§ *SIR WILLIAM WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
moved—That, looking to the grievous loss of life to Scottish fishermen from periodical disasters during the last half-century; to the fact that repeated Public Commissions and Committees of Inquiry have proved that want of proper boat refuges is the grand cause of these disasters, and have emphatically declared the responsibility of Government to provide such refuges; and to the fact that a sum of £34,000, surplus of herring-brand fees, levied from the fishing industry and specially applicable to harbour construction, is now lodged in the Treasury and retained without any service rendered, this House is of opinion that it is the duty of the Government forthwith to provide proper harbour accommodation for fishermen along the Scottish coasts, and that the Government incurs a serious responsibility for the loss of life and property arising in future from the want of such provision.He said: I am going to ask the patience of the House while I place before it a few facts with regard to fishery harbours. The question is one of life and death to a large number of very deserving people. I think that these facts will show very clearly what is the duty of the Government in regard to this question, and also how far the Government has performed that duty. Mr. Speaker, this question is really a simple one, because the facts are not disputed, and because the subject is not complicated by Party considerations. The difficulty is purely one of money—pounds, shillings, and pence; but, happily, at the present time the Treasury is full to overflowing. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton stated the other day that, in his belief, the surplus would be enormous—that it would be almost incredible. I trust, therefore, that the plea of the lack of pence will not be put forward by the 993 Government. From the Party point of view, I think I many claim the special support of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, because Unionists are bound to show that the Imperial Parliament is capable of effectively dealing with local Scottish grievances. So far as the Members of this side of the House are concerned, I can say with confidence that if we only had Home Rule for Scotland this grievance of the Scottish fishermen would not remain neglected any longer. Now, this need for fishery harbours is felt by every coast constituency in the country, and I have no doubt that hon. Members will each bring forward the case of his own locality. I will give you a few figures from my own neighbourhood, which I know best—the north-east of Scotland, along the shores of the Moray Firth. That district is a very important one, because there is in it a very large fishing population. I think it is admitted that the coast is one of the most dangerous in the country, and I think we may say that the harbour accommodation is specially defective, and that the loss of life has been greater there than anywhere else. I will begin by referring to the disaster of 1848. On that occasion a terrible gale suddenly arose from the north-east, and a number of fishing-boats were lost. On that occasion no fewer than a hundred fishermen were drowned, leaving behind them 47 widows and 161 fatherless children. That took place fifty years ago, and the reasons I go back so far are two. One of those reasons is that so long ago as that the responsibility of the Government was clearly declared with regard to this loss of life. The second reason for going back is this: that since that time the size and number of the fishing boats have enormously increased; and, therefore, what was stated to be necessary in 1848 in the way of harbour accommodation applies with far greater force now. Not less than the amount then required, but more than that amount, is necessary for 1898. Now, this terrible disaster of 1848 caused a great sensation throughout the country. The feelings of the people were very much shocked, and a Commission was appointed to inquire into this great loss of life. This Commission was presided over by Admiral Washington, Hydrographer General to the Admiralty, and they issued a Report. That Report was 994 to the effect that the want of a good harbour accessible at all times was the grand cause of this loss of life. Fishing boats are lost at sea because they cannot get into harbours that are accessible at all states of the tide. This Commission declared that this want of good harbours, accessible at all times, was the grand cause of the loss of life, and they also declared that the pittance of £3,000 a year, which was all the Government gave towards the harbours, was quite inadequate; and they recommended that £10,000 should be granted for a few years, and they added that this amount, if—Steadily laid out on piers and harbours, would do much to remedy the want, and to place the fishermen of the east of Scotland on a par with those on more favoured coasts.Nothing, however, was done, and in February, 1857, another great disaster occurred. On that occasion nine fishing boats were lost from the Buckie district alone, the total deaths being 42 men, leaving 27 widows and 79 children. Again a Special Commission was appointed, presided over by the late Mr. James Wilson; and again recommendations were made similar to those of 1848; but again nothing was done. The next great disaster was in 1864, when 35 men were drowned; and my predecessor, Mr. Duff, pressed in the House of Commons for the fulfilment of the recommendations made by the Commissions. In May, 1883, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed, the chairman being Mr. Marjoribanks, now Lord Tweedmouth. This Committee distinguished between boat harbours necessary to preserve life and harbours needed merely for commercial purposes, and made clear the direct responsibility of Government with regard to the former class, recommending that public money should be granted—To provide refuge, chiefly for fishermen on certain portions of our coast, to which a large number of boats belong, and off which great fisheries are prosecuted, while the existing harbours are only accessible during a certain limited portion of each tide.This exactly describes the condition of affairs along the south coast of the Moray Firth. The report then continued—Your Committee believes that it falls entirely within the province of the Government 995 to provide the much-needed refuge in these districts, it being absolutely impossible that the fishermen themselves can raise sufficient funds for such works, or find the security upon which to borrow to carry them out. Your Committee do not believe that the sum of money required would be a very large one. Six or eight works, carried out at an average cost of from £80,000 to £100,000, would probably meet all the requirements of the case.Thus the facts proved at these successive inquiries establish beyond dispute that the periodical disasters to the fishing population arise from the want of proper fishery harbours, and that it is a primary duty of the Government, as protector of life and property, to provide these harbours, it being absolutely impossible for the fishermen to do this for themselves. The question is, therefore, reduced to a question of money. I have accordingly paid special attention to the financial history of the case, and have addressed the Secretary for Scotland, tracing the grants of public money in detail from the beginning of the century. I will not weary the House with these particulars, but will only state the general conclusions. I claim to have proved that whereas the figures show a vast expansion of the Scottish fishing industry, with a corresponding increased need of harbours, the grants of public money have been largely decreased instead of increased. Indeed, as compared with the beginning of the century, the Imperial Exchequer is not helping the Scottish fishing industry at all, but, on the contrary, is actually making a profit out of it to the extent of £13,000 a year. This amount is made up as follows. At the beginning of the century bounties to the extent of £11,000 per annum were granted on the export of cured and branded herrings. These bounties were paid out of the Scottish Excise and Customs Revenue, and the necessary inspection and branding were done by the Government officers without charge. When, therefore, these bounties were stopped, and a heavy charge of about £5,000 per annum was imposed by means of herring-brand fees to pay for the inspection and branding, Scotland and the Scottish fishing industry were losers to the extent of £16,000 a year. In exchange for this loss a paltry allowance of £3,000 per annum for harbours was granted, leaving the net profit to the Imperial Exchequer of £13,000 a year as 996 already stated. I have recapitulated these figures in order to show that even if the full amounts recommended by Admiral Washington's Commission and Lord Tweedmouth's Committee were granted, they would still not put the Scottish fishing industry in as good a financial position as it held at the beginning of the century. Such is the general financial position. But in my resolution I made a special claim to a definite sum of £34,000 on account of surplus herring-brand fees. In a few words I will explain how that claim arises. When, as above stated, it was decided to make the fishing industry contribute £5,000 a year to the cost of the Government establishment, a branding fee of 4d. per barrel was imposed, and the whole amount collected was swept into the Imperial Exchequer. But after a time it was discovered that instead of producing £5,000 a year the fees produced something like £8,000. This surplus has since then been very properly handed over annually to the Scottish Fishery Board for the purpose of harbour construction, but while they admitted that they had no right to the extra £3,000, they had never refunded what they had already drawn. When I questioned the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate on the subject, he informed me that the amount of £34,000 was correct, and had been lodged in the Treasury. Sir, it is our duty to dislodge it. It belongs to the Scottish fishing industry, and the Government have no equitable claim to it. In common honesty that £34,000 should, irrespective of other claims, be immediately handed over to the Scottish Fishery Board. That, Mr. Speaker, is a statement of the facts I wish to place before the House. Disasters will undoubtedly happen unless something is done. The last time I visited my constituency a terrible gale sprang up from the north-east. Fortunately, it was a Sunday, when it is the custom of the Scottish fishermen not to put to sea, otherwise a disaster might have taken place. But if any fresh disaster had taken place, public opinion would have supported the declarations of the fishermen, that unless this £34,000 is refunded a great personal responsibility rests upon the Members of the Government 997 for loss of life and property which may arise from the want of those boat refuges which it is their duty to provide.
