HL Deb 27 February 1891 vol 350 cc1801-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, this Bill has been for some time before your Lordships' House, and I have now to ask you to give it a Second Reading. The object of the Bill is to alter and amend the constitution of the Fishery Board for Scotland. That Board as it at present exists was constituted under the Act of 1882, and it consists of nine members. Those members were all directly appointed by Her Majesty; three of them were bound to be sheriffs and one was nominated by Her Majesty to be Chairman of the Board. The alteration which I propose to make in the constitution of the Board is with the object of giving a more popular interest in its work. In order to show your Lordships the importance of the work which is undertaken by this Board, I should like to give very shortly some statistics showing the value of the fisheries as at present existing in Scotland. In 1889 the total value of the fish landed was £1,454,000,and the weight was 5,589,000 cwt., exclusive of the shell-fish, the value of which was £63,000, making a gross total with the other fish of £1,517,000. The number of boats employed off the coast of Scotland in fishing was 14,714, and their tonnage was 279,000 odd, representing capital to the amount of £1,603,000. The number of persons employed in connection with sea fishing on the Scottish coasts, exclusive of foreigners, was 109,757. Not only is the value of this fishing very great at this moment, but the importance of the sea fisheries is growing year by year, as will be seen by reference to the statistics of the herring fisheries. The number of barrels of herrings cured in 1889 was 7.63 per cent. above the average yearly number during the last ten years, 41.88 per cent. above the yearly average of the last 25 years, and 78.11 per cent, above the yearly average of the last 50 years. Furthermore, the growth of the herring fisheries has been advancing at an increasingly rapid rate. The increase of the yearly average for 1849–58 above that for 1839–48 was 15 per cent; for 1859–68, over 1849–58, 5.22 per cent; for 1869–78 over 1859–68, 29.34 per cent; and for 1879–88 over 1869–78, 55.63 per cent. I think those statistics will show your Lordships the very great value of the work which is superintended by the Fishery Board for Scotland. But not only are the direct interests of the fishery industry entrusted to them in Scotland, but they have also other indirect interests which they have wholly to superintend. Besides the carrying out of the numerous Acts regulating the Scotch Sea Fisheries, the Board has also the general superintendence of the District Boards created under the Salmon Fishery Acts. The entire herring-branding interest is under their control; and not only that, but they have funds under their control for the construction of harbours in Scotland and also for providing guarantees for the extension of telegraphs for the benefit of the fisheries, under the regulations of the General Post Office. As the work of the Fishery Board in Scotland is so very important it has now been thought desirable to give the Board a more representative and popular character than it has hitherto possessed. As I have already told your Lordships, under the Act of 1882 all the members of this Board were directly appointed by Her Majesty. What the Government propose to do under this Bill is still to keep the same number of members as formed the Board under the Act of 1882, but that out of that number only five shall be directly appointed by Her Majesty. The remaining four it is proposed shall be nominated and elected by the Committees for the four different districts of Scotland into which it is proposed that the Secretary for Scotland shall divide the whole country. The manner in which it is proposed to do this under the Bill is as follows: On the passing of this Bill the Secretary for Scotland shall, as soon as possible, divide the whole of Scotland into four separate fishery districts; in each of those districts a local Sea-fishery Board or Committee shall be appointed, the constitution of which will be as follows: the County Councils in the different districts will appoint members, and the Royal and Parliamentary Burghs will also appoint members to act upon those local Sea-fishery Committees. The conditions under which these appointments are made and the number representing each body will be defined and decided by the Secretary for Scotland, in an Order which he will issue for the purpose. But in addition to those members of the Fishery Committees who will represent the County Councils and the Royal and Parliamentary Burghs, it is proposed that representatives nominated by the County Councils and by the Royal and Parliamentary Burghs shall be appointed representing directly the fishery interests. The proportions between the numbers of members representing the County Councils, those representing the Royal and Parliamentary Burghs, and those directly representing what may be called the fishery interest, and who may therefore be described as the "fishery members," will be settled by the Order of the Secretary for Scotland. When the Fishery Committees are appointed for each of the four districts into which Scotland is divided for the purpose of this Bill, each Committee will elect one member, who is to be their representative on the Fishery Board. Therefore, counting the five members who are to be appointed by Her Majesty and the four members, one representing each district, to be appointed by election in each of those districts, the total number on the Fishery Board will be nine, as at present. I think your Lordships will see that it is very desirable this change should take place in the constitution of the Fishery Board. Your Lordships may remember that four years ago I endeavoured to give a more popular and direct representation on the Fishery Board to different parts of Scotland, by appointing members from each district in Scotland, who should represent the interests of that district, and I am bound to say that the value of the work done by the Fishery Board has been very much increased