That, in the opinion of this House, in the interests of trade and communication by sea between places on the coasts, and with a view to the protection and development of sea fisheries and the safety of the persons engaged in them, it is desirable that the Government should take immediate steps to extend the existing provision of Piers and Harbours by cheapening and facilitating the acquisition of powers to construct or improve Piers and Harbours in the United Kingdom, and to aid where necesary such works by grants of public money."—(Sir Edwin Darning Lawrence.)
§ *SIR EDWIN DURNING-LAWRENCE (Cornwall, Truro)
Sir, this matter has occupied the attention of this House for many years past. Forty years ago—or rather more—in 1858, a Committee of the House was appointed, which was further supplemented by a Royal Commission, which reported in 1859. I may say that the immediate cause of the appointment of this Commission was that just then there was a war scare in this country, because the country felt that she was defenceless; and that the Royal Commission reported in the strongest way that defensive harbours were absolutely necessary. Well, Sir, the answer of the country at that period was the immediate raising of the great Volunteer Force, which placed England at that time in a position of safety. Twenty-five years more passed, and again there was a war scare in 1883. At that period it was the fashion to be weak-kneed, and the attitude of this country seemed to court insult and to invite attack. The merchants of this country were alarmed, and the result was that a Committee of this House was appointed in 1883, and issued 802 a very voluminous Report in 1884. Again they insisted upon the absolute necessity of harbours of defence and of harbours of refuge—and what especially affects my case, they said that it was absolutely necessary that the Government should take steps to make sure that the then existing piers and harbours, for the safety of the fishermen, should be improved. Well, Sir, many things happened after 1884. In 1888 the Government of the day recognised that the country was not in a position of defence, and brought in that Measure, which redounds very greatly to their credit, by which they insured that the Fleet of England should possess a greater power than any possible combination of any two countries. Sir, the result of that policy, which was faithfully caried out by honourable Gentlemen on the opposite side when they were in office, is that to-day, not 100, nor 200, nor 300 warships, but upwards of 375 warships have been built, or are building, or have been ordered to be built. That for the time renders unnecessary harbours of defence. And at this moment I do not think the attitude of the country either courts insult or invites attack. But, Sir, the very fact of our possessing these warships makes my resolution the more important. We can build as many ships as we like, but one great difficulty—a very great difficulty—is finding men to man them; and it is on behalf of the men who man our ships, on behalf of the fishermen, that I appeal to the Government to-day. Sir, I represent a Division of Cornwall. The men of Cornwall have always, since the time of Drake, supplied some of the bravest sailors that have fought the battles of this country. The men of Cornwall live on a stormy coast, and they have no proper harbours in which to find safety for their ships. We have seen lately a very great storm. We rejoice to find that the great liners of this country have escaped, and this country rejoices also that the German liner escaped, and we join with Germany in her rejoicing. But how about the smaller boats on our rookbound coasts? Some honourable Members who will follow me will, I trust, give to the House some details of the catastrophes which have befallen some of our smaller craft. What did the Commissioners say in 1884? Their words are 803 so true and so accurate that I hope I may be permitted to read them—Your Committee believe that grants of public money may to a limited extent be made in aid of works which provide refuge for fishermen on certain portions of the coast, to which a large number of boats belong, or where great fisheries are prosecuted. While the existing harbours are only accessible to boats during a certain limited portion of time, your Committee have been much struck, in the course of the evidence they received, by the extraordinary number of small fishing harbours, dry at low water, that exist on certain portions of the coast, which really, in the case of boats belonging to them being caught in a storm, become rather a source of danger than of safety.That is my case. At the present time the piers and harbours on our coast are a source of danger to the fishermen rather than of safety. Therefore I appeal to the Government for the sake of the country, to do what they can for the men who man our Navy. Let us look around. How about our men? It is time that the country was awakened to the fact that while the number of French fishermen is considerably increasing, the number of our fishermen is considerably decreasing. Then our merchant vessels are being less and less manned with Englishmen, while more Frenchmen every day are going to sea. That is a very important matter for this country. Therefore it is necessary that our Government should take some means by which they can assist in the increase in number and safety of these harbours for fishermen. Sir, what I really ask from the Government is, that they will do for us what they have done by means of light railways for Ireland. I think they should, by their action, enable these harbours to be made without going to the great expense of an Act of Parliament, and that by a simple Order, which costs a very small amount, they should enable these works to be carried out. Well, Sir, just to give the House an instance of how things are done to-day: There were two townships which, for some reason or other, desired to join hands together. The total cost of an Order of that nature, I think, by the County Council was about£50. Now, Sir, there was a pier and harbour connected with one of these townships. They wanted to make a bond in some way to join them. Did that cost£50, or twice£50, or 10 times£50? Sir, 804 it cost 50 times£50. The result of that was that the whole of this township has been heavily mulcted in an enormous fine, which they are little able to pay. That is the kind of thing I want the Government to undertake to see shall not exist. It is true the Government express very great sympathy. A well-known phrase occurs in Sheridan, I think, in which, in language not Parliamentary, he says—'Bother' your sympathy; I want your aid!I say to the Government—"Bother your sympathy; I want your aid!" I want the Government themselves to take this matter in hand, and not merely to courteously reply that they sympathise with us in our efforts, but to take the matter in hand, and to take care that there shall be provided for these poor fishermen, by the action of the Government, a means of doing the work cheaply, without coming to Parliament, and, as the Committee recommended in 1884, to afford where necessary some small grants of money to enable these works to be carried out. I feel that only in this way can the lives of these men be preserved; I feel that by the lives of these men being preserved you create more fishermen, more men for your Navy—your very best men. You get a man on board one of these ironclads; you make him a mechanic. You have no chance to make him really a sailor. You get a man from the fishing coast, used to the storm and stress of the weather; that man is a sailor to begin with. You can make him a good able seaman on board an ironclad afterwards. Sir, while we are standing still, what are other countries doing? Is the House aware that a neighbouring nation—France— has spent more than£10,000,000 sterling—I might almost double it—in providing harbours for the people? And what are we doing? We have made ourselves safe for the moment with our warships, but our good neighbours abroad say, "We are going to wait our time, and then you shall see what we will do." I am not afraid of their building ships; the real forces of the country are not the ships, but the men who man them. It has never been true of England that a vessel of 3,000 tons or 4,000 tons, manned with Englishmen, has succumbed 805 to a vessel of one and a half times, or even of twice her size belonging to any other nation. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that, by the action of our Government, the Navy should be able to find men, experienced sailors, to man these vessels. So, Sir, I desire to ask the Government that, by their action, they will take care to introduce some 'Measure which will enable these harbours to be made without great expense being incurred. I desire that they shall inquire where some of these harbours may be formed, and where existing harbours may be improved. Why, Sir, on the East coast hundreds of thousands of tons of slag are being thrown into the sea as waste, where the smallest superintendence, the smallest expenditure would cause these same hundreds of thousands of tons of slag to be formed into a mole, which would create a harbour of refuge on that coast. That is the kind of thing I want the Government to do. It is of enormous importance to this country that in certain parts of the coast not only piers and harbours for fishermen, but harbours of refuge, should be created, where in times of stress our fishing boats could take refuge. I appeal to the Government to take some means, which a private Member cannot do, to inquire where harbours of refuge can be formed, and by their action to enable this to be done without expensive legislation, and also to advance sums of money to make these works. Well, Sir, this cause will not be won by mere words. It will be won by actions. It is to be won by the Government, and not by any words that I can say. Sir, many Members of this House know intimatedy positions in their own neighbourhoods fit for harbours, which they can urge upon the attention of the Government, emphasising what I have just said about the importance of piers and harbours in these different places. The Commissioners reported that of all places in England the Bristol Channel between Lundy and the Lizard was the most important for a, harbour of refuge. There are vessels sailing round our coast which get past the Land's End, and they could take refuge in the Bristol Channel if a harbour of refuge was provided. The Commissioners almost unanimously said that a harbour of refuge should be 806 provided at the public expense, and they strongly recommended that a harbour should be created on the north coast of Cornwall, a portion of which I represent. The country must find harbours of refuge; the country cannot allow its vessels to be wrecked as they have been wrecked, because no provision has been made for their safety. At the present moment I only ask the Government to give us the means, without undue expense, to get an Order without an Act of Parliament to do the work ourselves, and that they shall support our efforts by giving us some small amount of money for those works which are absolutely necessary. Sir, I beg to move the Resolution standing in my name.