§ *MR. JOHN EDWARD GORDON (Elgin and Nairn)
I beg to second this Motion. To my mind the principles involved in the discussion before the House are of the most deep-seated and far-reaching character. The principles involved in this discussion are, on the one hand, self-help, with regard to our various trades and occupations, and, on the other hand, the need of Parliamentary interference, and of the relaxation of the Treasury purse-strings, when private effort has exhausted itself, and public help is demanded for a hardy, vigorous, and energetic population like the seafaring people of the north-east coast of Scotland. We do not come to the House as paupers or beggars, but as representatives of men who have, in their boats and tackle, a very considerable amount of capital for that class of citizen. We come to the Treasury requesting its respectful attention to our demands, because we represent communities that have, I believe, almost exhausted their financial resources in an earnest and honest effort to procure the necessary assistance for the creation and maintenance of harbours for the fishing population resident under their jurisdiction. From a borough in one of the counties I represent I have received most urgent letters pointing out that they have already spent £10,000, and for lack of £4,000 the prosperity of the fishing industry is now at stake. The local authorities have pledged all the property they can afford to pledge in their effort to secure access to the sea. In the case of another harbour, £17,000 has been spent by it local proprietor, and I find that that sum probably covers the value of his entire property there. Here then you have, on the one side, a community exhausting its financial resources to maintain the fishing population in prosperity, and, on the other side, a private proprietor showing his public spirit by practically pledging the whole value of his estate—£17,000—on behalf of the fishing population, and receiving no return. In the case of another harbour 998 £70,000 has been spent, and the shareholders have never received any dividend. My fear in this matter is that we have come to the end of our financial resources and the public spirit of our local authorities and private proprietors, and that if the Government are not prepared to give a favourable response to our demands—not, perhaps, this year, but within the next few years—there are many districts in my own constituency where the fishing industry, now vigorous and for many years past an increasing industry, must suffer indelible damage. I am always proud to see the results of private enterprise in the country. Anyone who knows public life knows that but for private enterprise the great industries of our land would have been confined within much smaller margins than at present is the case. But there comes a time when private enterprise has no longer the power to effect its purposes, and when it becomes a serious duty on the part of those who represent the people in Parliament to advocate the use of public funds for the maintenance of one of the greatest industries in the north-east of Scotland. I do not take the rather gloomy view of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Banffshire with regard to the attitude of the Government. I have seen how the House has lately shown its readiness to vote large sums of money on behalf of foreign and Colonial objects. We are all glad to see these sums spent, so long as they are well spent. We are also glad to see Irish subjects coming before this House. The only non-political body that has examined this question of Ireland is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, and because it is a non-political body I believe they are remarkably good judges of a question to which they seem to have devoted a very considerable amount of attention. I am, therefore, inclined to attach great weight to their opinion that the treatment of Ireland by the House of Commons is "lavish." Hon. Members must not be surprised if amongst the humbler citizens of this land there is a slight feeling of jealousy when they see money given to foreign and Colonial objects and Ireland "lavishly" treated, and Scotland not altogether put on the same platform. No Government, so far as I know in the history of the House of 999 Commons, has shown a greater desire than the present to spread prosperity over the neglected parts of the land. At this moment the House is spending £20,000,000 from the Treasury in aid of local objects—very largely in the interests of education. A large sum of money is also being spent on roads and bridges, which does not come out of the ratepayers' pockets, but out of the Treasury. Therefore, I think we who make this demand have a right to say that as the fishing population do not use these roads and bridges to any extent, the access to the sea is a national public object which demands the attention of the Treasury. Mr. Speaker, Sir, I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but will only say that I trust the Government are prepared to grant sums of money in aid of this industry. The Government are now paying the penalty of a régime in which the financial condition of the country has gone up by leaps and bounds, and I hope they will not follow the old and doubtful principle which has hitherto actuated Chancellors of the Exchequer of all past Governments, when an industry like the fishing trade of Scotland, England, and Wales requires assistance at a critical time. The public are prepared to grant the Government the use of very large sums of money at a lower rate of interest than we have ever seen before, and I believe that, if the Government will find the money and use it judiciously, a daily dividend will be returned to the nation in the contentment and prosperity of the people engaged in the fishing industry.
§ *SIR W. CAMERON GULL (Devon, Barnstaple)
Mr. Speaker, Sir, I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name; that is, in line 1 to leave out "Scottish fishermen" and insert "fishermen of the United Kingdom," and in line 10 to leave out "Scottish coasts" and insert "coasts of the United Kingdom." In moving this Amendment I wish to assure the hon. Baronet the Member for Banffshire that I do so in no spirit of hostility to the Motion. I fully recognise the need of further accommodation in Scotland, and I can speak, not merely from second-hand 1000 knowledge, but from having spent a considerable number of months in the constituency represented by the hon. Member who seconded the resolution. But I think the House will agree with me that this ought to be a question extending to the whole of the United Kingdom. No doubt the hon. Baronet who moved the Resolution has one point which cannot be extended to the United Kingdom, and that is the question of the surplus herring dues. On that point, no doubt, the people of England and Wales have no interest, but I venture to say, if the hon. Baronet were to be met to-day by the Government with a present of £34,000, that neither he nor the other hon. Members from Scotland would be in any way satisfied that the Government had done what they ought to do as regards the hon. Member's Resolution. But putting that point aside, there are others which arise in consideration of this question. It is obvious, I think, that this question of harbour accommodation affects all parts of the kingdom; for this reason: that Scottish fishermen go to Ireland, Irish fishermen come to England, and English fishermen go to Scotland. It is, therefore, important to our fishermen that they should find harbours in all parts of the United Kingdom. There is another point to which I merely allude, though it is one that ought not to be lost sight of, and that is the way in which this question of harbour accommodation affects our Navy and Navy Reserve. Two years ago this question was discussed in the House, and those of us who were interested in the question asked the Government to carry out the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee of 1884 to appoint a Departmental Committee. In the course of that Debate the President of the Board of Trade said that this was a matter with which the Government ought to deal without the assistance of a Departmental Committee, and to-day we are asking the House to urge upon the Government the necessity of dealing with this question and of recognising their duty to the fishing population of the kingdom. The hon. Baronet the Member for Banffshire has dealt with the state of affairs in the north-east of Scotland, and I do not think it is necessary for me to labour the point 1001 as to the need of further harbour accommodation there. But, coming to England, let me take the record of casualties and deaths on one part of the coast—the Bristol Channel. There we find that between the 1st July, 1895, and the 30th June, 1896, 765 casualties were reported, and 67 lives were lost. What do we find along the whole of that coast line—from Land's End to Bristol? On all the Cornish and Devonshire shores—the shores on which the worst gales occur—there is not a single harbour capable of being used at low water. Every one of these harbours is only available practically from half-tide. That, surely, is a very serious state of affairs. In the case of the old Barry Harbour, owing largely to the making of the large dock, it is admitted, in the Report furnished by the Inspector of the Board of Trade, that in a very few years it will be silted up and be useless for small coasting vessels. No doubt other Members can give other instances to the House of this neglect of the industry of the men who live on our coasts. As a result of such neglect we see a serious reduction is going on in the number of men employed on our fishing boats in England and Wales. In 1891 there were 12,000 employed, and in 1895 there were only 41,000. In Scotland in 1891 there were 53,000, and in 1895 only 43,000. Ireland, fortunately, shows a slight increase. Perhaps that may be accounted for by the granting of money to her for the improvement of harbours. Contrast that serious decrease with the state of the French fishing industry. The numbers are also given in the same return. In 1890 the men employed in that industry were over 78,000, and in 1894 they were 84,000, showing a very considerable increase; while at the same time our fishing industry, which is quite as important, shows a very serious decrease. A similar decrease is also seen in the case of the men in the mercantile marine, and complaints are constantly being made in this House of a serious nature regarding the way in which our ships are manned by foreigners. The truth is that France recognises more than we do the importance of the fishing and mercantile interests, and consequently provides a considerable sum of money for harbours, and a quarter of a million for pensions for fishermen and 1002 sailors. From the national point of view we are entitled to ask the Government to recognise their duty, and deal with this question in all seriousness; and that quite apart from the question of the loss of life and property. I trust we shall not be met with the usual non possumus, and that we shall not be put off with a few kindly words of sympathy. We ask the Government to devise some scheme, and recognise the interests of those who are living all round our coasts. If they are in earnest, the Government can find a very useful analogy in a Measure passed by this House—namely, the Light Railways Act. There are several points that are very analogous. That Act deals with exceptional districts controlled by exceptional considerations. I think the House might ask the Government to see whether they could not, as regards the Provisional Orders, introduce some cheaper method than there is at the present time. There are many instances of considerable sums of money having been expended in order to get loans and Provisional Orders for harbours. On the point that these are exceptional cases and justify a grant being made from the State, I suppose we shall be met, as we have always been met, by the argument that it is contrary to the policy of all Governments to give grants for this purpose, and we shall be told, as we were told two years ago, that the Treasury Minute of 1887 stands in the way, however anxious the Government might be to carry this into effect. Now, I should like to challenge the Government, if that answer is made, on this point—of money having been voted for small harbours and refuges for fishing boats—they have not acted on this policy either in Ireland or in Scotland, though they have consistently acted on it in regard to England and Wales. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear." If that is so, I hope we shall have some reason—if the conditions are similar in England and Wales—why we do not enjoy the same privileges as those which are given to Scotland and Ireland. In the return which was issued in 1896 we find that the sum of £741,000 has been granted to Scotland and £413,000 to Ireland. Of course, a much larger sum has been granted to England; but, if hon. Members will consider that carefully, they will find that the money 1003 granted to England has been granted absolutely and entirely for the purpose of large harbours for national defence. The question that is now before the House is as to the money that has been expended—and rightly expended—for the improvement of small harbours and piers. I do not wish to say for one moment that the Government has given too much to Scotland and Ireland; and I should like to see much more given. But those of us who represent English and Welsh constituencies are entitled to ask why, if the conditions are similar, we are not treated similarly to the other parts of the United Kingdom. We have been told before that the Treasury Minute of 1887 stands in our way. I suppose that that Treasury Minute is not as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians; I suppose there are some constitutional means by which even a Treasury Minute can be altered. The reasons given for this policy may have been very good some years ago, but almost every one of them have been cut away from the present Government by their action in the matter of the Light Railways Act. The old familiar argument is that it is a complete departure from our national practice, and that there is no reason why the fishing industry, which is a trading industry, and an important one, comprising not only poor men, but capitalists, should become the recipient of a State bounty at the expense of the general public. But if agriculture needed help, then there is a good case as regards the industry on our coasts. It is said that if a grant were given everybody would be rushing and making a demand upon the State. The same thing might be said about the case of light railways. If the Government saw their way to get over that argument in the case of the light railways, if they are in earnest they could now see their way to get out of the Treasury Minute of 1887. But supposing that policy was the best one some years ago, I think we may fairly impress upon the House that this policy has been tried, with the exception of Scotland and Ireland, for the last 37 years, and that without some such grant there cannot be an adequate supply of harbour accommodation round our coasts. Therefore we have good grounds for coming to the House and asking this from the Government, for it is perfectly obvious 1004 that if an adequate supply cannot be given by other means, the Government should step in and help an industry that has so great an interest to the country both as regards our food supply and as regards our Naval service. But I doubt very much if we shall get the reforms we want until we get some central body—either a Central Fishery Board or a Government Department—whose whole duty is to look after all the industries connected with the sea, with our mercantile marine, our harbours, or our fishing. Whether it should be a Central Fishery Board on a Government Department is for the Government to determine. It is not satisfactory to have the supervision of these large interests only a part of the duty of the Board of Trade, which surely must be overworked, considering that they have to do with the railways of this country, the bankruptcies, matters connected with public companies, shipping, mercantile marine, harbours, and fisheries; and in addition to that, we have thrown upon them during the last few years the settlement of labour disputes. Agriculture, as we know, was neglected until it was taken from the Board of Trade; and until we get the Government to give us some central body to look after these questions of fisheries and harbours their interests will be seriously neglected. I hope the Government are prepared to take some action on the lines I have indicated, and which have been alluded to by the hon. Baronet opposite; and that they will recognise that it is their duty to seriously consider what steps they will take to prevent this loss of life and property that occurs all round our coast, and that at the same time they will endeavour to increase the prosperity of the fishing industry. I beg to move the Amendment.
§ MR. W. LUCAS-SHADWELL (Hastings)
seconded the Amendment. He said: There is nothing to complain of in the points raised by the hon. Member except that the Resolution is somewhat too restricted in its area; and while I shall only be too glad to give a grant of public money to Scotland, I do not see why the rest of the United Kingdom should not share in these benefits. I consider that an increase in the harbour accommodation of the United Kingdom is most 1005 essential in the interests of the fishermen and all engaged in this most important industry. It is essential especially with a view to the saving of life. As to loans being given for the construction of these harbours, I think that loans are extremely useful; but there are a great many cases in which the poverty of the inhabitants prevents them being able to pay the necessary interest on these loans, and grants of public money from the Government are more useful. In the Select Committee of this House appointed in 1884 loans were especially advocated, but it was also stated that in exceptional cases grants were desirable, and that they should be made. The report of that Select Committee showed that enormous sums of money had been granted by the Governments of foreign countries to construct and maintain harbours in those countries. It is not necessary for me to weary the House with figures, for these sums were not for the kind of harbours alluded to in this Resolution—harbours for fishermen—but for harbours on a more extensive scale. That shows the public spirit of those countries, and their desire to increase their harbour accommodation. The report of the Select Committee stated that fishing harbours should be favourably considered. I trust, therefore, that the Government will accept this Resolution in the interests of the fishermen of the United Kingdom. Those fishermen are engaged in an industry which is most precarious, most important, and most dangerous; they display indomitable courage and perseverance in their labours, and it is the duty of the Government to reward those labours by affording the means of protecting the lives of the men.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
If there is no opposition I had better put the question at once.
The SPEAKER then put severally the Amendments—line 1, to leave out "Scottish fishermen" and insert "fishermen of the United Kingdom;" and line 10, to leave out "Scottish coasts" and insert "coasts of the United Kingdom"—and they were agreed to without a Division.
§ MR. A. ASHER (Elgin Burghs)
With regard to this Motion I should like to say a few words. The Motion which was proposed related exclusively to Scotland, but I am sure that Scotsmen would be extremely glad if, through the discussion in this House to-night, it should be extended to the fishermen in other parts of the kingdom. I congratulate the hon. Member for Banffshire in at length having an opportunity of bringing this important matter before the House under circumstances which we may reasonably anticipate will give an opportunity for a declaration of the policy of the Government with regard to it. The Motion of my hon. Friend has nothing whatever to do with large national harbours provided at public expense for the purpose of military or naval defence. It relates exclusively to those small harbours round the coast of Scotland which are used in connection with the prosecution of the fishing industry, and which are required, as a measure of great necessity, as additional means of shelter in times of storm and tempest. The history of this question is of a somewhat melancholy character. It has been before the country and this House. I think, for half a century, and the course of events has been something of this nature: A storm occurs, there is a great disaster and loss of life, and immediately following on that there is an inquiry, either by Commission or Committee, for the purpose of discovering what measures may be adopted to prevent the repetition of such disaster. On every occasion the Report is always to the same effect—that the disaster and loss of life has been caused by the inability of the fishermen to have access to these harbours of refuge in consequence of the want of a sufficient quantity of water at different periods of the tide. Unfortunately, by the time the Report is made the excitement caused by the disaster and loss of life has abated, and nothing is done. Another disaster occurs; another inquiry takes place; another Report is issued to the same effect, and again nothing is done. There are illustrations of the procedure to which I have referred in the Washington Commission of 1847, succeeded by the Wilson Commission of 1858, following a disaster which occurred the year before. Then there was a Commission following on a 1007 disaster in 1864, when this House was called upon to give effect to the recommendations made by the previous Commissions; and then there was a Committee in 1883, presided over by Lord Tweedmouth, who again reported to the same effect. But nothing has been done up to the present time, and these harbours are still in the same condition, and the fishermen are unable to take advantage of them except at certain stages of the tide. And if a storm takes place they are shut out from all means of refuge altogether. I think it must be conceded that it is necessary that something should be done to improve this most unsatisfactory state of affairs. The great question is what ought to be done. Now in Scotland we are a practical people, and we know exactly what we want. At the present time we want additional money placed at the disposal of the Fisheries Board. That body is subject to the control of Parliament, and it is a body which never grants a demand except in those cases where it is urgently needed, and then their proceeding are subjected to the control of this House. And I need scarcely say that a locality is not likely to put before the Board a scheme of a very large character when they are expected to make a very large addition to it themselves. At the present time the only possible means of providing a remedy for the state of matters to which I have referred is through the medium of loans granted by the Public Works Loan Commission. Undoubtedly in 1861 an effort was made to do something by means of legislation which would admit of these grievances being rectified. The principle of the Act that was passed in 1861 was that loans should be granted by the Public Works Loan Commission to the harbour authorities upon reasonable security. Well, the history of the proceedings under the Act was that it was most ineffective. The applications for loans under the Act had to be made to the Board of Trade, and, having been approved by them, they were passed on to the Public Works Loan Commission. For the purpose of judging of the necessity of these loans the Board of Trade were brought into close contact with the various localities making application. Having to consider the various schemes submitted to them, they very soon began 1008 to see it was absolutely necessary, if any impression was to be made on this longstanding grievance, that loans must be made by the Public Works Loan Commission with no unsparing hand. That body was extremely stringent in the matter of security, and conflicts immediately arose between the Board of Trade and the Treasury as to whether the Loan Commissioners were to have any voice in the control of the harbours. Those conflicts ultimately resulted in the Treasury Minute referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, of May, 1897. That followed certain representations made by the Board of Trade to the Treasury. I think the Board of Trade put the matter in a nut-shell when they said that if the Treasury would not make the loans with a very much freer hand than they were doing, it was absolutely necessary that they should give money. I have nothing to say against the policy of the Treasury in detail, or of the Minute of 1887, but if the loans are only to be granted on the strongest security, then there is only the other alternative pointed out by the Board of Trade, that they would require to treat the money as a subsidy for remedying these matters. The result of the situation is that since the Treasury Minute