§ Mr. FELL
I desire to refer to the position of the towns on the East Coast which have suffered in such an exceptional manner owing to the War. Though the question only concerns a small number of Members of this House and their constituents, yet it concerns them to such an exceptional degree that they could not but choose to take advantage of the opportunity which the Consolidated Fund Bill gives to bring to the attention of the House and the Government, and particularly the Local Government Board, the position of those towns which are suffering so grievously. It is with extreme regret I have to bring this matter forward. Personally I regret it immensely. I never thought when I was first elected to represent one of those towns that we should have hereafter to come before the House of Commons and put before them the position of those towns and the unfortunate circumstances in which they stand. The geographical position has so affected them that while a great part of England, Scotland, and Ireland has benefitted even commercially by the War, these particular towns on the East Coast of England have suffered to a degree which I believe is only known to some extent, and which Members of the House do not yet, I think, fully realise. It will be my endeavour to put before the House some description of the unfortunate position of some of those towns, and particularly of the one which I represent (Great Yarmouth), which is one of the largest and which has suffered probably the most. To have to do so is 2588 a matter of regret, because those towns in the past were as prosperous as any in the Kingdom. They were well managed by corporations and other public bodies, who did so in a liberal way, and who spent large sums of money in beautifying them, putting up sea walls, laying out gardens, building piers, installing electric light and such other things as were required for progressive towns such as these were. Up to the year 1914, and the middle of that year, they were prosperous, and that year seemed as if it were going to be one of even greater prosperity than any of the preceding years.
At the time the War broke out the town I represent was filled with visitors. The moment war was declared panic notices appeared in many of the papers and rumours were spread about that the East Coast would be attacked, and that there would be no more trains to take the people away, with the result that the visitors crowded to the stations and left as rapidly as they could. The steamers ceased to bring visitors, and, instead of that, took people away for the short while they continued to run. By the end of that August all excursion trains and special trains and all trains of that kind which accommodate visitors were entirely suspended, and maximum charges were enforced which visitors from London could not pay. The season was killed, and all the great expense which the people of these towns had gone to in preparation for the season was naturally wasted. They had to break a great many contracts which they entered into, and they received letters from people who had taken rooms, declaring that the War released them and had broken their contracts. That was the position at the end of August, 1914. In those towns, and particularly in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, there is a great herring fishing. I cannot think that many Members realise what that fishery means. The catch, of course, varies somewhat, but on the whole it has been growing steadily, and the number of herring landed in Yarmouth in one season has reached, I believe, something like four or five hundred million fish. In addition to the work provided at the time of the catch, there was also the work during the curing season for a large number of the inhabitants of these towns. In addition to that, there are a large number of works totally employed in preparation for these fisheries. There were great factories 2589 turning out every day hundreds of barrels in which these herrings were packed and sent abroad. There were big factories which turned out tens of thousands of boxes in which these fish were sent away. All these works provided a large amount of industry during the autumn and winter. In the year before the War there were upwards of a thousand boats engaged in the herring fishery from the port of Yarmouth alone. A large number of these boats of the better class were taken by the Admiralty and have since been scattered throughout the seas over which the operations of the War extend. There are patrol-boats and mine-sweepers from these towns throughout the North Sea, in Gallipoli, in the Levant, and in the Channel. That means the absence from these towns of the boats which used to make them their headquarters. They used to buy their provisions there, and the men coming ashore for a few days brought continuous business to the towns. While they are in the Mediterranean there is, of course, no such profit for the towns, as the food and so on is otherwise provided. Moreover, the sea in the neighbourhood is strewn with mines, and last year the fishing was limited to a particular area of about sixty square miles. When the herrings came into that area the boats were able to catch some, but when they disappeared from that restricted region the boats were not able to follow them because of the mines and other dangers. Hence, what fishing there was came to an end much sooner than it would otherwise have done.
The position of these towns is that they have lost their visitors, upon whom I understand they depend for something like 40 per cent. of their income; they have lost their fishing, which represents about 30 per cent. of their living. The amount represented by the shopkeepers is approximately 20 per cent., and the other 10 per cent. represents people with private means. These towns have held meetings and formed committees to consider what shall be done. They have appointed their mayors and town clerks to these committees; they have held anxious conferences together; they have laid their case on more than one occasion before the Local Government Board. The position in many cases was so acute that lodging-house keepers were selling their furniture piece by piece to pay their rent and rates. When such persons sell their furniture their means of livelihood in the future is 2590 gone, and there is little prospect before them but the workhouse. The Local Government Board met them very well, and arranged that a portion of the fund resulting from the sale of a large amount of wheat which Canada generously gave to this country in the early days of the War should be applied for the benefit of these unfortunate lodging-house keepers, mostly women. I believe the Canadians said that this would be most pleasing to them, and that their money could not be better used. Relief has been granted according to a scale arranged among themselves and approved by the Local Government Board, and the money has been most beneficially spent. Besides these lodging-house keepers, there are the small shopkeepers and all the indefinite little trades which exist in towns that cater for visitors and the fishing industry. These are all very seriously affected, with the result that the rates are being collected with the greatest difficulty. Many people have found it absolutely impossible to pay their rates. The question for the municipalities then arises whether they shall raise their rates, thereby causing the few who can pay to suffer still more. But that is the only alternative to bankruptcy, unless the Government come to their assistance in some way or other.