*CAPTAIN PHILLPOTTS (Devon, Torquay)
Sir, I rise to second the Motion made by the honourable Baronet the Member for Cornwall, and in so doing I do not propose to trouble the House at any length with details which might more properly be dealt with at a later stage. But, Sir, I do think the time has now arrived when it is incumbent upon the Government to take some action in this matter. I will endeavour to illustrate my meaning by referring to what has happened in the constituency I have the honour to represent within recent years; and if I refer more particularly to my own constituency and the County of Devon, it is not because I think there is anything unusual about that county and district, but simply because I am better acquainted with that county and district, and therefore am better able to judge of its needs. Now, Sir, in the year 1896 the Brixham authorities promoted a Bill in this House for the purpose of altering a consitution of their Harbours Authority, and also making certain alterations in its borrowing powers and administration. The scheme was opposed by a section of the ratepayers and the inhabitants of the district. They came to Parliament, counsel had to be employed, and the result was the cost of obtaining that Act amounted to£3,000, or one and a-half year's total income that could be derived from the harbour dues, and very nearly one-eighth of the total amount of the sum provided for by that Bill. Well, then, I take a parallel case. The two parishes of Higher and 807 Lower Brixham desired that they should be amalgamated for sanitary and Local Government purposes. That, Sir, could be done by means of an order by the county council. Amalgamation was strongly opposed, and the county council sent down their inspector to investigate matters and to go into everything, and as a result amalgamation was effected at the total cost of£50. Well, Sir, I cannot see why the same powers should not have been exercised in both cases, why the law should not be so altered that the same power could be exercised in the case of a harbour, so as to enable a harbour to be improved or constructed without going to the enormous cost of applying to Parliament for a special Act. We do not come here, Sir, to ask for dole, or for any special treatment. We only ask for help for those who are quite willing to help themselves; and I think that in the few figures that I have given in relation to the Brixham Harbour Bill I have made out a case for urgent need for an alteration in the law. There is also the question to which my honourable Friend has alluded, that of harbours of refuge. This comes under quite a different heading. You can hardly expect the localities to find the money for harbours of refuge. They are matters of national, or I might almost say international, moment; and there, again, if I allude to my constituency it is because I see there the urgent necessity that exists for further provision in that direction. On the 13th of this month there was a strong south-westerly gale blowing, accompanied by terrific squalls. At the time that the gale was at its height I counted 19 large steamers besides small craft seeking refuge in Tor Bay. Well, Sir, they laid there securely enough while the wind remained in that direction, but had the wind shifted three points further south some of those vessels would have been in a position of very considerable danger. Now, they could be made absolutely secure from any winds or any possible weather that could be encountered at a very small cost; and here I would say that though undoubtedly the wreck charts published in connection with the coasts of the United Kingdom show that casualties along our coasts are of frequent occurrence, I 808 quite admit that many of these casualties are not preventable by any provision of harbours. Still, something might be done in that direction, some casualties might be prevented, and many lives might be saved, if we had better harbour accommodation on our coasts. But it is not only the question of the saving of life. There comes in a question of the saving of property, a question of economy. Anyone at all acquainted with, such matters knows that the waste of coal is something enormous when vessels are kept at sea steaming against a head wind, when it is impossible to make any way, and any captain under such circumstances will endeavour to seek some harbour of refuge where he can lay at anchor and bank his fires until the weather moderates. That has been usual in Tor Bay. Whenever a south-westerly gale or a westerly gale has been blowing for any time, you find the roadstead filled with ships waiting for the weather to moderate; and if there is need when westerly gales are blowing there is even more need during the prevalence of easterly gales. In the whole of the Channel there is no single harbour where vessels can take refuge between Plymouth and the Isle of Wight, with the exception of Portland, which is very considerably out of the way. Now, Sir, this is a matter that I think the Government might take into their very serious consideration; but, first and foremost, I wish to repeat what has fallen from my honourable Friend the Member for the Truro Division, and ask the Government to give their attention to the state of the law as affecting the powers necessary to construct, enlarge, or improve a local harbour, or to create a fresh harbour, so that the procedure may be made cheaper. Sir, seafaring men, from the very nature of their calling, are unable to combine, are unable to help themselves in the way that those who do not follow that calling can do. It is almost impossible for men who spend five-sixths of their lives at sea to combine during the brief visits they can pay to their homes in pressing on the Government the need for the provision of these harbours. Sir, this is a matter that I think should be looked upon not from a political, not from an electioneering, point of view; it should be looked upon, as my honourable Friend has 809 already said, from a patriotic point of view, and I do think that there is urgent need that this question should be dealt with without any further loss of time. With these few remarks, Sir, I beg to second the Resolution which has been moved by my honourable Friend.
