in the whole vertical structure of the industry from the fishermen's net down to the fishmonger's slab. I hope that there will be no attempt to deal with this by mere partial methods. I hope that the right hon Gentleman will take their pleas of poverty cum grano salts, because we find in the report that in addition to the profits which are shown, there are enormous profits made by subsidiary industries. I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South West Hull, who shakes his head, has not read the Sea-Fish Commission's Report. He ought to know that that is at present the bible of the Sea-Fish industry. He will then see that they state explicitly that these profits are made, but they have not been shown in the books."I am more than pleased to find the white fish industry is taking very seriously the report which has been laid before it by the Duncan Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 27th May, 1936; col. 2160, Vol. 312.]
They state that they have allowed for that in their estimate of the profits of the industry. They say that they have not been able to trace every kind of profit but that what they have missed is not likely to affect materially their estimate of profits.
I think that I can show the hon. Member that they have not seen the accounts of these subsidiary and ancillary companies. On page 23 the report says:
it is true that they go on to say:"As it was impracticable to ascertain to what extent the distributable profits of separate concerns were derived from sales or services to vessels, no attempt at the adjustment of profits and loss was made in this respect,"
They come to that conclusion without having seen the accounts. As I shall show, this supplementary revenue makes a very substantial addition to the trawl-owners profits. If we are to believe the report neither the trawl owners nor the fishmongers have ever made any profit. On the basis of the computation made on page 23 the Aberdeen owners alone in three years lost £346,000 on their trawlers, that is, if we leave out of account all the profit they made on their coal, ice, stores, food and various other subsidiary and separate companies which have not been brought into account. Precisely the same considerations apply to the merchants and the fish markets. I have some observations to make which go to the root of the problem. It is stated on page 43 that the fish merchants do not make undue profits. In fact, at Billingsgate they have made a loss for many years according to the report. At all the other ports the margin of sales over purchases is quoted. I will read horizontally the margin of sales at the different ports. 19.2, 19.2, 17, 19.1, 18.9. These figures seem to me to be so near as to have been written down with the desire to"but had it been practicable, it would not have altered materially the figures shown in Table XII or in Table XIV."
These figures are absolutely inaccurate. I do not mean when I say "inaccurate" that they were not as found by the Commission in the books of the fish merchants, but I think that I can convince the Minister that as an indication of the profits they are making the figures are utterly unreliable. Let me read what is said by the Commission in the earlier part of the report:"lend similitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing story."
That is what it says about the fish markets as a whole, and it is borne out by what was said by the previous Commission on the fishing industry. I am indicating to the Minister, if he will only accept it, the very point in the fishing industry which is causing all the trouble. It is found that on the fish markets there are practices known as topping, adding in separate boxes after the fish have been sold, and various other malpractices which have been exposed by every commission which has investigated the fishing industry. In their report they say:"There are opportunities for petty pilfering and for topping, which is covering up inferior fish with a layer of superior grades, and for stealing custom."
Speaking of Billingsgate they say:"The question of selling on commission was carefully considered by the Food Council, who pointed out that the root of the complaints lies in the fact that salesmen act both as merchants, buying and selling fish on their own account, and as commission salesmen on behalf of port wholesale merchants. Such a state of affairs inevitably leads to abuses. In the central food markets of Paris salesmen are required to act as commission agents only and are prohibited from buying or selling on their own account, either in that fish market or elsewhere."
The Minister, I am afraid, will be reluctant to tackle this problem. If he will ascertain where the difference is going between the 1d., 2d. or 3d. per lb. received by the producer and the 7d., 9d., or 1s. per lb. and more received by the retailer he will have got to the core of the sea fishing problem. I have taken the trouble to go round some of the fish markets and shops in order to follow the fish sold in the fish market on to the fishmonger's slab. This is what I found on 17th January. In the Aberdeen fish market on 17th February, North Sea cod was selling at two-thirds of a penny per lb. That was the average price received by the producer. On the Aberdeen fishmonger's slab it was selling at between 6d. and 9d. per lb., and I could not tell whether it was North Sea cod or Iceland cod. As the report says:"As regards Billingsgate daily prices, we think it important both to the reputation of Billingsgate market and in view of the far-reaching effects of Billingsgate prices on the fish trade as a whole, that the daily prices should be fixed on a basis which is not open to the objections referred to above. If necessary legislative powers should be taken to see that this is done."