of 1887 no loan has been granted except, when it has been required, on very ample security. I am sorry to say it would be quite impossible in connection with many of these harbours to place before the Commissioners such materials as would enable them to come to the conclusion that they would be able to secure a loan; and the alternative has been that the work could not be done at all, or a subsidy should be given. Now I hope that those who represent the Treasury will not be alarmed, so far as Scotland is concerned, by any idea that this Motion would imply a very large draft on the resources of the Treasury. It is perfectly true that, if the whole coast of the country were to be equipped with harbours of the kind which I have indicated, a large outlay of money would be necessary. But without doing that the Treasury might give more subsidies towards, to a large extent, removing this grievance, if they would take advantage of existing harbours, and if they would, under circumstances to be judged by themselves, where there is 1009 not sufficient margin to give a loan, supplement the amount got upon loan by a small subsidy or grant in particular cases. I am quite averse to putting forward individual instances—what I say applies to the whole coast of Scotland, but I should like to put, by way of illustration, a particular case of a harbour on the coast of Banffshire. It is well situated, and is used by boats which use those waters and which crowd towards it in times of storm, in the hope of getting shelter from the elements. In consequence of insufficiency of water there at various stages of the tide, when a storm arises pilots have to be stationed at certain periods of the tide when there is not sufficient water, to warn the boats which are flying for shelter that in consequence of the insufficiency of water it is actually safer to buffet the storm outside than to attempt to make the harbour. What are the circumstances of the case? The harbour was about to be acquired by the Town Council, and they contemplated making large improvements, and, of course, contemplated a loan from the Public Works Loan Commission; but if they fail to get a few supplementary thousands of pounds they cannot complete their improvements. There is no doubt whatever that the existing harbour, if the outlay could be made, could be put in a position of having deep water at every stage of the tide, and could be made an excellent shelter for the various boats frequenting the coast in times of tempest. Taking the case, so far as Scotland is concerned, as one for an additional grant for the Fisheries Board, what is the position of the Board? They have £3,000 and some grants under the Acts of George III., which abolished the Brand fees, and they get in addition the surplus Brand fees which accrue year by year. I need scarcely say that, with a pittance of that kind, the Fisheries Board is quite unable to cope with the demands which are made upon it. I must say, while they have very often been obliged to refuse applications which have been made, they have inspired a great deal of confidence in the fishermen on the coasts by their desire to do what they could. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this matter from a general point of view, as applicable to the whole coast, and he 1010 may apply it on exactly the same basis to other parts of the coast. But I submit, in order to get rid of this difficulty, it is not possible to doubt that Scotland is in a position to make a claim for the lump sum of £34,000 mentioned in the Motion. This Motion says this money is now lodged in the Treasury, but I dare say we shall be told that money which found its way into the Treasury so long ago can hardly be earmarked at the present time; but I do protest against such an answer being given as a sufficient answer to the grant of this £34,000. How did this £34,000 find its way into the Treasury? In 1858 the system was adopted of making the branding of herrings profitable by charging a fee per barrel sufficient to meet the expenses incident to the branding, salaries, and so forth. I have nothing to say against that, but it is quite impossible to make an exact computation as to the precise fee necessary for this purpose. The result was that the fee that was made was very considerably in excess of the amount required. I think the revenue exceeded the expenditure by about £3,000 a year. Well, from 1858 to 1881 the national resources of the country were augmented by this special levy. Now, that sum was not intended to be contributed to the general taxation, but was simply an over-estimate of the amount required to be levied. Well, I should think there could have been no harm, as the amount collected year after year was more than was required, if it had been applied to the reduction of the amount levied from fishermen to meet the expenses of branding. Well, this went on year after year until the end of 1881, with the result that the general resources of the country benefited at the expense of this particular industry to no less a sum than £34,000; not, it should be remembered, levied as a tax for the purposes of augmenting the general taxation of the country, but simply for the purpose of meeting the expenses of branding. Looked at from a reasonable point of view, surely it gives a very special ground of claim to the fishing industry of Scotland to have that large sum handed over to them now. Surely, Sir, it is a very reasonable thing to say that to that extent the finances of the Fishery Board should be augmented. Sir, there is one other direction in which I appeal 1011 to the Treasury to do something in relief of this industry. I quite fully recognise that the system of loans is to be continued, and should be largely taken advantage of by the country, for the purpose of going as far as we can in the direction of the extension of harbours. Now, what I wish the Government to consider is whether the time has not come when they must again look into the matter of interest which is charged upon these loans. Up to 1887 it was 3½ per cent. In that year it was made 3¼, to be repaid over a period of 50 years. Well, Sir, looking at the cheapness of money, the low rates of interest at the present time, and the facilities which the Government have of obtaining money at cheap rates, it is only a reasonable suggestion that the Government should again consider whether they might not abate some portion of the interest which is at present levied. Then, Sir, there is one other matter. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that there is at present being constructed at Peterhead, on the east coast of Scotland, a large national harbour, partly for military and naval defence. Of course, Sir, a harbour of that kind will not only serve a national purpose, it will be a great source of refuge to those who are fishing in the vicinity. But the construction of a harbour of that kind must necessarily extend over a long period of time, and, therefore, it must be many years before we have reached the stage of affording the requisite shelter to fishermen in the neighbourhood. I am mentioning the matter for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider the advisability, in constructing that harbour, of commencing the construction of the north pier simultaneously with the construction of the south pier. At the present moment the south pier alone is being constructed. If the right hon. Gentleman will look into the matter, I think it will be found that a very large measure of refuge to those fishing in the neighbourhood can be provided by a comparative short extension if the pier is begun upon the north side. Each side of the bay will then be partly enclosed, and the protection of the fishermen, to some degree, secured. That, of course, will not involve any larger draft on the Treasury; it is simply a matter of discrimination as regards the course of 1012 procedure for the completion of the harbour. Sir, in bringing this matter before the attention of the House, I need scarcely express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not on this occasion give one of those official excuses which, I am afraid, we are all too familiar with in matters of this kind. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in many fishermen's homes they are looking forward anxiously to the answer which is to be given on the part of the Government to the Motion which is now before the House, and I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman will remember that this Motion is not merely dealing with a subsidy, but a commercial interest; that it is making a call upon the State to do what I apprehend is a primary duty, to supply means to the native people who are engaged in a legitimate occupation to carry out the ordinary means of safety for their lives.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. R. W. HANBURY,) Preston
Before replying on the general question raised by the hon. Member, perhaps it would be convenient if I referred to the grounds upon which he bases his case. The hon. Member may differ from me as to the need for the Resolution which has been placed upon the Paper, but I am bound to say that the premises on which he bases his conclusions are hopelessly and entirely wrong. In the first place, reference is made to reports of repeated Commissions and Committees in favour of grants for harbours. I have gone to the Commissioners' Reports, and I do not find that the Commissioners have made any such suggestions as those which the hon. Member has put forth. The hon. Baronet has based the special claim of Scotland in this matter upon an alleged surplus of £34,000 from the herring brand fees. Well, I think I shall be able to show that the hon. Baronet is wrong in his figures; that this amount was not lodged with the Treasury; that it could not have been devoted, as the hon. Member suggests, to harbours all along the coast of Scotland; and that, even if it had been limited, as the herring brand fees were to fishing boats connected with the east coast, the Orkneys and Shetlands, it would not have been applicable to the particular 1013 harbour which the hon. Baronet has especially in view, which, I am told, is one of those harbours on the East Coast which have very little connection with white herring fishing. But the main question, so far as this Motion is concerned at any rate, rests on how far there is a legitimate Scotch claim to this alleged surplus of £34,000. That raises the whole question of the herring brand fees. I have looked into the matter, and though, as an Englishman, I cannot claim to have any special knowledge of the subject, the history of the case, so far as I understand it, is this: By an Act of George III., in the year 1808, certain bounties were paid to the white herring fishery to encourage the industry, and to enable those who were engaged in it to compete with the Dutch fishermen. I think the bounty, in the first instance, was 2s., and a few years afterwards 4s., a barrel for all herrings cured in a particular manner. That was a bounty only applicable I gather to the east coast. Well, by the year 1829, or 1830, the trade had grown so considerably that the bounty was considered no longer necessary. It was done away with—or rather was commuted into a payment of £3,000 a year in perpetuity. From about the year 1850, the whole of this sum was devoted to harbours on the east coast of Scotland, and the result has been, therefore, that ever since the year 1808 we have practically carried on a system of bounties in favour of the Scotch fishermen—a thing we have done in no other portion of the United Kingdom. The payment of £3,000 a year towards the harbours in Scotland connected with the white herring fisheries has gone on until the present year, so that during 90 years we have paid no less than £270,000 in the interest of these fisheries. But we have done more than that. From 1808 to 1829—no doubt in our own interest, because we had to guard the public purse against these barrels being presented more than once for the bounty—we appointed our own officers to carry out the work. But in 1829 the system of bounties ceased altogether. [An HON. MEMBER: 1824.] Well—1824! It does not materially alter the case. The system of bounties ceased altogether, but it was proved to be so useful to the Scotch fishermen, and especially to the poorer 1014 fishermen, that we consented to continue the work, and did so until 1858 without any charge whatever to the Scotch fishermen. It was calculated that the cost during all those years could not have been less than £2,500 a year, and that should be added to the sum of £270,000 I have already mentioned. In 1858 the Government of the day