HC Deb 17 May 1892 vol 4 cc1169-80
(9.3.) MR. OCTAVIUS V. MORGAN (Battersea)

In rising to move the Motion on this subject, in which I ask the House to assent to an inquiry, it is hardly necessary for me to insist on the food supply of the country being a matter of supreme importance. Taking the Returns of our fish supply in the years from 1886 to 1891, I find there has been a steady decline in the quantity from 6,412,000 cwts. in 1886 to 5,966,000 cwts. in 1891, a decrease of nearly half a million cwts. in six years—a serious falling off in a source of food supply at a time when the population of the country is increasing, and the purchasing power of the people at a still greater ratio; and surely it is time that such an inquiry as I suggest should be instituted. Probably the greatest falling off in the supply has been on the North-West coast, where formerly the fishermen had a prosperous occupation, finding markets for their fish in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Glamorganshire. The Railway Companies are anxious to increase the traffic, and though there have been complaints of the rates of transit being excessive, the Cambrian and other lines are now doing all in their power to resuscitate this important branch of their business. In the United States, in Canada, and in Continental countries much has been done in consequence of attention being paid to pisciculture, and this may also be said of Scotland and Ireland and some parts of England. Indeed, it would seem that Scotland and Ireland have but to ask for inquiries of this character and the request is granted as a matter of course. Formerly large quantities of oysters were found off the coast near Port Madoc and Pwllheli, and fish of all kinds rewarded the fisherman's industry, but I think that Aberdovey is now the only Welsh port which does not show a considerable falling off in the amount of fish landed. When the tourist season is over the Welsh sea-coast towns offer little occupation to the working population, and any means of reviving the fishing industry would result in the greatest benefit to the inhabitants. Professor Huxley, no mean authority in such matters, has stated that an acre of good fishing ground will produce in a week as much food as an acre of the best land will produce in a year. If that be true, and coming from such an authority I do not know why we should doubt it, the importance of reviving the Welsh industry is apparent. The first requirement is harbour accommodation, with refuge from storms; next some instruction and directions on scientific principles are required, for I fear with the decay of the fisheries our fishermen are somewhat behind the times; and the pollution of rivers needs inquiry, mining operations in Wales, especially lead mining, having done much harm to the fish. On these points, together with the means of cheap and quick transit for the fish from the port of landing, inquiry would I feel sure be followed with useful results, and therefore I make my Motion.

(9.8.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)