I do not know whether they intended to make a pun or not. Iceland cod was selling at the fish market for less than two-thirds of a penny per pound and on the fishmonger's slab at between 6d. and 9d."When the cod reaches the retail market it is neither North Sea cod nor Iceland cod; it is just cod."
Was it the same fish?
Do you imagine that the fish merchants of Aberdeen go to another place in order to buy their requirements at a higher price?
The best fish would not have gone on the slab.
North Sea cod is the best cod that could be obtained at that time of the year, and it was selling at two-thirds of a penny per pound in the fish market and from 6d. to 9d. in the fishmonger's shop. I am speaking from my own knowledge, and I have always been extremely careful not to give the House any facts which are not accurate.
Are there any co-operative societies in Aberdeen and if so, at what price were they selling the fish?
That interruption encourages me to think that we are getting to the root of the problem. I am not concerned about the price at which the co-operatives or the retailers sell the fish, because it may be that they are not making undue profits. I am telling the Minister that it is in between the trawler in the ports and the fish shops in the different towns that this great discrepancy is to be found, but he will never find it unless there is a drastic investigation into the conditions.One of the difficulties is the large number of methods of quoting these fish. We find they are quoted by the score—and we do not know what the size is—by the hundredweight, and by the pound and by the box. There is a great deal of confusion about the actual prices quoted for these fish, and until a method is devised to follow the fish from the fisherman's net to the slab, it will not be possible to get to the root of the trouble in the fishing industry and to bring forward a proper scheme for re-organisation. Apart from that, I regret to say that the Sea-Fish Commission was misled by faked books. Many of the books which were seen by that Commission were faked. I am going to read to the House a statement which will confirm what I have just said. We all know there are widespread practices by skilful accountants of altering the books in order to avoid Income Tax. I do not intend to give the source from which I got this statement, except to the Minister, because I get a great deal of useful information from this perfectly legitimate source, and I would rather not announce from where it comes. This is a very authoritative statement, and, referring to fish merchants, it reads as follows:
Further on it says:"This reticence, while doing business in a hank is in a great measure from a fear that the Income Tax officials may come to know too much, in fact, there is one fish salesman's cashier who is strong in his belief that the paying of big accounts for fish in cash is prompted probably by the same fear, and not by the saving of the 2d. cheque stamp."
Here we have Nemesis following on these gentlemen."It seems to be natural for people to dodge, if they possibly can, the Income Tax Department, but if this dodging is carried to excess it may have far-reaching results."
I hope the Minister will see that those questions are answered. Also will he make some inquiry why the accountants of this Sea-Fish Commission, against whom I have no complaint, should have been honorary accountants? Surely it would have been better to have had professional men doing their job on this important work. I cannot think that the vast amount of work necessary, a purely professional occupation, could have been properly done by honorary accountants."Take, for instance, the recommendation of the White Fish Commission that the number of port wholesalers should be reduced. If this is brought into force, it may happen that small merchants who can only show a very small overturn, and who appear by their balance-sheets to be absolutely uneconomic, may be eliminated. In some cases the balance-sheets may be sound and genuine, but in other instances they may be entirely wrong and give a hopelessly wrong impression. It is known that there are merchants who fear this elimination recommendation because for years they have been doing two or three times more business than is shown in their books. They buy with cash and they sell for cash, with very few cheques coming their way. Their businesses are certainly remunerative and economic, but unfortunately this White Fish Commission business has cropped up, and they anticipate having to answer very awkward questions to someone."
The hon. Member has made a very serious charge against practising accountants, a charge which I venture to say is not substantiated. There are many members of the accountants' profession who are only too glad of the opportunity of rendering service to a Government, whatever its political complexion, and who in so doing regard themselves as rendering a service to the State. The hon. Member said that there were accountants who attempted so to arrange matters as to deceive the Income Tax authorities, but the practice is one with which accountants have no concern, and it is well known throughout the country, I think particularly by the Treasury, that the accountant regards himself as in a special sense a custodian on behalf of the Treasury, and that he will not lend himself to such practices as those which have been mentioned.
