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Herring Industry Act, 1935

Volume 302: debated on Friday 24 May 1935

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.48 a.m.

I beg to move,

"That the Herring Industry Scheme, 1935, which was laid before this House on the tenth day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, under Section 2 (5) of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, be approved."
The Herring Industry Scheme under the Herring Industry Act, 1935, now falls to be considered by the House. The scheme comes before us as a whole, and has to be sanctioned or refused by the House. I think that that is inevitable, since the scheme has involved many months of discussion with all the technical interests concerned, and I think we may say that it has gained their approval. It now falls to the House of Commons to consider whether, the various interests having been adjusted, the scheme as a whole commends itself to the House or not. Just to run very briefly through the circumstances which have preceded the submission of the scheme the Act passed on the 14th March enabled the scheme to be drawn up, but, before the passing of that Act, we had the investigation of the Sea Fish Commission for the United Kingdom and the exhaustive and masterly report known as the Duncan Report, upon which the Act and the provisions of the scheme have been based. I wish again to repeat the thanks of those connected with the Fishery Departments, both in England and in Scotland, to the Duncan Commission for the labour and skill which they expended on behalf of the herring industry. I have said before, and I say again, that I know of no example of a highly technical report, involving the most drastic recommendations, which has received such general acceptance at the hands of those chiefly concerned. Whether the scheme succeeds or whether it fails, it is a very remarkable achievement that it comes forward with so much good will as is the case to-day.

The scheme, based, as I have said, upon the exhaustive inquiries of the Duncan Commission—the Sea Fish Commission—elaborated in terms of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, was submitted to the Secretary of State for 'Scotland, to the Secretary of State for the Home Department as representing the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, and to myself, by the Herring Industry Board which was set up under Section 1 of the Herring Industry Act, 1935. Under that Act, the Board have to be satisfied that there is a prevailing opinion in favour of the preparation of a scheme of this kind, and the Board, I think with full justification, came to the conclusion that there was a prevailing opinion in favour of the pre paration of a scheme. It is true that the expression?prevailing opinion? was subject to challenge in the House and in the country as unnecessarily vague language to insert in a Statute; but, like so many other illogical things which have been done in Great Britain, the illogicality of saying that a prevailing opinion was to be a condition precedent to the introduction of the scheme into this House has been justified, and I think all will say, as in the case of the definition of a gentleman, that, while we cannot exactly define a prevailing opinion, we all know one when we come to it.

That is not to say that the prevailing opinion in favour of the scheme meant that the scheme when published did not meet with some very severe criticism. It was the subject of the most minute examination throughout the whole industry, and, indeed, by others not connected with the industry; and, whatever may be said about some other schemes which have been brought before this House, I think we can say confidently that those engaged in the industry know what this scheme means. They have examined it, they have criticised it, they have put up their amendments to it, they have discussed it for long periods both among themselves and with the Herring Board and the Government Departments. They are not buying a pig in a poke. Whether it is a good pig or not we shall not know until eventually we take it to market, whether as a bacon pig or as a fat stock animal, but at any rate they know what they are buying, and are doing it with their eyes open. I will not detain the House with a description of the process of examination through which the scheme has gone, but I think we may say that all the associations connected with the industry are in favour of the scheme save the curers and exporters, who have reserved their opinion on certain points; but I think it is also true to say that even they do not desire the scheme to be held up on account of the objections which they have found it necessary to register. It is, I think, desirable that we should have the benefit of any criticisms which the House may wish to make, and either I or my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will have pleasure in replying to any points of criticism or further elucidation which the House would like dealt with.

The herring industry has been in a state of grave crisis for longer than any of us here care to look back upon, and some degree of reorganisation has been felt to be urgently necessary for some time. This scheme makes a start towards that reorganisation. The essential feature of the reorganisation is that it is done under a code passed by this House, and administered by a Board nominated by the Government and not elected by the industry. At the same time, however, arrangements have been made for a change-over to a system of election if and when a reasonable scheme can be worked out. Wide provision is made for decentralization and for the operation of area committees, since there are many areas—for example, Cornwall and the Clyde—which do not fall within the ambit of the great movement of the herring shoals down the eastern coast of this island which has been a feature of its maritime life, and, indeed, of its economic life, for many centuries. But the herring industry is on the whole one industry, and it has freely accepted that it should be administered under this code and by nominees proposed by the Government

The industry would wish that the proposals had gone even beyond those which have been submitted. In Scotland particularly the fishermen have made a plea that some provision for minimum wages should, in some way or other, be secured to them. All I can say is that certainly it does not find any place in the governing Act and therefore could not be in any way put into the Scheme. Whether wages could or could not be guaranteed by statute to an industry as hazardous, both in its operation and its market, as the herring trade is a matter upon which we all must feel a certain amount of doubt. But be that as it may all that the Act gives power to do has been either implicitly or explicitly placed in this scheme. The Act fulfilled in a re markable degree the provisions of the Duncan Commission Report and the very far-reaching ideals which they held out as desirable in that report. Whether this scheme will be a success or not, none of us can say. The herring industry is governed by many things far outside the power even of both Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and, therefore, all that we can say is that the men of the sea, especially the men who get the harvest of the herring shoals are greatly loved by the nation. One of the most moving songs in our great collection of ballad literature is the song?Caller Herrin?. It is almost an epic of breadwinning under perilous conditions. We and indeed the House wish them well. We hope that the scheme will be to their advantage. We shall spare nothing which may be necessary to make it turn out as we desire that it should turn out in order to secure more stable conditions and a more prosperous life for the hard pressed men of the sea.

11.58 a.m.

May I echo the sentiment of the right hon. Gentleman of good wishes to our herring fisheries, and I say at once that we have no intention of opposing the Order now before the House. We recognise the plight of this most difficult industry, suffering from all the meteorological difficulties and other difficulties which have been referred to by the very efficient Commission who examined this industry, and we should be loth to do anything to prevent them from reorganising their industry so that they may derive a better livelihood and far greater security than they have been doing for a long time. But this is an opportunity when one ought to draw attention to the extraordinary situation that frequently confronts the House as a result of the lethargy or indifference of those connected with an industry, namely, the responsibility of Parliament for all our industries when they are passing through a time of very great crisis. The Commission referred to by the right hon. Gentleman produced a very sound report. They were not only highly efficient, but they were very courageous too. I want to try and show why it is not sufficient for the Government to stand or sit idly by watching one industry after another go to their ultimate ruin, and then only when the condition is such that it is almost impossible to resuscitate the industry, for Parliament to step in. On page 7 of that Report the Com missioners say:

"The individualistic industry of pre-War times with a ready sale for its product had no need to develop a marketing technique, and it now has no means of meeting adequately the economic difficulties of existing markets, or of opening up new markets. "
On page 8, they continue:
"In every direction, therefore, the problems of the industry call for organised action. It should, in our opinion, be based on the following principles which underlie our concluding recommendation "
— and they proceed to outline a series of principles of certain action which they think ought to be taken. They say:
"Under modern conditions, unless there is responsible and collective organisation, there can be no fair chance for the units participating in the industry or scope for individual effort."
That decision was reached after having examined the perilous decline of the industry not only from 1913 forward, but with increasing rapidity since the war. They tell us, for instance, that the average annual catch and sale from 1911 to 1913 was 10,800,000 cwts.; by 1929 this had fallen to 7, 700,000 cwt. and by 1933 their catch only amounted to 5, 100,000 cwt. That resulted in more than distress among the fishermen. It resulted in certain economic changes which made it well nigh impossible either for the owner of the boat or the workmen on the boat to derive a livelihood worth calling a living. It failed to put out of action a number of boats consistent with the decline of sales either in the home market or the export market. Their cost for coal in 1929 amounted to 20 per cent. of the value of the catch, but by 1933 the cost of coal amounted to no less than 30 per cent. of the catch, while the remaining expenses entailed on the gross takings in 1929 amounted to 30 per cent., and by 1933 they had reached 45 per cent., so that the total cost for expenses had increased from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. It is obvious that in those circumstances the net income to the fisher men was so small that they could neither repair their ships, buy new ships, renew their nets, nor do any one of the things required for a really efficient industry, with the result that when this Report was issued 6 per cent. of the fishing vessels were ten years old, 28 per cent. between 10 and 20 years old, and 63 per cent. between 20 and 30 years old, and there was no possibility in existing circumstances of any of these vessels being either renewed or really made seaworthy. That condition has existed in the indus try for a long time, and the Commissioners on page 37 of their Report conclude,
"Our survey of these problems will have made it clear that the industry stands in urgent need of re-organisation, and that both a governing body and a basic structure are indispensable pre-requisites if the fullest economic results are to be obtained from reorganisation. "
All the facts clearly indicate that the Commissioners were justified not only in levelling criticism at the existing organisation, but by implication, levelling critism at government after government who had allowed the situation to develop. In their recommendations they are by no means hesitant. They tell the industry and the Parliament and the country that there must be a complete reorganisation if there is to be any chance of the industry surviving. On page 40 they say that there should be a Board which should have power;
"to license the boats that may catch her rings for sale, prescribing standards of efficiency and suitability, with special regard to seaworthiness; the licences to be held subject to compliance with such requirements as the Board may from time to time determine. "
They also suggest that the Board should have power to fix starting and stopping dates for the various fishings, to allocate boats to particular fishings or periods of fishings, to apply close seasons and prohibit fishing in certain areas at certain times with a view to the preservation of stocks; to prescribe the size of mesh for nets and the number of nets per boat and various other things. They recommend that the sale should be conducted by persons who are licensed, whose remuneration is determined by the Board, and that an exporting board should be established, who should have power to compel the fishermen to sell their herrings to the board for export purposes or for curing and kippering. They would also have power to deal with the home market as well. All these things are very necessary, but the misfortune is that it remains for Parliament in 1935 to take steps which should have been taken by the fishermen themselves voluntarily in 1925, which would have pre served the industry and enabled them to make a much better livelihood than they have been making during the past five or six years.

The Order gives the industry complete home rule. They have full powers to determine the size of the catch, when it shall be caught, how it shall be sold, to whom it shall be sold, and at what price. They can deal with the shipment of herring to places abroad. I am delighted that the Minister who is hostile to import boards does not object to an export board in the case of the herring industry. I agree with an export board. If they are to get any portion of the export trade in herrings it can only be done by a central organization acting on behalf of the whole industry, instead of the matter being left to individuals who apparently have not been able to preserve the export trade. We are not averse to the Order. We are as anxious as the Minister that the herring fishermen shall rescue themselves from the pre sent morass. The first part of the Order allows the Government to make a loan to the herring industry for certain purposes. When the Board has been established they will be able to review the possibilities, and I hope that the Government will not be hesitant at granting the requisite loans to enable the herring fishing people to repair, or renew their vessels, to conduct their export sales in a thoroughly efficient manner without being embarrassed by lack of capital. We want to see the fishermen, who live a very perilous life, enjoying much better times, and if as a result of this Order they are able to establish the basic structure of a new organisation, plus the loans which the Government are willing to concede, I hope that they will be able to do themselves justice.

I know that the fishermen have accepted the Order for what it is worth. They have expressed certain doubts with regard to paragraph 6 (a), but are prepared to give it a trial. They reserve the right, if they suffer any injustice as a result of the provision, to approach the Minister, who I hope will not be averse to receiving representations and amending the Order if it is necessary. They have also expressed doubts about paragraph 18 (d) and (g), for fixing minimum prices for the sale of cured herrings of any class, quality, grade or selection with a view to shipment to places abroad. They suggest that this provision is utterly impossible to administer, but here again they are willing to give it a trial in the hope that the Minister will be sympathetic should it be found that the pro vision is being evaded in any way. The provision in (g) is:
"for prohibiting or restricting, for the purposes of market control, the shipment of herring of any class, quality, grade or selection on consignment."
I am not an expert in these matters, but practical fishermen have expressed doubts on this matter. I hope they are not well founded and that the scheme will prove eminently successful, and instead of the continued deterioration since the war we shall find, as a result of this reorganisation, progress, improvement and more security in the industry.

12.13 p.m.

I am glad to say that there was nothing in the speech of the Minister of Agriculture to which I could take exception. I was glad to hear his reassurance that the Government would do all they can to assist this industry, which indeed requires a great deal of assistance at the moment. I associate myself with what has been said about the Duncan Report. The herring industry is under a debt of gratitude to Sir Andrew Duncan and his colleagues for the efficient way in which they have carried out their work. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. H. Williams) seems to be under a misapprehension in thinking that the scheme provides for an export marketing board to undertake the export of herrings. That indeed was the recommendation of the Duncan Commission, and I regret that it has not been adopted and cannot now be put into the scheme. I should like to have seen the experiment made, and I hope that in the future it may be possible to make some attempt to organise an exporting marketing board in that way

The issue which is before the House is, indeed, a very simple one. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we have no power to amend this scheme. We cannot change individual Clauses, and, in that case, it seems to me, perhaps, a little unprofitable to go into questions as to amendments which might or might not be made. The broad question seems to me this: Does this scheme offer a reasonable hope that the Board will be able to pilot this sorely-tried industry back to some measure of prosperity? Is it worth trying? I am quite certain there can be no difference of opinion on that score, and I look forward with confidence to a unanimous acceptance of this scheme by the House to-day. What we have got to do, therefore, it seems to me, is to tell the Board to take these powers and get on with their job without any further delay. After all, it would be a very great surprise if this scheme were perfect at the first shot. Experience, I should think, will almost certainly show up defects, and show also where improvements can be made, and, in the course of time, I have no doubt, we may have an amending scheme. In the meantime, I feel certain that the Board will do all that they can to keep in close touch with representative organisations of the trade, and do everything they can to work it in harmony with them, and give due weight to any proposals of reform they care to make. I feel sure that if all the organisations address themselves to this new scheme with the desire to work in harmony, good will come out of this scheme to the industry.