objected to go on spending this £2,500 a year for a work in which they had no longer any special interest. The result was that they were going to drop the system of branding altogether, but the Scotch fishermen, by their representatives, pointed out to the Government that the system of branding was of great value to the fishermen, and that if they would continue the duty they would be willing to pay certain fees for having it done. A Commission was appointed to inquire into the cost of administering the brand, and it was arranged, under an Act of Parliament, that a fee of 4d. per barrel should be charged on these herrings to meet the cost. It was perfectly understood at the time that the 4d. was only a rough estimate, and that if the Government found that the cost of administering the brand was not met by the fees a Parliamentary Vote should be proposed to meet the deficiency, and that if the fees yielded a surplus that surplus would go to the Exchequer. That was a fair arrangement, because in several years, even quite recently, there has been a considerable deficiency. It is calculated that during the years from 1858 to 1882 there was a surplus. It is a question, however, what the amount of that surplus actually was. The hon. Member quotes the sum of £34,000. That, of course, is not an inaccurate figure. The calculations of the Herring Brand Committee of 1881 showed the amount as £31,571. Whether there was any surplus or not depends entirely upon the assumption of the cost of administration having only been about £2,000 a year, whereas during the last 20 years it has averaged over £4,500. Probably during those years there was no surplus at all. Now, so much for the facts upon which the hon. Gentleman based his conclusions. I do not quite gather from the wording of the Motion, though I gather more from the hon. Baronet's speech, exactly what he means by the words, "It is the duty of the Government forthwith 1015 to provide proper harbour accommodation." That may mean either by loan or by free grants. Of course, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Government are quite willing to grant loans on very fair terms for harbours, not only in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom generally. But if he means loans, then I do not think he has any reasonable ground of complaint that Scotland, at any rate, has not been treated at least as well as the other portions of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Barnstaple is responsible for a very useful Return, which, I think, was issued in 1896. I find from this that the loans for piers and harbours in England and Wales from 1860 to 1896 amounted to £1,638,000; in Scotland, with its much smaller population, to over £1,010,000, and in Ireland to £727,000. Scotland, at any rate, has had its full proportion of the public loans. Then, again, you have to compare not only the money advanced on loans, but also the amount of those loans remitted. In this respect Scotland compares most favourably, because while the Harbour loans remitted in English amount to £22,000, or a little over 1 per cent. of the whole amount, advanced, the loans remitted in Scotland amount to £62,000, or considerably over 6 per cent. of the whole. So that, compared with England and Wales, Scotland is in a very good position. Then, again, take the question of free grants to the three countries. When you mention Ireland, I think it is only fair to recollect that a large proportion of the amount which Ireland has received comes out of her own funds. I, therefore, do not think it is fair to make any allusion to what has happened in Ireland, because Ireland has paid such a large proportion of it out of her own funds. Although in England and Wales there has been no doubt a larger amount spent, amounting to nearly a million-and-a-half, practically the whole of that has gone on great national works such as Dover and Holyhead, but in Scotland three-quarters of a million has been devoted to purposes, not of that character, but to smaller harbours. But I am not so sure that my hon. Friend means either loans or free grants by this Motion of his, because I find that last year he had 1016 a Motion of a totally different character, and he has laid great stress on that in his speech. He certainly last year did put down on the Paper a Motion which, as I read it, applied to the old system of bounties, and which urged that we should actually do as we did in 1824—contribute bounties for the encouragement of Scotch fisheries. [An HON. MEMBER: No, no.] The hon. Member dissents and shakes his head, but, at any rate, he was going to move a Resolution to deal with the Scotch fishing industry on a basis not less favourable to that which existed at the beginning of the century. But the hon. Member ought to recollect that it was in no sense Scotch money, for it was paid out of the Imperial funds. No portion of the United Kingdom has been treated like Scotand in these matters.
§ *MR. HANBURY
I do not quite see how a system of bounties, paid out of the Imperial taxes, could be called Scotch money. Well, now, having dealt with the case of Scotland, I have now to deal with the recommendations of the Commissioners and Committees with, regard to these harbours generally. There is no doubt that previous to the year 1861, when the Government passed the Harbours and Passing Tolls Bill, a very large amount of money had been spent on harbours; but they were harbours of national importance. It is also true that harbours, not of the character indicated by the hon. Gentleman, but great harbours of refuge, were recommended by the Select Committee of 1857 and by the Royal Commissioner of 1858, and it was suggested that a large amount of public funds should be devoted to that purpose. On the other hand, the Select Committee recommended a levy upon the shipping interest sufficient to pay three-fourths of the charge in respect of the capital outlay which they proposed, and the Royal Commission also recommended that considerable provision should be made out of shipping dues and local funds. Whatever may have been the policy of the Commissioners and Committees up to that date, at any rate, the Government in 1861, when Mr. Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Milner Gibson presided at the Board of Trade, pushed on one side all the recommendations that had been made with regard to 1017 the provision, even of harbour refuges, out of the Imperial purse, and they passed the Harbours and Passing Tolls Act, which has ever since then governed the principles upon which these Imperial funds are provided. That Act embodied the policy that these funds were to be provided by loans, and in no other way. No doubt, as an hon. Member has fairly said, for a considerable time, there was some difficulty in carrying out this policy, and no doubt loans were not granted as freely as it was the intention of the Act that they should be. But since then not only has it been the policy of successive Governments, but when ever a Motion has been brought forward in this House suggesting a system of free grants, instead of loans, it has invariably been rejected by the House of Commons. I think, certainly, on ten or a dozen occasions this has happened. That is still the policy of the Government. It was the policy of the last Government, and was even the policy of the Government which was in office when Lord Tweedmouth's Committee reported in 1884, and that is the only Committee which has made any recommendation in favour of free grants of this kind now in question. That Committee made two very striking recommendations, for, like all those who had gone before it, it reported that undoubtedly the proper system in all but exceptional cases was that the funds should be provided by loans instead of grants. But they did, no doubt, go back upon the recommendation of the Commission in 1859, and actually looked approvingly upon the large expenditure of four millions upon harbours and refuges. That recommendation was made in spite of the evidence produced before them by the statistics of the Board of Trade, and which were not contradicted before the Committee, that these harbours and refuges would not be of any use to prevent the loss of life and property round the coast, and that it was a chimerical idea altogether. The evidence before the Committee was based upon the statistics of the Board of Trade, and they undoubtedly pointed to the fact that the greatest loss of life and property did not occur on the parts where harbours had been recommended, and that even if the harbours had been made at a cost of four millions very little life 1018 and property would have been saved in consequence. No doubt they did make these further recommendations in regard to certain smaller harbours of refuge round the coast of the United Kingdom; but what they had in view was something very much more than the harbours or boat refuges which the hon. Member for Banffshire has recommended. They were large harbours, costing something like £100,000 apiece. That may have been a wise recommendation, or a bad one, but I believe the same objections which have been raised against the larger harbours of refuge applied equally to those smaller harbours. Ours is the settled policy that we are not going to provide free grants of public money; but any money to be found must be found by way of loans. There is no doubt that Scotland has been exceptionally well treated in the way of grants, and Banffshire especially has been fortunate in the matter of grants received during the last ten or twelve years. I ought to mention that Scotland is hardly a very good illustration of the advantage of giving grants for the establishment of these smaller harbours, because, up to 1882, the predecessors of the present Fishery Board laid down the rule that charges would be levied upon fishermen for harbour dues for the purpose of paying for the maintenance of those harbours. There are also in Scotland a considerable number of piers where relief grants have been given, and where no provision was made for maintenance, so that we have not only to deal with the question of free grants for the building of harbours, but we have also to consider the more important question of the maintenance of the harbours.
§ *MR. HANBURY
Whether the locality subscribes the expense or not, the result is that a good many of these harbours are practically useless. Now, the hon. Member took up the position that fishermen were a class entitled to special treatment, but I do not know why that should be, for there are rich men amongst them just as there are poor men. The sole argument before Lord Tweedmouth's Committee was that these fishermen were not able to find their harbour dues; but I do not see why the fishing trade should 1019 be picked out to have these special grants of public money, unless other trades are similarly subsidised, for I do not see any difference between the fishing trade and other industries. Although the Government must adhere to their decision to abide by what has been the invariable rule of their predecessors by not extending grants to harbours in Scotland, we are perfectly willing to carry on the present system, but we are not prepared to extend that system, except, of course, that there is a further extension to a limited extent in regard to harbours under the Congested Districts Board. We do believe that the proper way to deal with this difficulty is to find loans for the purpose. If a locality is sufficiently anxious to provide these harbours, the Government is willing to supply the funds at reasonable rates of interest. Only last year the rates of interest on these harbour loans were reduced. It is quite possible with collateral security to borrow money for fifty years at 3¼ per cent. and that is a very fair way of meeting the difficulty. There is no special reason whatever for drawing distinctions between this and every other trade, and we have already gone as far as we ought to go in the way of grants for small harbours. With regard to larger harbours, the whole idea of spending large amounts of money on harbours of refuge has been entirely abandoned, because the figures we have produced have shown that if large grants were made to these harbours the money would be practically thrown away. Therefore the proper thing to do is undoubtedly to lend the money, and the Government is perfectly willing to lend it at a low rate of interest, not only to Scotland, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom; and so the Imperial funds and the local assistance will work hand in hand. I do not think it is a proper system to charge the Imperial ratepayer for objects which are essentially of a local character.
