§ MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)
said, he had to call the attention of the House to a very important question connected with the fishing industry on the South-East Coast of Scotland. He had given Notice of the following Motion on the subject:—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire as to the existence and extent of private rights in mussel beds in the tidal waters of Scotland, and to inquire generally as to the nature and value of such rights, and to report as to the advisability of compelling the transfer of all such rights and of all mussel beds to the Fishery Board for Scotland, with the view of preserving and protecting the mussel beds, and enabling fishermen to obtain mussels at reasonable rates.He was precluded by the Forms of the House from moving this Resolution, but he could call attention to the subject. He regretted that it should be necessary to do so, because he had hoped that what took place last year would have been sufficient to effect his purpose. It might be remembered that a Motion almost identical in form to the one standing on the Paper in his name was brought forward by him last year, he thought in the month of May, and that on that occasion the Motion was opposed by the Government on the ground that the inquiry he wanted, and of which they admitted the necessity could be better conducted by the Scotch Fishery Board than by a Royal Commission, which would be a much more costly process. Well, certain pledges were then given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate to which he (Mr. Anderson) would refer more particularly presently, but it was needless to say, and he regretted it very much, that those pledges had not been fulfilled 954 —that the promises then made by the Government had not been carried out, and that practically this question which was of such vital importance to the line fishermen of Scotland had been put on one side, apparently by the Government and by the Scotch Fishery Board as a matter of comparatively little importance. A subject of the most vital interest, which ought to have engaged their closest attention, was put on one side to make way for others which, to his mind, would better much better left alone. It would be seen at once that to line fishermen any question relating to bait would be of the greatest importance. One of the essentials to their prosperously carrying on their business was that they should have a good and ample supply of bait, that they should have that supply near at hand, and that they should have it without being put to any great expense for it. At the present moment the line fishermen of Scotland could not be said to enjoy any single one of these conditions. It would seem almost incredible to many Members that although the mussel, which was the bait ordinarily used by line fishermen, was one of the fish which, above all others, was easy to propagate—which would grow without any difficulty at all—at the present moment the line fishermen on the North-East Coast of Scotland had to procure the greater part of their bait from the Western Coast, and even some of it from Ireland and other places. It seemed that on the Eastern Coast of Scotland—and this was the point upon which this matter originally arose and caused him to bring it before the House last year—the landlords had appropriated to themselves, backed up, he must say, by laws which protected their rights of property, the mussel beds in the tidal waters. Into the question of the assertion by the landlords of their right to the mussel beds he was not going to enter, except, in passing, to say that it was a very strange right to assert, because he ventured to think that every reasonable person would assume that fishermen could not fish without bait, and would be supposed in the natural course of things to procure their bait from the natural bait beds in the vicinity in which they lived. To an ordinary person that would seem to be an ordinary thing, but instead of that it had been asserted that these bait 955 beds did not belong to the fishermen at all, and that they could only use them by the consent of the landlords, who charged a very high rate for the mussels. Evidence was given upon this subject before the Crofters Commission. Witnesses were called who spoke to the fact that on the estate of the Duke of Sutherland as much as 1s. 6d., 2s., and 2s. 6d. a basket was charged for the mussels, which the fishermen gathered in the tidal waters on that estate. The witnesses were asked if the Duke of Sutherland had a right to these mussels, and the answer was: "Well, he claims the right, and we also claim that we have a right to them." It seemed to him (Mr. Anderson) that that was ungenerous conduct in the extreme on the part of a landlord who knew the difficulties that fishermen had to contend with, and that they were at the present time making a very precarious living. It seemed to him conduct which ought to be condemned, particularly when they remembered the exorbitant charge which was made in many places for the mussels which the fishermen must have in order to obtain a living. He was glad to find that this rapacity did not seem to prevail on the whole coast of Scotland, for they found on the West Coast that no claim of this kind was made—at least this was the case so far as he knew. And what had happened? Why the fishermen on the East Coast being charged 1s. 6d., 2s., and 2s. 6d. a basket for their bait did not buy the mussels in their own neighbourhood, but it paid them better to dredge for mussels on the West Coast, and to have them transported across Scotland by railway. After paying for this transportation and going to the trouble of dredging them, they obtained the mussels cheaper than they could get them in their own neighbourhood from their own landlord, who made this high charge. That was the present state of affairs, and the consequence was that fishermen were put in a position of great difficulty, because bait was a very serious item in their day's work. It was essential that they should have it, and each of them should pay, generally speaking, a shilling before he could commence his day's work, which was a thing he very