Oyster and Mussel Fishery (Seasalter and Ham) Provisional Order Bill.

Orders of the Day — Private Business. – in the House of Commons on 30th July 1923.

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Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed," That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Photo of Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise , Maldon

I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and tat the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

Before sating the reasons for moving the rejection of the Bill, I should like to give the House a brief outline of the Measure. This Bill proposes to confer on a private limited liability company, called the Seasalter and Ham Oyster Fishery Company, of Whitstable, what is known as a several right. That is to say, an exclusive right of fishing a certain part of the fishing grounds in the Estuary of the Thames. The area which it is proposed under this Bill to give to this private company is about 730 acres, roughly one square mile, which lies off the North-East Coast of the Isles of Sheppey. An importance point for the Douse to note is the length of the period for which this exclusive right is to be given, and which is no less than 60 years. It is quire, understandable chat this concession of the fishing rights over one square mile of fishing ground is a very valuable thing indeed. The capitalised value of it over a long period like 30 years would naturally be represented by a very larger sum of money. That being so, it may seem all the more strange that this private company, which is now asking the House to give it this concession, is going to pay nothing whatever for the concession. There is a more important point even than that, and that is that no compensation whatever is to be paid to those individuals who, up to now, have enjoyed an immemorial right of fishing in these particular waters. In fact, as I shall show shortly, there are several men and their wives and families who depend for their livelihood on the fish caught in the particular waters of which this area forms part.

It may be asked, How comes it that it is possible for a private company to acquire a right of this kind? It is under an Act called the Sea Fisheries Act, passed in 1868. It happens to be a very long Act, and I certainly would not recommend any hon. Member of this House to spend too much time beading it. The first half of the Act is concerned with treaty fisheries with the Emperor of the French, but it is under the second part of the Act that Orders, such as this, may be given. Under Section 34 of the Act, a private company may apply to the Board of Trade, whose powers have since been transferred to "the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, for an Order such as this. If they are able to persuade the Ministry to grant them an Order under Section 34, a Bill is introduced, and proceeded with. I should like to Jake quite clear to the Douse that there is no compulsion or obligation on the Ministry to grant a private company this particular Order. The Section leaves it perfectly open to the Ministry to reject an Order if they will. If an Order has been granted, as is the case in this instance, then a private Bill is introduced into the Douse, with this difference, that whereat a Provisional Order has been granted in the first instance by a Government Department, this private Bill comes under the wing of the Government Department during its passage through Parliament.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries held two inquiries before they granted the Order. The first was held at Whitstable and the second at Tones-bury, in Essex. Tollesbury happens to be in my constituency, and I attended the inquiry held there. I listened to the evidence with the closest attention and with a true desire to try and arrive at the rights of this case. I am bound to say that from the sworn evidence which was given at that inquiry at Tollesbury, I am absolutely convinced that the granting of this Order, if passed into an Act of Parliaments, would be inflicting a grievous hardship on a great number of people whose livelihood now depends on the fisheries in question. To show what interest has been aroused among the people affected I may say that practically the whole population of Tollesbury attended that inquiry and protested against the putting into force of this Order. It is very small wonder that such should be the case. These fishermen halve sunk all their savings in the purchase of fishing smacks. They have smacks of a larger type than those usually engaged in fishing, the smaller estuaries on the coast of Essex, and they have built these larger smacks specially in order to sail down the coast of Essex to reach these very waters in the estuary of the Thames. Not only have they from boyhood fished these waters, but it was proved in evidenced that their fathers and forefathers had fished these waters from time immemorial. It is necessary to show the Douse what a valuable form of fishing this is. I should explain, in the first instance, that it takes the form of dredging, and the catches consist chiefly of oysters and mussels and starfish. The starfish is known locally as "five fingers," and the catching of "five fingers" forms one of the most valuable parts of this industry. No less than 30 to 40 tons have been caught by one boat in one month, and no less than £500 worth of fish has been taken by the Tollesbury fishing fleet in the course of one excursion to these waters.

There are about 50 smacks in the fleet, each of which employs three or four men, and it is computed that during the fishing season employment is given to no fewer thank 200 men for several months in this particular fishing industry in the estuary of the Thames. The company who are asking the Douse to grant them this order claim that they will give more employment, but that claim does not hold water for a moment. It is computed that were the scheduled area to come under the complete control of the company, they would not be able to give employment to one-tenth of the number of fishermen who now earn their livlihood on this piece of water. As a matter of fact, they are not able at the present moment to give employment to their ordinary complement of men on the beds which they possess. Already they are in possession of a considerable area of the estuary used as oyster beds and the fact is, that to-day they have got more beds—that, is more ground—than they are able to cover with their oyster spat, for the reason that of hate there has been a shortage off oyster spat, all over Europe. The true fact is not that there is a shortage of ground but that there is a shortage of oyster or oyster spat. The company claim that if they are given this grant, it will reduce competition from abroad, but it is strange that already they are purchasing, from abroad, young oyster spat to put on the beds they already possess from which are eventually grown the far-famed Whitstable natives. I should explain that the grant will not in any way increase the amount of available oyster spat, because the company already is one of the chief buyers of oyster spat from the fishermen who fish on this ground and therefore there can be no contention that the company will be able to increase the supply of spat to the extent of one oyster per year if they are granted this privilege. The only difference will be that whereas the company now have to pay the fishermen for the oyster spat dredged on this ground, in future this fortunate company would be able to get it for nothing if they secured this grant.