That is all I desire to say in that respect, but I think the right hon. Gentlemen might take this opportunity to give a little encouragement to the industry, and give it a little information, if it is possible to do so, as to how the Board is to work in the near future. As I say, there is a certain amount of despondency still abroad, and some information which might be given at the present time might go a long way to get rid of that particular feeling. What is it that the Board when they get their powers are going to do? I quite understand that the Board, who have only been in existence for something over two months, have been very busy getting this scheme out, and it may very well be that they have not yet bean able to survey the situation sufficiently to enable them to give the industry any guidance as to what they are going to do in the near future, but if they could give any guidance, I am sure it would be very heartily welcome. After all, it is a platitude to say what is required for the herring fishing industry is new and extended markets. I am not going to repeat what has been often said by myself and others as to the necessity of improving the markets in Europe—Russia, Poland and Germany. I have nothing new to say upon that subject, but it will not be sufficient if the new Herring Board content themselves with merely trying to develop old markets. I hope they will go out into the world and look for new markets.

I was in Palestine recently on a visit, and I took occasion to try to see what the prospects were for fish, and particularly herring, in that market. I saw a good deal of Scottish herring for sale. I was very much impressed by the poor condition that they seemed to be in, and the unattractive conditions in which they were sold, and I felt that if herrings could be sold as they were being sold there under those conditions, they could be sold in very much greater quantities if they were sold in better condition and in more attractive form. I found that there was an enormous consumption of fish there, and that there were large imports via Turkey from the Black Sea, and even across the desert from Persia and Iraq. It was an amazing piece of information to me, and I feel certain that if the Herring Board, and not only the Herring Board but any organisation that may hereafter be set up to deal with white fish, will address itself to trying to meet the special needs of a market of that kind, they will be able to do something for the solid advantage of this industry.

There is another point. It has often been said that cured herring—pickled herring—are of no good to tropical countries. I am not quite sure that is really the case. I should like the Herring Board, if they could, to put that matter clearly to the test. After all, 100 years ago one of the main markets open to the Scottish herring fishing industry was in certain parts of the West Indies, and if it were possible for large quantities of herrings to be consumed then, surely it could be possible to-day. I have had representations made to me since these schemes were mentioned that India provides a real opportunity for expansion in this matter, and, in view of the fact that the herring in the past has had a large sale in tropical countries like the West Indies, it does seem to me that there may be possibilities even in a country like India. If India could come into the market for herring, there would be real possibilities which would be of the very greatest advantage to the industry. We look, therefore, to the Herring Board to tackle questions like these with energy, and, we hope, with success.

The fishermen—and I have been in touch with some of them in the last week—are in a little doubt as to how this scheme is going to affect them, and, in particular, how soon it is going to affect them. There is the licensing system. I hoped it might be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say a word or two to guide fishermen as to whether they may all expect to get their licences as a matter of form, and whether they will be able to have them right away. Then there is a question which, perhaps, more than anything else, is vexing the fishermen—the system or method by which the loans which have been promised are to be given. Fishermen, as is well known, are in a bad financial position at the present time, and they are looking for loans to help them to restock their boats with gear, and also to enable them to re-condition their boats. In the matter of gear the question of assisting them is easier than helping them to re-condition their boats, because it can be done in a very short time. I presume that for the present fishing season, which has already started in some places, it may still be possible to assist fishermen who desire to take advantage of the gear loans, and I hope the fishermen may be able to get some information as to the terms on which these loans will be given to them. I take it for granted that the re-con ditioning part of the scheme will not operate very much, if at all, for the present summer fishing. It may be that in East Anglia something may be done.

I do not know whether the Board have been able to survey the situation sufficiently to give the industry any guidance as to whether they think it desirable or possible for any cutting down of the industry to be made this year. It seems to me that what is required in the re-conditioning of the industry is that it should be guided back to the position in which it was a generation ago. At that time there were very few, if any, fishermen who were herring fishermen all the year round. They were herring fishermen for about six months and white fishermen for the other six months of the year. The fact that the herring market has gone down makes it uneconomic probably for fishermen, at any rate in the numbers of the immediate past, to try to be herring fishermen all the year round. If that is the case they must equip themselves with boats which will be adaptable readily for white fishing. That points to the fishermen coming back to smaller boats which can more readily take part in the inshore white fishing in which so many of them engage in the winter at the present time. I hope it will be possible for the Board to assist fishermen who have drifters and wish to exchange them for smaller motor craft. If they are able to do that I feel certain that they will make a very great contribution to putting the industry in a better position than it has been in hitherto.

There is another point which is to some extent relevant to a discussion of this kind, although not directly so. For a long time we have had the same Minister responsible for both agriculture and fisheries. Agriculture is bound to take up most of his time, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is getting more and more work of a departmental kind put upon it on account of all the Boards and quotas and things of that kind. I feel that the fisheries are becoming more and more a sort of poor relation in the lord's mansion. It is worth while considering whether the time is not coming when some sort of separate representation can be made for fisheries, so that fisheries will not always be dragged at the tail of agriculture. There is in Scotland a Scottish Fisheries Board, and it does appear to have a certain independence, but still the Minister responsible for it in this House is the Secretary of State for Scotland, who of course is responsible for almost everything under the sun which comes from that country. I hope the Government will consider whether something cannot be done to give fisheries a better status in the Government departments.

Like everyone else who is connected with a constituency in which the fishing industry plays an important part, I have been intensely interested in all the steps which have led up to this scheme, the end of the first chapter of re-organisation of the herring fishing industry. Although I have had some little criticism to make at times, yet I am glad that we have now come to the end of that chapter, and I only hope that the work of the Board will be crowned with the greatest success. I can assure them that they start on their difficult and arduous task with the good wishes of everybody connected with the industry.

12.32 p.m.

The right hon Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture introduced this Motion in a very sympathetic manner, as one would naturally expect of a Minister who has taken such interest in the whole of the herring industry, and a Minister who comes from a country where the industry bulks so much more largely in the social structure than it does in England. The right hon. Gentleman was very guarded as to the amount of support which had been given to the proposals now before us. He spoke of the difficulty of ascertaining what the prevailing opinion was. Of course we all realise how difficult it is to assess what prevailing opinion may be, the amount that may be necessary to make it prevail. He said that the scheme might be said to have gained the approval of those concerned. Without putting it too high, I think it is rather a guarded approval. We all realise that we are embarking on an enormous experiment, and the amount of approval that will be given hereafter will depend very largely on how far that experiment succeeds. All of us who are interested in the herring industry are anxious to see the experiment succeed, and I think it may generally be said that those people who have put forward criticism and objections to the scheme are willing to hold those objections in reserve and will do their best to make the experiment a success. If that line is adopted on all sides, we shall have the best chance possible of making the scheme a success.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) said, it is somewhat difficult now to say anything that would be useful, because we cannot amend the scheme and must either reject it or adopt it. I assume there is no question that it will be adopted unanimously. How successful the scheme is going to be in future will depend largely on the policy that the Board adopt within the four corners of the scheme. On that point I know that the Board has in many respects and particularly in financial matters to apply to the Ministers who are interested as representing the fisheries. But in other matters I take it the Board will have practically a free hand and that the Government will wish to interfere as little as possible with the lines of policy on which they work. At the same time, I take it there will be no desire for any line of cleavage to appear between the sympathetic attention of the Government and the energetic actions of the Board.