SIR W. WEDDERBUKN (Banff)
Mr. Speaker, last Session I had the honour to bring forward a somewhat similar Motion in the interests of the fisheries, and I think we have reason to complain of the apathetic spirit in which that Motion was received. In dealing with the case not one word of sympathy was expressed with the danger and suffering of the brave and deserving class on behalf of whom we spoke, and we thought it a harsh proceeding that the Government's case was placed in the hands of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. We all know how amiable that Gentleman is in private life, but by virtue of his office in financial matters he is not able to have any amiability at all. The consequence was that he not only was not sympathetic, not only made no concessions to the evident feeling of the House, but he overstated the case historically against the Motion that we were bringing forward. The Government treated us like beggars, and set the Treasure watch-dog at us, who not only barked, but actually bit us. And I think the feeling of the House was shown in the matter both by the speeches that were made and also by the fact that the majority of the Government, which was reduced to 20, had never fallen so low before. I am extremely glad now to see the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury in his place, and also the President of the Board of Trade, and the Lord Advocate, and I think that we may hope that now we shall receive more sympathetic treatment on this very important question. I have said that the Financial Secretary had overstated the case against us. He said that the existing policy of the Government in this matter of fishery harbours was to deal with this question by loan, and in no other way; and he stated that he had carefully examined the Reports of the various Commissions, and he could not find that there were any proper recommendations to give real grounds to this class of harbours to harbours of 810 this character—that is to say, fishery harbours. Well, that really is an error of fact, because the Commission to which he referred—the first Commission under Admiral Washington—expressly dealt with this great loss of life among the fishermen, and their recommendation was to this effect: They referred to the existing grant in Scotland of£3,000 a year, and stated that this mere pittance was quite insufficient for the purpose, and recommended that £10,000 a year should be granted for some years in order to complete the system of fishery harbours. There was no word whatever of loans in this matter. Then, again, the Commission in 1857 was exactly en the same footing. The instruction to that Commission was to inquire into the policy of making further grants of public money for the improvement and extension of harbours of refuge, and that Commission confirmed Admiral Washington's recommendation, and suggested that£9,300 a year should be set aside for that purpose. Therefore, historically, the Financial Secretary must be in error in this matter, and, of course, it is a matter which does not come specially under his notice. But the recommendation upon which we mainly rest our case is a recommendation of the Select Committee of this House in 1888—Lord Tweedmouth's Commission. What we say is this: that there are two ways of dealing with this harbour question. There is the method by loan, where good security can be given. That is one way. But where good security cannot be given, it has always been the practice of the Government to give free grants, and there is no other way of getting the work done. Now, what the Select Committee pointed out was that there were some of the most urgent cases existing where there was no possibility of getting either the money or giving the necessary security to take advantage of the Loans Act, 1861. This is what the Committee said, and the entirely affirm the responsibility of the Government in this matter:—That it falls entirely within the province of the Government to provide the much-needed refuge in these districts, it being not difficult, it being absolutely impossible that the fishermen themselves can raise the funds for such works, or find the security upon which to borrow money to carry them out.811 Therefore, what I say is this: the method under the Act of 1861 of borrowing moneys is an excellent one, where security can be found, and a very great deal of useful work has been done under the provisions of that Act. The right honourable Gentleman referred, as regards the work done under that Act, to the return obtained by the honourable Baronet the Member for Barnstaple. I think that, perhaps, the reason of the form of that return, the totals given by the return were a little misleading so far as fishery harbours were concerned, because the reference to that return, which is a most valuable one, shows that out of£1,600,000 spent under that Act in England, very nearly one million was spent by the Admiralty upon Dover, Portland, Plymouth, and other great national works. Therefore, to use this return for the purposes which were under discussion was a little misleading. Something similar occurs with regard to Scotland, and I notice in the return that in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands actually two-thirds of the whole was spent in great Admiralty works. Therefore, although we quite admit that the Act of 1861 has been most useful, at the same time it does not do the whole of the work. There are a great class of small works very much needed where the population is poor, and where it is absolutely impossible, as the Select Committee stated, to find security. When, therefore, we appeal to the right honourable Gentleman, and he tells us, "You can have any amount of money upon good security," while the Select Committee says it is impossible to furnish that security, I think it is rather a case that we are asking for bread and the Government are only giving us a stone. It is not, as the honourable Gentleman who seconded this Motion says, that we are mere beggars. We are not asking for doles. We ask that the Government should perform their duty in this matter in protecting the life and property of a deserving class; but that class is also willing, and always has been willing, to contribute to the very utmost of its powers In Scotland, where these grants have been given with very great success, the Fishery Board has been in the habit of requiring that about one-third of the amount should be contributed by the fishermen. We all know Low difficult 812 it is to poor fishermen to collect hundreds of pounds. I mention to the House as an example of what they can do, that in the small fishery village of Whitehall, in my own constituency, the fishermen collected no less a sum than £3,000, which they put down. The Fishery Board then added£6,000, and a most excellent harbour is now being completed, to the great advantage of the people upon that coast. In the same way, in other parts, large sums are collected. I see in the report of the Select Committee of 1883 that they make a somewhat painful comparison between the amounts spent by the Governments of France, Germany, and other countries in harbours of this kind. Well, the figures that they give are not very satisfactory, because there is the same difficulty as in our own return, to which I have alluded, that we do not know what portion of these millions that are alluded to refer to naval harbours, and what refer to commercial or fishery harbours. And I might suggest, perhaps, to the right honourable Gentleman on the Front Bench that a return might be obtained which would distinguish between these different objects, and let us know what other countries are doing in the direction regarding which we are now asking the Government to sympathise with us. It is quite evident that if this very strong competition goes on in the North Sea, and other seas which are frequented by the fishermen—if this very strong competition goes on, and if our competitors are supplied with good harbours and all commercial facilities, our fishermen are put to a great disadvantage; they are handicapped in this competition. Well, with the permission of the House, I will just mention my own personal knowledge of what the German Government is doing with regard to one single harbour. This last summer I paid a visit to a large fishery harbour used for the fishing of the North Sea, at Geesle-münde, near Bremerhaven, at the mouth of the Weser. At this single fishery harbour the German Government has spent within the last five years no less than 7,000,000 marks; that is to say, speaking roughly, about £350,000; and this harbour was begun in 1891, and was completed in 1896. And honourable Gentlemen will understand what a splendid harbour this is when I mention that it contains a wharf about three-quarters of 813 a mile long, accessible at all times of the tide. At no time of the tide is there less than 14 or 16 feet of water, and it has a nice clear course, and the fishermen can come in at any time of the night and day in perfect safety. On our dangerous coasts, when a North Sea gale is blowing and the boats are being driven down to what is always spoken of as our iron-bound coast, there is no one single harbour south of the Moray Firth in which they can lie with safety during all times of the tide. And here we have the German Government providing these magnificent harbours. Not only is there complete safety for life and property, but there are immense commercial facilities. There are great sheds arranged for the auction of the fish, and for discharging into trains, which carry the fish at once to every part of Germany and Central Europe. Therefore, I say that this is an object lesson to the Government. Let them consider these fishery harbours "made in Germany," and let them make some for us upon the same liberal scale. I say the action of our Government contrasts most unfavourably. Here are £350,000 given absolutely as a free grant by the Government, without a single penny contribution from the people. There is a certain sum of money—I believe £34,000—which the Government have got to this day. They performed no service for it. It was raised in the fishery industry, and belongs to the fishery industry, and that sum of £34,000 would make a very good nucleus for the Fishery Board to meet the daily applications that are being made to it to augment the contribution locally collected. We know that very large sums of money have been spent. We were told the other day that £8,000,000 have been spent in Egypt and in Uganda; and I hope I shall not be charged with being very parochial if I ask for a few thousands for our own fishermen, the men who, as my honourable Friend said, are the defenders of the country—who are the men who man our Navy, who maintain our supremacy in all parts of the world. I may say that I also entirely confirm what has been said about cheapening Provisional Orders, and the arrangements for getting private Acts to make harbours. A case was mentioned where, I think, £3,000 were spent in a contested case. 814 There have been several Provisional Orders in my own neighbourhood where there was no contest, no opposition, and out of the funds collected with so much difficulty by the fishermen they had to spend in each case about £300 before they were able to get the Provisional Order that they required. The work was thoroughly formal; there was no difficulty in the case; and, with a little help from the Government and Parliament, I believe these Provisional Orders might be obtained without any cost whatever. I only say that I hope this Motion will become a sort of hardy annual until we have persuaded the Government to do its duty. I have great hopes from those who are now on the Treasury Bench that we shall have some kindly and sympathetic expression, and therefore I cordially support the Motion of my honourable Friend.
