HC Deb 26 July 1869 vol 198 cc686-97

I desire to call attention to a matter personal to myself. On Saturday last there appeared in The Times newspaper a letter under the signature of the First Commissioner of Works in which allusion is made to me. If it was the letter of an ordinary individual I should have passed it by with- out notice; but coming as it does from a very high quarter, being a letter of a responsible Minister of the Crown, and of the Minister, moreover, responsible for the Department which is referred to in the letter, it is impossible for me to allow it to pass without comment. I am also guided in the course I now take by another consideration. Since I have had the honour of a seat in this House I have always conceived that when a question arose as to a Parliamentary matter between two Members of Parliament, it ought to be decided not in the columns of a newspaper, but in the House itself in which the question arose. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is an accomplished writer of letters to the newspapers, but I decline to follow him into that arena; I submit that the question ought to be determined here, where, if the conduct of a Member be reviewed or criticized, he would have an opportunity of reply—in short, that the question ought to have ended where it began. I hold in my hand a copy of this letter, which the right hon. Gentleman appears to have written in order to correct a misrepresentation of a statement that he made in the House in reference to the pictures of Sir Charles Eastlake. If the right hon. Gentleman had confined himself merely to a correction of a supposed inaccuracy in the report, that would have been perfectly legitimate. But he went altogether beyond that limit in the two paragraphs of the letter which I shall now proceed to read to the House. It is addressed to the editor of The Times, and begins— Sir,—The public probably do not take much interest in the periodical criticisms of the Member for Whitehaven upon the pictures in the National Gallery. Passing by the question of taste whether it is a right thing or not for a responsible Minister of the Crown to speak thus of another Member of this House, and passing by the question also whether any Member has not a right to comment on the pictures in the National Gallery, I come to the question of fact; and I say that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is incorrect in substance from first to last. I am surprised, after what occurred on Thursday night, that the right hon. Gentleman did not consult Hansard on this point, or, at least, did not instruct somebody else to consult Hansard for Mm. Had he done so, he would have found that since I have had the honour of a seat in this House—now for eleven Sessions of Parliament—before Thursday last I had never but once made an observation upon the pictures in the National Gallery [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman smiles. The right hon. Gentleman is not remarkable in this House, or elsewhere, for very great accuracy of statement; but I apprehend that the records of the House are well known for their accuracy in this respect. The only previous occasion on which I have made a statement in this House on the subject of the pictures in the National Gallery was in 1863, six years ago, when I addressed a question to the then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. F. Peel. My question and his answer will be found in the report. In the following year I made an observation upon the National Gallery Estimate, but that referred entirely to the site of the National Gallery, and had nothing to do with any criticism of the pictures. Having disposed of that statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I go to the next. The right hon. Gentleman says— Mr. Bentinck has stated that the pictures which the late Sir Charles Eastlake requested might be offered to the nation for the sum which he paid for them were sold to the representatives of the National Gallery for a very much higher price. That was not what I stated, and my assertion on this point will be confirmed not only by those hon. Members who were present at the time, but by such other means as we possess, although not formally recognized by the House, of verifying the statements made by hon. Members. My statement was to this effect—that whereas it was currently reported that Sir Charles Eastlake had left some directions that his pictures were to come to the nation at the prices which he had paid for them, I had discovered that two pictures which Sir Charles Eastlake had bought had been sold by his representatives to the nation for a sum upwards of £2,000 in excess of that paid for them to the original owners. That was the statement which I made, and it was so reported. I hold that it was a perfectly legitimate statement to make, and the question founded upon it was a proper and pertinent question for an independent Member to address to the Government. It was to that question that the right hon. Gen- tleman gave his reply, and I expressed my satisfaction with that reply. But the right hon. Gentleman did more; he charged me with having spoken in severe terms in this House against the representatives of Sir Charles Eastlake. I denied that charge at the time, and I defied the right hon. Gentlemen to produce his authorities. Under these circumstances I felt it my duty to call the attention of the House to this matter, in order that I might reiterate those denials, and to submit that the public newspapers are not the proper places for questions of this kind to be discussed. It is not fit that independent Members in this House should, be browbeaten and terrified by guerilla warfare in newspapers. If such a course is to be adopted by Ministers of the Crown, and hon. Members were to be afraid to get up in their places and express their true opinion upon matters under discussion, they would be unworthy of the confidence their constituents have reposed in them.