Let me make it perfectly clear to the hon. Member that I did not intend to make any reflection on the honourable profession of chartered accountants, but I do adhere to my statement that books are so dealt with, whether it is a question of "evasion" or "avoidance," as to ensure that there is the lowest possible amount of Income Tax payable. I adhere to that statement, and I think the hon. Member would not deny that accountants use their skill in order to see that the lowest possible amount of Income Tax is paid. I am not suggesting for a moment that there is any dishonesty on the part of chartered accountants. Nevertheless the consequence is as I have indicated. As regards the honorary accountants to the Sea-Fish Commission, I cannot understand how two busy and competent accountants could spend so much time as was necessary to investigate a vast industry of this kind. I am extremely sorry if the Minister thinks I am occupying the House too long, but I represent an important fishing constituency and I have been waiting to speak. I hope that the Minister will have a further opportunity of dealing with this Order. What the Minister wishes to do is to curtail my remarks in order to get this Order before Four o'clock, for the simple reason that otherwise it will be too late to get it except between 11 o'clock and midnight on Monday. It is asking too much of the House that when a Commission has investigated such an important industry as this, and when for the first time we have an opportunity of debating an Order which goes to the very root of the problems of the industry, it should be brought up at 2.30 on a Friday after noon with an ultimatum that unless the Government get the Order by 4 o'clock it will be too late for the Minister to get it—
It has nothing to do with that. It is merely that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) is also interested in this subject and has sat here for a long time waiting, and we are anxious to know his opinion to-day.
I sincerely hope that the Debate will not be concluded to-day.
Is it true that there is some reason why this Order should be passed by Monday, that we must give the Minister the Order and that it has to be passed by Monday?
That is so, but the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) has also a contribution which he desires to make to the Debate.
I will postpone my remarks but I wish to protest against this method of dealing with the Order. If the Minister does not get this Order to-day he will be too late to get it except between 11 and 12 o'clock on Monday night, 12 o'clock being the time at which the guillotine falls under the Statute. I submit that we ought to have had much more time for the discussion of this Order. Many hon. Members have observations to make. If he gives a definite undertaking that when the House resumes after the Recess he will use his influence in that direction I am sure that my hon. Friends will assist him to get this Order but unless we are to have an early opportunity of Debating the Report we shall do all we can to prevent this Order being passed at such short notice.
I appreciate the desirability of discussing this matter at greater length but it is also very desirable that we should have this Order before the House adjourns. I desire, and the industry I am sure desires, that the fullest consideration should be given to the Sea-Fish Commission's Report and possible legislative action thereupon, and we hope to be able to lay before the House in the autumn proposals arising out of the Report which will give a full opportunity for debate. If not, of course there will be opportunities during the Debate on the Address and on other occasions, for dealing at length with the position. In those circumstances I hope the House will let us have the Order this afternoon.