§ *SIR CAMERON GULL (Devon, Barnstaple)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the Resolution moved by my honourable Friend the Member for the Truro Division. I do not think it is at all necessary that I should go over the ground again, and repeat what has been said so many times before, as to the necessity for proper steps being taken to improve the present condition of our smaller harbours. As the House well knows, this question has been agitated since 1859. We have had a Royal Commission, and we have had a Select Committee: and I think the mere fact that this is the third time during the life of this present Parliament on which this question has been raised is sufficient to show the Government that there is a very strong feeling in the country on this matter. There is one point in the history of the subject that I think is somewhat peculiar. The Royal Commission reported in favour of the policy which we are now advocating, and, indeed, a good deal wider policy; but the Government of the day ignored that policy, and the Report upon which it was founded. The Royal Commission of 1859 recommended a grant of £2,365,000 with loans at low rates of interest for the improvement of certain harbours, on condition that certain local sums should be raised; and in 1860, the year following, a Member of this House, Mr. Lindsay, carried by a majority of 17 a Resolution to the 815 effect that it was the duty of the Government to adopt at the earliest possible period the necessary measures to carry into effect the recommendation of the Commissioners. What was the answer of the Government? The Government did exactly what the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, speaking last year on this subject, said: "They pushed on one side all the recommendations made with regard to provision for harbours of refuge out of the Imperial purse, and started the policy of loans." Well, Sir, that policy was tried for twenty years, and that policy failed. I admit that a good deal has been done under it, but still, as regards the poorer districts, where it is so difficult to get any proper accommodation, we are as badly off as ever. In 1884 the Government was again driven to grant another inquiry. Again the Committee reported in favour of grants being made under certain conditions. The honourable Gentleman who moved this Resolution quoted the terms which the Committee recommended. Again, in 1887, a year or two afterwards, the subject was brought before the House, and the Government of the day only escaped defeat by the narrow majority of five. Again the answer of the Government was a step very like the passing of the Harbours and Tolls Act, 1861. There was a Treasury Minute which the right honourable Gentleman the present President of the Board of Trade said bound the Government, and they refused to take any steps to improve the present position of affairs. Well, again we are pressing the Government to take up this question. In 1896 the honourable Member for Flint moved for the appointment of a Departmental Committee, and the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stated that it was not a matter which could be referred to a Departmental Committee. It was a matter with which the House ought to deal, and the Government ought to deal, without the assistance of a Departmental Committee. Sir, to-day the honourable Member who proposes this Resolution asks the House and the Government to deal with this question, and to deal with it without a Departmental Committee. What is it that is asked? We are not asking now for a vast expenditure of public money for our national harbours, such as we used to 816 discuss some 30 or 40 years ago. We are asking for something that, I think, is perfectly feasible from the Government, something that will not cause any very great expense. As the honourable Gentlemen who have preceded me have said, the first thing that we ask for is some means of cheapening the methods of getting Provisional Orders and powers to improve and construct harbours. Well, Sir, I cannot see what objection the Government can have to introducing some legislation that would have this effect. Honourable Members have given instances, and they can be largely multiplied, of the costs, which strike one as very large indeed, involved in getting powers to improve and construct harbours. The present Government have before them the operation of the Light Railways Act in a very similar matter, which, from all accounts, is working very smoothly and saving an enormous amount of money. We do not ask that, so far as the creation of large commercial harbours in large centres is concerned, there should be any special alteration of the law. Every Session Bills are brought in for the purpose of building large docks and harbours. But what I do think we have a right to ask for is this, that in the poorer districts, where there is very little money, there should be some means devised by which those who want to' improve the smaller harbours and piers should be able to get the necessary powers at the minimum cost. Then, Sir, we also ask in necessary cases—not in all cases—that there should be at the disposal of the Government some money which could assist in the creation of these harbours. The policy of loans has been tried now ever since 1861, and still the grievance of the poorer districts remains practically as it was. It is useless to ask men who have no security to offer, to give security which the Government will accept, and to pay interest at 3Û per cent. The Government have really recognised this principle in various parts of the United Kingdom. They have recognised it in Ireland, and to a certain extent in Scotland. No doubt we shall be told that in the case of Ireland a sum of £250,000 was granted out of the Irish Church Fund, but the House will remember that long before that, under Acts passed by this House, one of them 817 the 9th Victoria, and the others 10th and 11th Victoria, a sum of £90,000 was granted under certain conditions for the purpose of improving the harbours in Ireland, and the extent—the very considerable extent—to which the Government have already adopted the policy of grants in poor districts is shown by the return—not, I agree with the honourable Baronet, as clearly as one would like—granted in 1896. However, those who will take the trouble to look through the return will see that a considerable sum—not large enough some of us think, but still a considerable sum—has been granted to the Fishery Board in Ireland for the purpose of these smaller harbours and piers, and though I confess on the face of the return it looks as if a far larger sum had been granted to England, I think I am right in saying that, with one solitary exception, the whole of the money granted to England and Wales has been granted for the purposes of national harbours of defence. The right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, when pressed upon this subject in 1896, defended the grants to Scotland and to Ireland on the ground that they were given on the recommendation of a Royal Commission, which pointed out that there were certain parts of the country in so impoverished a condition as to be totally unable to help