HC Deb 05 March 1886 vol 303 cc53-67

, on rising to call the attention of the House to the great want of a Central Department for all matters connected with the Fishing Industries; and to move— That, in consideration of the growing importance of the Fishing Industries, the capital at stake, and the lives dependent on them, in the opinion of this House it is desirable that a Fishery Board he appointed for England, with power to deal with all questions relative to Sea and Inland Fisheries, said, it was necessary, in order that the objects which he had in view should be properly carried out, that they should have the support of the Government of the day, and he had no hesitation in asking for such support, because he looked upon it as the duty of a great maritime and fishing country like England to give adequate support and encouragement to its fishing industry. He could not better show the importance of the fishing industries of this country than by stating to the House a few statistics in reference to those industries. In the first place, then, he was able to inform the House that the number of fishing vessels employed at the present time in the United Kingdom was no less than 37,000, and probably as nearly as could be ascertained about 17,000 belonged to Scotland and Ireland, and the remainder to England; but it should be added that the English fishing-vessels were a far larger, more valuable, and more important class of vessels than those belonging to Scotland and Ireland. The number of men employed in these vessels might be taken to be from 118,000 to 120,000, and there were, speaking well within the mark, at least as many more people on land connected with the fisheries and dependent upon their success for the means of livelihood. With regard to the capital employed in the industry, it was impossible to arrive at any definite conclusion. Probably, however, a fair estimate would be from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 sterling. At all events, there could be no doubt that the capital had of late years increased to a very large extent. As regarded the annual income derived from the fisheries, quoting from Mr. Spencer Walpole, a late Inspector of Fisheries, who read a paper in 1883 at the Fisheries Exhibition, he estimated the annual income at no less than £10,000,000 sterling. Well, he thought these statistics would satisfy the House that the fisheries of the United Kingdom was a most important industry, and that he was justified in asking that the State should encourage and protect it. But hon. Members might ask what Central Department we had which could take up this work? Well, at the present time they had a small Department called the Fisheries Inspector's Department, which was a very small affair, located at the Home Office, and which figured in the Estimates for only £1,048 for this year; but the principal duties allotted to the Inspector of Fisheries were in connection with the salmon fisheries of England, and, as a rule, no duty was undertaken with regard to the larger and important sea fisheries. Inquiries were held from time to time by the Inspectors of Fisheries, and everybody was ready to acknowledge the valuable services rendered to the nation—no one more readily than himself—by such men as the late Mr. Frank Buckland, Mr. Spencer Walpole, and Professor Huxley. The nation was, no doubt, much indebted to them for what they had done. Then, in addition to the Inspector of Fisheries' Office, there were other Departments which were more or less connected with the fishing industries of the country. There was the Board of Trade, with the Harbour Department and Marine Department. There was the Admiralty, to which fishermen looked for protection and assistance on the sea. There was the Foreign Office, which was expected, to protect the fishing interest with other countries. There was the Naval Reserves Office, which was also connected with the protection of the fisheries; and there was Mr. Giffen's Office, which had to do with fishery statistics. Altogether there were seven Offices, more or less, connected with the fisheries in one way or other, and what he proposed was that these scattered Offices should be concentrated into one Central Office and all their powers combined, so that a really effective and influential Fishery Department might be formed. He asked hon. Members to say frankly if they did not believe that such a Central Department would not only be much more effectual, but also much more convenient, than the present inadequate and absurd way of representing the fishing interest in a multiplicity of scattered Offices. As things now were, if a smackowner or a fisherman came to London for the purpose of transacting business, he might wander up and down Whitehall all day long and yet never find the Office which had control of the particular branch of the fishing interest with which he was concerned. Now, such a state of things was absurd in a practical country like England. It was, moreover, highly injurious to the interests of the fishing industry. What was wanted by way of remedy was a Central Fishery Department, which should take under its care all matters which affected the interests of fishermen and the industry which they followed. There was also the lives of fishermen, which ought to be considered in this matter and protected. A few years ago some regulations with reference to the fishing vessels lights were proposed to be put in force, and were drawn up by men who admitted that they knew of the subject practically nothing, and were sprung upon the fishermen without notice, and upon his (Sir Edward Birkbeck's) representation Mr. Evelyn Ashley was sent to the North Sea to observe for himself. But, unfortunately, on the occasion of that Gentleman's visit there was a heavy ground swell on—and Mr. Evelyn Ashley was confined to his cabin all the time, and had to return without being able to report to the Board of Trade what dangerous regulations they had proposed. He only cited this circumstance to show how necessary it was that the Department should be advised by practical men. In Scotland and Ireland they had well-organized Fishery Boards, which furnished statistics and details of the greatest importance, and these Boards were enabled to make bye-laws for the regulation of the fisheries. In Canada, the United States, Sweden, Norway, Holland, and other countries, they had Fishery Departments, which were of immense service to the fishing industries of those countries. The United States made a grant of £54,000 in 1882 for the encouragement of their fisheries. A foreign gentleman expressed to him (Sir Edward Birkbeck) in 1883, at the International Fisheries Exhibition, his astonishment that England, the greatest maritime nation in the world, with the largest fishing interest, had no Fishery Department. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) wished to remedy that defect, and to give to the fishing interests of this country a Department or Board with power not only to protect the fisheries, but to make regulations for the proper carrying on of the industry and for the safety of the lives of the men employed. The Report of the Royal Commission on Trawling, which had come before the House last year, had referred to the question of fishery authorities. Scotland and Ireland both possessed Fishery Boards, and the Irish Board had power to regulate trawling and make bye-laws. England had no Fishery Board or any one Body with analogous powers. He contended that the fishing interest should be under the control of one Department, that there should be a Board with a strong element of practical men upon it, and with a permanent secretary and staff. Certain powers should be conferred upon the Board and certain duties laid down for them. They should collect statistics in the same way as the Scotch and Irish Boards, and should lay a Report on the Table of the House annually. The statistics should state the quantity of fish caught, its value, the number of vessels engaged in the industry, the number of hands employed, and other useful information. The Board should be responsible for the registration of fishing vessels, and be able to recommend such legislation as was required for the advance of the fishing industry, taking care always to have first a thorough public inquiry, and that there should be no danger, as heretofore, of legislating first and asking the advice of practical men afterwards. He was also of opinion that in this matter the Coastguard. Service could give great assistance. The most practical paper that had ever been written on our fisheries was brought before the Fishery Commissioners of the International Fisheries Exhibition, and was written by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The fisheries should, in his (Sir Edward Birkbeck's) opinion, be divided into fishing districts, and those districts should have fishery officers of their own. He would have officers for such districts as Hull, Grimsby, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Plymouth, &c., and those officers would report to the Board on all matters in connection with the fisheries, so that if there was any grievance to be remedied those officers might, through the powers conferred on them, be able to remedy such grievances, or at all events communicate respecting them with the Fishery Board. Such a Board should be responsible for the salmon fisheries of England and Wales, and for all inland fisheries. It might also be thought fit in time that the Scotch and Irish Boards should have a connection with the English Central Board—that was to say, if regulations applying to the United Kingdom were proposed by the Central Board. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) hoped the President of the Board of Trade, had given consideration to this very important question. He could not ignore the recommendations of the Trawling Commission and the importance of dealing with this matter without delay. He was confident the right hon. Gentleman would be able to state to the House in speaking on the Motion now before the House that as far as its principle was concerned he would adopt that Motion. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) could not be expected to go into the details of this question at any length; but he would ask most earnestly, for the sake of the fishing industry of the United Kingdom, that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to tell the House that the Government were disposed to give it their best consideration. If he did so, he might rely on the fishing interest being grateful for what was carried out. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) knew that the late Government would have given the question their earnest consideration, and would have adopted the Motion. Trusting that the present Government would act in a similar spirit, the hon. Baronet concluded by asking the consideration of the House to the Resolution which stood in his name.


, in supporting the hon. Member, said that, as representing a large seaport, the great portion of whose population were deeply interested in fishing, he had for some years felt the serious need that existed for some such Establishment as that which his hon. Friend had just described. He had no intention of going into details; but, as to principles, he thought that those recommended by the Royal Commission last year appeared conclusive. That Commission, he would remind the House, was a strong one. It had a great many subjects to consider, and in consequence it made a great many recommendations. He hoped that they would hear from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade a sympathetic and favourable response to the appeal which had just been made. He (Mr. E. Clarke) would simply mention two matters which had occurred within the last five years, and which would illustrate the need of such a Board. One was the question of trawlers' lights. With regard to these lights, a series of orders of the most contradictory character had been issued from time to time, and one after the other had been cancelled. These orders had no doubt been what was considered best by those who had drawn them up; but the fishermen had thought that those who had discussed the rules had not had a sufficient knowledge of the subject with which they they were dealing. In 1883 there occurred a very remarkable instance of sudden legislation passed through Parliament without any discussion at all. There was the Merchant Shipping Bill, which, in that year, was read a second time in the House of Lords on the very day it was printed, and it was also read a second time in the House of Commons on the day it was presented to the Members of that House. There was no opportunity of discussing it, and when it was read a second time the Minister in charge of it said it had better be read a third time at once, and from the day the Bill was passed till 1884 the Board of Trade was diligently endeavouring to find a means of exonerating the fishermen from the provisions of the Act. It would be a very desirable thing if there was some Department appointed to consider, in concert with practical men, the provisions passed into law; nor did he think that the proposals made necessarily involved any real increase of the charge, because at present these questions undoubtedly were scattered over various Departments. A little arrangement and modification might be made, probably without any real increase of the charge, while it would prove much more satisfactory than was the case at present.