Apart from this, it was proved at the inquiry that the ground which it is proposed to schedule is of special value to the fishermen for -two very important reasons. First, it lies in-shore and well up the estuary and there are a great many days in the fishing season during which it is impassible, owing to rough weather, for the smacks to fish further out in the mouth of the estuary and, very often, in rough weather practically the whole of the smacks which fish the estuary of the Thames are to be seen at one time crowded on to the piece of water which it is now proposed to give over to this company. Another reason why the ground is of particular value to the Tollesbury fishermen in particular is that, quite by chance, it happens to be a favoured resort of the starfish or "five fingers." The starfish, admittedly, is an enemy of the oyster, and the company claim that they would cleanse the ground of this enemy of the oyster, but it is obvious that the fishermen are doing that very thng now. They catch the starfish on this ground which lies in close proximity to the oyster beds and, to that extent, the company are profiting by having the neighbouring ground cleansed of the vermin which might otherwise trespass on their own ground. Regarding the starfish, it may be surprising to some Members of the House to learn that the starfish should be a creature of any value whatever. As a matter of fact, for agricultural purposes, it has a very high value indeed as a manure. It contains a very high percentage of nitrogen and phosphates, and it is readily bought by farmers whenever they are able to get hold of it.

A special convenience attaches to this trader in the estuary of the Thames. The coast line of Essex is broken by a great number of estuaries and small creeks, and when a catch of starfish has been made, they are taken by the smacks up these creeks to small landing laces, transferred direct from the smack into the farmer's waggon, and thus go straight on to the farm. It can readily be understood that, by the elimination of all intermediate transport charges, the farmer is able to get at a reasonably chap rate one of the most valuable manures he can possibly buy. Such importance do the farmers of Essex attach to this trade that they have protested through their branch of the National Farmers' Union to the Ministry against this Order being put into force. Among other claims the company state that they will, if granted this. Order, do a great deal to increase the food supply of the people by increasing the supply of oysters. I ask the Douse, is the oyster, or has it ever been, a food of the people? Fond as I am myself of the oyster, unfortunately it is usually far beyond the limits of my purse, and I would probably not be far wrong if I said that it is often beyond the limits of the purses of a great number of Members of Parliament. It is, as the Douse knows quite well, a luxury food. On the other hand, by the trade which I have just described, a most valuable manure is made readily available and accessible for the great corn-growing lands of Essex, lands which do now and which always have produced a great deal of food for the population off this great City of London. I do not think, in these circumstances, the claim put forward by the company as to increasing the food supply can be seriously maintained. I quite understand the position of the Ministry in this matter. Having, in the first instance, granted the Order they probably do not like to rescind it, and it may not be unfair to suggest that, in this case, the zeal of the Fisheries Department of the Ministry for oysters has outweighed the customary care of the Agricultural Department of the Ministry for the consumer and his food supply. The issue, however, really lies much deeper thank that. The broad issue is that a limited company desire toe acquire a very valuable concession from the Crown for nothing, at the expense of the immemorial rights of a large number of individuals who, as fishermen, are struggling hard to earn a living for themselves, their wives, and families.

Both sides present cases of private enterprise. Both sides, in their different ways, are capitalists. On the one hand, you have a powerful corporation, and on the other you have humble individuals who own fishing smacks. Happily, in this matter, the last word rests with this Douse. This Douse now has not only the opportunity, but the responsibility of deciding between these two interests. I submit that the Douse ought not to be asked to consent to what I can only say is a flagrant case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and I need hardly remind the House that Peter was a humble fisherman, and Paul was a man of considerable private fortune. I submit that this Douse should show, by a most decisive vote, that it is determined to safeguard the rights and interests of all classes of individuals. I leave the issue to the House with perfect confidence, believing that no hon. Member would ever again eat an oysters, either with enjoyment or with a clear conscience, or, I hope, with a good digestion, if he realised that he was enjoying the luxury of the oyster at the expense of taking the bread out of the moths of these fisherfolk and their families.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I beg to second the Amendment.

In so doing I should like, first of all, to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise) on the excellent presentation of his case, and at the same time the Tollesbury fishermen on the able advocate they have found in this Douse. I have no constituents who are interested in this question at all, but I happened on a recent occasion to be speaking at Whitstable, and I found there a deputation consisting of nearly the entire population of Whitstable protesting against this very same measure. On going into the case, it struck me that a real act of gross injustice was being done, probably without the Ministry of Agriculture or the Government knowing anything about it. I believe that our case is so strong that it has only to be stated in this House to receive the support of hon. Members on both sides, and my only doubt in getting up to support the case is whether support from this side may not weaken unjustifiably the support that it should claim from hon. Members opposite.

The case is as stated by the hon. and gallant Member. The Government by this Bill propose to hand over, for 60 years, to a company already in possession of large foreshore rights, a further sole right over another square mile of sea. In doing that, they are depriving certain people of their livelihood, and when you deprive people of their livelihood it has hitherto been the practice, even of Government Departments, to see that those people are compensated for their loss of livelihood, but in this particular case I cannot understand why the concession has been made at all, because this valuable concession has been granted for 60 years without any rent or royalty whatsoever, and merely by the action of the Government a square mile of fishing ground is transferred from a lot of small proprietors to this company, which is already in possession of a partial monopoly. I am quite certain that the Government, when they state their case, will say that by enclosing the sea in this way, by preventing wild fishermen from fishing on these particular banks, they will be able to secure better cultivation of the oyster on these banks, and that therefore the production of oysters will increase, and the general good of the public will be better served by the monopoly conservation and development than it would be by general commons fishing by any man who chose to fish.