naturally resented, believing that he ought to be able to get his bait without paying for it. When the fisherman came back after his night 956 of toil on the deep, he found it result in a small, miserable pittance, the greater part of which either went to the landlord or to pay for bait brought from the West Coast. The question was, whether this was a state of things which ought to be allowed to continue. As he had said, he brought the subject before the House last year, and he had pointed out what he again proposed to point out—namely, that the grievance was one which should not be allowed to continue, and that, therefore, it was desirable that a Royal Commission should be appointed for the purpose of making inquiry, and ascertaining what were the real rights of the landlords to these mussel beds, and for the purpose of ascertaining what steps should be taken by the Scotch Fishery Board, or by the Government, to put this matter in a satisfactory position. He had said just now the Government stated that inquiry was being made. As a matter of fact, he was put off, as hon. Members on that, the Opposition, side of the House, were very frequently put off, by the statement that the matter was engaging the very serious and earnest consideration of the Government, and that the Secretary for Scotland was deeply impressed with the importance of the subject. He was told, in effect, that the matter was one in respect to which no stone would be left unturned to ascertain the merits of the case. These were the Lord Advocate's own words as they appeared in Hansard. He stated—The Government admitted that it was a matter for inquiry; he thought the Fishery Board was a competent body to look into it, and perfectly competent to advise the Secretary for Scotland, first, as to whether anything should be done, and, in the second place, as to what should be done.Now, upon hearing that statement, he (Mr. Anderson) believed that several hon. Members who would otherwise have supported his proposal, believing the position taken up by the Government to be a reasonable one, refrained from supporting him, and ranged themselves on the side of the Ministry. He himself, however, did not feel justified in accepting that statement as satisfactory. He confessed that perhaps he did not place that confidence in Government statements that he ought, and on that occasion he took a Division on the subject because he fancied that the general 957 remarks which had fallen from the Lord Advocate were perhaps not seriously meant, and might not lead to what was desired. Well, he was sorry to say that his prophetic feeling on that occasion was correct, because, although that had been in May last, up to the present moment the Executive Government of Scotland, represented by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (the Lord Advocate) and the Secretary for Scotland and other officials in the Scotch Department, and also the Scotch. Fishery Board, he believed, had done absolutely and literally nothing to carry out that pledge of the Government. Although this question only affected men in a humble position of life, and men who had to work hard for their livelihood, he wished the Government and the Lord Advocate, or whoever represented the Scotch Fishery Board, to remember that it was a matter of vital importance to thousands of people. A solemn pledge was given a year ago that it should be investigated, and it was almost incredible that since then nothing should have been done to redeem that promise. That to his mind was a monstrous dereliction of duty on the part of the Government. This dereliction of duty absolutely led to a waste of the time of the House, because it had rendered it necessary for him to repeat observations which he had made last year. If the Government had done their duty, it would have been unnecessary for him to have troubled the House this evening, so through their inattention to the subject they were to blame for the time of the House being occupied with this discussion. The question was one which was not very difficult to deal with. In Scotland they had at the present moment a Fishery Board which, he believed, was not the case in England. In the Resolution of which he had given Notice, but which he was precluded from moving, he had suggested that this Scotch Fishery Board should take in hand this question of bait beds around the coast of Scotland. Such was the feeling of the people of Scotland. A meeting was held last autumn in Aberdeen which was attended by a large number of fishermen, and there was a general expression of opinion there given that the bait beds should not be open to everybody, because that course led to very great mischief. One 958 of the mischiefs of the present system was that although the landlords excluded the fishermen from the use of the bait beds by an exorbitant charge for mussels, they could not prevent the public from taking them from other beds. Everybody who chose went to the bait beds, and the beds were consequently seriously damaged by improper dredging and by bait being taken away in improper quantities. The bait was taken by unskilled parsons, and great part of the beds was spoiled, and he wished to remedy this evil by putting the beds into the hands of a proper authority—a competent public body—in order that they might protect them so that the fishermen might reap the greatest possible benefit from them, a small toll being levied from fishermen to defray the cost of management. That seemed to him to be the proper course to be taken by the Scotch Fishery Board in this matter. He was bound to say that although the Scotch Fishery Board, as a body, had done nothing, a certain member of that Board had recently published, apparently upon his own responsibility, a report upon this question. He was sorry to say that he believed that gentleman—namely, Professor Ewart, did not seem to get on very well with the other Members of the Board. He had published a paper—he (Mr. Anderson) did not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had read it, although he hoped he had—a very important paper which dealt very fully with the subject in hand. Might he ask the Lord Advocate if he had seen it?