§ MR. J. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
The right hon. Gentleman has practically said that under no circumstances whatever is he prepared to make any free grants in England or Wales with regard to the same matters in which grants have been made to Scotland, and he seemed to imply that this had been 1020 the policy of the Government all through. Well, I would only remind him, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple has pointed out, that the Government has distinctly departed from that policy with regard to light railways; and when he speaks of not giving any grants in aid of the fishing industry or any other industry the right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten the enormous grants made by the present Government to the agricultural interest. The right hon. Gentleman has minimised the terrible loss of life that has taken place from time to time, and he has told the House that if the large harbours and refuges had been erected the same loss of life would have taken place. Speaking from experience, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that some of the harbours of refuge which have been provided are absolutely indispensable, and I do not know what they would be able to do without them. With regard to the request put forward by the Member for Banffshire and the Member for Barnstaple, we are only asking that special treatment should be accorded to smaller fishing harbours for the development of the fishing industry, and for the safety of the lives of the people engaged in it. The Member for Banffshire has spoken of the great loss of life on the Scotch coast, and I can give similar instances on the Welsh coast. It is not so very long since a great catastrophe took place just outside the estuary of the river Dee. I would also call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that between Holyhead and Fishguard there is not a single harbour of refuge in which even a small boat can enter at low water. If a small harbour of refuge were made near Rhyl a very large portion of the cost would be repaid by that refuge. Looking at the west coast, from Holyhead all the way down to Fishguard, there is probably no more neglected portion of the whole coast. There is not a single harbour round that coast into which a boat drawing eight feet of water can enter at low water. The Member for Barnstaple gave a striking instance, somewhat similar to that in regard to another portion of the coast. We consider that it is a disgrace that the Government of this country should leave such large stretches of the coast in that condition. As a matter of fact, not only are the Government doing absolutely 1021 nothing whatever to develop the fishing industry, which is one of the most important industries in this country, but they are doing nothing to reduce the enormous loss of life which takes place every year. A few years ago there was a considerable amount of interest taken in the question of the fisheries of this country. That interest, I think, has now died away. The public can only attend to one thing at a time, but the facts remain now as they were then. The fact is that the fishing industry is very largely neglected, and owing to that neglect it is to a great degree withering before our very eyes. There are a great many places on the coast of Wales, and I speak more particularly of the west coast, where Nature has herself done the greater part of the work, and where the construction of a small pier or breakwater would be of immense service to the fishing industry. Take the harbour of Aberdovey. There is an estuary two miles broad. The inner harbour affords capital facilities for shipping, but, unfortunately, owing to the width of the estuary the water becomes very rough when the wind is high, and the erection of a small pier there would enable a good fishing industry to be developed. There are other places on the coast of Cardiganshire which are well worthy of the attention of the Government. I think the Government has treated the whole question in a manner which will give the greatest dissatisfaction not only on the Scotch coast but also on other portions of the coast of this country. I may say that since the matter was brought forward, about two years ago, since I moved a Motion of a somewhat similar character to that which has been moved to-night, a very great amount of interest has been taken in the question, and it was hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have been able to give a rather more sympathetic reply than he had given on behalf of the Government. There was no sympathy whatever in the right hon. Gentleman's reply, no hope whatever in it, and I can only say that this matter will be kept before the attention of the House as it was before the attention of many sections of the country. It is a question upon which a very deep and widespread feeling exists. Those who are acquainted with the lives of our sea-faring population on the coast know what terrible dangers they have to 1022 run—dangers chiefly arising from the fact that while they are out in stormy weather they are unable to run into port at low water owing to the shallow depth of the water—and sympathise with them, knowing the need there is of some help from the Government in this direction. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember, and that the Government will remember, that the policy which they have themselves adopted with regard to the Light Railways Bill is a policy practically on all fours with the one which we are suggesting. [Mr. HANBURY: No.] The right hon. Gentleman says "No," but I would ask him in what respect can he draw a distinction? What was the object of the Light Railways Bill? It had reference to special purposes, in order that special industries might be developed in certain districts, the fishing industry more particularly. If you get the terminus of a light railway at a port it detracts from the value of the light railway unless there is a harbour at that port into which the fishing boats can run; if you have a pier in connection with the light railway, or a breakwater, then you develop the fishing industry, and make the light railway of greater value. But, I say, the light railway policy of the Government is precisely on all fours with the claim we now put forward. I cannot see any distinction, and I fail to see that the right hon. Gentleman has made any defence whatever of the policy of the Government. I think it is a disgrace that in a great country like this so little attention should be paid to the fishing industry, and I sincerely hope that as a result of this discussion, and notwithstanding the attitude the Government have taken upon this question, there are many hon. Members who will not allow the matter to rest. We all regret the cause of the absence of the President of the Board of Trade from his place. If he had been here I should have made a special appeal to him to do what is in the power of the Government—namely, to make it possible to obtain, by means of a very much cheaper and simpler procedure, those Provisional Orders which, in some cases, are necessary before these piers and harbours are constructed. The right hon. Gentleman did his best some years ago to initiate a policy of that 1023 kind, but he was defeated at the time, and I hope the Government will take it up again. They have not given us a negative reply upon this question. This is a direction in which they can do some practical good towards helping the people upon our sea coasts, and if they would only make up their minds to enlarge the powers of the Board of Trade in the direction I have indicated, I am sure they will earn the gratitude of the country.
§ MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)
When the hon. and learned Member for the Elgin Burghs was addressing the House he had the advantage not only of the presence of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As far as I can judge, he made out a very powerful case which fell upon sympathetic ears. I for one expected that when the right hon. Gentleman rose the doors of the Treasury would open a little wider, and that, at least, some redress would be given in the future to what is admittedly a great grievance. But what did the right hon. Gentleman do? He came forward and shut the Treasury doors with a clash. Our position to-day is worse than it has ever been before, because the right hon. Gentleman has laid down, in the very clearest sense, what the financial policy of the Treasury is in the future to be, and, therefore, there is practically no hope. He has said—We will carry out the policy, which is a right policy; we will carry out the policy of lending money at 3¼ per cent., and on first-rate security.That, of course, sounds very plausible. I myself am one who strongly commends the attitude of the Treasury as guardian of the public purse. As such, it is right that they should be very careful. But, if it is right that public money should not be squandered, and should not be given away unnecessarily, surely the Treasury exists for some purpose. It is not an answer in every case to reply, "You can have money at 3¼ per cent." If you turn to the case with which we are dealing, what is the use of the position which the right hon. Gentleman has laid down as the policy of the Treasury? What is the case with regard to harbours that have been alluded to to-night? It is simply that of places of refuge of very small communities. It may be a 1024 town where the population require a harbour of refuge as a very necessity in order to live, and where they are not in a position to get it without assistance. I venture to say that 3¼ per cent. is a very high rate to ask, and it is perfectly useless to meet the case of the people engaged in the fishing industries. In the case of these people no good can be done unless the Treasury is prepared to come forward in a very different fashion. I sympathise with the feelings of those who represent the Treasury, as against those who represent local demands, and if it was a question of asking for a dole or for some local assistance, then I should commend the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But the case is very different. The fishermen are an integral part of our community, and are a deserving and useful portion of the population, and, if they cannot help themselves, surely they are as much entitled to consideration as the agriculturists are, and as are other sections of the community to whose rescue the Government have come with a free and open hand. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has asked, "Why should one trade be assisted more than another?" But if the Government can come to the assistance of agriculture and voluntary schools they ought also to recognise the duty of coming to the assistance of people who cannot help themselves. Surely, then, when we are dealing with an industry which is a very important one, and which contributes most valuable recruits to our Army and Navy, it ought to be shown special consideration. The right hon. Gentleman has laid down a policy which is simply useless to meet the kind of case with which we are dealing. I am not going to enter into details concerning my own constituency. I notice that my hon. Friends who have spoken have disclaimed, When dealing with these questions, any desire to dwell upon the special grievances of their own constituents. They have said, "We are not going to put the case of our special locality." But then they went on, just by way of illustration, to say, "We should like to mention the case of so-and-so." Well, I could unfold a tale which would not be inferior to any of those which have been unfolded by my hon. Friends, and if I refrain from doing so I trust the fishermen I represent will not lament my bashfulness and 1025 backwardness. But I wish to deal with the question on proper grounds. What is the case of a harbour such as we are asking for? It is not the case of a harbour which exists in a populous town where rich men dwell, of whom my right hon. Friend has spoken; it is the case of a small local enterprise which has been kept up, in the first instance, by the money of men themselves very poor—by money which they could ill afford, by money which they might have spent very profitably upon their boats, for which they can hardly pay. What is the use of saying that money can be lent at 3¼ per cent.? In nearly every case that I know of—and I have had a great deal of experience in this matter—these harbours have been for the benefit of the public interest and advantage, and not for the benefit of any particular interest. Then the Secretary to the Treasury went on to deal with the case of Scotland, and he replied to what had been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Elgin as to the bounty money which used to go to Scotland, and which was afterwards commuted for an annual payment of £3,000, for the arrears of which we are now asking. The right hon. Gentleman replied that that was money which came out of Imperial taxation. Now, I think the researches of the Secretary to the Treasury have not been so thorough or profound as they usually are. He will find that this bounty system existed before the union of the two Parliaments—it was undertaken to be paid for the future as part of the bargain and terms by which the two Parliaments were united in 1707, and it seems a far from conclusive answer to represent that this money is a modern grant out of Imperial taxation. Nobody knows better man the Lord Advocate that the Scottish Fishery Board, although its mouth may be shut, are behind us in its wishes and aspirations in this matter. Nobody knows better than the painstaking officials of that Board that you cannot do anything for the coasts unless you spend money, not in making lavish grants, but in giving real relief to necessitous populations who have spent their last shilling upon their local harbours, and who are not in a position to spend more, even if it were to save them, from ruin. Yet we are asked to borrow money at 3¼ per 1026 cent. That is the issue. I am not blaming the present Government very much. All Governments show, in the presence of their Chancellors of the Exchequer and their Secretaries to the Treasury, a certain amount of faintheartedness in this matter. I suppose it is because we do not present our appeals with a special amount of begging; but I venture to say, not only from my own knowledge, but from the knowledge of the people of my constituency—and I have seen it on various parts of the coast not only of Scotland, but of England also—that the time is near at hand when public opinion will imperatively demand that the Government should come to the rescue of an industrious and enterprising class who have not been remiss in the advantages they have conferred upon the State, and who find it impossible to carry on their means of earning a livelihood with safety unless the Government is prepared to come forward and put them in the position that they have every reason and right to expect.