That argument has been used, of course, to justify in past times every enclosure of commons throughout Great Britain. It was always said in exactly the same way, and with the same modicum of truth about it, that unless you allowed individual proprietorship over the commons, you could not expect to get the best production from those commons, and that, therefore, in the interests of the public, it would be as well to allow those commons to be enclosed. Those grounds were held to be sufficient for generations in this House. I do not quite know whether they would be held sufficient to-day, but even in those days, when it was held justifiable to enclose commons in the interests of the public, the act of enclosure always specifically stated that compensation was to be paid to the existing commoners on that land. There was never any hesitation in setting apart a part of the land enclosed to compensate those who were being deprived of their right of commonage. I do not pretend to say that that compensation was ever really sufficient for the loss of free commonage, but the compensation was there, and it was there because past Douses of Commons realised that they were not justified in depriving men of a right without seeing that they were compensated for the loss of that right. That principle, for some unknown reason, has not been applied to this case of the enclosure of the sea. I am against enclosure of the sea, just as I should be against enclosure of the commons, but let that pass. What I want hon. Members opposite to agree with me is that if that, enclosure is to take place the fishermen whoa lose their livelihood have as much right to compensation as any commoner on any common which has been enclosed in the last 200 years.

That being so, I cannot believe that a Conservative Government, which sets an almost inordinate value on the rights of property, will deliberately sacrifice these small property owners and thereby set a precedent which would be of grave disadvantage to property owners throughout the country. I must say that when I found what this Bill was, I wondered that there had not been other hon. Members opposite to stand out for the rights of these small fishermen. I think Bills like this go through only too often, partly because Members do not take the trouble to read them and partly because what is everybody's business is nobody's business. But if hon. Member opposite had studied this Bill, I am certain they would have seen, with me and the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon, that here was a real act of injustice being perpetrated which the Douse of Commons could not really permit. I may add that the General Workers' Union, amongst whose members are found several of these fishermen, are also interested in this matter, and have been helping the opposition that has been put up. I am convinced that the Labour party is solid on the matter, but while we cannot carry anything in this Douse, I would beg hon. Members opposite to think whether the rights of the case, whether the mere question of justice to these fishermen, ought riot to outweigh the fact that a Government Department have initiated this Bill. It is not enough to say that a thing is in the interests of the public. It has become almost too facile an excuse for right hon. Members opposite to support every action they may take on the ground that it is in the interests of the public. There really is a higher law for hon. Members of Parliament to consider than what is in the interests of the public. We have to consider what is just, and in the long run it will be found that that which is unjust is not permanently in the interests of the public.

Colonel GUEST:

I rise to support the rejection of this Bill, and I do it for several reasons. In the first place, Parliament has had no opportunity until this moment of discussing the merits of this Bill at all, and no Papers relative to the matter have been available for Members as a whole, though I must admit that, thanks to the courtesy of the Minister of Agriculture, I have been put in touch with some of the information relating to this subject. This is a big Measure which has been put before Parliament. It is granting an exclusive right for the Several fishery for 60 years. That is a big grant, and it is being done to the exclusion of certain public rights. This Bill, I know, is being opposed by the fishermen of Whitstable and the fishermen of Tollesbury, and, in their interest, I think it is right that this matter should be opposed in the Douse, if only for the Ministry to justify the action which they propose to take. There are certain definite grounds for opposition. The Whitstable fishermen oppose it because this is the bottom of the sea on which oysters can be dredged. The Tollesbury fishermen oppose the Bill because they can dredge a certain class of fish for which there is a ready sale for agricultural purposes in that part of the world. Therefore, there are two definite lines of opposition by the local fishermen to this Bill. I think the Government should explain to the House, in the granting of this exclusive right for 60 years, what they, who are the custodians of the public rights, are getting for the State in return.

This is a big right to grant to a private corporation, and when it does counteract and militate against the rights of private fishermen, who, all their lives, have worked for their likelihood on these fishing grounds, it becomes an even bigger thing still. I very much sympathise with the, attitude and the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down in regard to what compensation, if any, is going to be paid to the men who are displace in their occupation. I would like to know whether, in the inquiry, this matter of compensation was closely considered. I do not object to the fact that the Government, under the Act of 1868, have the right to grant this Several fishery, but the question of compensation to those who for generations have been users of this public right seems to me to be a matter for special consideration. Perhaps the Minister will be so good as to tell us how far this question has been considered, and what line he thinks will be most fair to the fishermen to take. I believe the point made by the proposer of the Bill is that there is a particular sheltered area which is to be granted to this private corporation where men can go out and fish in bad weather, when they cannot go out to sea in small boats. That is undoubtedly a small point of value to the fisherman, and if it is to the general good to grant a concession of this nature, undoubtedly compensation should be paid to those concerned. I am sure every hon. Member will feel sympathy for the fishermen who for generations have been working on this particular area of water, and thereby getting their livelihood. I know that any of the public cane utilise this water and dredge for fish, but it is the right of user which gives these men a claim to special consideration. For those reasons, I support the rejection of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Granville Wheler Mr Granville Wheler , Faversham

I support the Third Reading of the Bill. I must congratulate the Mover of the Motion for the rejection on having put his case clearly and well and I should like to join in the congratulations which he has already received for his able championship of the fishermen whom he represents. But Chen all is said and done, we come to the facet that a public inquiry was held a Whitstable, in the first instance, and every type of evidence was given, and, as a result of that evidence., it was agreed that the Order should be, made. The Tollesbury fishermen, I gather, could not come, over on account of bad weather, or something of that, sort. I have never heard of fishermen being afraid of bad weather to the extent the fishermen seemed to be on that occasion. At any rate, they did not appear, but, in order to give theme a full opportunity of having their case heard, a local inquiry was held at their own place, and, in spite of that, inquiry, I understand the Order is to be made. So that, after all the inquiries on both sides, and when these people who have, a very strong objection have been given the chance to express their views, we find that this Order is to be made, and I hope the Third Reading of the Bill will be carried tonight.