themselves. But the Royal Commission and the Select Committee of this House have recommended that precisely the same policy should be adopted as regards the whole of the United Kingdom. The Select Committee, as the honourable Baronet pointed out, distinctly recommended that; they held that in the poor districts it was perfectly reasonable that the Government should make grants for the purpose of improving these harbours. No doubt the right honourable Gentleman did go on to say, in answer to a laugh that was raised, that if we had any corresponding districts in our minds with regard to which it was desired to make recommendations to the Government, those representations when made would be considered by the Government. Yes, but it is of no use making representations to the Government if the responsible Minister says that by reason of the Treasury Minute or any other authority 818 it is useless to consider the recommendations. In a previous passage of his speech the right honourable Gentleman said that the Government was, in fact, debarred from the application of public money by the Treasury Minute, which laid it down that money should be only granted for the purpose of harbours by way of loan. Well, Sir, when the Government are prepared to say that they will not be hindered by the Treasury Minute, I am perfectly certain that honourable Members from England and Wales can show them cases which are practically on all fours with those we have had reference made to in various parts of the United Kingdom. Now, Sir, we have been told that the great drawback, the great thing that we have to face, is this Treasury Minute. I cannot quite agree that the Government as a whole is bound by any Treasury Minute, and certainly I believe it is unquestionable that the House of Commons is not bound by a Treasury Minute, and if we can show good grounds for over-riding the Treasury Minute there will be no difficulty. Well, now, what are the grounds that this Treasury Minute gives for refusing this money for harbours? The first objection was that the proposal was a complete departure from practice and precedent. Sir, the return I have quoted from, issued in 1896, shows that the Government need not be in the least afraid of any departure from practice, because they have departed from it most clearly by adopting a system of grants both as regards Scotland and as regards Ireland. Well, the second observation is that the plan will stifle local enterprise. Local enterprise in these districts has had more than 40 years in which to try and develop and improve these harbours, and in these districts for which we are pleading local enterprise has been a failure. Well, then, the third observation is that it would be unjust and unfair to places which have already provided themselves with sufficient shelter and accommodation. That argument, carried to its logical extent, would enable every one of us who did not require poor relief and free education to refuse to pay our poor rates and education rates. It is perfectly reasonable that the richer places should help and assist those that are poorer, and I think that is a policy which has been adopted in many instances in legislation in this House. The 819 right honourable Gentleman said that what we were asking was a matter of £8,000,000 or £10,000,000. I really do not know where he gets those figures, but the Select Committee certainly recommended no such sum as that. If the Government is afraid of the expense, they have absolute control of the money, and they can limit the amount to whatever extent they like. They can take in this matter the example of the Light Railways Act; and I believe that if, as an instalment, they would offer to bring in a Bill to simplify the expense, and then would put aside a sum of £1,000,000 for the purpose of these smaller harbours and piers, it would go a very long way indeed to satisfy the demands which are constantly being made in this House. No doubt the House would agree, if the contention of the right honourable Gentleman is right, with the remarks of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth in support of a similar recommendation in 1896, but I think this Resolution 'is very limited. It asks for no grant of any large sum of money; it merely asks for an expenditure of a comparatively small sum to deal with poor districts which are unable to help themselves. Well, Sir, there only remains one further objection put forward in this Treasury Minute, and that is that there is no evidence that there is any great loss of life. Those honourable Gentlemen who will take the trouble to study the returns will observe that the loss of life for seven years within 15 miles "of the coast is 1,500, and the loss of property over 50,000 tons. Well, in order to get the percentage to look more favourable, the gentleman who drew up this report gets rid of a large number of lives lost by classifying them under the heading of a particular gale. He also very conveniently gets rid of the missing vessels, and then, as a result of that very ingenious method, tries to show that the loss of life is not so great as it actually was. He ought, however, to know that men in distress at sea, when there is no harbour to run to, do not run to the coast; the first thing they do is to try and ride out the storm as far as they can away from the coast. It is absurd to suggest that harbours would be no good because you cannot tell exactly where the vessels were lost. Surely, Sir, the fact that we have during those 820 seven years lost over 1,500 lives and over 50,000 tons of property within 15 miles of the coast should go a great way to induce the Government to take steps in the matter. Well, Sir, I have given the objections, and I venture to say they are not such as the Government ought to stand by. At any rate, so far as they are concerned, practically every one of them has been overruled in exceptional cases when they introduced their Light Railways Act. They have recognised the fact that there were districts which could only be properly developed by exceptional means, and they have, done it as regards agriculture. I think, on behalf of the sailors, I have made out a similar case. We are not asking for money for any particular interest; we are asking the Government to take steps to protect life and property. Sir, I hope the Government will give this matter their earnest and careful consideration. It is a matter of very urgent importance. They have shown themselves alive to the dangers of the miners, they have shown themselves alive to the special dangers in our workshops; and only yesterday the President of the Board of Trade introduced a Bill which I hope will soon pass into law, and which will do a great deal to lessen the loss of life on our railways. I hope to-night we shall not plead in vain for a favourable and sympathetic answer from the Government, or be met, as we have been over and over again, with a non possumus, or that is a matter for commercial enterprise. I think the speeches have shown that it is a question for the Government to take up, and I hope the Government will not oppose this Resolution, but accept it as one really necessary to meet the existing state of affairs.