While I am on that point, I should like to ask the Minister whether he or his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to answer questions put by Members in this House in regard to the actions of the Board. We know that, touching other boards, particularly that in connection with the milk industry, when certain searching and rather difficult questions have been proposed to the right hon. Gentleman he has smilingly replied that those are matters for the Board, that the Board is responsible for them, and that he cannot give any answer. It ought to be made clear that this Board is being set up, with considerable powers, by this House and is being financed very largely out of the public purse and that its actions should be made subject and properly made the subject of answers to questions put by Members in this House. I am sure that all who are interested in the industry will be glad if the Minister can give an affirmative answer to that question.

I, like other Members representing fishing constituencies, took a recent opportunity of visiting my constituency and consulting with both fishermen and curers there as to the way in which they regarded the proposals in the scheme. There is one point which I would stress and which was put to me by some very experienced and leading fishermen in Shetland. One of them said to me that the charges for licences were obviously too high. I am glad, and we are all glad, that these charges for licensing boats have been materially reduced in the scheme now before us from the charges which appeared in the scheme which was originally put forward. But, in addition to the licensing charges for boats, there are also charges for licensing curers, salesmen and exporters and then there is the levy. As the fishermen very shrewdly said, You have a number of these charges put on the industry and, in the end, they all come back to the man at the bottom, namely, the fisherman. I hope that the Board will bear clearly in mind that a small charge here and a small charge there may appear slight when taken separately, but they amount to a considerable burden on the industry when they are totalled up and that burden is bound, eventually, to fall on the shoulders of the fisherman. I referred just now to the levy. A great deal of anxiety is expressed as to the amount of the levy and the way in which it will be collected. I would be glad if the Minister would explain how paragraph 23 (2) of the scheme works out. I am not a very good arithmetician myself, and I would like an explanation of this part of the scheme which states:
"The rate of a levy shall be such that the aggregate amount levied under this paragraph does not exceed, during any of the three years from the date when this Scheme takes effect. one-fortieth, or during any subsequent year, one twentieth, of an amount equal to the aggregate of the proceeds of first sales in respect of which levies are made during that year together with the value of the fresh herring landed and not sold in respect of which levies are so made."
I think hon. Members will agree that it is rather difficult from that, to understand how the levy will work out, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever replies, will give an answer on that point. Another point about which the fishermen were exercised concerns the conditions that may be attached to giving a licence to a boat. The power of making conditions is very wide. I refer to paragraph 13 (5 b), which states:
"The Board shall endeavour so far as possible to secure that in the grant of boat licences an equitable distribution thereof is made amongst places at which boats are registered. "
It would be very difficult for the Board to make such an equitable distribution because, although a boat may be registered at one place, it may be fishing at an entirely different place. I shall be glad if the Minister can tell us something of the principles which are to guide the Board in making that distribution. Then again, there is the condition that a boat may have a licence to fish only in such localities or from such ports as may be specified. It seems curious that if a boat has obtained a licence to fish, say in the Shetland area, and if there should be no fish there, if the fish should have moved away to the Orkney area, the fishermen have to go ashore and apply to the Board and get a new licence to go elsewhere, especially when we have the modern system of wireless communications by which, if it were not necessary to get a licence for a different locality, a boat could immediately go and fish where the fish were.?It seems extraordinary,? one fisherman said to me, "that we should be compelled to go to fish in a place where we know the fish are not, and that we should have to get another licence in order to fish where the fish are. "

I hope that the Board in such circumstances will be able to make arrangements so that it shall not be an offence for fishermen to follow the fish. We have to begin with the idea and to keep it in our minds that it seems a very peculiar thing to the fisherman who has always had the opportunity, like all His Majesty's subjects, of going to the sea when he wills in order to catch fish that he should for the first time be subject to a licence. If the conditions of the licence are made onerous it will make him a very strong opponent of the scheme and if the scheme is to be a success, as we all hope it will be, it is obvious that as far as possible all sections of the industry should be carried along in a sympathetic manner and that no action should be taken which is likely to engender hostility in any section.

There is one point on which I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give a specific answer. That is with regard to the early fishing in the Shetlands, which is about commencing now. The Duncan Commission recommend on page 4 of their report that exemption might be granted by the Board from their requirements, in whole or in part, in the case of particular cures and they mention the matje cure. As hon. Members know, that is a very special fishing which is in the northern seas. The fish are early fish, lightly cured and sent to the Continental markets mostly to Germany, and there is considerable apprehension both by curers and others in Shetland that it would be exceedingly detrimental to the fishing industry there if any steps were taken to limit that fishing in the islands which is peculiar to that area and which has its own special market. I notice that in the scheme before us there is a provision that matje already under cure may be exempted from control and exporters may export them at once. I should also like to ask whether it is the intention of the Board in its early operations to allow such special fishing for the benefit of particular markets to continue for the present in the same way as it has been carried on in the past. Where the industry has been built up by connection with special markets the people dealing with it have acquired the accumulated knowledge of past years and know exactly what is wanted, when it should be supplied and how it should be supplied. I hope that nothing will be done to interfere with a market of that sort, which may be very easily upset by anything in the way of general distracting or prohibition.

My hon. and gallant Friend who preceded me spoke on the question of markets. He said that he might be accused of making use of platitudes. In the Debate on the Finance Bill the other day I referred to the question of markets and currency and the Chancellor of the Exchequer took occasion to make fun of me for talking platitudes. Platitudes are very often—

They may be the foundation of speeches but they contain truths, and those truths are apt, some times, to be forgotten. I do not say that the Marketing Board are going to forget or leave out of their view the importance of present markets but I hope that they will take every step to look for new markets. My hon. Friend ranged over the world and spoke of the East, the Near East and India. I think that Africa offers great opportunities. I know that the Africans love fish and the more tasty and the stronger flavour it has the higher price they will pay for it. I believe there are great opportunities for opening up markets in the interior of Africa, in getting the fish cured, and packed in such a way that it can be carried conveniently, and taken in 60 lb. packages carried on men's heads. There are opportunities out there which might be most profitably explored.