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
Yes, I have seen the Report by Professor Ewart.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, it was a very important document, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, he was sure, would agree with him that it dealt very fully with many matters which he (Mr. Anderson) had brought forward last year. It pointed out how important it was for the Government to take action, and to take action at once, with regard to this subject. Professor Ewart pointed out that in many cases, owing to neglect of these bait beds, the supply of bait was deteriorating in quality and quantity. He pointed out that last year over 20,000 tons of mussels were taken and consumed 959 by the fishermen of Scotland, but that next year—that was to say, the ensuing year—the prospect was a very gloomy one, and that the sources of the supply of bait were not nearly sufficient.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
I thought the hon. and learned Member was referring to a paper read by Professor Ewart before the Fishery Board. In the answer made just now I may have made a mistake. I was referring to the printed paper before me.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he was sorry the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not seen the document to which he had referred. It was in the form of a letter.
§ MR. ANDERSON
All he could say was that the copy he had of it was extracted from The Scotsman newspaper, he thought of the 11th May—either the 11th or 12th of May.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the Government had evidently not yet fully considered the document, and knew little about the subject beyond having read that letter in the columns of The Scotsman. He thought it unfortunate that the document had not been brought officially under the notice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because in it Professor Ewart, who was the scientific member of the Scotch Fishery Board, said that the cause of the discontent amongst the Scotch fishermen was the charge made for bait, and then he went into the causes which were bringing about a gradual decrease in the number of mussels. He said that the amount of bait was decreasing owing to the mussels not being properly looked after, and then he proceeded to point out various measures which he thought ought to be adopted for the purpose of remedying the evil and placing at the disposal of the fishermen bait at a reasonable price. In one part of his letter, Professor Ewart pointed out that fishermen on the East Coast of Scotland were taxed by the railway rates they had to pay, in order to get their bait for use from distant places, something like £20,000 a-year. He trusted, at any rate, that this report would be considered by the Government. It seemed a most extraordinary thing that this document, which had been pub- 960 lished some weeks ago, should not have been brought under the notice of the Executive Government, even privately. Why had they officials to carry out the Executive Government if important documents of this description were not at once brought to their notice when they knew discussions of this kind were about to take place? He (Mr. Anderson) thought he had just cause of complaint in the fact that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate was not able to get up in his place and tell them that the Government had considered the paper of Professor Ewart, and whether or not they agreed with the statements contained in it and the recommendations and suggestions made. He did not wish to say anything disagreeable, but desired to put fairly before the House the course the Government had taken in the matter, and fairly criticize their conduct. He only desired what was most reasonable—namely, that the Government of Scotland should come down to this House, and say whether or not they agreed with the views expressed by Professor Ewart. What were these views? He had shortly stated a portion of them, but the Professor went on to point out the absolute necessity of practical legislation. In the third part of the report Professor Ewart stated that sufficient had been said to show—firstly, that the mussel fishery was one of great importance to Scottish fishermen; secondly, that the fishermen along the Eastern and North-Eastern seaports were dependent for mussel bait almost entirely on supplies brought from the West Coast; and thirdly, that the insufficiency of local supplies was apparently in many cases due to the reckless destruction of mussels; and that such being the condition of affairs on the large fundamental subject of bait—a sine quâ non of line fishermen—it formed a subject of serious consideration as to what measures it was possible to adopt with the view of remedying it. Then Professor Ewart went on to discuss various measures which he suggested. He dealt with the matter in considerable detail, but the substance of his suggestions was practically that the mussel beds should be brought under the Scotch Fishery Board. Towards the end of his paper, he mentioned three or four points. He said that should his proposal be adopted as to legislation, he 961 would recommend amongst other things—firstly, that there should be an accurate survey made by the Fishery Board of the mussel beds to be cultivated; and secondly, that the taking of mussels by hand should be prohibited, except under special circumstances, since great quantities were destroyed by the fact of the people gathering them, and that the gathering should be done by a system of raking; and thirdly, that where it was possible only a limited portion of the beds should be annually worked, and that care should be taken to prevent the overcrowding of any portion of the beds. Then Professor Ewart went on to deal with other parts of the coast. These seemed to him (Mr. Anderson) to be very practical suggestions on the part of Professor Ewart; but there was another matter which he thought had not had sufficient importance attached to it, and that was that he believed we were the only fishing country which had not made some attempt to increase bait by artificial means. Had that subject engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government?