This seems to me a claim by the Essex fishermen very largely to come over on to the Kentish borders. I have nothing to do with Whitstable, but I live close alongside. Of course, in every case there are people who object to something, but I venture to say the bulk of people in Whitstable will not object, and the Urban District Council, who are the elected body of the district, are not opposing it. Therefore, I think we may discount, to a very great extent, the opposition of Whitstable. The opposition comes from fishermen on the other side, who claim the right to come over and collect star fish, and so on, for manurial purposes. That is really the gravamen of the charge. They are allowed to collect star fish which, as everybody knows, are fish which prey upon oysters, and therefore are vermin. It is in order to enable these vermin to be encouraged and gathered in this area by the fishermen of Essex that this opposition to the Bill is being maintained, and, of course, if there is the large amount of star fish mentioned as collected in the area, it must be perfectly plain that the area must be seriously affected by this type of star fish, which undoubtedly do a very serious harm to the oyster fishery

The company has asked to have the right to an increased area for the development of its business. It has the power to clear that bit of ground of this sea vermin, and, generally, to increase the oyster fishery there. This is no new idea. It is being done by our neighbours across the water, the Dutch, who have in the waters of the Scheldt, I believe, carried out this policy, with the result that to-day they have a great and thriving oyster fishery there, and a large number of the oysters come to this country. All that is being asked by thins company is to be allowed to extend their area, to preserve a part, which is now infested with vermin, with a view to increasing the supply of oysters, and the mere fact, that, in order to protect that ground, constant care and attention will be needled, should ensure a considerable amount of work for people so employed. This is the cause of a company coming to this House, asking for leave to encourage and extend a legitimate industry in a way which is being done, as I say, by our neighbours across the water with very great success.

On the other hand they are met with an opposition, very largely from across the other side of the Douse, the principal object of which seems to be that the fish shall lie and subsequently make manure. Can there be any comparison between the two objects? Looking at the matter from the common-sense point of view, the one object is to encourage what has always been and will be a good, useful, legitimate industry on the shores of Kent, and on the other side to make provision for Essex farms. I have not the slightest hesitation in asking that the Douse shall deal with this matter on a common-sense basis, to support the Third Reading of this Bill, and to allow what has been done here and elsewhere to speak for itself. In Holland and elsewhere the supply of oysters has been increased, and has given employment to a certain number of people. We ask that a company which has carried on this business for over 30 years, and which can show a very useful record of work, large sums of money paid out in wages and other ways, shall be allowed to continue to promote this industry and to extend its operations.

9.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Bridgwater

A good deal of the discussion on this Bill has taken place upon the broad question of policy which, after all, was settled by this House more than fifty years ago. This Order is made under the Act of 1868, and that Act was founded on the Report of a Royal Commission. The Commission recommended as the best means of keeping up the supply of oysters that to facilitate the proceedings of those individuals or companies who might desire to acquire so much property in favourably situated portions of the sea bottom as to suffice to enable them safely to invest capital in repairing and preserving those portions of the sea bottom for oyster cultures— The Commission were satisfied that it was impossible to produce oysters by unaided nature, and that unless oyster beads, are regularly looked after they are subject to (1) over fishing, and (2) invasion of slipper limpets, dog whelks, five fingers, sea urchins, and other pests. They came to the conclusion that if we wanted to produce oysters around the country there was one, and only one way, in which it could be done, and that was by giving over certain small tracts of the bottom of the sea to those who would make it their business and spend their money to preserve the oysters in these particular places. The Act of 1868 was passed. Subsequently this policy was again considered by a Select Committee in 1876. That Committee reported: Your committee approve the practice of granting portions of foreshore to private individuals and companies for the purpose of breeding and feeding oysters, and they are further of opinion that the policy of making grants of portions of the bottom of the sea for the cultivation of oysters shall be continued. So that this wads two occasions on which this matter has been thoroughly investigated in this country, and it has been decided that if you want to have oysters at all the only way to get them is by this system. But this Bill does not stand alone. The same policy has been pursued by France, Holland, and the United States. The following is an extract from a recent Report on the oyster fishery of the latter country, the United States, by a Frenchman. The Report says: Thirty years ago the oyster industry of the East underwent a grave crisis. Its relied up till then on fishing natural beds which repopulated themselves. But when the shock on the beds fell below a certain limit repopulation no longer occurred, the depletion of the beds increased, and of the greater part of the coast the beds disappeared entirely with the result that large communities were reduced to great distress. It was then that the official department of the United States and the great oyster planters undertook to re-establish the beds either by making use of layings on the old natural beds and restocking them, or by the creation of new layings. The experiment was remarkably successful, and it is on account of the creation of these great beds, exploited by the method, that it is possible to obtain oysters in such quantities and at so cheap a price. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] I think it is a matter of common knowledge that in the United States oysters are no longer a luxury, but almost a matter of everyone's food, because their price has been brought down so low by the adoption of this very system.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Bridgwater

Yes. This is the policy which has been adopted after careful consideration in -this country. It has been adopted in every country in the world that produces oysters, because it has been found to be the, only policy under which oysters can be produced. The hon. Member for North Bristol (Colonel Guest) raised the question of compensation to be given to fishermen. There is no possibility of giving compensation under the Act of 1868. No provision is there made for it. What is laid down in the Act is that inquiry shall be held, and a Bill presented subsequently to Parliament. So much for the general question. I trust I have made it clear that if we want to produce oysters at all in this country it is only by the method of settled occupation that this possibly can be done, and oysters produced.