While on the subject of markets I should like particularly to refer to currency difficulties We know of the currency difficulties which exist in Germany at the present time. Some dealers who sold herrings to Germany last year have so far only received 50 per cent. of the price of those herring. If arrangement could be made by the Board either alone or in conjunction with the Ministers concerned and the Treasury to get over some of these currency difficulties not only for the future but possibly to clear off the outstanding debts for last year it would make it more easy for the curers to finance the present year's dealings and go a very long way to expand our export market, certainly with Germany. I hope that special consideration will be given to that matter, and if the Board are not in a position to do it themselves that the Ministers will undertake to give them every assistance they can to get over these currency difficulties. As there are other hon. Members who wish to speak I 'will not detain the House further. As I have said already, everything will depend on the policy of the Board. They have enormous power under this scheme, and we all wish that the scheme will be a success. It is an excellent thing to have a giant's powers but it is tyrannous to use them like a giant. We all hope that the Board will not use them like a giant but will use them in a gentle way and take the trade with them the whole distance.

12.51 p.m.

There is no one engaged in the industry who would dare to take the responsibility of rejecting or in any way hindering the immediate passage of this scheme. I should like to make a confession and an apology to the Minister. The Duncan Report proposed that the Bill should also contain the scheme but His Majesty's Government decided differently. They decided to pass the Act and then to put forward the scheme. I criticised that decision at the time on the ground that it would cause delay, but I am sure it has had exactly the opposite effect. If the scheme had been embodied in the Bill and all the different sections of the trade had criticised the proposals, as they would, line by line, the Bill would have taken months to pass.

There have been objections by various sections of the trade to the scheme. There were objections made by the English Herring Catcher's Association, for whom I am authorised to speak, but I should like to say that those objections were met to a very great extent by the Minister and that they now accept and support the scheme. Other objections were made. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) referred in particular to paragraphs 6 And 18. He mentioned that there were objections by the fishermen. I think he is under a misapprehension. There were objections by the curers, and it is as well that a few words should be said about those objections. The first is with respect to paragraph 6 (a) which says that the Board may
"make and carry into effect arrangements for, or in connection with, sales of herring to foreign Governments or to combinations or associations of foreign buyers and sales for the opening of new markets."
I understand that the curers took up this attitude, that they would not have objected to that Clause being passed in its present language if it applied only to Russia, but that they objected to the wide powers given. I think the answer to that objection is this, that Germany to-day may easily get a position in foreign trade where exports and imports will become a government monopoly or entirely under government control, and if that happens, as it may happen very suddenly, the Board must have powers to deal with it. I believe the curers' answer is that if that happens the scheme could be amended to include Germany, but I would suggest that by the time the amendment had passed through the House irreparable damage and disaster might be caused to the trade.

Another section of curers object to paragraph 18 where very wide powers are given especially in paragraph (b). I think the objections are really based on a misunderstanding. Any Board that has to deal with the appalling difficulty that faces the herring trade to-day must be armed with the fullest possible powers. If you give to anybody very full powers to examine the proposals line by line and word by word you can say that they are capable of abuse. But it is necessary to give them that power and you must trust your Board not to abuse it

In this case we have an admirable Board, consisting of the three representatives appoined by the Government and six representatives of the trade. I criticised the extra appointment made the other day to the trade representatives on the ground that it gave one English representative out of six. But the English herring catchers recognise that the new appointment is an admirable appointment and that the individual appointed does represent in an excellent manner the actual catchers of the herring, and they have confidence in the Board. I feel that many of the objections to and criticisms of the powers given to the Board would vanish if the critics could realise that you have in the six trade representatives men who are universally respected, men holding the highest positions in the trade and men who have had lifelong experience of it, and that it is certain that they will not do any thing foolish, The last speaker pointed out various things that might be done, but surely the one object of these trade representatives, whose whole interest, capital and life are wrapped up in this industry, will be to exercise their powers only for the good of the trade to which they belong.

I feel that it is almost an impertinence on my part to suggest to a Board containing such men any ideas as to future policy, but perhaps I might put it in this way, that I thoroughly agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) that the great thing is not only to expand existing markets but to search for new markets—I will not go into that in any further detail—and that the last thing to be considered is any policy of restricting the number of boats till every possible effort has been made to develop new markets. I understand—I hope that the Minister will confirm it when he replies—that the Board, although they have no powers yet, have been and are in communication with the Russian authorities as regards a contract with Russia. I hope that that con tract will materialise. I believe that it would be of inestimable benefit to the trade if we could obtain from Russia large, substantial contracts spread over a whole season even if it were not at such a remunerative price as we could have liked. I believe that the spread of a large contract over the whole season would be a very great help to the industry. As regards Germany, the hon. Baronet who spoke last referred to the difficulties of German exchange. Again, I hope and believe that the Board has that in view to-day and are working at that very difficult problem. I would point out that Germany under the trade agreement undertook to buy from us 55 per cent. of what we bought from her. During the first three months of this year Germany has actually bought far more from us than 55 per cent.

There are just three other points which I would like to mention. Perhaps the Minister in his reply will give us some indication as to the general effect of the reports received by the Department of Overseas Trade. They have been conducting an investigation in all countries of the world except North America, and I understand that the reports are beginning to come in. If he could inform us whether the reports are hopeful, it would have a cheering effect on those engaged in the trade. The second point is this. There have been efforts made to use surplus herring for conversion into oil, and three or four factories were erected in Scotland. They have failed. I hope that the Board will investigate the new methods. I believe that there are new methods which will enable the herring to be used for some such things as oil and meal. I understand that the new methods may give better results and enable better prices to be given. My final point is that I trust the Government will enable the most valuable experiments in freezing now being carried out to be continued. I regard their continuance as essential. If they are a success—and there is every indication that they will be a success—then our home herring may easily displace Norwegian imports.

I have nothing more to add except to wish the scheme every possible success. I welcome it as providing a directing staff for the industry. I shall never forget last October day after day going about Yarmouth and Lowestoft, seeing thousands of men standing about idle, and having them come up to me and asking for something to be done. I remember also meeting the owners of the industry. Again there was a lack of control, a lack of leadership, a lack of staff. The whole industry was stricken, and had no centre to which to rally. That was an experience which I hope and believe will never be repeated, because here we have a board with six men possessing the confidence of the industry. There are dark and difficult days ahead. Nobody except those in touch with the industry realises the difficulties and dangers even during the coming year. They have an enormous task before them and whatever happens they will be a rallying centre for the industry in times of trouble. What we can do in this House to-day is to ensure that they have our confidence and that they will have our utmost support in carrying forward the very difficult task which faces them.

1.5 p.m.

The function we are called upon to perform to-day is little more than a ceremony of blessing. We have to confirm and bestow good wishes on this scheme. We cannot amend it in any particular: it must be accepted entire or not at all. And as we have already passed the major Act, there is no alternative to passing this. In any case I do not think there is any need to discuss the details, for that has already been done for us by those most competent to do it, namely, the leaders of the industry themselves. They have examined every paragraph and page of the 37 Clauses, and we are entitled to assume, despite what has been said by an hon. Member, that so far as draftsman ship can express an industry's will, this scheme reflects the deliberate finding of the herring trade. Therefore, I think, on the grounds both of Parliamentary procedure and of practical necessity, it is not necessary to waste any time in debating the details of this scheme

I wish to make an observation or two, not upon the scheme itself, but upon its application. I feel bound to examine the question with great care, because this is the last occasion when the House will have any opportunity of expressing an effective opinion upon the new machine that we are setting up. When this scheme is passed to-day, it, will become the law of the land, and it will then be too late to make any complaints or suggestions. This scheme will affect intimately the life and livelihood of not far short of 100,000 people in the country, if you include the wives and families of the fishermen and those in ancillary occupations. It may make or it may break their industry, and, therefore, it is right and proper that those of us who represent the fishing divisions should consider how this scheme will affect them.