I shall not attempt to deal with the deailed criticisms submitted by the hon. Member for North Aberden (Mr. Garro Jones). He appealed to the Minister to take cum grano salts appeals from the fishing ports. I wish he would come to my constituency and I could show him skippers and sailors walking the streets because our trawling industry is bankrupt and destroyed. When I heard insinuations that appeals for help for this smitten industry were hypocrisy, I wished I could show the hon. Member the many fishermen and trawl owners in my constituency who are suffering bitterly today. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) referred to the depletion of fish in the North Sea and I endorse his appeal. The figures showing the decrease in takings are startling and still more startling are the reports issued by the Government fisheries laboratory at Lowestoft showing not only that the total weight caught is decreasing but that the average size of the fish caught is smaller each year. I ask the Minister to concentrate on this problem but I warn the right hon. Baronet that our Government alone cannot act effectively. There are the Dutch vessels which catch small fish used in meal factories. These vessels in one year caught 350,000,000 undersized plaice and there are German vessels also which, according to a German government report, in one year caught 60,000,000 to 70,000,000 undersized plaice and sole.We must tackle that problem to get the North Sea restocked but while this is being done, I could not agree with my right hon. Friend's idea that there should be no restriction of imports. Surely you must keep the industry alive, and to do so you must continue your restrictions. I would, however, ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to remember that restriction by itself is not enough and that the question of how the fish is marketed when landed is very important. If you allow it to be landed in such a way as to break the home market, the position is hopeless. If you allow foreign fish to be landed and sold so much under the English prices you will again break the market. The Sea-Fish Commission recommend that fish shall be landed by monthly instead of yearly quotas, and I hope that recommendation will be carried out, because that again would prevent the sudden breaking of the market. If all foreign fish landed was marketed in the ordinary way and sold by public auction, it would make a vast difference. The Sea-Fish Commission also recommend that foreign fish sent in here as filleted fish should be weighed as if they were whole fish, so as not to permit of evasions of the intentions of the Regulation of Landing Order, and I hope my right hon. Friend will bear that also in mind. I thank my right hon. Friend for giving me this time. There is much that I could say, but I wish he could come down and see the state of the small trawlers fishing in the North Sea at the present time, and how desperate is the state of that industry. Do not let us, in considering the trawl-fishing industry, think only of the vast fishing machines, but let us think of the small trawlers that have not great capital resources behind them. I hope that measures will be taken to save these small boats, including the inshore boats, and that we shall not think only of the big trawlers.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to represent that in the drafting of the statutory Rules and Orders the language should be simplified. In this Order No. 697 they talk of the landing of sea fish and of the stipulations that are laid down in Section 3 that are to be conformed to by the master of the vessel, otherwise he will be contravening certain Sections of various other Acts of Parliament. Actually the skipper of a trawler is much too busy a man to understand all these things, and we know, in our organisation of these men, what complications they have to meet in these Orders and Acts of Parliament under which they are controlled. If the Minister could simplify these Orders to some extent, so that they would be at least understandable and not like the laws of the Medes and Persians that change not, but be of sufficient clarity as to be appreciable by those who have to operate them, it would be a great advantage to these men. I would commend in this connection the clarity of the language in the Northern fishing portion of the Sea-Fishing Industry Act of 1933. That is couched in language that these men can understand.
I thank hon. Members for the repression they have exercised on the remarks that they would have wished to make. I fully appreciate the remarks of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) on the Sea-Fish Commission's Report. I do not think he will expect me to go into detail on this occasion into the questions which he asked me. These important matters require review, and I am going closely into them with the industry. I agree that the closing of the northern waters is in essence going to be a temporary measure. It may be that a further organisation of the fishing industry may well take place on the producers' side as well as on the distributive side, but these matters are all engaging the attention of the industry as a whole. I have a letter of some length from the Trawlers Federation on that point. Since receiving it I have had further interviews with them in connection with the Northern Waters Order, and I put it to them strongly that it would be impossible for the House to continue the protection which is given under that Order unless they took seriously in hand the further organisation of their own house. No doubt it was in virtue of that appeal that they agreed to the contraction of the protection given under the Northern Waters Order, and to take measures to insure a steady supply of fish without glutting the market.In all these matters the grievances of the fishermen will have to be considered. Whether they occupy a very large part or not in the actual difficulties of the industry, such grievances occupy a great place in the psychology of the actual working fishermen concerned, and it is important that they should be cleared out of the way. There is also the point that there may be great undisclosed profits in the industry. I can scarcely hope that there are, but these matters will have to be gone into thoroughly. They can only be gone into when there is some form of organisation of producers. All these matters will be taken into review forthwith. They will engage the attention of the industry throughout the summer, and opportunities will arise for debate, either on the Address or later on legislation. I hope that it will be possible to lay proposals before the House to deal with many of the points.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the continuance in force after the twenty-seventh day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, of the Sea-Fishing Industry (Regulation of Landing) Order, 1936, dated the eighth day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, made by the Board of Trade under the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, 1933, be approved."