§ *SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I am quite sure that everyone in this House will have listened to this Debate with a great deal of interest, because there is no doubt that this is a matter which strongly appeals to all classes of people, and those of us who live upon stormy, rocky, and dangerous coasts feel great sympathy with the desire of the hon. Member who proposed this Motion to make the lives of fishermen more secure than they are at present. At the same time, there are difficulties in the way which I for one perceive, because, having had some experience of the way in which grants have been very lavishly given for this very purpose in the past, I am bound to say that there has been an enormous expenditure and waste of public money in that direction. I happen to live during a considerable part of the year in one of the stormiest parts of Scotland (the Mull of Galloway). I can speak, also, with regard to another county—that which I represent. That county has a sea-board of very many miles, and, knowing something of both these counties, I must say that while I would like to see harbours of refuge 1027 dotted here and there along the coast—since they would undoubtedly be the means of saving life—I cannot but think that public money could be much better spent in other directions. What we really want on our coasts, and especially on the coasts of these two counties, is more lighthouses. I am always met with the argument that the Government have nothing to do with lighthouses—that they come within the domain of Trinity House or the Northern Lights Commissioners—but I may say that I have been instrumental in procuring on different parts of the coast several lighthouses which have been entirely got up by private subscription. We have not asked the Government to help us; and, though that could not exactly be done with regard to a harbour, still I think that, if a loan were granted, some help in the same direction might be forthcoming. But what I specially want to ask my right hon. Friend is, whether he cannot see his way to grant loans at less than 3¼ per cent., which is almost prohibitive in all cases, and absolutely prohibitive in some. If the Government could see their way to advance this money at a lower rate of interest I am satisfied that we should not only have harbours of refuge along our coast in much larger numbers than is the case at present, but should also have a great increase in the number of ordinary harbours, which would be of great value in the development of our industries. There is one harbour in our part of the county, on which £250,000 has been expended, and that harbour is desolate and deserted, and no one enters it at all. I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows the harbour to which I refer. Of course there is a possibility of jobbery in these matters, but that the Government must endeavour to provide against. If these loans are granted large and small landowners alike will be only too glad to do all they can to advance the value of their property. We know very well that enormous largesses have been bestowed on harbours which are absolutely useless—and even worse than useless. Take the harbour at Portpatrick, to which I have alluded, £250,000 has been spent from time to time on that harbour, but, owing to the tremendous seas which lash that coast, the outworks have fallen in and 1028 the harbour is absolutely useless, even for fishing purposes, for, though a few very small fishing boats can enter, no vessel of ordinary size can get in at all except in very calm weather. Therefore, as a harbour of refuge on one of the most dangerous coasts of Scotland, it is useless. No doubt there is a great desire that more money should be given for the resuscitation of Portpatrick, and, indeed, applications have from time to time been made to the Government in this direction, but the Government—not unwisely, I am bound to say—have turned a deaf ear to those applications because they say that they do not see their way to fritter away, upon an object which they believed would answer no good end, money raised on public taxes. Thus, sorry as I am to oppose hon. Gentlemen who are acting for the benefit of the fishermen of our coasts—for whom no man in the country has greater respect than I have, since they risk their lives continually, and are the very nucleus of our Navy—and in spite of what may be thought of my position with regard to the Motion, I believe I am doing my duty to my constituents, and also to the fishermen themselves, when I say that I feel I must vote against it, though I have so much sympathy with it.
§ *MR. H. J. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
Unlike the hon. Baronet who spoke last, I have been, and am even now, a suppliant at the feet of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. One or two remarks fell from the right hon. Gentleman which deserve, I think, some notice. In the first place he told the hon. Member for Banffshire that he was in disagreement with him as to the reports of Committees and Commissions on this subject, but that he excluded the Report of the Select Committee, over which Lord Tweedmouth presided. I hold in my hand the Report of the Royal Commission on Herring Fisheries, which sat in 1877, and I find it contains the following passage—One point was so constantly pressed upon our attention at all the places which we visited on the east coast of Scotland, from Eyemouth to Wick, that we feel our report would be but an imperfect record of the evidence we received, and of the conclusions at 1029 which we have arrived, without adverting to it at some length. The point to which we refer is the deficiency of harbour accommodation along the shores of the North Sea, and the urgent necessity for supplying that deficiency, in order to save life and property, and develop and increase the national wealth. There were many matters about which the witnesses we examined on the east coast were at variance… but on this one point—the general deficiency of harbour accommodation and the necessity for suppyling that deficiency—there was perfect unanimity of opinion.Then they go on to say—At Eyemouth, where the fishing-boats are perhaps the largest and finest in Scotland, the harbour is inconveniently small.And they conclude with the words—We desire to add that the best results have ensued in the past from the loans which Government has advanced, through the Public Works Loan Commissioners, for works of this description. The continuance, and, if possible, the extension of this system is very desirable.I also hope that the Government will see their way to extend the system, but not upon the terms of 3¼ per cent., which the right hon. Gentleman has this afternoon told us he thinks necessary. I have here also the Report of Lord Tweed-mouth's Committee, but I will not quote from it, because we know that the Committee did recommend that grants from the Treasury should be made in aid of harbours of refuge. Allusion has been made by the hon. Member for the Elgin Boroughs to the action of the Public Works Loan Commissioners in reference to this matter, and I would like to point out that in the Report of Lord Tweedmouth's Committee there is a paragraph which states that these Commissioners took a wrong view of the Statute, because they refused to lend money except in the case of harbours which seemed likely to prove actual harbours of refuge. But a harbour of refuge is bound to be useful also as a harbour of traffic. We ask the Government to-night to help to stimulate private enterprise in this matter; but you cannot, I think, accept a large amount of capital to be embarked by private individuals in undertakings of this kind, because there are few, or no, rich people in these villages; and, even if there were rich people to sink their money in these undertakings, I doubt very much whether they would be 1030 inclined to do it when they know that they have not only to come to the Board of Trade and the Public Works Loan Commissioners before they can pass any scheme, but have also to come to both Houses of Parliament. I am not surprised that, when they learn that, the enterprise is often abandoned in dismay. In the Resolution before the House the words "periodical disaster" occur, and I would like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the terrible disaster which occurred in 1881 in the constituency I have the honour to represent. In one single gale 129 men were drowned, leaving 351 children under 15 years of age. I do think it is of the utmost importance that this House should realise how serious a question this is—how more than probable it is that such a disaster may again occur, unless harbours of refuge are constructed along our coasts. At the present moment there is not a single such harbour between the Firth of Forth and the Tyne, a distance of about 132 miles; and I would specially support the claims of Eyemouth, because many experts have reported that it would make a most useful and suitable harbour of refuge. The right hon. Gentleman says that boats do not come to these places where the construction of harbours has been recommended; but, of course, boats do not run when there is a gale to places where they know there is no harbour of refuge for them—they rather put out to sea, I do not apologise for making this appeal for the men who supply what is practically a necessity of life, and I maintain that the fisher classes are deserving, not only of the sympathy, but the consideration of this House.