In seconding the Motion there is no occasion for me to dwell upon the importance of this industry, whether in regard to the employment of our sea coast population or as furnishing a food supply to the whole community, an important consideration in these times of hostile foreign tariffs. We are endeavouring to restore agricultural prosperity; and scarcely less in importance is it to restore the fishermen to our fishing grounds than our labourers to the soil. Without doubt, in recent years our fishing industry has grievously declined from causes, some purely local, others general in character. Probably all countries have suffered more or less in this respect from general causes, but this country is alone in not making strenuous efforts to remedy the evils. My hon. Friend has referred especially to Wales, and to Wales my references will chiefly be as being that part of the subject with which I am best acquainted. In Cardigan Bay, for instance, there is a serious falling off in the fish landings. Taking the port of Pwllheli alone, I find from Returns that the amount landed last year was 132 tons as compared with 296 tons six years ago. The proprietors of a very ably conducted paper, the Cambrian News, a short time since instituted an inquiry into the state of the fishing industry in Wales, and it was found that while in nearly all the ports there was a very considerable falling off in the amount of the fish landed, in some ports the industry was practically dead. More especially has there been a decline in the oyster fisheries. There is then a condition of things to amply justify an inquiry into the causes and the remedies to be applied. The first point that demands attention is the want of proper harbour accommodation, and this has been so often urged that I am sure the President of the Board of Trade must be fully sensible of its importance. It is obvious that fishing boats cannot lie by their nets for any length of time, unless the fishermen have the security of refuge in stormy weather; and on the other hand, a good catch of fish is valueless unless there is means of landing and quick transit to market. The best port in Cardigan Bay, Pwllheli, has but its natural accommodation, unimproved by any artificial means. We want a port which boats can enter at all states of the tide and in all weathers, so that advantage may be taken of the train service, which is not frequent in a thinly populated country. Bearing on this question of harbour accommodation there was an inquiry held by a Committee of the House of Commons some years ago—in 1883; but unfortunately no evidence was taken in reference to Cardigan Bay and many other localities where the fishing industry is or was carried on. The inquiry, appears to have been of a very general character—it was not so thorough as the importance of the subject demanded, due I suppose to the fact that the Committee was appointed very late in the Session. The late Sir John Coode, an acknowledged authority, gave evidence before that Committee on the relations between harbour accommodation and the prosperity of the fishing industry. He advocated the construction of harbours with a depth of twelve to fifteen feet of water at low spring tides for the accommodation of fishing vessels and the class of vessels unable to keep the sea in rough weather, and he showed how often the prospect of good fishing was lost because the men dared not venture out when the appearance of the weather was threatening, knowing they had no port under their lee upon which they could rely as being accessible at any time. The most successful fishing is frequently carried on when the weather is unsettled. The opinion of so high an authority deserves attention, and I find it supported by the evidence of Mr. Young, at that time Inspector of Scotch Fisheries, who pointed out how, after improvements were made in the harbours at Peterhead and Fraserburgh, the fishing industry in the localities immensely increased. There was another witness, Mr. Stevenson, Vice-President of the Royal Society, Edinburgh, who expressed an opinion that with judicious additions to the harbour accommodation on the Scotch coasts the fishing trade might be increased to an illimitable extent. This opinion has been confirmed by other authorities, and there is practical experience that with increase of harbour accommodation there has been development of the fishing industry. Now in Cardigan Bay there are most valuable fishing grounds, but from end to end of the Bay there is not a port which fulfils any of the conditions laid down by Sir John Goode—secure shelter from storms, good holding ground, and easy access at all states of the tide or the weather. It may be said that the decrease in the trade cannot be due to the want of harbour accommodation altogether, inasmuch as there was no better accommodation years ago when the trade was better. But conditions have changed. The markets cannot be found in the vicinity of the ports, the fish have to be sent to the great inland centres of population; and to whatever cause it may be due, it is a fact that fishing that formerly could be successfully conducted within a few miles of the shore, has now to be carried on farther out at sea. In Scotland, too, they complain that they have not sufficient harbour accommodation; and, in fact, the Fishery Board in their last Report point out that there are many points on the Scotch Coast where harbours are required, and that they have not adequate funds at their disposal. It may be mentioned, however, that in 1889 they were enabled to spend something like £10,000 in subsidising the making of proper harbours, and that during the eighty years the Act has been in force £250,000 of Imperial money has been spent upon harbours in Scotland. During the whole of that period, however, not one penny has been spent on fishing harbours in Wales. The right hon. Gentleman on a previous occasion, in replying to me, alluded to Holyhead and Milford. I do not know whether we can properly call them fishery harbours, because they do not afford easy access to the fishing grounds. That the whole of the local fishing during the year only amount to 87 tons is undoubtedly owing to the circumstance that Holyhead is not located near the fishing ground, and I think the same may be said of Milford. In Ireland, too, grants have been made from time to time. An Act was passed to devote the sum of £250,000 out of the Irish Church Fund for the purpose of making harbours along the Irish Coast. Thus, while in Scotland and Ireland the provision of proper accommodation as essential to the development of the fishing industry has been recognised, nothing has been done as regards the English and Welsh Coasts for the express purpose of developing the fisheries; and, speaking of Cardigan Bay, I can say with the utmost confidence that nothing has been spent there by the Government. The second point complained of is the want of proper boats and tackle. That something should be done in this respect is more essential than formerly, owing to the distance from the shore at which the fish are taken. I find that in Scotland the biggest hauls are made thirty or forty miles away. The boats in use in Cardigan Bay are not fit to travel such a distance from the shore. In that bay the average tonnage of the boats is from three to seven tons, and in the largest port the average is something like eleven tons, as against the Scotch average for last year of 29½ tons. I think it was Mr. Grady who, in giving evidence before the Irish Fishery Commissioners, valued the boats engaged in the Irish herring fisheries at £1,000 to £1,100—an amount the boats in Cardigan Bay do not approach. It may be asked why the fishermen do not supply themselves with proper boats and appliances. The answer to that query is that they lack capital for the purpose, and during the inquiry instituted by the Commissioners it was discovered that to supply the fishermen with boats and gear had, as an investment, always proved a failure. In Scotland, under the Crofters Act, the Treasury was empowered to grant loans for this purpose, and the same thing has been done in Ireland. I do not, however, believe in these loans, for two reasons. One is that they are demoralising, and the other is that there is no guarantee that the proper boats will be purchased. Then, again, in the North of Scotland the instalments have not been regularly paid. One-half of the instalments are in arrears, and the Fishery Board report that there is no chance of recovery. I suggest, however, that an inquiry should be instituted as to the means of supplying fishermen with proper appliances, and, as a mere hint, that the Fishery Boards might be empowered to buy boats and let them out on hire by the year. I simply submit the matter as a proper subject for inquiry. Another matter which I think might be very properly investigated is the subject of fish culture. I find that almost every other country has done something in this direction. In Scotland there has been experimenting. The United States has taken the question into consideration; hatcheries have been placed at various parts of the coast, and in Massachussetts it is stated that the fishermen ascribe the phenomenal quantity of fish to the efforts of the Fishery Commission in relation to artificial production. Last year five hundred millions of eggs were distributed. Germany, too, has done something, with very beneficial results, and in Newfoundland the Commissioners report that the highest authorities are becoming more and more unanimous as to the desirability of the artificial production of cod. Norway has not been neglectful, and in South Holland as many as three millions of French oysters have been laid down on the banks. Formerly Cardigan Bay afforded very prolific oyster fishing. Now the beds have been destroyed, and no amount of protection will restore this branch to its old prosperity. All that can be done is to follow the example of Holland, Newfoundland, the United States, and France, by laying down oysters at such parts of the coast as are adapted for the cultivation of oysters. That, too, is a fitting subject for inquiry. I come now to the last part of the Resolution—that it is necessary to confer further powers on the Fisheries Board. At the present moment they have simply powers of restriction as to fishing in certain waters and as to modes of fishing; but they can do nothing in the way of developing the culture. In the interest of the restoration of the prosperity of our fisheries, I consider it essential that their powers should be enlarged. Scientific investigation, for instance, and other elements all tending to the development of our fisheries, might be adopted. These are points I merely suggest; but there can be no question as to the enormous importance of reestablishing and developing the fisheries of this country, and as to the necessity of England not being behind in the attention paid to this subject. I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House is of opinion that an inquiry should be instituted into the question of the desirability of making further provision for the protection and development of Sea Fisheries on the coast of England and Wales, with special reference to the following points: (a) improved harbour accommodation; (b) the securing of expert and scientific guidance for Sea Fisheries District Boards, and the conferring thereon of larger powers; and (c) the amendment of the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act of 1888."—(Mr. Octavius V. Morgan.)

*MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)

In rising to support the Motion, my only difficulty is as to what the Government can possibly say against it. I represent a county which is especially interested. It is a long, narrow county, with a great extent of sea-board, and its fishing industry has been in a very much more flourishing condition than at present. It is said that the inhabitants themselves ought to be more alive to the well-being of this industry, but that alone, even assuming it to be true, does not seem to me to be an answer to our demand that the Government should grant this inquiry—that they should furnish us with means of knowing how far any neglect to avail themselves of natural resources or to acquire proper appliances is to blame, or how far the industry is dependent on the results of scientific research and upon the bestowal of Governmental aid. It is undisputed that the industry has been in a much more flourishing condition than it is now, and that alone is a fit subject for inquiry. It is also undisputed that there is no harbour accommodation, properly so called, from one end of Cardigan Bay to the other, and therefore the best method of remedying this defect is a legitimate subject for inquiry. I do not suppose that anyone will contend that these harbours are not capable of being rendered valuable adjuncts if they are only made to insure easiness of access, and shelter, and are given the other requirements necessary to the efficiency of the fishing industry. Moreover, the important question of fish culture is one that demands and ought to receive the attention of the Government. The same state of things exists pretty much in Pembrokeshire, where there is now comparatively little fishing. It might be within the province of those who conduct the inquiry to see how far that traffic has been retarded and kept back by the railway arrangements in the county. And in dealing with the county of Pembroke I should mention the oyster industry, to which allusion has been made. In the River Cleddau there was formerly a very important bed and an abundant supply of oysters, which were quite as good as the celebrated native or Whitstable oyster. These beds have been very unproductive of late; it may be from causes which the Government are powerless to rectify; but that is no reason why the Government should decline to grant an inquiry. One very extraordinary fact, which I do not know how the President of the Board of Trade will explain, is that whereas grants, in the shape of loans, have been made to other parts of the United Kingdom, at all events to Scotland and Ireland, no grant has been made to Wales. Wales is a very poor country, and, with the exception of certain districts, has no industry except that of agriculture; and this is, to my mind, an additional reason why the Government should look into this fishing industry, which has been more flourishing, and which, properly looked after, is capable of finding employment for people who have never received any encouragement from the powers that be. The demand we make is, I contend, a reasonable one, and I am anxious to hear what the President of the Board of Trade can urge against it. The Government have considered the principle that the question of harbour accommodation and the fishing industry are matters to be looked into and assisted in other parts of the United Kingdom, and Wales is as poor as any other part of the Kingdom, and might as properly receive attention and assistance. I maintain that in the present state of the food supply, and in the face of a rapidly-increasing population, and thy danger of the lack of an ordinary supply in certain contingencies in a countre like ours, it becomes more imperative and desirable that this matter should be looked into, and I urge upon the Government to accede to this very reasonable request. It is not as if we brought up a proposal crowded with detail to which the Government might object, or which they would be justified in criticising. We only ask that a matter which they have confessed is of the greatest importance should be made the subject of inquiry, and that a stimulus may be applied to an industry which was once flourishing, but is now, more or less, in a state of decay.