I am not sure that the House or even the industry itself realises quite the full extent and character of the changes which this scheme may bring about. We set up a Board recently, and to-day we are investing it with powers, powers which it is no exaggeration to call revolutionary, powers greater, more extreme, and more severe than those given to any other industrial organisation throughout the whole country, powers to develop markets and to license those engaged in the industry, powers to say when boats shall operate, where they shall operate, how they shall operate, powers even to pre vent individual fishermen and crews from attempting to earn their daily bread. I am not afraid of these powers if they are wisely used. Indeed, whenever I have taken part in these debates I have pressed for just such an authority as this Board with just such powers, and I am in full support of the scheme.

But it is one thing to possess powers, and it is quite another thing to apply them in the proper way, and I want to make an appeal, with all the earnestness I possess, to the Minister and, through him, to the Board to exercise these great powers with the maximum of caution and restraint. It has been said often and often, until it has become almost a platitude, that the herring trade is composed of communities of independent men. That is true, but you must understand the meaning of that independence. It is not such as to prevent them from making application to the Minister and receiving from him funds to help them in their daily existence, and we have had, not once or twice in the rough story of the last two years, requests for very urgent assistance. The significance to the Board of their historic independence is that herring fishermen work as a number of independent units. In iron, steel, cotton, and coal, you have a different organisation, a series of large groups, factories, conglomerations of workpeople, where men think and work as a body, whose functions fit in one with another, and where you can introduce a change of direction or policy without having an immediate or, it may be, even an indirect effect upon the workers engaged in the in dustry. Even in agriculture, as I think the Minister of Agriculture himself will admit, when you introduce a marketing scheme you are dealing not with each of the million persons employed, but only with farms staffed by two, three or more men, to whom the interest of the scheme is remote.

It is different in the case of herring. This is the proposition that I put to the House to-day. The peculiar feature of the herring trade is that every regulation of the Board will have an immediate and vital interest to each of the 16,000 men engaged in the industry, not only the skippers who engage these men, but to every one of them individually. I am not for a moment saying that workers in factories, workers in coal and iron and steel, have less stake in their industry than have fishermen, but fishermen have an additional property and directional interest in their own business. They are part owners of the boats and in some cases complete owners of the boats' equipment and nets. They have been accustomed for generations and centuries to pursue their calling as and when they have individually thought fit and without direction from any outside authority.

What is the effect? It is that the fishermen of Scotland, at any rate—I cannot speak for those of this country —will, display an immediate and deep-seated prejudice against any restriction of control imposed upon them, more especially against restrictions upon what they regard as their inalienable right to lift their anchor and set sail when they think fit. Moreover, the history of marketing schemes in the last two years has not been such as to cause them to be in love with such schemes. In these circumstances, and in view of the peculiar features of the industry, if the Board were to attempt anything more than the most gradual application of its restrictive powers, I think it would raise an immediate, almost implacable, hostility throughout the trade. If I were chairman of the new Board—and I am not likely to be—I should for the present season confine these restricting and con trolling powers to the minimum, and I should attempt to the maximum to win the confidence of the trade. It is vital in the next few months that the Board should win that confidence. I should set myself the single task from now to the end of the Yarmouth season to sell more herring. I am satisfied that if that were done, if even some small addition were made to the earnings of fishermen, you would gain their confidence with more strength than in any other way.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) mentioned the inquiry that has been conducted overseas. I hope that it will show great openings, but there are great opportunities at home; in fact, I see in what are described roughly as marketing functions enough work to keep this Board engaged for 24 hours. every day. There is a vast field of enterprise for them in that direction alone without their doing other things. With regard to the home market, I hope that the Board will give more attention than the House and the country have given to that part of the Duncan Report which dealt with the consumers' inquiry. I have a special interest in that, because I suggested to the Minister before the Duncan Commission started that he should conduct such an inquiry. He did not find it possible to do so. I repeated my suggestion to the Duncan Commission, and I am glad to say they accepted it and carried out such an inquiry. There were some remarkable results, which convince me, as one who has some knowledge of the selling of foodstuffs, that there is a very large immediate market at home for herring.

I ask the Board to forget for the time being its functions of administration, control and restriction, and to concentrate upon its functions as a business organisation selling goods. That would be the best way of building up the faith and confidence of the fishermen in this new organisation. Having won that faith and confidence, the Board could very well start next year its functions of organisation and control. I do not deny that there are too many boats in the trade and that there must be many great changes, but it may be found after a year or a two years' working of the scheme that such drastic restrictions as were recommended in the Duncan Report may not be necessary. The next few months will be a testing time for the new Herring Board. I support this scheme on the definite understanding and condition that the powers which we give shall be used with wisdom, caution and care. The people in this industry are sensitive creatures. They have never in the past tolerated interference from any body, save in the War when they obeyed the commands of their superior officers. They resent from their hearts the whole idea of orders imposed from above. Let the Board recognise those special qualities of the men. Let them also recognise that they are ready to play their part if the Board proceeds in a cautious and business-like way.

1.21 p.m.

Unlike the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, my observations, instead of being of a general character, will be devoted strictly to the scheme presented to us to-day. With regard to the White Paper embodying this scheme, it would have been of great assistance to hon. Members and those who have to examine it if there had beers an index and marginal references such as are found in Acts of Parliament, because without such aids it is difficult to find one's way in the scheme. I had hoped for a fuller scheme describing more what the Board is intending to do, for there is not much more in it than there is in the Act. I am rather inclined to think that the scheme is not a very full one, because it is obvious that many changes may have to be made in future, and that it is there fore wiser not to make out too precisely what the Board's policy will be. With regard to exemptions, there are certain provisions in which some of us who sit for the long-shore divisions are particularly interested. I am glad that pro visions have been made for exemptions, but I hope that the area committees which are proposed in the scheme will be set up at the earliest possible moment so that it will be possible for the Board to consult these committees, particularly with a view to obtaining their opinion whether the scheme is required in the rather more remote areas, which these committees will, in part at any rate, represent. There is a small point on which I should like to ask my right hon. Friend's opinion, in Paragraph 13 (b), which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton). It says:

"The Board may attach to a boat licence conditions for securing that whilst it remains in force the boat shall be used for herring fishing only in such localities or from such ports as may be specified therein."
That provision can be read in two ways. It may be read as if it meant that boats shall be used for herring fishing only. I do not think that that can be the intention, and I hope the Minister will make it clear that it means that a boat can only be used in such localities or from such ports as may be specified in the licence.