It is with the greatest regret that I suggest that these towns are in this position, and that I should have to ask the sympathy and assistance of this House. If they could by any means be kept going in their own way, so that at the end of the War they could resume their ordinary activities, that would be the best thing that could happen for them. It is no good suggesting new industries or the undertaking of public work. I believe it is the fact that no towns have sent a larger number proportionately to the Army and Navy than these towns have. The fishermen particularly have all gone; they are in the patrol boats and minesweepers. I was at Yarmouth last week, and there were practically no young men about at all; there were only old men, women, and children. I went to the biggest hotel in the town a fortnight ago; I was the only visitor there. But they are keeping open bravely, trying to put the best face on things, and hoping that visitors may come. One can understand the loss that must be incurred in such circumstances. I was there again last week. 2591 I went to a large private hotel or boarding house capable of accommodating sixty people, and from which visitors are often turned away. Again I was the only visitor there. It was too sad to go through the streets and see everything ready, but absolutely no one there. Worse than that, a considerable number of local inhabitants have, owing to the Zeppelin raids and the two bombardments, left the town; some have gone to the interior and come into their work every day, while others have left, I will not say for good, but at any rate for a while. We are all sorry that they should be so nervous, but, of course, they are justified. I believe that the Zeppelins have been over Yarmouth more than thirty times. The people are getting accustomed to them; they know the whir of the Zeppelins, and can judge pretty well how far off and how high they are; but it is not a pleasant experience. The bombardment of last Easter Monday was the climax, and many people sent their families away, saying they dare not keep them there, and that if they could possibly afford to send them out of reach of the shells which went hurling over the town it was their duty to do so.
Under these circumstances the question is: What can be done? We have all been trying to make suggestions how to keep the towns going until the end of the War. The best thing, of course, would be to keep them going in their ordinary way. To do that wants a lot of people there. If we could have collected a large force of soldiers there, as has been done in other towns, it would largely have solved the problem. But for strategic reasons, into which I cannot enter, soldiers have not been sent there. We have had interviews with the War Office, but naturally soldiers are placed where they are strategically required, and not where the boarding or feeding of them might be beneficial to the town. That is quite right, but it is unfortunate for these towns, and it is an additional reason why they should claim our sympathy. Another suggestion was that convalescent soldiers should be sent there in large numbers. There is no place where there is so much or such good or such cheap accommodation. There is no place where men would recover more quickly. That is well known among doctors, who send patients there after operations, and so on. I do not see why 20,000 convalescents should not be sent there. If more Zeppelins 2592 came over or if another bombardment took place, which I very much doubt, I am certain the convalescent soldiers would not mind, but would gladly enjoy all the benefits which they would receive there. Beyond that I can suggest nothing but what the mayors are now engaged in considering, namely, that the Government should make a grant to these towns. I am not going to suggest what the amount should be or what direction it should take. That is a matter for the committee of mayors and town clerks to arrange with the Local Government Board. They only ask that the Local Government Board should send down inspectors to look into the matter on the spot and get information from all the sources they can as to what chances-there are of a revival this year or of the people pulling through without help. When they make their report we shall then be able to claim that other parts of the country, where the £300,000,000 which the House has voted is very largely going to be spent, and out of which large profits will be made, should help these other towns whose geographical position is as unfortunate, and where practically none of the money will be spent. I would appeal most earnestly to the Local Government Board in this matter. I would suggest to them that this is a case in which we should not only ask for Government aid, but claim aid from the Government, and that the Government must meet the case in some direction. I would ask that they should do their very best for the East Coast towns till after the War, and then, I am sure, trade will again revive there, and they will do their best to supply with herrings the other parts of the country.