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate assented. It had engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government to this extent that he (Mr. Anderson) had put a Question on the Paper on the subject, and that he received an Answer from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which gave him no information at all—that he had got the stereotyped answer from the Scotch Office to the effect that the subject was engaging the attention of the Government of Scotland. He wished to ask the House whether the time had not come for the Government of this country to take a leaf out of the lessons taught us by the United States of America, and by Norway, Sweden, and France, who spent enormous sums of money for the purpose of putting bait in the way of fishermen to enable them to carry on their industry successfully? This was a matter which would lead to very little expense. The Lord Advocate said that it was being attended to; but he had asked the Government the other day if they attached any importance to the bait beds in the Moray Firth, but it seemed that they did not, as they replied that they could not undertake to spend a few hundred pounds 962 for the purpose of carrying on experiments there. What had Professor Ewart said upon this subject? Why that it was essential that these experiments should be made. The mussel was a fish which grew in enormous quantities with very little difficulty, and all that was required for their cultivation was to take some steps for the protection of the beds. He thought the least they could have expected from the Government was a promise that they should take measures, at any rate, to experiment in that direction. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had told him the other day—although he might have misunderstood him—that the Government did not see their way to spending money in making experiments, and if that were so he thought it was a matter of which the Scotch fishermen had every right to complain. The points he had gone over showed this was a matter of the utmost importance, and one which the Government ought to take in hand without delay. The Lord Advocate looked as if he were about to reply, as he had a number of papers in his hand, and he (Mr. Anderson) supposed that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman did reply, he would say that the inquiry which he had promised last year should be made had been made. It was true that last September a State Paper was issued from the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland; but the inquiry to which that Paper gave an answer was as to where the principal mussel beds on the Coast of Scotland were, to whom they belonged, and upon what terms the Scotch fishermen could obtain mussels from them? He could only tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that those were not the points upon which his (Mr. Anderson's) Motion of last year was founded and upon which he had desired the Government to obtain information. They all knew where the mussels beds were, and they all knew to whom they belonged—or rather to whom it was alleged they belonged—and they also knew the terms upon which fishermen could obtain mussels from them. His complaint last year was that the fishermen were charged exorbitant rates for the mussels. He certainly had not gone to the Scotch Office for the purpose of obtaining an answer to a number of questions which 963 he had not put, and for the purpose of hearing a number of facts stated with which they were already acquainted. He was bound to say that this table did summarize very conveniently what he ventured last year to bring forward—namely, the great difficulty fishermen on the North-East Coast of Scotland had in obtaining bait. It was clearly shown that over an enormous expanse of coast—the greater part of the Coast of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Morayshire, and Nairn—there were practically no mussel beds, and men had to obtain their mussels from those persons who had private beds, or to get them, as he had said, from the other side of Scotland. He hoped that they would hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate something satisfactory upon this question. He assured the right hon. and learned Gentleman that this was a question in respect to which the deepest interest was taken by the fishing population in the North-East of Scotland. He could hardly believe that the Government realized the importance of this question, because he saw the Secretary for Scotland this afternoon, and he was surprised to find that the noble Marquess apparently did not know that this question which was coming up for discussion was a question of any importance; he did not appear to have considered what answer the Government should give in the matter. That was not at all a satisfactory way of treating a question which affected the fishing population of Scotland most deeply. When it was seen how precarious their existence was, and how toilsome a life they had to live, he could not help thinking that the time of the House could not be better employed than in considering measures for their relief. In bringing this matter before the House he felt that he was only doing a simple duty to those men, and he trusted that some satisfactory assurance would be given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman on behalf of the Government.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Anderson) took a great interest in this question, and always spoke upon the subject with great earnestness. Representing, as he 964 did, a constituency which was especially interested in the matter, the hon. and learned Member would not be doing his duty if he failed to bring before the notice of the House the views which his constituents entertained with regard to it. There might be, on the part of a number of people, a certain feeling of impatience that their views on this subject were not at once carried out; but he hoped it would be realized that those who had to act had a great deal more to do than those who merely suggested. Up to the present moment the Government had not had put before them any scheme on the part of scientific men that would enable them to say whether it would be wise to carry it out or not. Hon. Members opposite would agree with him that to attempt anything in a matter of this kind before they wore satisfied, in the first place, that it would be effective, and, in the second place, that any money spent upon it would not be wasted, would be a most unwise proceeding. This matter was one which depended to a great extent on the evidence to be obtained from persons of scientific knowledge and skill. It was quite true that upon the bleak and exposed coast of some parts of Aberdeenshire there were no mussel beds; but he thought it would be found that the reason why there were no mussel beds there was that the ground was not suitable for the establishment of mussel beds. On a very rocky, iron-bound coast, they could not have conditions which admitted of successful mussel scalps. When the hon. and learned Member for Elgin and Nairn said there were certain points on the East Coast of Scotland where there were no mussel beds, and where mussel beds could be established, he was entirely mistaken, and he would not get any evidence to support that statement.