Now for the particular case. The Act of 1868 lays it down that inquiry shall be held. An inquiry was held at Whitstable on the 2nd February. I may say it was an unprejudiced and an impartial inquiry, and I think I may fairly claim that, the award was given on the merits of the case.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Was counsel allowed to be employed?

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Bridgwater

Yes. An hon. and learned Member of this House was employed as counsel. The award that was given Said: (c) That the cultivation of the additional ground will both increase the supply of oysters available for the public and provide the fishermen with increased and more regular employment and remuneration.(d) That the ground proposed to be acquired is neither better nor worse than the average public grounds in cleanliness or productivity, and that it is used by public fishermen to about the same extent as the other grounds, its use depending upon the conditions of wind and tide.(e) That in view of the fact that the ground proposed to be acquired is so small as compared with the extent of the public grounds, its closure to the public would inflict no appreciable injury upon anyone, and there is no force in Mr. Guthrie's contention based upon the Board of Trade regulations.(14) On the whole, I have no hesitation in recommending that the order should be granted. The statutory inquiry was held, and that was the recommendation. A subsequent inquiry was also held and the conclusion was the same. The Bill was introduced after the inquiry had taken place at Whitstable. It was not opposed in this House and did not go before the Private Bills Committee. Personally I am sorry that it did not, and I think it would have, been much better that it should have come before a Committee upstairs sitting before a judicial body. If there is any dispute there ought to be an inquiry by a judicial and not a political body Something has been said about the poor fishermen, but I would remind hon. Members that the opponents of this Bill are not all poor fishermen. This Bill was opposed by a prominent member of a wealthy firm in Essex. It was quite within the competence of that firm to oppose this Bill before a Committee upstairs, but that was not done, and instead of opposing the Bill before a judicial body it is now being opposed in this House on the Third Reading. I think the House ought to consider that if there are any special circumstances in this case that should take it out of the general rule laid down by the Act of 1868.

I would like to say a word about what my hon. Friend behind me described as the agriculture case. He speaks of the star fish that is so good for manure. The value of such fish that would come out of this particular area might possibly be about £100 gross value in a whole year. I would point out that star fish are the vermin of the sea, and I cannot feel if it was fairly put before the agriculturists of Essex that they would be any more desirous of imposing upon these people the maintenance of star fish, than it would be to impose upon the farmers of Essex the maintenance of a stock of rabbits or a stock of rats. As a matter of fact, under the operation of this Bill you will get more star fish than at the present time. The object of the company would be to clear out the star fish as fast as they can in this particular area, so that the farmers of Essex will stand at first at all events not to get less, but more star fish.

Then there is a complaint of people being deprived of the right, to use this particular water. As a matter of fact, it is said to be a particularly useful bit of water that they want. There is no evidence of that whatever in any of these inquiries, and the conclusion was, that, it was just as good and just as bad as any of the neighbouring water, and only forms one-hundredth part of the dredging ground on the Kentish flat, and they would really gain far more than they will lose, because the company will give to the fishermen lucrative employment in cleansing this ground. Besides this, the neighbouring ground will provide a market for oyster food and immature oysters to the fishermen of the estuary. It will also provide spat on adjacent grounds, and they will buy it fro the fishermen. Altogether, the fishermen of this district, if you take it as a whole, stand to gain a great deal more than they stand to lose by this Bill becoming law.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

Is there any right now for theses people to fish there, and is that right going to be taken away from them?

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Bridgwater

The Act of Parliament of 1868 says that that shall be done, ands that has always been done, otherwise we should not have any oysters here at all. That has been the system ever since 1868.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

One bad precedent does not make a good case.

Photo of Mr Robert Sanders Mr Robert Sanders , Bridgwater

This is a private Bill, and it is not the intention of the Government to put on the Whips. Personally, I hope the Douse will support the Bill, because it gives more, not less, manure for Essex agriculturists, more, and not less, employment and profit to the fishermen of the Estuary, and it tends to increase the production of oysters, which we all agree is a most, desirable end.

Photo of Mr Albert Alexander Mr Albert Alexander , Sheffield, Hillsborough

I think we ought to thank the Minister of Agriculture for the full statement which he has made, although after listening to it I think hon. Members will feel that all the more they ought to go into the Lobby against the Third Reading of this Measure. I think the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London was one of great importance. If this is really a bad precedent with regard to the rights of people fishing there, why should it be continued? I would remind the Minister of Agriculture of something which does appear in the Act of 1868. We have been advised not to read that Act, but I notice that in Clause 4 that it not only confers an absolute monopoly on this company with regard to fishing rights in this particular piece of water, but it also gives them the right to levy tolls and royalties on to anybody else coming into that area. Section 48 of the same Act provides that No Order made by the Board of Trade under this part of this Act shall take away or abridge any right of several fishery, or any right on, to, or over any portion of the seashore, which right is enjoyed by any person under any local or special Act of Parliament, or any Royal Charter, Letters Patent, Prescription, or immemorial usage, without the consent of such person. There seems to be no getting behind a Clause of that sort and character, and I have heard no defence of it from the Minister of Agriculture, or from the hon. Member who opposed the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. With regard to getting away from the provisions laid down in the original Statute under which the Minister takes the power to make the Order contained in the Schedule to this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said that this policy has been adopted for 50 years. There are heaps of policies which have been adopted for 50 years which many Members on these benches, at any rate, would be glad to see altered, and, if I may say so without offence to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it is a great sign of the opening vision of some Members of the party opposite to the rights of the common people which we have not always observed their will to defend. [Horn. MEMBERS:"No, no!"]