§ Sir EDWARD BEAUCHAMP
I desire to endorse the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth. Anyone who knows anything at all about the conditions existing in many of these East Coast towns must be filled with sympathy for them, exposed as they are to the special risks of which we know. My sympathy particularly goes out to what I know to be the position existing in Lowestoft, Southwold, and other towns, not only in my Constituency, but in the adjoining county of Norfolk. The prosperity of Lowestoft, and also Yarmouth, depends mainly on two sources—that is, its popularity as a summer resort, and upon its fishing industry. The attractions of Lowestoft are many and varied. They have been fostered, 2593 developed, and popularised by the energy of the people who live there. The natural result has been that in recent years there has been an increasingly greater number of visitors coming into the town of Lowestoft. This has necessitated a large increase in the accommodation for these people. Houses which used to be private residences have now become boarding and lodging houses; a considerable number of streets have been laid out of comparatively small houses, which serve the purpose of catering for the visitors. Who are the people that chiefly occupy these boarding and lodging houses? They are, I think, generally speaking, either widows or spinsters, and these are the people who are feeling most acutely the conditions that have been brought about in these East Coast towns by the War. If they have bought their houses the chances are that a certain portion, at ary rate, of the purchase money is left on mortgage. If they rent the houses they have to pay the rent. Since the beginning of the War visitors have been very few and far between, and the consequence is that these unfortunate people get no rent; yet they have to pay interest upon their money, or suffer the consequences.
We have been told by the hon. Member for Yarmouth that certain relief has been granted to these people through the generosity of the Dominion Government—what is called the Canadian Fund. That, however, applies only, I think, to rents. These people get a certain proportion of relief from this, but they have to pay their rates. Their position, therefore, is clearly very difficult, and there is also the risk of much loss. My hon. Friend has also alluded to the fishing industry. He gave the number of herrings landed in a particular season. I have taken out figures from the Report of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, and I find that in 1913, the year before the War, the quantity of herrings in cwts. landed was 3,122,000. In 1914, after the outbreak of the War, the herring season yielded only 664,000 cwts. I refer now to Yarmouth. Lowestoft has been in a somewhat similar position. There was in 1913 landed there 2,155,000 cwts. of herrings, and in 1914 555,000 cwts. The herring fishery is one of the staple, if not indeed the principle, industry carried on by the people, and while it is proceeding a good deal of money comes into the town from various parts. The effect of the stoppage of the 2594 herring fishery and the breakdown of the visiting season, those two sources of prosperity to the towns, have had their effect upon the shopkeepers. Ever since the War started the conditions have been getting worse and worse in Lowestoft, Yarmouth, and the neighbouring places. We in Lowestoft have been subjected to a larger number of air raids than any other town in England, and the people have begun to get very nervous. Many of the wealthier people have left the town, while others who could do so have sent away their women and children because they were afraid of the risk to their lives of bombardment. People are afraid to stay, and have practically fled from the towns.
In order to give the House some idea of what the thing really means, I have been supplied with the figures of the average attendance of the children at the elementary schools of Lowestoft for the three years, ending 19th May, 1916, with the corresponding weeks of the previous years. In 1914 the average number for the week was 5,865; in 1915, 5,607; while in 1916 the attendance had fallen to 3,526. The towns have taken steps to reduce their outgoings. They are, however, suffering from a reduced yield of the rates, and this is a most serious matter. I can give the House some examples, though I do not want to trouble Members with too many figures. Take Cromer. The produce of the poor rate in the half-year ending September, 1913, was 89.8 per cent.; in March, 1914, it was 83.4; in September, 1914, it was 80.8; in March, 1915, it was 69.1; in September, 1915, it was 55.6, whilst in March of this year it had fallen to 44.6. With regard to Scarborough, where the figures represent yearly payment of rates, the yield to March 31st, 1914, was 90.2 per cent. On 31st March, 1915, it was 87.2; and for 1916 it was 70.3. Reverting for a moment to Yarmouth, a member of the board of guardians writes, that if the people did not pay it was not owing to lack of perseverance on the part of the rate collectors, who were doing their utmost. It was simply impossible for people to pay. The people had not the money, and therefore could not pay. Statistics have been prepared and will be put forward in order that the Local Government Board may have all the facts, and I feel perfectly certain that, with those figures in front of them, the Local Government Board will be left in a position to meet an almost 2595 unanswerable case—perhaps, I should say, quite unanswerable case, for Government help.