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
said, he was afraid that with the information before them it was perfectly hopeless to attempt to establish mussel beds in any of the places suggested by the hon. and learned Member. If mussel beds could not be established in every place where there were fishermen who might desire to use those mussel beds, was it a cure for the difficulties which had arisen to throw open the existing mussel beds to 965 everybody? The inevitable result of throwing them open would be this, that those people who lived in places where there were no mussels would flock down to those places where there were mussels, and they would make a hash of the garden of mussels wherever they found them.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he never suggested anything of the kind. He suggested that the mussel beds should be put under the Fishery Board to prevent that being done.
§ MR. J. H. A. MACDONALD
said, he quite understood that. It was obvious that if regulations were to be made by which the supplies of mussels were to be available to all fishermen, that was a matter which would require very grave consideration if it was to be worked out at all. His hon. and learned Friend had pointed out that they did not imitate the example of other countries which were spending enormous sums of money in the development of fisheries. He would remind his hon. and learned Friend that the authorities at Dover House had no control over the public purse, but if a grant were made for any purpose connected with the fisheries of Scotland, he could assure his hon. and learned Friend that they would be very glad to spend it to the very best advantage.
§ MR. J. A. MACDONALD
said, that was a popular delusion. If that was the idea which was present in the minds of hon. Gentlemen, he could quite understand their indignation that any views which they might put forward were not carried into effect. The grant they had at present did not enable them to carry out any such proposal as that suggested by the hon. and learned Member. The problem they had before them was to see whether the mussel scalps which existed could not be made more productive and safe from destruction. It had also been brought out quite clearly that in a great number of cases where there was no competition for mussels, the proprietors had allowed the fishermen in their neighbourhood to take them perfectly freely. The Government had just lately received from Professor Ewart a report of very great importance. Professor Ewart pointed 966 out the necessity of proceedings that had not been thought of in this country till a year or two ago. Not relying upon natural causes, but adopting some system of cultivation, there had been a very successful system of cultivation carried out on the Continent in regard to mussels. Three things had been realized—First, that they must have a rich or muddy bottom for cultivating; second, that they must have some means to enable the mussels to attach themselves conveniently and quickly; thirdly, that they must have some pruning and clearing of the spaces; and fourthly, that they must have a removal of the mussels when they had got to a certain size, so that the new ones might form in a sheltered spot. All these things were of enormous importance; but they meant not only the expenditure of money, but considerable study and experiment. Professor Ewart's report had only been received on the 10th of April. He (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) himself looked forward to very great results from some such system. If it could be successfully carried out in this country, it would probably lead to the relief of a great portion of the difficulty felt on many parts of the coasts of Scotland. Hitherto in this country the practical principle had not been adhered to by fishermen as was followed by agriculturists in the cultivation of land—the rotation of crops, or the alternation between fallow and cultivation. It was, therefore, necessary that there should be some regulation—analogous to the system of cropping on land—by which a certain portion of the mussel beds should have a rest while other portions were being worked. All this would require a great extension of the powers of the Fishery Board. The evil undoubtedly existed, and it could only be hoped that, by reasonable measures, those places that had severely suffered might be restored to a condition of productiveness. Careful investigations had been made, and these necessarily occupied time. The report which had appeared in The Scotsman, and to which reference had been made, was not the report he had before him, and he assumed that the Fishery Board was now making its report upon the subject. All these suggestions were the suggestions of experts, and required consideration, which they were receiving. Clear 967 and detailed estimates of the cost were also required before Parliament could be asked to vote any money. It was for the Cabinet to consider whether any such action could be taken after receiving information. He was afraid to say the matter was receiving serious consideration, because he quite saw that the hon. and learned Member never believed that; but the Government frankly admitted the importance of the subject, and that it was their duty to investigate it, and see what was best to be done; but he thought it was only reasonable that they should not be pressed for an answer till they had considered all the questions involved.