§ MR. J. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
The honourable Baronet who has just sat down has given so admirable a history of this question, meeting all the arguments raised, that it will only be necessary for me to say a very few words upon this subject. I hope that the mind of the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has now been thoroughly disabused of the idea that the demand which we put forward is the enormous and extravagant demand which he thought we put forward last year. As a matter of fact, the 821 request that we are making is one that is made on a very moderate scale; one which received when it same before the House in 1896 the support of an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one which I think will commend itself to the Government upon the present occasion. I cannot believe that the Treasury Minute which, as the right honourable Gentleman alleged, stood in the way in 1896, can be regarded as a sort of law of the Medes and Persians. The right honourable Gentleman has at this moment the First Lord of the Treasury on his right, and I am sure that a word from him would settle this question in a sense which would be favourable to the claim we are now making. But, however that may be, I am quite certain that the Treasury does not intend its Minutes to apply to all times and to all occasions, and that it will not always stand in the way of the reform of the kind we are now advocating. I should like to draw the attention of the right honourable Gentleman to the words in which he introduced the Light Railways Bill into this House. The construction of these harbours will not only improve the efficiency of the industry and have a tendency to protect life and property, but it will improve the means of communication as well on our coasts to a very great extent. When the right honourable Gentleman introduced the Light Railways Bill he said—If we can do anything to bring the producer and consumer more closely together—if we can make more easy the distribution of produce—we shall have done much to help both the producer and the consumer.That, to some extent, is a part of the case which underlies this Motion. And then the right honourable Gentleman referred to the high charges which were made by the railway companies, and said—He was not prepared to deny that there were some grounds for complaints, but, assuming that agriculturists who now possess railway facilities might fairly complain of railway charges, what of those producers who had no railway communication whatever to avail themselves of? If the position of the one class is bad, the House will admit that the position of agriculturists who have no means of railway communication is infinitely worse.822 Well, Mr. Speaker, that is just the case on a large part of our coasts. There are places, for instance, on the coast of Wales where a Measure of this kind is infinitely more needed than a Light Railways Bill. From Milford to Holyhead, embracing the whole of the coast, there is not a single harbour in which a boat drawing eight feet of water can run at low tide. Well, now, that is a state of things that ought not to be allowed to continue to exist. It is a very long and a very dangerous stretch of coast. It is perfectly impossible, under circumstances of that kind, for the fishing industry to be developed on a coast of that sort. As the right honourable Gentleman very well knows, the conditions of the fishing industry are such now that, as the fishermen go farther and farther out to sea, it has become necessary to employ a larger class of boat and of higher tonnage than used to be the case. It is therefore absolutely necessary, if the fishing industry is to be preserved at all on some parts of our coasts, that something of this kind should be done. And then, as has already been said, we need a further supply of men for our Navy. The Navy needs men more than it needs ships and money at the present time, and the fishing-grounds on our coasts are the very best training grounds for the Navy. If the right honourable Gentleman can respond favourably to our appeal and take means to very largely increase the supply of harbours in this country, it surely is a matter of great importance not only to small seaside places, but to those great inland towns to which are sent a, very large part of the staple food of the poorest of our population. For these reasons I hope that the right honourable Gentleman will look favourably upon the appeal that has been made to him, and that he will not be deterred by a Treasury Minute, or by any other reason of that kind, but that he will do his very utmost to improve the facilities of communication on the coast; that he will do something for the protection of those fisheries which are so necessary to our national prosperity and to our food in time of peace, and still more in time of war; and that he will take the power which is now in his hands of spending a little of the money of this country which has been so largely spent in foreign 823 parts. I will not say that it has been uselessly spent, by any means, but million after million has been spent in distant parts of the world in providing railways which only run one train a week. I do hope that the small appeal we make for consideration will not be lost upon the Government, or upon the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
I am sure no one can complain of my honourable Friend the Member for Truro bringing forward again this hardy annual. The matter is one of great importance, and my honourable Friend and all those who have supported him have dealt with it in a spirit of great consideration. I wish to recognise that fact, although I am unable, on behalf of the Government, to agree with the suggestions which have been made. I am sorry to hear one honourable Gentleman, however, express the opinion that the Government have no sympathy with the loss of life among the fishing population.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE
I should have thought that, without expressing it, the Government might have been credited with the sympathy which everyone must feel for the men engaged in so dangerous an occupation. I am perfectly satisfied that there is no Government which would not be inclined to do everything it possibly could to reduce the unfortunate loss of life which occurs, and which, I am afraid, must, to some extent, always occur in such an industry. Apart from that, the Government agree with my honourable Friend who brought forward this Motion that the encouragement of the fishing industry would have a twofold result. It would, in the first place, increase the supply of a food which the people much appreciate; and, in the second place, it would increase the number of seamen available for the Navy; so that from that point of view I can assure the honourable Member that the object he has in view is one which has the most complete sympathy of Her Majesty's Government. Sir, what are the 824 proposals which my honourable Friend has made? One of the proposals upon which he laid great stress, and which has been referred to by more than one honourable Member, is that we should give greater facilities in the way of cheapening the procedure for those who desire to bring forward proposals in Parliament with regard to the maintenance of small harbours. It has been suggested that the procedure under the Light Railways Act might form some precedent. Well, Sir, I have looked into the matter from that point of view, and I do not believe it is possible for us to make any proposals to Parliament which would render the applications for harbours cheaper than they are under the present state of the law. As the House knows, applications for piers and harbours are dealt with by Provisional Orders, which are cheap when unopposed, though no doubt the expense is formidable when they are opposed. But I cannot for the life of me understand how, as has been stated by the honourable Member for Banffshire, £300 has been spent in getting an unopposed Order. I find that between the years 1896 and 1898, of 20 applications for piers and harbours only one was opposed. In 1896 nine Provisional Orders were applied for, and only one was opposed. In 1897 seven Provisional Orders were granted, and there was no opposition. In 1898 there were four applications, and there was no opposition. Therefore, out of the whole of the numbers applied for, there was only once opposition, and in that the expense must have been of a very trifling character. The honourable Gentleman has spoken in rather a contemptuous way of the proposals with regard to grants and loans. Well, the House, I am sure, will understand that the policy of making loans is one which is very difficult and sometimes dangerous to pursue. If we are to adopt such a policy we might very well have schemes for the erection of piers and harbours from many parts of the country upon which money might probably be wasted. If a policy of that kind were pursued I am afraid that there would be an end to private and municipal enterprise. As between grants and loans, the House of Commons has, no matter what Party has been in power, negatived the former and affirmed the latter. In 1863 a Motion was brought forward in favour 825 of grants; it was rejected by the House of Commons without a division. Again, in 1864, a Motion of a similar kind was brought forward, and was rejected by 142 to 84. In 1865 there was a Resolution of a similar kind, and this was negatived. In 1869 a question was asked on the subject, and Mr. Bright, who was then at the Board of Trade, replied that the Government had strictly adhered to the policy hitherto pursued, namely that of making loans. Sir, there was another Resolution negatived by the House of Commons in 1875, and in 1876, and so on. I say, therefore, without hesitation, that whenever the question of grants has been brought forward it has been negatived by the House of Commons. In the policy of making loans instead of grants, therefore, the Government are only following the policy laid down by the House of Commons. It has been said that it is useless to suggest loans at the rate of 3¼ per cent. No doubt that was the rate of interest fixed in the Treasury Minute, but two years ago an alteration was made to 2¾ No one can say that that is excessive, but it is contingent on the security given being greater than that supplied by the tolls. It surely ought not to be difficult in these days of county councils, if harbours are required, to give the security of the rates behind the security of the harbour itself, in order to obtain loans at a low rate of interest. Well, Sir, I say, with regard to the general question, we adhere to the policy assented to by previous Governments. At the same time, without committing myself to the general principle of giving grants in aid of harbours—a policy which I think would be attended with great danger of waste of money—I have no hesitation, in saying that, if cases such as have been referred to are brought before me at the Board of Trade I will make a representation to the Treasury, and endeavour to obtain some such assistance as has teen rendered in similar circumstances to other industries in different parts of the country. Of course, it will be understood that we are not going to start a sort of roving commission round the coasts of England, Ireland, and Scotland to ascertain where there is need of harbours. Representations of the need must come from the locality, and it must foe established, first of all, that a harbour 826 is really required at a particular place; it must also be established that it is practically impossible for the locality to make a harbour off their own bat. As in the Light Railways Act, the Treasury is empowered to make grants in aid of contributions from other sources where the poverty of the district renders it impossible to obtain effective local assistance. Sir, there is this other requirement, which I think the House will admit is necessary—that the county council or some local organisation must take the responsibility of keeping the harbour going. Without an undertaking of that kind I think it would be unwise and imprudent on the part of the Government to render the assistance to which I have referred, and I trust my right honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not think that I have gone too far.