It is not for me to say in what way relief should be given. If I were to do so, I should be usurping the place of those who have the matter in hand, and, of course, they know far better than I do what are the difficulties, and I feel sure they will point out to the Government the way in which they consider that assistance can best be arranged. I feel perfectly certain, from what I know of the right hon. Gentleman, that he will give, not only careful, but very sympathetic consideration to the case which is put before him. What the inhabitants are asking is: What are the burdens they will have to bear? It is not only the present position, but the future position also which has to be considered. These unfortunate towns have to look on and see other towns more fortunately situated reaping the advantage which arises from their own disadvantage, and at the end of the War the people in the fortunate towns will have their rates certainly not increased, but perhaps decreased, while the people on the East Coast will have their rates increased. I am given to understand that when people make inquiries with regard to lodging-houses and look about to see what town they will go to, it is rates, and not rents, which govern their decision. What is done for the corporations is one thing, and does not directly touch the people to whom my hon. Friend refers, the lodging-house keepers and tradesmen, and I cannot help thinking that the Government cannot to-day be absolutely passive in face of the misfortunes and troubles of these poor people, not through any fault of their own, but from the action of the enemy. I do urge the Government, therefore, at all events to consider some scheme which would enable these people to tide over the difficulty during the War.
I am sorry that there is no one on the Front Bench representing the War Office, because I have to put particularly to the War Office the subject of billeting. I had this question of billeting brought before me, and when the bombardment took place I was also asked to communicate with the War Office to see whether they could not send some more troops into the town in order to reassure the people. I wrote on 2nd May, but by the 12th I had received no reply, not even an acknowledgment. I wrote again to the War Office to press 2596 for a reply, and two or three days afterwards I received an acknowledgment. I then went to the Horse Guards and was promised a reply, which I have not received. What I want to point out is this: there are a certain number of troops there at the present time, but those troops are not billeted, which is rather a grievance in those towns. There are a certain number of untenanted houses, and they make use of those houses for the troops. If they would billet the troops on the inhabitants it would afford a certain advantage—I do not say very much—to the people if they are able to get a little money from that source, and more money is spent in the town. Instead of that, the troops go to untenanted houses, and are provided with rations, not from Lowestoft or Yarmouth, and I do think that the authorities, if they can do so, should provide their provisions in the places in which the regiments are located, especially in the case of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, at a time when the inhabitants are suffering so much. I do urge upon the Local Government Board to do what they can, not merely for the corporation, but for the other inhabitants.
§ Mr. BUXTON
No one can doubt that the appeal and proposal so ably put forward by my hon. Friend is one of extraordinary urgency, being an appeal not only to generosity, but also to justice. It is not necessary for other Members, following the very masterly exposition of the facts, to elaborate them further in detail, and I have no need to describe the conditions of the places which I particularly represent. Members of this House are nearly all of them familiar with Cromer, Sheringham, Mundesley, and the villages near, and they know not only what are the charms of those places, and of the East Coast generally, but they also know how much the inhabitants and local bodies of those places have done to cater for the comforts of visitors. Only to point the moral and illustrate the general facts which have already been given, let me add just this, that in one small part of the area I represent it is computed that in a single season the amount of money spent by visitors is less now than before the War by £150,000. That brings to mind the innumerable cases of distress, hardship and affliction involved in such a great change. It seems to me that this appeal is justly made, not on local or parochial grounds at all. It is made on grounds of high policy. On those 2597 grounds, in the first place, it is in the interests of the nation that social prosperity should not be allowed to be upset by an abnormal occurrence. It is a very sound rule—and I myself was brought up in the school of the Charity Organisation Society—that the Government should not intervene to relieve distress which is normal, but distress which is entirely abnormal it is not to be expected that people will insure against. No one will deny that this is a case absolutely abnormal, and, let us hope, will never occur again. It is abnormal in that the staple industry of those places is totally ruined, and, as we have heard, the population has to some extent moved. And who can exaggerate the importance of a fact such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend, that the statistics of school attendance show a removal in some cases of something like 40 per cent.? Places inland have, many of them, been compensated for war conditions by the arrival of troops, but places on the coast, for which an appeal is made to-day, have not received compensation. Far from receiving any unusual boon, as many places have done by the quartering of troops, the number of troops bringing money into the district is not at all large, but, indeed, very small in the East Coast places. The distress has been accentuated since the bombardment of a few weeks ago.