Sir, I really do not know of what the hon. Member has to complain. He has now stated in almost the identical words I used what I said the other night. On Thursday night I stated that the observations of the hon. Member had given considerable pain to the representatives of Sir Charles Eastlake, of whom I may, to a certain extent, consider myself one. The condensed report of my speech that appeared in The Times newspaper gave an entirely wrong' meaning to my answer to the hon. Member. The meaning attached to my answer in that report was that the pictures had been sold to the nation at an increased price over that given for them by Sir Charles Eastlake, and that I justified the transaction on the ground of the increased market value of the pictures. Being thus misreported, I thought it only just and right at once to write to The Times, and explain what I really did say upon that occasion. The hon. Member appears to be rather forgetful of what occurs in this House. Only last year he reminded us that the picture which he condemned, because it had been cleaned—


I was not present in this House last year during the discussion upon the Estimates for the National Gallery.

First Eleven Resolutions agreed, to.

Twelfth Resolution read a second time.

MR. BLAKE, in calling attention to the fact that Scotland receives a sum of nearly £7,000 per annum more than Ireland for the promotion of her Sea Fisheries, even after making allowance for the sum returned to the Exchequer for branding fees, &c, observed that he did so with no hostile intention to Scotland or her interests; because whenever the Vote for Scotland was proposed he had always voted in favour of it; but his object was to show the gross injustice done to the fisheries of Ireland as compared with Scotland. He was glad that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury was present to hear what he had to say; for he found it very difficult to induce him and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a small sum of money for the Irish fisheries, whilst the prosperous Scotch fisheries got nearly £8,000 per annum more than Ireland. The sum voted for Scotland was £15,000 a year, but in the current year it was £13,298 only. Out of that sum the Treasury received back £3,500 for branding fees, leaving a sum of about £9,000. He was aware it had been said that Ireland received a larger sum than Scotland for the erection of piers and harbours; but still, even deducting the extra sum which Ireland got for the purpose, Scotland would still get £7,000 a year more than Ireland. The Scotch fisheries were in a most prosperous condition, and since the year 1800, Scotland had received £1,000,000 more than Ireland for the benefit of her fisheries. The Irish fisheries, on the contrary, were in a declining condition; and although the sum of £10,000 only would do much towards restoring them to prosperity, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had refused to give it. It was with no hostile intention to Scotland that he mentioned these circumstances, but he trusted that now that a new Fishery Board was about to be formed in Ireland, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would act — he would not say in a more generous, but in a more just spirit towards the fisheries of that country — so as to enable the trade to be put upon something like the same satisfactory footing as that of Scotland.


rose to move that the Vote for the Fishery Board be reduced by the sum of £5,766 13s. 5d. He did not think there was likely to be any opposition to his Motion on the ground of principle; for although he saw several Commissioners of the Board present in the House, he did not think they would come forward to uphold the Board. Anyone who had looked at the last Report of the Board could only wonder what these gentlemen could find to do. In that very Report the Commissioners speak strongly of the great benefit which the passing of the Sea Fisheries Act had conferred upon the country; and that very Act transferred the powers of the Fishery Board to the Board of Trade. Here he thought it ought to rest, and that the Board should no longer exist. A great deal had been done in the abolition of the brands that were formerly put upon fish. Long ago they had abandoned branding in the case of ling and codfish, but the branding of herrings was continued. It was thought by the fish-curers to be an advantage; and when in 1855 a Treasury Minute was passed declaring that the system of branding ought to be put an end to, the fish-curers made a stir about it, and the branding was continued on condition that the fishcurers should pay certain fees—4d. a barrel and 2d. a half-barrel—towards the expenditure. The sum received from branding and some other sources of income amounted to £4,500, and there was an annual grant of £3,000 in aid of piers and harbours; but as this rested on a statute of George IV. it was not competent for the Committee to deal with it. That grant, however, had been for some years, and would continue to be for some years more, applied to the works at Anstruther Harbour, where a great deal of last year's work had been destroyed by the severe storms of the winter. He did not see why all the harbours could not be managed like the Wick Harbour, which was supported and managed without any such external assistance at all. With, regard to the herring branding, not a single brand "was ever used or wanted on the West Coast of Scotland, and therefore he did not see why any officers should be kept there for branding purposes; and surely the income of £4,531 was quite sufficient to meet all the necessary expenditure on the East Coast. The Vote, therefore, might be usefully reduced by £5,766 13s. 5d., which sum might be applied to other and more important objects. The mea- sure of Scottish education which was now before Parliament, which he supposed would pass, would require some outlay, which, he was sorry to say, had been refused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had dealt with the subject in a rather niggardly fashion; and the money taken from this Vote might be applied in carrying out that measure.

