MR. A. L. BROWN (Hawick, &c.)
asked the Lord Advocate, Whether it is the case that, in consequence of the expenditure of the Scientific Committee of the Fishery Board (Scotland) for the year ending 31st March, 1887, having greatly exceeded the amount placed at its disposal by the Board, trawling operations, undertaken in connection with bye-laws passed by the Board, had to be suspended for five months, and accounts and wages, due to tradesmen and working men, remained unpaid for some months; and, whether, notwithstanding repeated requests for payment, some such accounts remain still unpaid; whether the majority of the Board have expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which work deputed to the Scientific Committee has been managed, and recommended the appointment of a paid Superintendent to carry out the Board's instructions; but the recommendation was not adopted, on account of the in- 764 tervention of the Secretary for Scotland; whether, in consequence of the Secretary for Scotland's neglecting to reply to repeated communications from the Board, scientific work was practically suspended during the months of April and May last, the months in which some of the most valuable results in connection with the Fishery Board may be obtained; and, whether he will lay upon the Table of the House copies of the Correspondence between the Board and the Secretary for Scotland, together with any protests or remonstrances addressed to the Secretary for Scotland by members of the Fishery Board, in regard to the appointment of a Superintendent?
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
The Fishery Board, who account, as a body, for their vote, cannot throw the responsibility of any part of their expenditure upon a Committee. It is true that the sum voted last year for the purchase of the trawler Garland was found insufficient. The amount spent in putting her in order was, under Treasury direction, charged to the Vote for Scientific Purposes, and the vessel had, in consequence, to be laid up for four months. I am not aware what delay, if any, took place in paying accounts or wages; but there is a small sum still unpaid to tradesmen, as to which the Secretary for Scotland is in communication with the Fishery Board. The majority of the Board, on the 11th of May, recommended the appointment of a paid Superintendent; but the Secretary for Scotland, after carefully considering the matter, requested the Board, on the 26th of May, to reconsider their Report, in view of the fact that, as the present Board expires in October, a change in the working arrangements seems to him ill-timed. If the hon. Member desires, through the medium of a Question, to impute negligence to the Secretary for Scotland, his Question should not be put to me; but, speaking for the Secretary for Scotland, I answer that part of the Question in the negative. It can only be by distinct breach of official confidence that materials for such a Question as that of the hon. Member's can be obtained; and it is not usual to present to Parliament confidential communications regarding matters such as are re- 765 ferred to in the last paragraph of the hon. Member's Question.
§ [No reply.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman refuses to answer the Question I cannot compel him.