by the arduous and self-sacrificing labours of the gentlemen thus appointed; but although that has done a great deal to meet the necessities of the fishery interests in Scotland, I think the time has now arrived when it is possible to give them a more direct and adequate representation on that Board. The mere fact of the passing of the Local Government Act for Scotland in 1889 has made it possible to institute a better state of matters altogether. Before the passing of that Act there were no local bodies in Scotland to whom could be entrusted the election of members to represent them on the Fishery Board; but now the whole circumstances have changed and you have a popular and representative body to whom this duty can, with great advantage, be confided. In proposing this alteration to your Lordships in the constitution of the Fishery Board, I should like to say one word in recognition of its services. In making this proposal I have not a single word to say against the work which has been done by the Fishery Board, as now existing, as constituted under the Act of 1882. The enormous amount of work they have done, the great number of very often conflicting interests which they have had to supervise, the extremely important duties they have had to undertake, the very large sums of money they have had to distribute to the satisfaction of those who are interested all over Scotland, and the generally satisfactory way in which they have performed all those duties show that they are deserving of high praise. I do not desire in any sense to be understood as meaning that I am not satisfied with the work they have performed; and it must be remembered that, with the exception of the Chairman of the Board and the Secretary, every one of those gentlemen have served their country without any remuneration. I do not think I need detain your Lordships with any further observations on the constitution of the Fishery Board. I think I have made it clear to your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government do not intend to alter the duties and responsibilities of the Board, the primary object of this Bill being as I have explained as far as possible and within proper safeguards to give a more popular representation on the Board to the different fishery interests in Scotland. There are a few additional powers and duties which I propose to impose on the Fishery Board, and they are powers which I think have become necessary in consequence of the Report issued by the Commission of which Mr. Marjoribanks, a Member of the other House, was Chairman. The duty with which it is proposed to invest them is the more careful protection of the mussel-beds in Scotland. I will not trouble your Lordships with statistics on the subject, beyond saying that the figures furnished from one herring fishery station show that for every 1lb. of fish caught, there is very nearly 1lb. of mussels used as bait, though the value of the fish is, of course, enormously in excess of the value of the bait. Now that Report brought out very clearly this fact, that there is a great want of proper bait for fishing purposes on the East Coast of Scotland. The bait has to be brought from a great distance, some from the South, some from the West, and some from abroad. Not only that, but the mussel-beds now in existence are being destroyed for want of proper supervision. There is no authority to control the use of them at present, and they are being absolutely destroyed for want of proper supervision over their use by those engaged in the sea-fisheries. Under this Bill it is proposed to give the Fishery Board power to protect and take care of the mussel-beds which are now in existence, and so to increase and cheapen the supply of bait. Your Lordships will understand from the enormous amount of fish caught that there is considerable waste and destruction of mussel-beds. It will make a great difference to the fisheries if those engaged in them are unable to get their supplies of bait at a reasonable cost, and at present the cost of those means for carrying on the fisheries seems to become greater as time goes on. There is now no public authority charged with any responsibility in the matter, and in the public interest it is very desirable that some means of control should be given for the protection of the mussel-beds. For that purpose there can be no better authority than the Fishery Board. There is only one other matter to which I need refer, and that is with regard to the powers of the Fishery Board for branding herrings caught off the Coast of Northumberland. Some years ago the Fishery Board were in the habit of branding herrings caught on the English Coast, but, owing to recent legislation, they came to the conclusion that they had no power to continue that practice any longer, and that they had been acting in excess of their powers. The result has been a considerable loss to the herring fishery off the Coast of Northumberland, because the fact of their being branded by the Fishery Board gave them greater value in the foreign markets. The object of the additional powers conferred by this Bill is to enable them to continue that practice which they have abandoned for some years past. This clause has, I may state, been introduced at the special request of those interested in the herring fisheries off the Northumbrian Coast, and with the entire concurrence of the Board of Trade, who are primarily interested. I think I have now gone through the main proposals of this Bill, and I believe it to be a measure which will very greatly increase the power for work and usefulness of the Fishery Board for Scotland. It will also, I think, have a very good effect generally in improving the fishing interests and increasing their value in that country, especially in view of the endeavours which Her Majesty's Government are prepared to make to foster and develop the fishing interests of the West Coast of Scotland. For all these reasons I think your Lordships will not decline to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

Bill read 2a(according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.