Photo of Mr George Lansbury Mr George Lansbury , Poplar Bow and Bromley

All right, come into the Lobby.


We are very glad to observe that principle so eloquently and so ably denunciated from the mother side. Then the Minister of Agriculture, in making this grant to the private corporation concerned, said there would be more employment for the fishermen. I beg leave rather to question that claim. I do not think it can be proved as a general rule that the creation of monopolies increases the amount of employment. Hon. Gentlemen will find, as a matter of fact, if this remains a free fishery there will be a greater amounts of employment for the fishermen than they will be able to obtain from the private corporation. Monopolies lead to a restriction of output or to putting up prices and the restriction of output for price purposes always leads to unemployment. I am rather surprised that the Minister of Agriculture has not adopted in this matter the principle which he and his friends have so ably advocated in regard to other matters connected with his Department in the last 12 months, namely, that the Department and the State generally should give every possible encouragement to co-operation among producers in a particular industry. Here we have a large number of free fishermen who have had handed down from their forefathers and have enjoyed the immemorial usage of these free fishing waters. If there were any possible difficulty about these fishermen replenishing the oyster beds, and mainlining supplies, the Minister of Agriculture, with his enthusiasm for co-operation, should have come along with a cooperative scheme for the free fishermen to be able to work together on a co-operative basis, instead of granting a monopoly to this private corporation. I think the right hon. Gentleman, when he considers that point, will see that although consistency is not always the finest quality to possess, in this particular matter there would seem to be considerable value in it.

I want to mention one other point. The hon and gallant Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise), who opposed the Motions for the Third Reading, said the whole of the opposition to this Bill was coming, not from Whitstable, but from another quarter. That is just a mere statement which is not borne out by the evidence, not only of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill, but of the hon. and gallant Member who seconded it. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said he had been to Whitstable and had been met by a deputation, apparently of the whole community, opposed to this Bill. When we have two conflicting statements of that nature, I would prefer to accept the statement of the hon. and gallant Member who went to the place and met the people opposed to the Bill, and I prefer to take his opinion on this particular Measure. We are always in this Douse most jealous of the common rights of the common people, although at times the House has lapsed occasionally from its great tradition in this respect, with the result that to-day there is a good deal of bad feeling in the community in regard to certain matters, and with a view to remedying mistakes which have been made in the past. The House may think that this granting of monopoly right over a square mile of sea fisheries is only a small matter, but at the same time you are filching away the common rights of the common people of this country in favour of vested interests and of profit for private corporations. I hope those hon. Members who love justice and desire to protect the free citizens of this country against the encroachments of monopoly and vested interests will go into the Lobby with the hon. and gallant Member who moved the rejection of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Thomas Bennett Mr Thomas Bennett , Sevenoaks

I wish the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise) to understand that I intend to go on eating oysters all my days, although I am not a Lucullus, and I shall do so without any qualms of conscience with regard to the interests of Tollesbury. I think this Order, if confirmed, will be of no real disadvantage to the people of Tollesbury. I cannot think that because they are to be kept from an area, of something like 723 acres of the Thames estuary they will be unable to find five-fingered fish in any other part of that estuary. We have to remember that this matter has been the subject of a most, careful inquiry by a Commission sitting in two places.

Photo of Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise , Maldon

Not, a Commission. It is an inquiry by an inspector sent down by the Department.

Photo of Mr Thomas Bennett Mr Thomas Bennett , Sevenoaks

I quite understand, and I would like to point out the indulgence that was shown to the people of Tollesbury when it was found they were not sufficiently good sailors to cross the Thames in rough weather. Another inquiry was held in consequence for their advantage. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant, Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) that in confirming an Order of this kind one should approach the subject with a due regard to the justice of the case. I do not think there is any difference whatever between the two sides of the House on that point, and, although an hon. Member opposite spoke of filching the, rights of the common people, I am prepared here to state that it would have been worth while to have at first considered what rights were involved. We have been told that compensation should have been provided for. I have read a full report of the whole of the inquiry, and do not find a word about compensation in it. The other side was well represented, but no one put forward any claim for compensation, and even if it had been legal to give compensation in these cases we should first of all have had to inquire what rights were involved, what injury had been done to the possessors of common rights over this particular area. Evidence was given as to the value of the fishing rights in that particular area, and to begin with it was shown that it was almost unpro- ductive. Two days' dredging produced four dozen oysters, or something of that kind. There is no very valuable right wrapped up in that case. Evidence was given as to the value of the rights involved, and I will quote from it. A witness, who was an official representing the Kent and Essex fishery board, was asked: I think you agree that the community generally which has the right of dredging there is to be debarred from it? He said: At the present time as things are what they will get from the labour and employment will more than counteract what they catch. That is my contention. Another witness, a dredgerman, presumably one of those who enjoy these common rights, said the piece of ground was of no use to the men, because it was not worth while working there. As they stood to-day it would be in the men's favour if the company got the piece of ground. The point at issue is whether that area shall be developed on business like and scientific lines or whether it shall be left at the mercy of sea pests. Assuming that this Order is not confirmed and that the so-called rights of the dredgermen and fishermen remain intact, what are they to get out of it? What is the harvest of the sea going to be for them? Is it going to be oysters and edible fish, or sea urchins, slipper limpets, or some of those other remarkable things of which we have had a catalogue to-night? That is what we have to choose between. In Dolland, and in France also, I believe, the choice has been made. Instead of leaving these rights in common and wasting the products of Nature they have been enclosed, preserved, and developed on scientific lines. We have heard something like this argument in regard to other matters, and in another part of the world I have heard proclaimed the right of the people to do what they liked with the forests. Well, they do what they like with the forests, and it means destroying the inheritance of the nation and injuring its prosperity. Here, if hon. Members on the other side of the Douse had their way, a valuable edible product would be destroyed and, instead of food for the people, we should have vermin occupying the whole of that space.