May I just briefly review the three grounds on which it appears to me that the President of the Local Government Board will not ignore this appeal? It is a matter of relief of distress which is absolutely abnormal. But there is a wider view in which, it seems to me, it is urgent. It appears to me that it can be viewed as a matter affecting the interests of the War and high statesmanship. On military grounds, secondly, I think it is urgent. The country and the inhabitants of the East Coast in a very high degree have risen to the necessities and duties of the War with marvellous and splendid spirit. They have made all the sacrifices, and many of them have been extremely heavy, without a thought of grudging, and it is surely in the national interest that every possible cause for a sense of injustice should be avoided. I do urge that not to respond to this appeal would savour somewhat of injustice, because not only has the loss of income been suddenly inflicted on the East Coast, but the particular burdens due to the danger of attack fall mainly on the East Coast. The burden of insurance, whether justly inflicted or not, has fallen upon those who 2598 are most likely to suffer from bombardment, or, as in recent cases, from the explosion of mines on shore, and that constitutes a double burden which has fallen on those districts. I do think, in view of the splendid spirit in which the country has supported the War, it is a matter of national interest that the slightest sense of injustice should be avoided. There is another ground, perhaps equally high, or higher, the Imperial ground. The matter has given occasion to a very extraordinary and unprecedented act—a gift by the Canadian Government for the relief of distress in one district of England. Such a thing has never been heard of, I think, in the history of the world. Certainly such a thing could not occur anywhere outside the limits of the British Empire. Surely it is a matter of high policy that there should be to such an unparalleled act of generosity a response, a generous recognition, by the Imperial Government. Canada has set a great example, and I have sufficient knowledge of the Dominions to know that a response by the Imperial Government might, and certainly would, have a very keen recognition and appreciation. I happen to have been on the staff of an Australian Governor, and I know in what a high degree the Imperial feeling is a matter of pure sentiment, attachment which is not based on reason or interest, but which is purely sentimental in the highest sense. The people of the Dominions talk of home in a very peculiar and meaning way, and I believe that a response to their act, whose effect will have been keenly noticed in Canada, is worth considering, and would have a high value. I do trust that the President of the Local Government Board and the Under-Secretary will see in this matter an opportunity not only for justice, but for the exercise of high Imperial policy.
§ Mr. TICKLER
I beg to support the appeal which was so ably made by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I represent, in a part of my Constituency, the once prosperous watering place of Cleethorpes, which has been very hardly hit by the War. It is contiguous to Grimsby, and is often called a part of Grimsby. Consequently, many of the fishermen engaged in the fishing—
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. TICKLER
(continuing): I was remarking that Grimsby and Cleethorpes were contiguous, and that consequently a great many of the fishermen who are engaged in the fishing trade of Grimsby have come to live at Cleethorpes, and have made it their home. They have been very hardly hit at Cleethorpes by the War. The whole of the larger vessels have been taken over by the Admiralty for minesweepers and patrol purposes, and consequently there only remain the smaller and older vessels to do the fishing. These vessels have lately had further restrictions put upon them. It is well known that they can only go very short voyages because they cannot carry a sufficient supply of coal to take them a long voyage, but they have lately been restricted in fishing on the ground on which they used to find a good supply of fish, and of the better kind of fish, and therefore there is no prospect of them being able to earn a living. They have tried to earn a living on other grounds, but have been unable to do so. At Cleethorpes also there are a great many people who have gone there and taken larger houses than they would in the ordinary way have taken to supplement the small incomes which they have by taking lodgers. These people have, since the War began, found it very hard indeed to make both ends meet. It has been said that the Government have given a grant from the Dominion Governments to all these East Coast towns, and half of the fund, I believe, has already been administered. But as has been pointed out by a previous speaker, it has only been given for the relief of rent. There are a great many cases since this fund was administered which have been brought to my notice where the people have suffered very severely because they have not been able to take advantage of having their rent paid. It is well known to many Members that the rent is looked upon as of the first importance by a good many people, and cases have been brought before me where the tenants of the houses have sold articles of furniture and bedding to pay the rent. When they came before the committee who had this relief to dispense they find that they were disqualified from receiving it because the first thing they were asked was for the receipt for the rent, and if they owed any arrears of rent, and they could not say they did. They had sacrificed and sold their belong- 2600 ings to pay their rent, and for that reason they were debarred from participating in the benefits to which others who have neglected the rent and paid for other things were entitled. I may say that even this fund was hardly sufficient, and that it was laid down that no relief was to be given in excess of £30 to one tenant. Unless, therefore, they could show that their rent was in arrears they received no relief at all. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if he does consider and give a sympathetic ear to this appeal, will lay down some better rule for administering the relief fund by such a test as that, because I can assure him that there are a great many cases in which very great hardships have been suffered by people because they have paid the rent. They owed rates and perhaps other debts which they thought they could let wait, but they thought that before anything they should pay their rents, and therefore I hope that will be borne in mind in administering any relief that the Government may think proper to give.