said, he was glad that the Lord Advocate admitted the importance of this subject. It was one the importance of which was felt especially on the East Coast of Scotland, and the present depressed condition of the fishery trade intensified its importance. At present, on the East Coast of Scotland many of the best men were looking to other fields for their labour. Many of them desired to emigrate, and try their hand at fishing on the other side of the Atlantic; and, while he admired the enterprize of these men, he would not like to see them leaving our shores until, at any rate, all the resources of this country had been fully developed. He would not detain the House by going into the many hardships which the fishermen had to encounter in getting bait. It had been generally understood—at any rate, amongst laymen—that while rates might be charged by a proprietor for mussels between high and low water mark, yet where fishermen succeeded in finding mussel beds for themselves beyond the low water mark, they had a right to them; but a case brought before the Courts where the proprietor charged for mussels found five or six fathoms deep had been decided against the fishermen. That decision occasioned surprise even among some of the Legal Authorities of Scotland. [Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD dissented.] The Lord Advocate shook his head; but he (Mr. Duff) recollected going to the Fishery Board in Edinburgh, and being told by two Sheriffs that they believed that no right whatever could be established by law to mussel beds beyond the low water 968 mark. However, the case was decided against the fishermen. The Lord Advocate had said he did not want to take any precipitate action in the matter. He (Mr. Duff) did not think they need be alarmed about that. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson) brought this question forward last year, and was then told that it would receive the serious attention of the Government. He did not know what the Government had done in the interval. They did not seem to have made much progress. The Lord Advocate had also said—"It was all very well to come down there and ask the Government to cultivate mussel beds; but where was the money to come from?" That was a point on which he (Mr. Duff) ventured to offer a suggestion to which he hoped the Government might pay some attention. Some years ago, he presided over a Committee on the Herring Brand, and before that Committee it was distinctly and conclusively proved that there was a very large surplus, which was acknowledged to belong to the fishermen, of £31,570. He would suggest to the Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland whether they could not with justice give some of that money to carrying out a scheme for cultivating mussels. It seemed to him a very appropriate fund for the purpose, and one on which they had some claim. Fishermen were being helped in Ireland and on the West Coast of Scotland. Well, here were some of the best men on the East Coast going out of the country; and while there was a large sum of money which practically belonged to them, the Government came down to the House and said—"We cannot cultivate mussels because we have not the means." He could assure the Lord Advocate that there was a strong feeling on this question. He might be asked, if his hon. Friend could carry his Motion, what would be the result? Well, if they were to cultivate mussels, they would have, in the first place, to determine the existing private rights. He had never advocated the confiscation of these rights. Let them be valued and compensated; then let the mussel beds be handed over to the Fishery Board, and he had no doubt that under the able supervision of Professor Cossar Ewart they could produce mussels in various parts of Scotland just as they 969 were produced in France. This would be an immense boon to fishermen on the East Coast.