(9.45.) MR. ROWNTREE (Scarborough)

Hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate are more or less connected with the West Coast of England, and the House would get a manifestly incomplete view of the situation if the East Coast were not represented. It is a striking circumstance that the returns of the amount of fish brought into the ports of the three Kingdoms during the past three years show a decrease to the enormous extent of something like 800,000 cwts.; but there is also this striking fact—that in spite of that enormous decrease in quantity the value of the diminished supply was something like one million higher than the value of the larger supply we had three years ago. This, to my mind, shows conclusively that the supply has by no means kept pace with the demand, and when we reflect that this decreased supply is in spite of the extension of steam power, improved appliances, and larger vessels, it is clear that the subject is a most serious one. Of this decrease of 800,000 cwts. for the three Kingdoms, 600,000 cwts. represents the decrease on the East Coast alone, and that opens a very serious consideration. The President of the Board of Trade must be aware of the diminished quantity of fish from the North Sea, not only by complaints from the East Coast ports, but from the countries on the other side. One thing seems to me to be very clear—that all round the three Kingdoms there is a diminished supply of fish in the inshore waters. This has brought about a very serious condition of things on many parts of our coast, because sea-fishing is the only industry that is possible to many men living in the villages and some of the smaller towns, and the decay of the industry has brought privation and distress upon those engaged in it. It is very difficult for these men who have been trained to a seafaring life to take to other occupations in middle age, and this fact adds to the distress and privation. We were very largely indebted to the President of the Board of Trade for the Act which established Sea Fisheries Committees, and perhaps he may say that it is rather soon to have an inquiry which will touch those Committees. But the Act has been in existence four years, and some of the Committees have been at work two years, and in that time some things must have been cleared up and others brought forward supplying reasons for further powers being given to these Committees. On the North East Coast there is a strong feeling that the beneficial effects of the Act of 1888 will be very largely lost unless some means are found for enabling the practical fishermen appointed by the Board of Trade to attend the Committees. Whilst the important question of trawling was under discussion they did attend, but since then they have not felt justified in making the sacrifices which attending the meetings involved, for not only did their absence from work make a considerable difference in their income, but the travelling and other necessary expenses materially increased their expenditure. Unless we can secure this, the hopes of the fishermen of the utility of these Committees will be disappointed, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will be able to give us some assurances on that matter. Further, I may point out that the duties of those Committees are largely restricted to the regulation of the fisheries. They have no power to take in hand a decaying industry and put it on a better and firmer foundation. The question of bait has also been mentioned, and the right hon. Gentleman must be aware of the increasing difficulty which the fishermen experience in getting mussels. They have to get them from a distance, and sometimes have to pay as much as £2 or £3 for a week's bait, and then suppose, in consequence of the weather or any other cause, they are prevented from going out the whole of that expenditure is lost. This subject has already received attention, and I put it to the President of the Board of Trade that our fishermen should not be placed at a disadvantage as compared with their Scotch brethren in the facilities which are given to them in this direction. We are not likely to see any considerable revival of the mussel beds nor of the oyster beds until the Fishing Committees can do something more than merely regulate the fisheries. They ought surely to be able raise money to take up matters of this kind and so develop the fisheries. In France the experiment with the mussel beds has been remarkably successful, and it seems to me that there is nothing to hinder the same thing being done along our coasts. Another point to which I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is that the Fisheries Commission recommended the appointment of a Fisheries Board in England to make scientific experiments in the same way as is done by the Scotch Fishery Board.

Notice taken, that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members not being present,—

House adjourned at Ten o'clock till To-morrow.

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