§ MR. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)
At the outset, I would like to say that the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade opens a certain vista of hope in the future for those who have an interest in harbours and piers. I only trust that the right honourable Gentleman will not be absolutely swamped by the number of applications that must come in to him within the next few months. The right honourable Gentleman declared at first against the policy of grants, and he said that was the policy of the House. But I would remind the right honourable Gentleman that while that may have been so in 1876—the last case which he quoted—I am afraid that since then Par liament has abandoned its former purity, and has committed itself to grants for many other interests besides harbours. The right honourable Gentleman, how ever, has given us some promise that under certain circumstances grants in aid may be given in urgent cases, and for that I am extremely grateful. I will not detain the House long, but I want to point out that there is a difficulty at present in regard to loans. It is said that one grain of fact is equal to a bushel of theory, and I may take as an illustration a special case in which I am interested. There is the harbour of Stonehaven. It is one which is generally fitted by nature to be made a harbour of refuge; 827 so much so, that it was specially mentioned in the Report of the Royal Commission on Harbours of Refuge, and it might, but for certain events, have been selected for the great harbour of refuge for the North-East coast instead of Peterhead. It is agreed by all the fisher men both up and down the coast that if that harbour were only improved it would effect a great saving of life and property, not only to the people of Stonehaven, but to the people of the neighbouring districts. That, surely, is a clear case for aid. Well, we applied to the Fishery Board, but with no result. We were told that we could not get a grant or loan because we were not a peculiarly fishing harbour. Local industries involve the import of various commercial commodities, and, therefore, we need not apply to the Fishery Board. Then we went to the Local Loans Com mission with a Provisional Order and asked for a loan; but we were told we could not get a loan because there was a debt of £6,000 on the harbour. The people of Stonehaven set to work to re duce that debt. They raised subscriptions in the locality, and by means of a bazaar and the generosity of the summer visitors they reduced the debt to £2,000. But even now we find we cannot get a loan without wiping out the debt altogether. Such cases are very hard. I hope that while considering the question of grants the right honourable Gentleman will do what he can to facilitate loans under the present system. I can say that we heartily thank him for the sympathetic way in which he has treated this most important question.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Forfar)
I wish to make an appeal to the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in the spirit of the reply which he has made to those honourable Members who have spoken. No one, I am sure, holds that Parliament should be otherwise than very chary in committing itself to any policy of increasing loans or grants towards any industry. But what I would ask the right honourable Gentleman is to give us a little more of the wisdom and attention of Parliament in this matter. What we ask for is not wholly money. The conditions of the fishing industry have been entirely changed within the last 828 few years. All the methods which have been hitherto adopted to meet the difficulties of the industry are methods which have been rendered more or less out of date. These changes have taken place since the last inquiry into the sea fisheries was instituted. And now these small isolated communities on the seaboard of Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom are precluded from taking the part which they have hitherto taken in the fishing industry of the country. It is perfectly impossible for them in the changed conditions to compete with the larger boats—even when they go further out from the coast—which are now employed by not only our own countrymen, but by the fishermen of other nations. Then we have got to meet a very deliberately organised and far-seeing policy on the part of other countries who fish with us in the waters of the North Sea. All these facts point to the conclusion that we are asking our fishermen in these small isolated communities to do the impossible. I dislike extremely on the part of any branch of industry in the country to come forward repeatedly to ask for grants or doles in order that it may get through the difficulties of their occupation. It is a most demoralising process, pauperising in the highest degree, and leads them to rely on the Government in a way which we know is hopeless for them, for Parliament seldom or never listens to these appeals. But I would remind the right honourable Gentleman that not so many years ago there was an attempt to meet these difficulties in connection with the Sea Fisheries. The right honourable the President of the Board of Trade, in making the very grateful offer that he did to increase materially the grants, laid down a certain number of conditions under which the grants were to be made. The local authority was to be responsible, and it must guarantee the expense of the maintenance of the harbours, and there were a number of other perfectly reasonable and very wise precautions. What I want to point out to him is that there was a Sea Fisheries Bill before this House which laid on the public authorities in Scotland precisely these obligations which he wishes to impose on the local authorities in carrying out harbour works. Rating powers were also included in that Measure, so that 829 counties not wholly interested in the fishing industry should be able to delegate to that portion of the county which was interested in the fisheries power to carry out any necessary works. But, as the House is aware, the very essence of that Bill, that is to say, the rating powers, which were assented to in this House, were, if my memory serves me right, excised from the Bill when it went to be considered in another place. A proposal was made before this House last Session of a very limited character, which was intended to meet the difficulty. If I am not troubling the House with matter of detail, I will remind the right honourable Gentleman that, as a matter of fact, at the present time, if a county council or other local authority makes a proposal for a fishery harbour in Scotland—including a number of other local authorities in neighbouring counties which have all a common interest in this matter—if all these make a proposal, and only one local authority chooses to object to the course contemplated, the Secretary for Scotland, by the terms of the Act, is forbidden to take the application which comes from the communities interested even into his consideration. Well, honourable Members on this side of the House laid before Parliament last year and the year before a Measure intended to remove that grievance. It is to this point that I want very respectfully to ask the attention of the right honourable Gentleman. It is not good for Parliament or for any of us to be perpetually coming to Parliament for doles and grants for any particular industry. But it is of vast importance that the interests of an integral part of the nation should be preserved, in the face of an organised attempt by foreign countries to set on a better footing their interests in the fishing industry in the North Sea. I think our Government will be very far from fulfilling their duty in the altered circumstances of the case if they do not take some action. As the right honourable Gentleman is aware, a Hydro-graphical Conference is to meet this year in order to endeavour to place on some sound basis researches and scientific experiments in regard to sea, fisheries, especially in the North Sea. These are necessary as a first step to the closure and protection of areas on the coasts of the various 830 countries bordering on the North Sea. I do venture most respectfully to ask the right honourable Gentleman in every way to extend and encourage the operations of that Conference. Some of us have been for several years endeavouring to get the attention of the Government drawn to the importance of this matter. And, now that we have these foreign countries consenting to send delegates to that Conference on this subject, I would ask the right honourable Gentleman to lend his' aid and influence with the Government to encourage the step which has been taken. Again, I repeat the sentiment with which I began—what we want is more of the wisdom and attention of Parliament. Money has been repeatedly wasted, and will be wasted; it is very apt to be wasted by sums being given to one interest or another in different parts of the country. It is only with the greatest difficulty that can be prevented. But it must materially help to guide these fishing communities and the men who get a hard livelihood as fishermen if we have some Debate on the, difficulties of their calling and situation. We have been spoiled by our favourable conditions as compared with the foreign countries to which the right honourable Gentleman has alluded. These have a very great difficulty in organising a good supply of food for their people. As the right honourable Gentleman knows, the centre of Europe and countries far from the seaboard have the greatest, difficulty in organising the fish-food supply, while we are in a very enviable position in this matter. We have taken things, however, too easily, while other countries are coming up to us stride by stride. I would urge the right honourable Gentleman to consider whether he could not either let us have some inquiry on the subject, or make some attempt to form localised public opinion, so as to direct the attention of all those who are interested, to help in the matter.