§ MR. A. SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
said, he admired the great ingenuity with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate had evaded, if he might say so, all the points raised by the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Anderson). As he (Mr. A. Sutherland) understood the question, it was not as to the best moans for the artificial cultivation of mussels, but as to who had a right to the mussel beds. It was perfectly well known to the fishermen that the mussel beds used to be free; in fact, he believed the oldest fishermen would assert that they could remember the time when they could go to the beds and take what bait they wanted, without being charged for it. It was a matter well known to everybody that bait for line-fishing was a necessity—as much a necessity as a boat—and, therefore, it was the duty of the Government to give every facility, not only for the cultivation of mussels, but also for the free supply of mussels to the fishermen. The question of proprietory in the mussel beds was not touched upon at all by the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, and he (Mr. A. Sutherland), for his own part, would have liked very much to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion on that subject. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff) had stated that it would be a very great thing for the Government to buy out the rights of the owners of the mussel beds. He (Mr. A. Sutherland) should like to know how many of those who now claimed rights of proprietorship on the mussel beds really bought these rights in the first place. That subject would certainly have to be considered before the subject of compensation was taken in hand. The principal question, however, was that of the right of proprietorship. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had stated that on questions of this kind generally the officials at Dover House were dependent for information upon their subordinates, and, no doubt, that was so. No one could blame the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate or the Secretary for Scotland (the Marquess of Lothian) for not having information upon a matter of this sort, if their sub- 970 ordinates had failed to supply them with it; but he thought the opinion of experts was worth ascertaining, and that was the exact point of the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had introduced this subject (Mr. Anderson)—namely, that the Government should consent to an Inquiry being instituted into the whole question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, however, met that proposal by giving them a long dissertation upon the artificial production of mussels. Now, with regard to the proprietorship of these mussel beds, the pretence always put forward was that it was necessary that some one should have the ownership vested in him, in order that they might be protected and regulated. Well, he believed that also. He believed that the mussel beds should be protected and regulated, but that was no reason why the beds should be appropriated by private persons. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson) declared that the best custodian of the mussel beds would be the Fishery Board of Scotland, a Body publicly appointed and responsible to the Crown for the due administration of its functions. That was the point, and towards its elucidation the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate had not contributed very much. He (Mr. A. Sutherland), however, was thankful for small mercies coming from that quarter, and he was thankful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that, at any rate, this subject would be made a matter for consideration. It was to be hoped that he would grant this inquiry.
§ MR. ROWNTREE (Scarborough)
said, he should be failing in his duty if he did not join in the appeal made to the Government to look into this matter, with the view of taking definite action upon it. The supply of Scotch mussels was a matter of great importance to English as well as Scotch fishermen, particularly to those along the North-East Coast of England. He supposed there was no article of food in our country which had increased in price so much as fish, and to this addition to the cost of fish the scarcity of bait was one of the principal factors. But whilst this was of great importance to the country at large, it was of more pressing and immediate importance to those who brought in this food supply to England, 971 and who earned a living very hardly on the waters of our North Sea. If the men who went out in open boats all round our coasts carrying on this line-fishing industry, could see the comparatively small interest that this subject excited in that House, he should be sorry to confront a body of them to-morrow. It was a fact that every one of these men had to lay out from 3s. to 8s. for bait before he went in search of fish, and it might be, if the weather was rough or the catch was small, a man might come back not only having lost his night's labour and his expenditure on bait, but a serious amount of capital, which might leave him in debt and cripple him for some time to come. The scarcity and the high price of bait was a very serious problem. He might mention that this was no mere supposition. He had taken great pains to work out a balance sheet as affecting 90 fishermen—line fishermen—and he found that these men, living in the town of Filey, in Yorkshire, in 10 weeks last autumn only made a profit of 10d. per head per week. One of the principal items which had reduced their profit was the extremely high price they had to pay for bait. That was a very grave position of things, and he thought the responsibility of the Government was considerably enhanced by the fact that this matter had already been the subject of legislation, and had been acknowledged by the House to be a suitable subject for legislation, only, unfortunately, such legislation as had been adopted had turned out to be practically a dead letter. There was an Act passed dealing with this subject so long ago as the year 1868, but the Royal Committee of 1885 made a careful inquiry along the Scotch Coast, and that Committee actually said—With regard to this particular matter, as we already pointed out, the Legislature has attempted to deal with it by the Act passed in 1381, but we were informed that that Act was a dead letter. We think it advisible that some more effective method should be adopted for dealing with what has already been recognized as an evil by the Legislature.He thought that when a Royal Commission declared to the House that this matter had been dealt with ineffectually hitherto, and recommended, as they did in 1885, that it should be dealt with effectually, it was to be hoped that the Government would not delay making 972 the most definite and effective inquiry that could possibly be made upon the subject.