said, he would express a hope that the House would extend to him that kind indulgence which a new Member invariably received at its hands. The hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Birkbeck) had put his case forcibly and clearly, while he was ably seconded by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Clarke). He (Sir Savile Crossley) felt it incumbent upon him to say a few words on the Resolution, because his constituents felt very strongly on the question, and were more largely interested in the fishing trade than any other division in the country. He might mention also that, at a large meeting held last night in the division which he had the honour to represent, a Resolution was passed in favour of the subject brought forward by the hon. Baronet. That Resolution he (Sir Savile Crossley) hoped would be supported by everyone in the House. The representations that had been made to the Board of Trade had not been thoroughly satisfactory to the shipping interest. He had no desire to rake up the past; but he must say that the fisheries had suffered very much owing to the Department of the Board of Trade not having been able to devote very much time to the fishing interest. All questions connected with the fishing trade required more going into than, perhaps, the questions arising from any other trade. The hon. Member for East Norfolk went into the subject of the great development of the fishing trade during the last few years; there was no doubt that many developments had been made in boats and nets. He (Sir Savile Crossley) had great pleasure in supporting the Resolution, because it was moved by one very well disposed towards the fishing interest. It was unnecessary for him to remind the House of the services which the hon. Baronet had rendered the fishing interest. He would, however, say one word why they should have in this matter the support of hon. Members below the Gangway on the other side (the Irish Members). The English Members merely asked that England should possess the same privi- lege which Ireland and Scotland had enjoyed for many years, and, above all, they asked to be put on a fair footing with foreigners. In our case our fishermen had no Central Board which would give them advice; and the result of that was, as every hon. Member knew, that in all questions where the foreign fishing-boats came into contact with ours, the foreign boats had the best of it in matters of law. He referred to the Report of the Deep Trawl Fishing Commission, issued last year. In that Report it would be found, in page 37, that Scotland and Ireland both possessed a Fishery Board, and the Irish Board was allowed to regulate all kinds of fishing, and to make such bye-laws as were deemed necessary. England, unfortunately, had no such Board. Now such an Authority should be created for England at once, and be constituted as a Department of the Board of Trade or Home Office, and upon it should be conferred the same powers of making bye-laws as were now possessed by the Irish and Scotch Fishery Boards. The Commissioners recommended that such a Central Authority should be created, and also that the Scotch Board should have similar powers as the Irish Board; and, thirdly, that a similar Authority should be made for England, and that a statutory power should be conferred upon the Board to give statistics. The House of Commons, a few nights ago, had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the great value of labour statistics in the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh). The House had also shown its appreciation of those statistics, by the support which it gave to the Motion of the hon. Member. He would remind the House that, as far back as 1866, when the Commissioners reported, they investigated the mode of fishing then in use. In 1878 the Commissioners recommended the collection of statistics; and in 1886, they expressed regret that no statistics had been furnished. They pointed out that, although eight years had elapsed since the collection of the statistics was recommended, yet that they were still without them. He (Sir Savile Crossley) ventured, most humbly, to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Heneage), and above all to the Board of Trade, to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners. He felt sure the House would not be satisfied to wait another eight years before the recommendations so often put forward were carried out. In conclusion he begged to thank the House for the patient manner with which it had heard his remarks.