§ CAPTAIN JOHN SINCLAIR (Forfar)
If I may trouble the House for a few moments, I would join in the expression of regret which has fallen from more than one previous speaker as to the attitude which the Government have taken on this question, and I would also express regret with regard to the limited lines on which this Debate has gone, and especially the limited ground on which the right hon. Gentleman based his opposition to the Motion. I will not trouble the House with any ancient history as to these grants, nor is it necessary to 1031 repeat what has been so well said by the hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs, and other hon. Members, as to the way in which this money has been used and applied in past years, but I am surprised to hear that we in Scotland have been treated with special liberality in regard to this question. The fishing industry in Scotland has been compared with that of England; but, while I rejoice that this Debate has been so widened as to express the wants of other parts of the country, still, the Government must remember that the fishing industry in Scotland is, relatively to the population, far more important than that of other parts of the United Kingdom, and also that the export trade for Scotland is a most important one. From that point of view I would direct the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the tendency nowadays seems to be to developing our home resources. We are searching all quarters of the globe to obtain markets, and in a notable instance—that of the West Indies, where capital has been sunk—we are to be asked to do what we can to maintain and resuscitate what has been done there. Surely we may, without committing ourselves to the policy of doles, look nearer home, and consider whether in this industry we have not got a very important part of our national commercial undertakings that is in need of some help, and especially at the present time. We have now new conditions in the fishing industry. In the first place, we have practically the depletion of the North Sea. We have got, as a second condition, increased activity on the part of other nations, whose fishermen also fish in the North Sea. Germany, Sweden, Holland, and other countries, whose fishermen use the North Sea, are increasing their exertions to gain for their populations a part of the work which has hitherto been carried on to a very large extent by British, and particularly by Scottish, fishermen. Germany is spending large sums in completing three or four large harbours for German fishermen, Sweden is making efforts to rival us in connection with the trade in herrings, which have so large an export to Russia, and in every direction we are having increased competition in this respect. Then, again, there is a change in the fishing industry. We have larger boats and larger gear, and 1032 as a matter of fact it is practically true that a large part of the money that has been spent on our coasts during the last 50 years is now useless. Let me say a word as to the argument that has been used by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to free grants. It is perfectly true that we have had from 1824 to 1882 grants given for the purpose of harbours in Scotland, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman took sufficiently into consideration the fact that those grants were based always on a proportionate local expenditure. For instance, while £149,000 was spent in grants for the Fishery Board, and £22,000 for special Parliamentary grants, the localities subscribed nearly £72,000, which is nearly one-third of the total sum spent. Then, again, coming to a later period, it is not just to describe money given for the purpose of harbours as free grants. While the Fishery Board gave £48,000, the localities subscribed £27,000 for the same purpose. It is perfectly true that many of these harbours are not practicable at certain states of the tide. I submit it is perfectly true that this particular element of population is put under great strain at the present time to meet the varying conditions of its industry. I emphasise the appeal, that it should be considered whether it is not possible to enlarge the discretion of the Fishery Board for Scotland, that they should have enlarged discretion and increased funds to carry on what I believe is essentially for the benefit of the population of the country.
§ *MR. T. C. H. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
With the single exception of the hon. member for Kirkcudbrightshire, every Scots representative who has spoken has supported the Motion before the House. The hon. Member for Kirkcudbrightshire opposes the Motion upon the ground that a sum of £250,000 has been uselessly expended upon Portpatrick. But, Sir, if my recollection serves me, that sum of money was given to subsidise a service of mail steamers, and the case of Portpatrick has, therefore, no real bearing upon the matter at issue in this Debate. I must say that the reply of the right hon. Gentleman for the Government is one full of disappointment, and one which, I am perfectly 1033 sure will carry more than a feeling of disappointment to the people who inhabit those wild and rocky shores of the north-east of Scotland. I would also say that, as far as I am capable of judging, the right hon. Gentleman's argument was not only disappointing, but it was, I might almost say, far-fetched. How does he meet the Motion for aid to our harbours in the interests of the fishermen? He tells us that, in the beginning of this century, the British Government gave a bounty to the herring trade, and because at the beginning of this century such a bounty was given there is nothing due from the Government now to the great fishing industry. And how does he meet the reasoned statement of the hon. Member for Banffshire, that there is lodged in the Treasury the sum of £34,000, which has accrued from an excessive charge upon the branding of herrings? The right hon. Gentleman's answer is, that it is perfectly true that there is an excess arising from the branding of herrings; but he goes on to say that, if there is a surplus, the Treasury, in virtue of a bargain made, is entitled to retain it. That being the whole of his argument upon this point, it seems to me that he has failed, at all events, to disprove the contention of the hon. Member for Banffshire, that there is, at all events, a sum of money accruing from the source mentioned in the Treasury which ought to be disgorged. When we come to the climax of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, what does it amount to? It comes to this: the Treasury, he tells us, is perfectly willing to advance money by way of loan at 3½ per cent. upon good security. What security does the right hon. Gentleman expect to get? Does he expect the people of the north-east of Scotland to pledge their barren rocks and mountains? Would he accept such a security for a loan from the Government? The right hon. Gentleman speaks of this coast as if it were dotted all over with Portsmouths and Southamptons. If the right hon. Gentleman is not acquainted with the north-east of Scotland, I wish he would take an early opportunity of becoming familiar with its aspect. He then might have some idea of the only kind of security which the inhabitants of that district have to offer. The right hon. Gentleman has said that a sum of 1034 money has already been wasted in this district upon small harbours. I agree. Why has it been wasted? Because the fishing boats on the coast of Scotland are now much larger than they formerly were, and these small harbours neither afford them shelter nor safety. In point of fact, they have been productive of very little benefit to the fishermen, and in that respect they have certainly failed. Large harbours at intervals along the coast are what is wanted. When I say large harbours, I do not wish the right hon. Gentleman to suppose for a moment that we wish new harbours on a large scale to be made. There are harbours there now which, with some improvement and extension, are capable of being made satisfactory refuges for the fishermen along that coast. I could mention several such harbours, but I refrain from doing so, lest the right hon. Gentleman should retort that I have a particular interest to serve. Sir, surely the fisher folk of these remote and storm-vexed coasts, who wage an unceasing war with the primitive forces of Nature, are entitled to some consideration from the State. In the prosecution of a national industry full of perils and hardships, do they not merit as much sympathy and assistance as their happier fellow labourers who till the soil in comparative safety and peace? To these you have given two millions of money, and you propose to continue this enormous dole; yet to the former, who wring a scanty subsistence from the dangers of the deep, you have nothing to offer and no hope to hold out.
§ DR. G. B. CLARK (Caithness)
In 1774 the old Scotch Parliament gave a bounty, and gave all it could, to encourage this industry, and for 104 years that bounty was made; then, again, a change was made by which, in 1824, in lieu of the then bounty, the sum of £3,000 was to be given. Now the value of £3,000 three-quarters of a century ago and the value of that money now is entirely different. Still, up to 1858 the old Scotch Law was in force. From 1858 to 1881 a surplus was created, then from 1881 until now the present system is in operation, and the result is that we have £3,000 plus the surplus of branding fees, which 1035 ranges from £1,500 to £3,000 a year. The result is that now, under the present system, our fishing industries are being destroyed, and the only thing to help them is for the State, at the present time, to come to their help. The small fishing boats have given place to large boats, and the Fishery Board harbours are not large enough to take in the new boats; hence the whole of the fishery harbours are, and will be, useless, unless some method is devised of deepening them, and I regret very much that the present Government are going to do nothing at all in this respect.
§ MR. C. H. SEELY (Lincoln)
I should like to express my very great regret that Her Majesty's Government have not been able to take a more favourable view both of the special Motion which is before the House and also the large question of the provision of harbours of refuge. The Secretary to the Treasury in his speech practically stated that be objected altogether to grants in aid for this purpose, on the ground that it was giving a grant in aid to a special industry, but £11,000,000 a year is already given in grants in aid. Large portions not only went for the maintenance of roads—and harbours are part of the roads at sea—but were also given for technical education, which is supposed to be an advantage to the industries to which it refers, and I think it is somewhat unreasonable that Her Majesty's Government should absolutely decline to consider the question of giving special grants for saving the lives of fishermen. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will in a future year, when the prosperity of the country increases as it has done, consider whether they cannot do something to save the very serious loss of life which now occurs on the coasts of these Islands, more particularly when they consider those lives which are lost are the lives of men who, if this country should ever be in a serious condition, would be the most important men of the whole population of this country. I therefore regret very much the answer given by the Secretary to the Treasury.
§ Main Question, as amended, put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 121; Noes, 141.