MR. J. H. ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
As the representative of a constituency which has a coast line admitted to be of an absolutely dangerous character, I cannot help rising to say that I am very glad to receive some assurance from the right honourable the President of the Board 831 of Trade that, in oases where local harbours are urgently needed, he, as President of the Board of Trade, would be willing to consider whether grants could not be made. Speaking for myself, I submit that a grant in aid for harbours on the Welsh coast is a grant in aid of the safety of the lives of seamen. On the part of the coast of Wales to which I refer there is scarcely a great gale without some ship being driven on the coast, sometimes with the loss of life, and frequently with great loss of property. I am sorry the right honourable Gentleman does not see his way to agree to the proposal made by honourable Members who have taken part in the Debate, in regard to the cheapening of the procedure for obtaining the passage of Provisional Orders dealing with harbours through the House. He has informed the House that the cost is not great, but my experience is that the cost incurred in cases of that kind is very much higher than the comparatively small expenditure to which he has referred. Would it not be possible to have Provisional Orders dealing with local needs of that kind dealt with by the county councils of the country? If I am not mistaken, the right honourable Gentleman himself, in his first draft of the Local Government Bill of 1888, granted certain large powers in regard to Provisional Orders with reference to gas water, and other things to the county councils. I hope, at all events, that this Debate will be the means of drawing the attention of the Government to the matter, although I do not in any way desire to diminish the importance of the assurance which the right honourable Gentleman has given in regard to grants in aid of necessitous cases. We are well satisfied with that assurance so far as it goes. I wish to associate myself entirely with the remarks of my honourable Friend the Member for Kincardineshire, that this question will not be satisfactorily settled until a definite and settled policy in regard to it is adopted by the Government, and continued by successive Governments in the years to come. I hope that this Debate will be the means of drawing public attention to the real need there is for improvement in our harbours, and the condition of our seamen and fishermen. If it does that, and nothing more, and with the assurance of the right honourable Gentleman the President of the 832 Board of Trade, the Debate will certainly not have been in vain.
*MR. WEIK (Ross and Cromarty)
I was glad to hear the promise made by the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that in poorer districts he will consider the desirability of making grants for harbours. In many instances it is quite impossible for the people to make the harbours so much needed themselves. I am sure that many honourable Members will be glad to have, in addition to the assurance of the President of the Board of Trade, the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he will agree to the grants being made. When the Light Railways Bill was before the House I called special attention to the case of the poorer districts in the Highlands and Islands, but no more consideration has been given to these poorer districts of the Highlands than to the rich districts of England and the Lowlands of Scotland. We have the Congested Districts Board, which has power to make small doles for boat slips and piers, but we want harbours of refuge. Surely this is a matter which should engage the attention of the Government. There is frequently terrible loss of life for want of these harbours of refuge. In my own constituency, a short time since, 19 lives were lost owing to the want of a harbour at Portnaguran, Island of Lewis. The Walpole Commission on Harbours of Refuge stated that Portnaguran was a suitable place for a harbour of refuge, and strongly recommended the construction of such a harbour there. But nothing has been done. It is very hard that the Island of Lewis should remain in the same condition as to harbours as it was forty or fifty years ago. There is not a harbour in the Island of Lewis suitable for large fishing boats, except Stornoway. Now, with a harbour at Portnaguran fish could be speedily sent to market, and the enormous risks run by our fishermen on a wild and stormy coast would be diminished. There is the harbour at Port Ness, also in the Island of Lewis, which is in a worse condition than it was twenty years ago. On the east side of the county there is the harbour of Portmahomack, a harbour which, year after year, is silting up, and the result is that Portmahomack, instead of being the prosperous 833 place it should be, is declining. I do not know whether the Solicitor-General knows the place, but I sincerely hope he will put in a word for harbours on the north coast of Scotland. I would beg the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take this matter up, for, after all, it is money that is wanted. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer buttons up his pockets and says, "I won't give the money," the President of the Board of Trade cannot do what his generous heart would prompt him to do. Millions of money are squandered in foreign parts, while these important matters at home are left unheeded. The right honourable Gentleman has spoken of the importance of looking after the welfare of our seamen, but why have we foreign seamen manning our ships? We ought to take greater care of our fishing population Look at the great and growing expenditure on our Navy. I do not grudge that expenditure, but what about men to man the Navy? Many of our young men in the Highlands have to go to other lands in order to earn a living, or worse still to large cities to swell the overcrowded population—all this in consequence of the need of suitable harbour accommodation around our coasts and the destruction of the fishing banks by trawlers. But I will not touch on trawling. These matters do not receive the attention of the Government which they deserve, and I shall be very glad, before the Debate is ended, to hear some statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he will show willingness to help this work, not only in the North of Scotland but all round our coasts. Take the coast of Norfolk, for instance. It is in a very bad way. Many parts of the English coast are in a similar condition. I say that harbours of refuge ought to be provided by the State, and the burden not laid on the shoulders of the local authority.
§ *SIR S. SCOTT (Marylebone)
Is the honourable Member for Ross-shire aware that there are two good harbours of refuge in the Hebrides, near the places he has mentioned, namely, Loch Seaforth, a large sea loch, a part of which divides Lewis from Harris, the rest being in Lewis, about 30 or 35 miles south of Stornoway; and East Loch Tarbert, in Harris, 40 miles from 834 Stornoway? And is the honourable Member also not aware that harbour works are being caried out at the Island of Scalpay, 30 miles from Stornoway, at West Loch Tarbert?
§ *MR. WEIR
That is the constituency of the honourable Member for Inverness-shire, whom I look around for in vain. But I hold here in my hand a list of the piers partially constructed under the Highlands and Islands Board, which has now ceased to exist, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer withdrew the funds for these small works.
§ *SIR E. DURNING-LAWRENCE
I only want to say a very few words in announcing that I shall, with the consent of the House, withdraw the Motion. In doing so, I desire to thank the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the sympathetic words that he has spoken, and I trust that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear them in mind. I also wish to associate myself with the honourable Member for Forfarshire and other honourable Gentlemen who think it is the duty of the Government to take some steps to see that harbours are provided all along our coasts. I repeat that it seems to me a cruel thing that, on the coast of Essex, tens of thousands of tons of slag are thrown away into the sea when the smallest expenditure of money and a little time and care would ensure that these thousands of tons of slag should be so deposited as to largely assist in forming an effective mole for a harbour. I ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.