Amendment proposed, to leave out "£9,298," and insert "£3,531 6s. 7d," —(Mr. Craufurd,)—instead thereof.


said, his constituents were deeply interested, in this subject, and he strongly opposed the reduction of the Vote in so far as it related to piers and harbours. In so far at least as the erection of those pier and harbour works was concerned, he contended that they were properly public works and ought not to be left in the hands of private parties. The fishermen were too poor to pay for these erections, which were the only security the State provided for the benefit of these industrious men, whose lives were frequently in great peril. He trusted, therefore, the House would pause before agreeing to the reduction of this part of the Vote—which, indeed, he thought ought to be doubled, or even trebled, rather than reduced.


reminded the House that on two occasions Royal Commissions, which had been appointed to inquire into this subject of piers and harbours, had recommended that the Votes, so far from being reduced, should be augmented. His impression was, that instead of £3,000 the sum ought to be £6,000. With regard to the question of branding, he had taken some trouble to ascertain the views of those concerned on the subject, and he found that they were pretty equally divided for and against the system. With respect, however, to the Vote for the piers and harbours, there could be no doubt whatever that it was more and more than ever required. It was impossible to exaggerate the loss of life which occurred every year on the East Coast of Scotland. Considering the very small amount of public money that was given to Scotland, he was astonished to find a Scotch Member proposing to withdraw this comparatively small sum—a sum which even now was quite inadequate for the purposes to which it was applied. He was aware that some persons desired the abolition of the Fishery Board; but he should be very sorry to see that course adopted.


complained that, while ample provision was made for the supervision and proper conducting of the Scotch fisheries, there was no such provision made for the Irish fisheries at all. In Ireland there was not a single vessel sent by the Admiralty to look after the fisheries, notwithstanding that the sending of such a vessel had been strongly recommended. When a deputation of Irish Members waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to advocate the necessity of a loan for the Irish fisheries, one of the principal reasons for refusing the loan was that it would tend only to promote individual interests. Looking, however, to the Returns with respect to the Scotch fisheries, which were supposed to be maintained for the benefit of the public at large, he found that, in 1863, no less than 306,822 barrels of herrings were exported to foreign parts. He trusted there would be some "levelling up" in this matter, and that a little more justice would be done to Ireland with respect to her fisheries.


believed that with regard to the Fishery Board, it was the opinion of a large proportion of the Scotch Members that this institution was totally unnecessary. He certainly thought that £5,000 a year was too much to pay for mere supervision. He would beg to point out that the Vote in which the fate of the Fishery Board was involved did not affect the Vote for piers and harbours.

DR. LYON PLAYFAIR, as one of the Commissioners of 1863, reminded the House that both that and the Commission of 1867 recommended that there should be free trade in the fisheries as in other industries, and that the prohibitory Acts should be entirely abolished. That had to a great extent been done by the Acts of 1866 and 1868; and if the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Craufurd) had been to the effect that, in the altered circumstances of the case, there should be a new inquiry instituted as to whether the Fishery Board should be re-constituted or abolished the Motion would have received his support; but what he proposed was that the Board should be abolished at once and without inquiry, and this he could not agree to, believing that it would throw the trade into great confusion. The interests involved in this question were very great. There were nearly £3,000,000 embarked in the trade, which gave employment to upwards of 65,000 men. Such a trade evidently required supervision, and he thought that that was performed satisfactorily by the officers of the Fishery Board. He did not say that the Fishery Board was the best way of managing the fisheries; but there must be some means applied for that purpose, and what he objected to was such a step should be proposed to be taken without inquiry. He should be glad to see a new Commission appointed to inquire into the subject; but must repeat his apprehension that, in the event of the Board being suddenly and without warning abolished, the greatest confusion and injury must ensue to the trade.