said, he cordially supported the Resolution. The object which it aimed at was really a question of "justice to England," which, with larger fishing interests at stake, did not enjoy advantages that had been conceded to Scotland and Ireland years ago. It was very much to be regretted that they had no better statistics for England than those already furnished. The best statistics of which he had any knowledge were those which had been published by the Board of Trade; but they only related to fish conveyed inland by railway, and not to the total amount caught. Those statistics were brought out in February last year, and he hoped that a similar collection would shortly be presented to Parliament. Looking at the figures conveyed in those Returns, he found the number of tons of fish conveyed inland from the fishing ports had increased to 248,000 in 1884; whilst in Scotland the increase the same year had been 38,000 to 68,000 tons; and in Ireland from 5,933 tons to 7,888 tons, making a total increase for the Three Kingdoms from 240,000 tons in 1879 to 325,000 tons in 1884. Fishermen had the sympathy of all classes. Everybody knew something of, though few fully appreciated, what they had to endure. They had to carry on their labour in fogs and in storms; they had to trust to their chances, and often they had bad luck, and every circumstance connected with their lives created the liveliest sympathy. Fishing was an industry which had increased especially through the work of trawling, and he believed that, as far as experience had hitherto gone, the more fish there were brought from the sea the more there seemed to be to catch. Another consideration of the matter was this, that the fisheries of the country gave employment to 120,000 or 150,000 men. The fisheries round about our coasts were of great value in other ways; for instance, they formed a nursery for the sailors of our Navy. Thus a very great deal depended upon this great industry. The extension of railways had given a great impetus to the trade of fishing, because it enabled good markets to be found for fish all over the country. They wanted a Department very much which would look after the interests of the industry, and provide those engaged in it with a better knowledge of the habits of fish and of the ways and means of taking fish. Whilst all the other industries of the country were more or less in a state of depression, the fishing business was the only one which was comparatively flourishing. He considered that the Department recommended by his hon. Friend should be created, because it was of the first importance. He had great pleasure in supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend.


said, he thought the House would pardon him if he said a few words on the Resolution of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Norfolk. He had until lately been an Inspector of Irish Fisheries, from which position he had been compulsorily retired under somewhat peculiar circumstances. He certainly should like to see some of the functions of the Irish Fishery Board extended to England, and all the powers for controlling the fisheries of the country consolidated in one Office, instead of various organizations being called into play. He had listened with the greatest possible interest to the speech of the hon. Baronet who had brought forward this proposal. In Ireland the Inspectors of Fisheries were Inspectors of the salmon as well as of the sea fisheries; and he hoped that the same system would prevail in England. In Ireland the Fishery Commissioners found the greatest assistance from the Coastguard, who supplied returns of the number of men and boys employed in the Sea Fisheries. He hoped that Her Majesty's Government would see their way to granting what the hon. Baronet had so ably asked for; and, that being so, he had great pleasure in supporting his Motion.


said, he hoped that the House would favourably consider the Resolution which had been brought forward in connection with our fisheries, which could only be effectively dealt with by such a Board as recommended. They required, for instance, to know the merits of trawling and its effect on fishing beds. This was a matter which required great investigation. Matters of this kind could not be settled by individuals, however eminent. They could only be satisfactorily dealt with by an independent Board. The members of such a Board should be men who had practical knowledge and were connected with the fishing trade. The men who were connected with the trade on the Humber were particularly anxious that the Motion before the House should be carried, and that there should be a large practical element on the Board. If the Board had on it members who went to sea themselves, and were capable of making a Report on the fisheries, so much the better. It need not be an expensive Board, for he believed that very capable service could be rendered at moderate salaries. The adoption of the Motion of the hon. Baronet would give a great deal of satisfaction to a very deserving portion of Her Majesty's subjects.


said, he could speak with some little practical knowledge of the advantages which had been derived in Scotland from the adoption of a scheme on the South-West Coast of Scotland which was now proposed for England. He thought, however, that it would be more advantageous to the whole country if, instead of having three separate Boards for the Three Kingdoms, there was one Central Department. There were many interests constantly clashing, and he did not think sufficient attention was given by any one Department to the interests under their charge. Not that he wished to insinuate or make any reflection against either the Scottish or the Irish Fishery Boards. But there were so many questions affecting the fishing interests of the three adjacent coasts that it would be most advantageous to have a Central Board, so that matters might be regulated more smoothly than at present. The question of trawling was a most important one. Previous to 1883 they sustained very great damage indeed from the system of trawling then practised. No doubt great improvement had been effected, but at the same time there were improvements still to be carried out. There was the question of foreign trawlers, who cut up the oyster beds on the South-West Coast of Scotland, and utterly depopulated them. Then as to the herring industry, which was no doubt the most important element in the Scottish fishing industry, great havoc had been done in some places by the injurious modes of fishing practised. It was conjectured that the fish had been frightened off the coast; but it was the fact, whatever the cause, that in numerous places where fish were abundant a few years ago they were now greatly diminished in numbers. These matters, as affecting the food supplies of our ever-increasing population, and also the interests of the persons engaged in fishing, deserved the greatest attention which could be given to them.