I should like to remind the House that from Grimsby and Cleethorpes we have sent a very large contingent to the Navy, in the Naval Reserve, and volunteers for the mine sweepers and patrol boats. There is not less a number than 4,000 men who have volunteered for service on the mine sweepers and patrol boats. These, of course, live in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, and they are well provided for. Cleethorpes has not suffered perhaps so much as some of the other East Coast towns have, because it is contiguous to Grimsby and has the protection of the Fleet, and has not suffered as many air raids as some other places have. But I would like to point out to the House and the Government that the people living in the East Coast towns have to put up with what they consider is a very great hardship, that is, they have to bear, most of these people if they live in their own houses, insurance against not only aircraft bombardment but bombardment from the sea. They have a double insurance to make, and they are very badly able to afford it. They have had deputations from these towns, which have waited on the President of the Board of Trade to see whether some means could not be found for the Government to pay for this bombardment insurance, because they consider that they are called upon specially, owing to their proximity to the coast, to pay very heavy premiums because they 2601 live there. They think that as they contribute to the taxes of the country and to the carrying on of the War they are entitled to the protection of the State for these heavy burdens which are cast upon them. That is a matter which the President of the Board of Trade told them could not be entertained, and that they could not be given any relief in that way. I hope, however, that the Local Government Board will consider their case, and be able to give them some relief in this matter. I am very pleased indeed to inform the House that, although my Constituency consists of about 100,000 population, I have not had since this War began, and since we had this Military Service Bill, one single letter from anyone who is a conscientious objector. I have not had one write to me complaining that they were suffering any hardship by being called upon to serve their country owing to conscientious objections which they held. I am very proud indeed to be able to say so, because I have not much faith in conscientious objection myself, and I am very proud to say that in Grimsby, so far as I know, we have none. I beg to support the appeal of the hon. Members, as I am sure that the people who live on the East Coast are suffering very severely and bearing more than their burden, and I am sure more than they are able to bear, in this War. I hope, therefore, that it will have the sympathetic consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
Like the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, who represents one of the towns on the Lincolnshire coast, I should like to bring before the House the matter of those groups of towns which have suffered equally with regard to the lack of visitors as Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and the other towns of Norfolk and Suffolk have suffered, and I would make an appeal to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher), whom I have already seen some time ago about it. I think the Local Government Board quite understands the position now, as they have had so many letters, so many petitions, and so many statements from the different towns. While we have had the matter placed before the House by the hon. Member for Yarmouth, the hon. Member for Lowestoft, and one of my hon. Friends here, the consideration is not the same, particularly with regard to one town to which I will call attention—Mablethorpe. We have not a large fishing population there, and the whole population is practically dependent upon those who come down for the seaside in the 2602 summer time. They are particularly hard hit. Taking Mablethorpe and other adjoining places, such as Sutton-on-Sea and Skegness, the three towns are entirely dependent on the people who come there, because whatever the air of Yarmouth and Lowestoft may be, I can assure the House that the air of the Lincolnshire coast towns is as good, if not better.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I have nothing to say in depreciation of Scarborough in the least. I would only quote one or two figures. I have them from one tradesman in Mablethorpe. On Whit-Monday, 1914, he supplied 1,000 meals. On Whit-Monday, 1915, he supplied seven meals. I give that illustration in order to show what the suffering of everybody in these places must be when the meals provided by one tradesman are reduced from 1,000 to seven in one day. There is more than one way in which these towns can be specially supported and helped, and I do think that some help should be given them. There are, at any rate, four ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Sir E. Beauchamp) said that in his constituency it was complained that they did not billet soldiers on private houses. The same complaint comes from the Lincolnshire coast towns. The houses are empty of visitors, but in nearly all the East Coast towns they have not allowed the soldiers to be billeted. If the soldiers at present in those towns were billeted upon the inhabitants it would greatly help, and the people would far rather earn money in that way than have relief in some other way. The withdrawal of the tourist tickets this year makes it much worse. I know that my right hon. Friend has nothing to do with that matter, but, perhaps, the Local Government Board will bring before the Board of Trade and the Railway Committee the difference it would make to these towns if the tourist tickets were again allowed, as they were last year. It would not mean that a single extra train would have to be run. We do not want excursion trains, but simply tourist tickets. All it would mean would be that at week-ends—Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday—the same trains would run full instead of half empty. It could be done without running a single extra train, and if it were done it would help all these towns more than any relief they could possibly have.