We have been told it is monopoly. Where is the monopoly? Here are 730 acres. That does not mean taking up the whole of the Thames estuary. There is other suitable land within reach of them which could be made the subject of an order like this, and as to the advantage of the people I take it is of some advantage to them to take in 10 years something like £14,000 a year for wages and pay for dredging, pay for boats. That is what the operations of this so-called monopolising company have led to. I say, go on, continue, give these people the opportunity to develop this area, to give employment, and to contribute to the prosperity of Whitstable. I admire the devotion which the hon. and gallant Member showed for the interests of the fishermen of Tollesbury, but, after all, we have to think of the interests of a great oyster-developing community, that community which, strangely enough, is said to have accompanied the hon. and gallant Gentleman on his recent visit to Whitstable. I do not think all Whitstable turned out to welcome him. I can imagine the town band and flags flying, but I believe a few of the inhabitants of Whitstable stayed at home on that night. At any rate, we have enough facts before us to enable us to arrive at a fair conclusion, and I would urge the Douse not to stand in the way of what no doubt is a profitable undertaking for those who are prepared to go into it, but which, on the whole, will be of advantage to the public and the fishermen of Whitslble.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , Mitcham

I want to deal with one aspect of the matter which has been forced upon me by the hon. Member to whom we have just listened. It seems to me that for the last hour or so we have slipped back about 120 years in time, and have been listening once again to the old arguments used when it was proposed to enclose the commons. For my sins, 10 years ago I had to read through a good many of the proceedings of this Douse and such scanty records as have been preserved of the Committees that then sat to consider Enclosure Bills, and on every one of those occasions exactly the same arguments were used as have been used by the Minister this evening and by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. When you come to boil it down, all they plead is that the passing of this Bill will lead to the improvement of the industry and to the additional employment of people as workers for wages instead of, as is the case at present in a good many cases, as the owners of the smacks which are used in this particular industry. I am quite sure that now that we look back on them through the vista of time everyone will wish that the majority of the Enclosure Acts had never been past, and we admit now when we are reviewing the sins of other people that the House of Commons inflicted irreparable injury on the people of this country by passing these Enclosure Acts. Until I hear better arguments than have come from the two hon. Members who have been the main advocates of this Bill I shall support the hon. Member for Maldon (Major Ruggles-Brise) who moved the rejection of the Bill. I do not think we ought to let pass without grave consideration the issue raised by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury). I think the point was a most serious one, and he has received no answer from the Ministry or from the supporters of this Bill. [Interruption.] Well, I will say no adequate answer.

Photo of Mr Thomas Bennett Mr Thomas Bennett , Sevenoaks

The answer is that, according to the evidence, the so-called rights are worth next to nothing

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

That is no reason why they should be taken away.

Photo of Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise , Maldon

I was personally at the inquiry; I heard the evidence, and it is perfectly clear that these rights are of very considerable value.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , Mitcham

The right to work as a free man in your own vessel is of very considerable value, even if you cannot assess it from the money point of view. What we have to realise is that this miserable area spoken of so contemptuously by the last speaker of only just over one square mile—these 730 acres—represents almost the last on which these men can ply their particular industry, and even if that is not so there is nothing in the argument of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir T. Bennett) that would not allow those areas to be enclosed as soon as this particular monopoly found that these men had discovered some last refuge, from which they could carry on a competition with it. The whole of the arguments that have been used this evening are so easily destroyed, when one considers them in their historical aspect compared with the enclosure of the land, that I hope this Douse will rise to the occasion, and will see that this small amount of freedom which these men still claim to enjoy is not taken from them by our act.

Photo of Mr Joshua Ritson Mr Joshua Ritson , City of Durham

I would not have risen but for the fact that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir T. Bennett) made reference to the fact that no one seemed to be concerned in this matter. May I inform the hon. Member that, as a stranger from the North of England, I was down at Herne Bay, unknown to anyone except for the fact that I was going to speak there, but a very large deputation of fishermen came to me to ask if I could not do something in this matter. I asked them who their Member of Parliament was, and I was astonished when they told me that he was an hon. Gentleman who sits on the Government Bench. I asked them what their grievance was, and they said that this monopoly was going to take away a right that their forefathers had had for years and years. I said to them that, surely, they had only to put

the matter before their Member, because neither he nor any other hon. Member would allow such a condition of things to exist. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks could not give a better text for preaching class feeling than this. We have the Prime Minister at the present time in Glasgow and Edinburgh telling people that the way to cure this class fever is to be kind to people, and then the Government comes along and takes away from these people the rights which their forefathers have enjoyed for years. We are told to encourage men in their occupation. We are told that the best thing for a man is work, that it will stop this class bitterness if we give them freedom to work and produce. Here is an opportunity to do so, and the Minister of Agriculture comes and proposes to take away these people's rights. I feel that to take away the legal rights of these fishermen—they are so few in this country, and we ought to make them more—will be, to cause more bitterness even than is anticipated. I hope that hon. Members on the opposite side of the Douse will, at least, stand against the Ministry on this occasion.

Question put, "That the word now ' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 61; Noes, 184.