said, he entirely approved of the sentiments which had been expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Ayr, and could not agree with the hon. and learned Member for the University of Edinburgh as to the necessity for a new inquiry, after the inquiries which had already taken place and the recommendations which previous Commissions had made on the subject. This was not an intricate matter. All that was required was to follow the principles of Free Trade—to leave the fishermen alone, as they left the ploughman alone, to do their work and sell as they pleased. The fact mentioned by the noble Lord (Viscount St. Lawrence) with respect to the amount of Scotch fish sent to foreign nations was one of the greatest compliments that could be paid to the industry of Scotland, and one of the best means of serving their common country. The main duty of the Board was to superintend the catching, picking, and branding of herrings; but surely that was not a duty to be undertaken by a Board sitting in Edinburgh. He thought the Fishery Board should be abolished root and branch, and that the duties of supervision should be left in the hands of the Board of Admiralty.


said, that whatever might be the merits or demerits of the Fishery Board, the Motion which had been made would only lead to confusion, and would not, if carried, really effect the object the hon. Member (Mr. Craufurd) had in view. The practical effect of carrying such a Motion would be to leave the Board without any money, and throw the whole machinery into confusion. It should not be forgotten that they were dealing with the most flourishing herring fishery in the world. Since the year 1810 it had grown in the most extraordinary manner — namely, from 90,000 barrels to 825,000 in the year 1867. During this time it had been under the management of the Fishery Board. The value of the property at stake was something over £1,000,000; and there could be no doubt that the fisheries afforded employment to large masses of the population. As regarded the matter of the brands, no doubt it was not defensible upon principles of political economy; but it should not be forgotten that this was one of the things which had grown up in the course of years, and was now so identified with the trade that the branded herring obtained the best price in the foreign market. He did not mean to say that if the system of branding was abolished the trade would not right itself in course of time. That might or might not be the case. But, in 1859, optional branding was substituted in lieu of compulsory branding, and the result was that the branding was as eagerly sought as it was before, and that the money derived from this source since the abolition had been during some years considerably in excess of what it was before. It should be remembered, too, that the services of the fishery officers were exceedingly valuable in the preservation of order among the fishermen; while, since the passing of the Sea Fisheries Act of last year, many duties had been imposed upon them which, if performed by others, would entail considerable expenditure. There could be no doubt that the harbour grant was bestowed upon works of great public utility. The small harbours of refuge along our coasts were far too few for our requirements, and indeed the subject was one which was well deserving the careful consideration of the Government. The number of lives annually lost, owing to the absence of these harbours, was not creditable either to the honour or the humanity of a great maritime country like this. But when it was said that the Board was unpopular, and that the attendance of the members was very lax, his hon. Friend would perhaps remember how totally a similar charge against the Board of Supervision of Sheriffs had collapsed. The Scotch people had a great objection to any system of centralization, and he doubted very much whether they would be content to see the duties at present performed by this Board intrusted to any body in England. He hoped, then, that the House would not consent to reduce the amount of this Vote.


said, that he was so convinced of the mismanagement of these Edinburgh Boards, that he would assert that if a Committee of the Treasury were to be sent to Edinburgh in the Recess to inquire into the mode in which Scotch affairs were managed, they would find that £12,000 a year could be saved by judicious management and economy. A good deal had been said about Anstruther Harbour. He had had nothing to do with the granting of any money for the purposes of the harbour; but he was far from admitting that the money so expended had been thrown, away. Indeed, he believed that the coasts of Scotland were lamentably in want of further expenditure of this nature. As to the question of branding, he did not desire do away with it if the fishermen preferred to continue the practice—what he objected to was that the public should be called on to pay for it. He thought, however, that they were better without it, and that the trade would have prospered if there had been no Fishery Board at all. Therefore, he quite supported the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for the Ayr Burghs.


said, the fact was that the brand was paid for by those for whose benefit it had been established; when, many years ago, the branding was done at the public expense, the practice was objected to as being contrary to principle. Commissions were accordingly appointed to investigate the subject; and that of 1856 reported that although, the branding was indefensible in principle while paid for out of the public funds, it was desirable for the fishermen to have branding if they chose to pay for it out of their own pockets. Part of the Vote had no reference to branding at all, but to other duties imposed on the Board by Act of Parliament; and if they took away the money for paying engineers, inspectors, and other officers, the Board would be paralyzed for every purpose. If the Board was objected to, it might be abolished by Act of Parliament, but while it continued to exist and to act under the authority of Parliament, they could not consistently refuse to vote the money necessary to its existence.

Question put, "That '£9,298' stand part of the said Resolution."

The House divided:—Ayes 150; Noes 45: Majority 105.

Resolution agreed to.

Subsequent Resolutions agreed to.

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