2603 Mablethorpe is a town specially suited for restoring the nerves. There is already one institution there specially for nerves, and if they would only send a large number of convalescent soldiers to these East Coast towns, where there are houses empty, and where they are quite ready to set up a committee to take charge of them and to see that they are properly billeted and treated, instead of sending them elsewhere at greater expense, it would be of great assistance, and the soldiers would recover sooner. If we cannot have assistance in any one of these three directions, we are obliged to fall back upon a Grant, because the people cannot live on nothing. There are as independent people on the East Coast—both South East and North East—as you can find in any part of the country, and they would not ask charity of anybody if it were not a case of necessity. It is not their own doing at all. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to do something either through his own Board or in various other ways, such, for instance, as bringing his influence to bear on the Board of Trade for the resumption of tourist tickets and on the War Office so that convalescent soldiers may be sent to these holiday places where they will recover more quickly and get back to the front sooner to fight again for their country. We have had undobutedly from the Lincolnshire Coast as many fishermen join the Navy and as many men enlist in the Army as from any other part of the country. I do therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to do something in this case of necessity. I know it is a case of necessity, because I have been there, and the people cannot pay their rents or their rates, although they wish to do so, unless something is done and done quickly.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
If the House had been full, I am quite sure that every Member would have sympathised with the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) when he got up to-day to picture the deep and deplorable distress which has overtaken the town which he represents and the other towns which are represented by many eloquent and forcible speakers who have addressed us to-day. Yarmouth and Cromer, and Louth and Grimsby, have been fortunate to have speakers to represent them and their case to-day, but I can say that the Local Government Board 2604 have been approached by the Members of these other thirty-five towns who are all more or less in the same boat and all more or less affected by the War in the same manner. We have been approached by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Rea), who has taken a deep interest in this question, and by many other hon. Members representing these thirty-five towns, and I can assure my hon. Friend that both the President of the Local Government Board and myself have been made thoroughly well acquainted with the case that they have put before the House to-day. I do not think that the picture was in the very least exaggerated. The picture of many of these East Coast towns is indeed one which might appeal to anybody. Bombardment following bombardment, air raids, sea raids, the absence of the usual holiday-makers who go down to these places and from which they have hitherto derived such benefit, excursion trains ceasing to run, tourist tickets withdrawn, double insurance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Tickler) noted just now, having to be effected by the owners of these lodging-houses and shops—all these things tend to make a deplorable picture of gloom, and I wish I could offer some real hope that this gloom is likely to be removed at a very early date. I am afraid that I cannot do so.
It is a problem which must be approached by those who will have to approach it—and recollect this is more a case for the Treasury than for the Local Government Board—from the point of view that this distress is likely to continue after the War, because of the depletion of stocks and the many things that will affect these places. Even if we knew that this summer would see the very last of the bombardments, as we hope it will, and the last of the sea raids and air raids, as we hope it will, there would still be the scare, more or less, attaching to the past misfortunes which these towns have had to suffer. The fact that lodging-housekeepers have sold their furniture and that tradesmen have depleted their stocks in order to pay their rates, and the fact that industries have been wiped out for a time, and cannot be very rapidly re-established—all these things tend to affect these places. If we look at the question of the rates, the question of the debts that they have incurred, and the question of the loans that they have properly borrowed, we are faced with a problem which cannot 2605 be approached by anybody as a matter which will be cured immediately the War is over, but must be approached as a matter which will endure in some form, though not, perhaps, an acute form, after the War is over. The effect of all this has been to wipe out many of the great industries upon which these places depend, such as the herring industry, and so on, and that, no doubt, has caused a large reduction in the produce of the rates and made it very difficult indeed to collect the rates and for some of these municipalities to meet the instalments and the interest on their former loans.
All these matters are true, and I do not think that they have been at all exaggerated by any of those who have addressed the House. We all of us have very great sympathy with the lodging-house keepers who, after all, constitute the bulk of the population, certainly in Yarmouth and Scarborough and other places. After all, the East Anglian towns are always the natural playing grounds of our great cities, and if there were no lodging-house keepers there would be no lodgings, and if there were no lodgings where would all the children from London, Manchester, Birmingham, and our large towns go to restore their health and recuperate, as is so necessary in the case of children who have to spend their lives in our great cities? We must all feel that just as individuals have to bear one another's burdens, so towns ought to have great sympathy with one another, and ought to regard any help which the Government may give and which may be spread over the towns of the country as an obligation which they may well share and bear.
The misfortunes of these towns are hard to bear in any case, but they are rendered harder to bear by the irony of the fact that while some towns have had to endure the misfortunes of bombardment and air raids, other towns are more prosperous through the War than they have ever been in any period of their history. It is one of the ironies of war that just as some individuals are ruined others are made wealthy beyond all dreams of avarice. So some towns and parts of England are made miserable and poverty-stricken by the War, whereas other towns and districts are enriched and made happier than they ever were. Therefore there is something to be said for any Government proposing something in the nature of special relief for towns specially hard hit by the War, such as those which have 2606 been represented here to-day. Everybody almost has alluded to the magnificent gift made by Canada, which has done something to alleviate the sufferings of many of these lodging-house keepers. After all, what was £150,000 amongst so many as have had to be relieved? It was something material, no doubt, and it has helped many a lodging-house keeper to keep going for a short time, and has done much in the way of sympathy because sympathy is of much use to us when we are in trouble. We cannot be too grateful to our Canadian brethren oversea for this very kind and generous gift which has been so well utilised by the President of the Local Government Board in distributing it amongst the towns which have suffered special hardship through the War. I am well aware that the same causes which have contributed to the misfortunes which we have endeavoured to relieve by the distribution of that gift are still operating and will continue to operate to deepen the distress of these unfortunate East Coast towns.