said, he was sure the House and the country were grateful to the hon. Baronet for the deep interest he had taken in this important industry; and he was grateful that he did not expect him to go into the details of the scheme for settling the question. The Government were quite prepared to accept the principle of the Motion. After reading the Report of the Trawling Commission, it was impossible to resist the evidence before them that something must be done to centralize the work of that very important industry. At present it was spread over some six or seven Departments and Sub-Departments, and there was a conflict of jurisdiction and sometimes a conflict of instructions. The industry had thus been hampered and embarrassed, and it was very desirable that that state of things should come to an end. He doubted, however, whether it would be necessary to constitute a Statutory Fishery Board. A Central Department might be constituted, which would meet all the requirements of the case. They had had at the Home Office a succession of most able men as Inspectors of Fisheries—Mr. Frank Buckland, Mr. Walpole, and Professor Huxley. Those were men of the highest scientific attainments who had not confined their attention to salmon fishings, but had rendered valuable service to the sea fishing industry. It was singular that the two kinds of fishings had ever been separated, and that there should have been an Inspector and an Assistant Inspector, an outdoor Inspector, or officer, at the Board of Trade; that the Admiralty should have rights of interference; that the Home Office should regulate all fish that migrated to the sea, and some other Department was re- sponsible for fishing at the mouth of rivers. That was an anomalous state of things, and they were quite ready to co-operate with the hon. Baronet to bring it to an end. He found that the official statistics were now, for the first time, being thoroughly dealt with. They were now in the hands of Mr. Giffen, and he, with the aid of the officers of the Board of Trade, and the Admiralty, and the Customs, had published the first batch of statistics. The registration of fishing vessels was regulated by the Mercantile Department of the Board of Trade. There had been a good deal of controversy about lights for fishing vessels; but he hoped the matter was finally settled, and that he would not be called upon to issue any new orders. What they desired to do was to consolidate the functions of the Home Office, the Board of Trade, and the Admiralty, so far as they referred to sea fishing, and put them under the Board of Trade. He was not ambitious to take it; but it was impossible to separate it from that Department. The Department would be consolidated in that respect, and the Admiralty would place their vessels under the instructions of the Board of Trade in order to maintain the police of the sea. They would probably find it necessary to appoint another Inspector; and they then would constitute it a Department which, with a head and with the two chief Fishery Inspectors, would be responsible for the whole of the administration of the Department. They would have the advantage of having the head of the Statistical Department, the head of the Marine Department, the head of the Harbour Lights Department, and the Fishery Inspectors, so that they would combine in one Department the whole of the machinery necessary for its proper conduct. No doubt whoever was appointed chief should be a practical man. He was glad to say that an International Convention had been agreed upon between Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland, and themselves, for regulating the police for the North Sea Fisheries. He believed good results would flow from that Convention. One very important matter had been settled by Lord Rosebery with respect to the Conference which was to take place at Whitsuntide. There was nothing the fishermen suffered from more than the temptation and demoralization of the floating grog-shops. Some of the Powers had held aloof on this matter; but he was glad to say Lord Rosebery had pressed it very closely upon the Northern Powers, and they had come to an agreement that at Whitsuntide this matter should be the subject of a Conference. He knew there would be some advantage from a consolidation of the Boards of the three countries; but he very much doubted whether Scotland or Ireland would be willing to be merged with the English Fishery Board. Both the Scottish Board and the Irish Board were doing their work exceedingly well; but this might be done with advantage. After a conference of the scientific authorities, and indeed all the authorities of the three countries, there ought to be a mutual correspondence on all matters bearing on improvements decided upon. Already, he believed, both the Scottish and Irish Fishery Boards were willing to aid in this matter. He hoped what he had said would give satisfaction to the House. He was not able to say that all this machinery should be perfected at once; but the Board of Trade would set about it immediately. It should be remembered, however, that it would be necessary to pass a measure through Parliament to transfer the powers of the Home Department to the Board of Trade. He was sure the hon. Baronet would think they would derive considerable advantage from employing the staff of the Home Office and the Board of Trade, and not limiting them to fresh water fisheries. He hoped that what the Government proposed to do would show that the Government had a thorough sympathy for an important industry carried on by the bravest men. He trusted the Department would be arranged so that there would be no difficulty in anyone addressing it receiving prompt attention and an answer to any question, and that this might be done without any great increase of expenditure. It was, he believed, more a matter of organization than expenditure, and the putting an end to a divided responsibility, which had worked a good deal of hardship upon the fishermen.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.