Another rather strong objection is to be taken in regard to paragraph 14 (4). I hope that this particular power will be administered with great care and considerable reserve. It practically gives power to the Board to say that the trade is a closed trade and that no new entrants can be accepted. I therefore hope that that very wide power will be exercised with care and discretion, because I know there is a movement. in the country, under the various schemes that have been put forward, to regulate industry to such a degree that it will be almost impossible to get in new entrants unless the organising body is prepared to accept them. There is one other possible objection to the licensing. Under the licensing paragraphs boats of 20 to 30 feet will be licensed and will have to pay a fee. These boats are very small, and extraordinarily few in my part of the world are engaged in the herring industry at all. I had hoped that they might have been left out, and I hope it will be possible for the Board not to exercise the powers which they have been given of charging fees and granting licences to these comparatively small boats.

Under paragraph 23 the Board are entitled to make a levy on all fish landed at the ports. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said he was not quite clear what that meant. I understand that the levy will be a maximum of 6d. on all herring landed in the United Kingdom. I think that is not too much, although complaints have been made that it is rather too high. Out of that 6d. one penny will be devoted to a compensation fund to pay off redundant boats. I wonder on what basis 1d. was fixed, because I feel that it will not provide a very large amount of money for that purpose; but perhaps it is premature to discuss that question at all. I believe that the very wide powers which are being given to the Board, this setting up of a compulsory co-operative scheme, for that is what it amounts to, may be very dangerous indeed, and in common with many other Members I hope the Board will go very cautiously at first. I hope they will feel their way and not jump in too quickly to exercise their power to scrap redundant boats, but will concentrate above all things on marketing.

I am convinced that there are markets to be found for herring, cured and otherwise, which have not been touched at the present time. I hope it will be possible for the Board to appoint at any rate one first-class salesman to go abroad to open up new markets. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood) that in the old days the West Indies used to take a lot of herring and, indeed, the market for salt fish in the West Indies is very great now, and why should we not get a share of it? I hope the scheme will be successful. I have been critical of it in the past, but I hope that I shall not have reason to be critical of it in the future. As representing a long-shore division which cannot hope to gain very much from the scheme I hope that it will be of great benefit to the rest of the country.

1.28 p.m.

I am sure the House has done useful service by the business like fashion in which it has addressed itself to the examination of this scheme, and I can assure hon. Members that the criticisms and warnings which have been issued will not lose any of their force by reason of the fact that they cannot be forthwith embodied in amendments to the scheme. After all, the scheme remains subject to review in Parliament, and the fact that it does come under the criticism of this House is in itself a powerful influence in the framing of the scheme. I hope hon. Members will not feel that there is any derogation from their powers in the fact that the scheme comes before them once and for all, because to sum up in advance the collective verdict of the House is one of the duties of Ministers, who make such modifications as seem necessary in view of the infinite variety of unofficial representations that are made. That is one of the duties of Ministers who have to bring forward a scheme which comes up only once for acceptance or rejection. It is clear from the discussion this after noon that that duty has been performed in a reasonable degree to the satisfaction of the House. It is true that hon. Members urged the advisability of the Board working with caution, with wisdom and with forbearance, and I am sure that Ministers and, indeed, the Board themselves, would unreservedly accept the necessity for taking such a course. They will have to ride rather upon the snaffle than upon the curb. They are dealing with independent men, who may very easily, as the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) said, regard their actions as savouring of undue interference.

At the same time, there is no question that the Board represent the trade. The Board is the trade. It is a producers' organisation, which is soaked through and through with the views of the fisher men. I was most glad to have the testimony of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) on behalf of the English herring catchers, to the capacity of the representative who has been added to the Board, that he is representative if an important element, the actual men engaged in the catching, and will be a useful member of the Board. In view of the fact that this representative was chosen from across the border it was very interesting to have this declaration on the part of the English herring catchers. They might have looked a little ask once at the fact of another representative coming from North of the Tweed.

I said I was authorised to accept the scheme on behalf of English herring catchers, but I think my statement about the individual member was that he was respected and had the confidence of the trade. I feel the Minister went a little further in his references, because there still remains a sense of grievance that the English have only one representative out of six.

I will not stress the point beyond what my hon. Friend has said, that this representative is respected by the trade and has the confidence of the trade. I realise that there are still feelings of grievance persisting which the Board will need to rub away in its day-to-day work. But one big step has been accomplished. The Board has been set up with the confidence of the trade, and in order to retain that confidence it will need to work skilfully and diplomatically. The Board must not act unskilfully, harshly or undiplomatically. Many questions were asked on points on which hon. Members desire particular information. The hon. Member for Banffshire (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) said he was anxious for some indication of how the work of the Board should proceed in the near future. He gave some valuable in formation as the result of inquiries he had been able to make in countries such as Palestine, and brought forward suggestions, which were also mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) that the great tropical countries of India and Africa might well provide a market to replace the European markets which in the past took so large a proportion of the fish but are now, to some extent, closed. That is a most valuable suggestion and I shall in a moment give some indication of the replies which have been received to the inquiries sent out by the Department of Overseas Trade. Then I was asked how far I could give information as to the terms upon which loans would be made. The Board is at present discussing with the Treasury a scheme for advances for the purchase of nets. It follows from this scheme, and is on the lines of the Government scheme last year. I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement within the next week or fortnight.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland whether the policy of the Board would come under review by this House. The answer to that is?Yes.? The Board receives money from public funds, and, as was laid down in the Act, the actual finance is administered by the Secretary of State for Scotland after consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Secretary of State for Scotland will actually carry these sums upon his Estimates. The actions which govern the expenditure of the sums will be subject to review, as is every service which comes under an Estimate.

No, not at all. I may not have made myself clear. I was speaking simply for the convenience of hon. Members who were desiring to know to whom they should address questions. The Secretary of State is the officer responsible for the finances and is the Minister upon whose Estimates the Vote will be carried. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland suggested that it would be Anomalous if licences were issued in respect of places where there was no fish, and the men were prevented from fishing in a place where there was fish. That is true. The principle governing the issue of licences has been the subject of discussion in the trade, and the whole of the objections have been met. It was explained very thoroughly to the trade—I would like to give this assurance again here—that there is no intention of tying the fishing business to particular ports, although they might sometimes be restricted generally as to areas of fishing. One of the main purposes is to enable the Board to know from what ports and in what localities various vessels of the fleet are to be found. It is more a matter of organisation than of restriction, and clearly it would be liable to abuse. There, again, we must trust to the practical men on the Board who have had experience of sea fishing not to impose conditions which would be onerous to their comrades in the fishing trade. The hon. Member also raised the question of meshes. That was gone into at very considerable length. That, too, will be a matter of practical work. Unless the Board have power to take this big section under review, it might be that a hole would be driven into the scheme through which all the benefit might run away.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft spoke about the Board acting independently, and he mentioned Russia. I shall refer to that question in a moment. He asked questions about the reports of the Department of Overseas Trade, and so did the hon. Member for East Fife. It can be said that on the whole, although the reports do not show any vast market open for herring from this country, they are not unhopeful, and they give indications of various possible expansions. I am not able to say what is the practice of the Department of Overseas Trade in regard to trade reports, but very likely they are confidential to the Department. As a whole, therefore, the reports them selves are not likely to be published. Two points in regard to factories for oil extraction and freezing were specifically raised by the hon. Member for Lowestoft. We shall examine the first question, although there are very considerable difficulties in the way of any action. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research are continuing their experiments in freezing. These matters will certainly be pressed on. A large experiment is going on at Grimsby which is by no means uninteresting and the advances in refrigeration in recent years have been so striking and remarkable that we intend to press on with the examination and application of new methods to herring in every possible way.