My hon. Friends may rely upon it that, so far as I am concerned, the appeals which have been made to me will not fall upon deaf ears. I am a past chairman on the East Anglian Society in London, and there is no single place which has been mentioned to-day, from Scarborough as far down as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft in which I have not spent many happy days, not only in the days of my youth, but up to quite recent years. I have every sympathy, personally and otherwise, with the appeals of my hon. Friends.
We now come to the remedies. A number of suggestions have been made, not for the first time. There has been the suggestion of the possibility of billeting troops in many of these towns. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, more than a year ago, approached the War Office with a view of getting something done in the way of billeting troops in the eastern towns, but we were then met by arguments—and, no doubt, good arguments—that for reasons well known to the military authorities billeting could not take place in some of these towns. Another matter on which representations have been made to the War Office has been as to the possibility of using these towns as places of convalescence for many thousands of our sick and wounded soldiers who would undoubtedly benefit very greatly from the keen air of these towns. I will take care 2607 that both of these matters are again represented to the War Office. There may be insuperable reasons on the part of the military authorities, however, for not applying either of these remedies. Then there is the question mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. T. Davies), that of tourists' tickets. The hon. Member assured me it would be possible to issue these tickets without increasing the number of trains, or rolling stock, or the staff of men required to be employed on the railways for looking after holiday passenger traffic. That is largely a question for consideration by the Board of Trade, and I will take care that representations regarding it are again placed before that Department, with a view to seeing whether that is one of the remedies that can be adopted for this unhappy state of affairs.
It has been suggested that new industries might be set up. We have often considered the possibility of planting new industries, but it is a thing which is not easily done. It has been done to a small extent in the way of starting the toy industry, but everybody will know how extraordinarily difficult it is at a time like this to plant any new industry in the place of old industries. See what splendid industries these old industries are. Take the herring fishery and the fishing industry. No small industry, like the toy making or basket making industry, could do any appreciable good in taking the place of these magnificent industries which have been so useful to this country, and by means of which most of these places have lived and prospered. We have got to do our best to keep alive the old industries, to revive them as soon as we possibly can.
Meanwhile these places are suffering from a burden of debt which they incurred in former times. There again you have the irony of the situation that present depression is accentuated by former prosperity. It was their former prosperity that induced these boroughs to borrow money for all kinds of purposes — recreation grounds and other purposes calculated to promote restoration to health. They borrowed the money, quite wisely, and spent it on improving their places, on giving them amenities which they had not hitherto possessed with a view to attracting visitors to come and enjoy them. Undoubtedly one or two of these places have suffered severely from owning their own 2608 gasworks, their own waterworks, or their tramways. Now they are called upon to pay heavy instalments of debt at a time when it is very difficult to get money from the ratepayers. I can assure my hon. Friends who have brought this matter forward that the Local Government Board are following this matter up very closely indeed. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board is thoroughly sympathetic on this question, and we are now awaiting further information of a detailed character with regard to the finances and financial burdens of the different localities. The information is being obtained for us by a Committee of town clerks, borough accountants, and chief borough officials in all these places. I believe the information was to have reached us to-day, and I am quite sure that immediately we do get it it will be thoroughly discussed. It is not easy to apply any general policy in dealing with a question of this kind. Each and every one of these places, although they all suffer from the same cause, may be in a different situation so far as finance is concerned. Some places own their tramways or their gas and waterworks; others do not. Some have large debts; others have but small debts. Some have a high rateable value; some a low rateable value; some have much greater difficulty in collecting their rates than others. All these matters will have to be very carefully scrutinised from the financial point of view. But I can assure my hon. Friends who have made such forcible speeches on the subject that directly we obtain the detailed information we shall explore it most thoroughly, we shall consider the cases of the towns both individually and collectively. We shall then be in a position to make our recommendations to the Treasury, and then it will be for my hon. Friends to make their appeals to the Treasury for the particular form of assistance which under the circumstances may commend itself to the Treasury. This is not a local, but a great national question, which it is the duty of the nation not only to sympathise with but to deal with in some practical way.