Division No. 344.]AYES.[9.40 p.m.
Ainsworth, Captain CharlesGibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George AbrahamPrivett, F. J.
Apsley, LordGilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir JohnRaine, W.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Wilfrid W.Greenwood, William (Stockport)Remnant, Sir James
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Halstead, Major D.Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Barnston, Major HarryHamilton, Sir George C. (Altrincham)Sanders, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert A.
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.Hannon, Patrick Joseph HenrySanderson, Sir Frank B.
Berry, Sir GeorgeHarrison, F. C.Singleton, J. E.
Briggs, HaroldHawke, John AnthonySlott, Lt.-Col. W. H.
Brittain, Sir HarryHiley, Sir ErnestStuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Bruton, Sir JamesHopkins, John W. W.Sugden, Sir Wilfrid H.
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William JamesHoward-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K.Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Butler, H. M. (Leeds, North)Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.Tubbs, S. W.
Colfox, Major Wm. PhillipsKennedy, Captain M. S. NigelWilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)
Crook, C. W. (East Ham, North)King, Captain Henry DouglasWise, Frederick
Du Pre, Colonel William BaringLeigh, Sir John (Clapham)Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Ellis, R. G.Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)Yate, Colonel Sir Charles Edward
Erskine-Boist, Captain C.Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)Yerburgh, R. D. T.
Falconer, J.Nall, Major Joseph
Flanagan, W. H.Ormsby-Gore, Hon. WilliamTELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir Thomas Bennett and Major Wheler.
Foreman, Sir HenryParker, Owen (Kettering)
Fraser, Major Sir KeithPerkins, Colonel E. K.
Garland, C. S.Perring, William George
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)Batey, JosephBurn, Colonel Sir Charles Rosdew
Agg-Gardner, Sir James TynteBirchall, Major J. DearmanBurnie, Major J. (Bootle)
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton, East)Bonwick, A.Buxton, Charles (Accrington)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro)Bowdler, W. A.Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)
Ammon, Charles GeorgeBowyer, Capt. G. E. W.Cassels, J. D.
Attlee, C. R.Broad, F. A.Clarke, Sir E. C.
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury)Churchman, Sir Arthur
Barnes, A.Bruford, R.Clarry, Reginald George
Barnett, Major Richard W.Buckle, J.Clayton, G. C.
Cobb, Sir CyrilHume, G. H.Remer, J. R.
Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)Hurd, Percy A.Reynolds, W. G. W.
Collison, LeviHutchison, Sir R. (Kirkcaldy)Rhodes, Lieut-Col. J. P.
Conway, Sir W. MartinInskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.Richards, R.
Cope, Major WilliamJenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)
Cotts, Sir William Dingwall MitchellJenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)John, William (Rhondda, West)Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Curzon, Captain ViscountJohnson, Sir L. (Walthamstow, E.)Riley, Ben
Dalziel, Sir D. (Lambeth, Brixton)Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)Ritson, J.
Darbishire, C. W.Jones. R. T. (Carnarvon)Roberts, C. H. (Derby)
Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)Jowett, F. W. (Bradford, East)Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Davies, J. C. (Denbigh, Denbigh)Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)Royce, William Stapleton
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)Kelley, Major Sir Frederick A.Russell, William (Bolton)
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)Kinloch-Cooke, Sir ClementSalter, Dr. A.
Duncan, C.Lamb, J. Q.Scrymgeour, E.
Ede, James ChuterLambert, Rt. Hon. GeorgeSexton, James
Emlyn-Jones, J. E. (Dorset, N.)Lansbury, GeorgeShort, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Entwistle, Major C. F.Lawson, John JamesSimon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Evans, Ernest (Cardigan)Leach, W.Simpson, J. Hope
Fairbairn, R. R.Lees-Smith, H. B. (Keighley)Simpson-Hinchliffe, W. A.
Foot, IsaacLinfield, F. C.Skelton, A. N.
Furness, G. J.Lorden, John WilliamSmith, T. (Pontefract)
Ganzoni, Sir JohnLumley, L.R.Snell, Harry
George, Major G. L. (Pembroke)Lunn, WilliamStewart, Gershom (Wirral)
Gosling, HarryM'Entee, V. L.Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)McLaren, AndrewSullivan, J.
Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
Gray, Frank (Oxford)Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Gray, Harold (Cambridge)March, SThomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)
Greaves-Lord, WaiterMarshall, Sir Arthur H.Thornton, M.
Greenall, T.Mercer, Colonel H.Turner, Ben
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)Middleton, G.Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)Mitchell, W. F. (Saffron Walden)Warne G. H.
Gretton, Colonel JohnMolloy, Major L. G. S.Watson, Capt. J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Hacking, Captain Douglas H.Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred MoritzWatts, Dr. T. (Man., Withington)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)Moreing, Captain Algernon H.Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Hardie, George D.Morel, E. D.Webb, Sidney
Harvey, Major S. E.Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.
Hastings, PatrickMuir, John W.Weir, L. M.
Hay, Captain J. P. (Cathcart)Murray, R. (Renfrew, Western)Wells, S. R.
Hayday, ArthurNewbold, J. T. W.Welsh, J. C.
Hayes, John Henry (Edge Hill)Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)White, H. G. (Birkenhead, E.)
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (N'castle, E.)O'Grady, Captain JamesWhiteley, W.
Henn, Sir Sydney H.Paling, W.Williams, David (Swansea, E.)
Hennessy, Major J. R. G.Parker, H. (Hanley)Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Herriotts, J.Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Hewett, Sir J. P.Penny, Frederick GeorgeWilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Hill, A.Philipson, MabelWood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Hillary, A. E.Philipps, VivianYoung, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Hinds, JohnPielou, D. P.
Hirst, G. H.Ponsonby, ArthurTELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Major Ruggles-Brise and Colonel Guest.
Hodge, Lieut.-Col. J. P. (Preston)Pringle, W. M. R.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Words added.

Third Reading put off for three months.