I propose to refer in a moment to the general question but there is one more point of detail raised by the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) and it brings us back to the format of the document. An index and marginal note might be of assistance to unlettered men who may occasionally have to examine the schemes.

The hon. Member says to himself also. A great English author once said that anyone who published a book without an index should be condemned to spend eternity ten miles beyond hell where even the Devil cannot get, for stinging nettles. I would not put it as severely as that but I would say that an index is of very great convenience when you are dealing with a technical document. Area committees will be set up at the earliest possible moment. As to the licences, they will deal not with applications for herring fishing but with ports and localities specified in the licence; that is to say, they will be of an area character rather than of a functional character. The hon. Member asked how the penny levy for compensation had been drawn up and on what it had been based. It was based upon what the practical men thought the trade would be able to afford in the way of compensation. It was an arbitrary figure chosen with reference to what the trade might be able to find rather than to what the needs might be in the way of compensation. I think the English fishers considered that the trade would have great difficulty in finding any sums at all for compensation. It would be very foolish to put the sums for compensation so high that they could not be exacted, and therefore the penny is, roughly speaking, what it was thought the trade would be able to pay.

As to the particular point on the finances, the levy is not 6d. but a maximum of 6d., and I hope that in practice it will turn out to be very much lower. As to the way in which the financial calculation works, the words read out by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland simply mean that there is a maxi mum levy of 6d. in the pound on the two classes mentioned in paragraphs 23 (la andb) of the Scheme, namely,
"first sales of fresh herring, and the use or disposal of fresh herring landed in the United Kingdom and not sold on a first sale."
I hope that will be an adequate explanation.

Let me give a very short review of the actual operations of the Board to date. The Board devoted considerable time to a survey of foreign markets, as a result of which it is anticipated that the export trade with countries other than Germany and Russia will be about the same as last year. So far as Germany is concerned, it is anticipated at present that the amount will be slightly less. Until a very short time ago the trade was confronted with serious obstacles arising from the regulations made by the German government, but, at the instance of the Herring Board, the Board of Trade have taken the matter up with the German government, and the House will be happy to hear that they have succeeded in getting those restrictions removed. Negotiations for a block sale to Russia are proceeding—

Can the Minister give an assurance on the question of currency payments, which, in my estimation and that of others, has been of extreme concern to the industry in recent months?

I am afraid that the question of currency as between this country and foreign countries would scarcely come within a particular review of the herring scheme, but no doubt the Board will act in close conjunction with the Board of Trade in this matter. It is a general matter of trade, which it is almost impossible to isolate in the case of one particular industry. As I was saying, negotiations for a block sale to Russia are proceeding between the Board and the Russian Trade Delegation, which, it is hoped, may have the result of securing a larger export to that country than last year. The Board are engaged in an intensive survey of the home market, and are endeavouring to discover the causes which have led to a reduction of some 50 per cent. in the consumption of herring per head here as compared with the pre-War period. In that connection all branches of the trade are being consulted.

The question of making advances for reconditioning vessels is being deferred for the time being until the Board obtain more information as to the general condition of the fishing fleet. It is the intention of the Board to institute as soon as possible the system of licensing set out in the scheme, covering boats, sales men, curers and exporters. The question of licensing kipperers and other processers is being deferred, and such licences will only be instituted after consultation with the trade interests concerned. As regards the licensing of boats, it is not proposed during the summer herring fishing this year to refuse licences on grounds of either redundancy or inefficiency. Licences will be issued to all boats without restriction. As far as salesmen, curers and exporters are concerned, there is, of course, no power, even under the scheme, to refuse licences to persons already in the trade, except, of course, on grounds of misconduct. The Board are already discussing the establishment of area committees and their constitution with the parties concerned, and hope to have them constituted and in operation before the Board institute any system of control. No date has been fixed for the commencement of curing, and it is doubtful whether it will be possible to fix any date for the coming summer fishing, since curing will probably have commenced before the work of the Board in the exercise of their powers. The governing assurance of the Board, which they desire me to repeat here in the House, is that in the whole conduct of their business they will act in the closest co operation and consultation with all branches of the industry through the existing trade organisations, and that governing assurance really covers, I think, the basic apprehensions which have been expressed in the House this afternoon.

Finally, as to the status of the industry, I should like to refer to the interest of the Government and of all sections of the community in the industry, of which a very remarkable invitation which has been issued to the herring fleets may be taken as an earnest. The King himself has issued an invitation to the fishing fleets to send representative contingents to the Naval Review which is to be held at Spithead on the 16th July. The Departments are in consultation with the organisations representing the different branches of the industry, and I am very hopeful that there will be a good muster. The fleets of this country do not consist merely of the great armed ships which are so often the subject of vehement controversy, both as to their expense and as to their usefulness, in this House. The Fleets of this country include the fishing fleets as well, and they are as indispensable to the country as the great naval strength which will be represented at Spithead. Indeed, from the point of view of service, from the point of view of actual fire undergone and of risks run, the representatives of the fishing fleets will be able to feel that they represent a service not inferior to any of the great Services which will be reviewed by His Majesty during the Jubilee year.

There is one point on which I should like to ask the Minister a further question. The Duncan Report suggested that the head quarters of the Board should be in Edinburgh, but there is some appearance that the Board is settling down in London. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any decision has been come to on that subject, or whether it is still expected that the headquarters will be in Edinburgh.

I hesitate to give an opinion off-hand. My impression is that the headquarters of the Board will be in Edinburgh, but that the Board, as a business organisation, locates itself from time to time where it may most efficiently carry on its work. I think it will inevitably to some extent be a peripatetic body. It may find itself even at Aberdeen.

I think its registered offices will be in Edinburgh. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh is its chairman, and I think that that is assurance enough that it is going to be, I will not say a pretty good Scottish Board, but at any rate that there will be adequate representation of the Northern Kingdom as well as of the Southern in the whole of the Board's transactions. I hope, however, that there will not be any question of nationalism arising; there is no question of any differentiation of nationality.

Question put, and agreed to.


"That the Herring Industry Scheme, 1935, which was laid before this House on the tenth day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, under Section 2 (5) of the Herring Industry Act, 1935, be approved."