§ MR. BERNARD COLERIDGE (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
said, he had no wish to intervene for any length of time in that debate, seeing that he was an Englishman, and that he did not represent a coast constituency. At the same time, he personally had some interest in a part of the country in which there was a fishing community, and he wished to point out to the House the enormous importance of the subject they were discussing, a subject which he believed to be equally interesting and applicable to other parts of the "United Kingdom as to Scotland, and that was the reason why he should not be surprised if other English Members desired to say a word or two in that debate. In olden times the rights of fishing around our coasts were carefully guarded. Wherever the tide came up the public had the right of fishing on the shores, and so close had been the guardianship of that right that never had any of the Law Courts recognized the validity of a grant by the Crown since the year 1215 derogating from the supreme right of the people to take fish wherever the tide ebbed and flowed. That right bad undoubtedly been whittled away in many respects by presumption of lost grants—a presumption held by the Courts in more than one instance. Though individuals had had difficulty in securing the exclusive right to fish in mussel-beds under the claim of a fishery—because fish, of course, included mussels—yet individuals had secured the right of taking mussels,on our sea shores by another process. The process by which they had obtained that right had been by claiming the soil upon which the mussels were placed, there being no Statute of Prohibition against the grant of the soil to individuals. Though the right to the soil did not carry with it the exclusive right to take the mussels on the soil, or to fish in the waters that overflowed that soil, yet, by the various Salmon Fishery Acts, it had been held that wherever an individual could show that he had a right to the soil on beds marked out and chose to place mussels or oysters thereupon, he had a right to take those mussels or oysters in derogation of the primâ facia rights of the public.That being so, the Legislature had, he presumed, contem- 973 plated certain circumscribed, settled, and definite beds; but cases had come under his own knowledge in which individuals had "marked out" whole miles of our coast. In one instance he knew of five miles altogether being marked out by an individual who claimed the soil along the sea. He had put up certain posts at the corners of these five miles of land, and had said that that was an oyster and mussel-bed, "well and sufficiently marked out and known as such"—in the words of the Legislature—and had claimed the right, therefore, and had succeeded in making good his claim to oust the fishermen from taking mussels as bait over the whole of the five miles. The result of that had been that the fishermen of that particular locality had been really prevented from exercising their trade as fishermen because, as the oysters could not be disturbed, therefore the mussels could not be disturbed, and because the mussels could not be disturbed, there was no bait for fish, and, as a consequence, the fishermen had had a profitable trade closed to them, and had their means of obtaining a livelihood barred to them for good and all. He submitted that the question was one of some moment, and that it was time that the rights of the public and the rights of individuals were made the subject of inquiry and definitely ascertained.
§ MR. LYELL (Orkney and Shetland)
said, that as representing a constituency largely interested in mussels and oysters, he should like to say a word upon this matter. The rights of the owners of the soil and of the fishermen to the bait beds around the Island of Orkney were unsettled, and he thought in any inquiry instituted this point should be set at rest. There seemed to be some doubt in the North as to whether private rights did not extend in some cases eight miles from shore, or considerably more than the three miles limit, which existed in other quarters. This was an important question, not only with regard to mussels, but also with regard to the cultivation of oysters. Considerable importance appeared to him to attach to the matter of providing police in these waters—these tidal waters, these small shallow waters which, in certain places, were valuable for the cultivation of shellfish. He would urge upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate and the Government to take 974 means without delay to get this question settled. Several attempts had been made to cultivate oysters in the sea water near the shore in the large firths which ran far inland, and which in former years were well known for the enormous supply of shell-fish that they yielded. These firths had all been cleared out now by parties from the South, and perhaps by the Islanders themselves, and the state of things now existing was not likely to be set right, as the people were in ignorance of their legal position. He thought, however, the question was one essentially of police—of supporting proper police in these waters in which these rights existed, or were supposed to exist.
Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.